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Last Updated: Monday, 29 November, 2004, 08:58 GMT
Later life love - starting again at 50+
By Lincoln Archer
BBC News

Older couple together
Older couples often have to re-evaluate their relationship
A young couple starting life together may imagine their relationship will get easier as they age. But the reality can be rather different.

Relationships which have held together through the strains of raising a family and coping with work commitments can break down when faced with the new stresses of an 'empty nest' and adjusting to retirement.

And of course many people have no choice in the matter, losing a lifelong companion through illness or accident.

No matter what a person's age, those who decide to look for a new partner can be daunted by the prospect of getting "out there" again.

Years ago when people got to their fifties they'd start thinking it was pipe and slippers time
Paula Hall
Relate
Bob, 75, from Kent, was married for 40 years before his wife died of cancer.

"I have had a couple of relationships since and find it quite easy to meet new people," he said, while admitting to some feelings of guilt over the memory of his marriage.

"I really believe in intimacy and in the joy of meeting someone you are compatible with, and am not ready to give up on that just yet."

Bob's continuing desire for companionship is echoed by the increasing number of people finding themselves single again in later life.

Divorce

There are more people in the over-50s age group in Britain getting divorced than ever before, figures from the Office of National Statistics show.

A survey for Saga magazine found the main reasons couples split was the sudden realisation they had spent years focusing on being parents at the expense of being partners, and the re-evaluation of what they wanted from the rest of their lives.

Screen grab of dating website for over 50s
Dating websites for the over-50s are growing
"Years ago when people got to their fifties they'd start thinking it was pipe and slippers time," says Paula Hall of relationship counsellors Relate.

"But increasing longevity means people have more time up their sleeves now, and they're thinking more about what they really want to do with that time."

There was a time when people who were bereaved or divorced would accept that situation for life but Age Concern's Elizabeth Hickey says the mindset has changed.

"Many older people are dating, travelling, returning to university or continuing their careers.

"They are enjoying living life to the full and meeting new people and having new relationships as part of a positive approach to life."

But she also warns divorce in later life can lead to increased isolation, making it important to keep socially active.

People who are 50 these days are acting like they are 40
Geoff Ellis
Over50s.com
While the opportunities for fresh starts and adventures seem endless for some, Saga's Katherine Whitehorn says others find their options more limited.

"There is apparently more difference between the haves and have-nots in this age group than any other, between the educated and affluent and the poor and lonely trying to live on a state pension.

"And health, more than anything else, is the great determinant between those who cope well and those who are miserable."

Dating websites

Online dating is one avenue older people are exploring to kick-start a later love life.

The website over50s.com has been running a dating service since it launched in 1999 and now boasts more than 250,000 registered users.

Managing director Geoff Ellis says almost three-quarters of the site's clients are women. Some are looking for friendship, others for a long-term relationship - but all are looking for something new.

"People who are 50 these days are acting like they are 40," he says.

Results can vary, and women often complain on similar sites that it becomes much harder to find a partner once they have turned 60.

That feeling of rejection can be particularly painful, coming soon after the loss of a lifelong partner or a divorce.

But Mr Ellis says it was important to be patient and have realistic expectations.

"You can't expect instant love or companionship. It's like all relationships - it'll either happen or it won't.

"But these people are older and wiser. They've seen it all before and they can be picky too."

Intimacy

Regardless of the potential pitfalls, there is evidence to suggest it is important just to try to maintain relationships throughout your 50s - and beyond.

"Research shows that men who are more sexually active actually live longer," said Dr Sarah Brewer, author of Intimate Relations: Living and Loving in Later Life.

"Hormones are released during sex... men who have sex twice a week live longer than those who have sex once a month or less. In women, it can fight the effects of menopause and reduce wrinkling."

It was not just sex that helped, she said, but any form of intimacy. And this time, you'd be old enough to appreciate it.




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