Seniors Who Reunite With Old Flames

Rekindling a romance has become trendy since the creation of web sites to find old classmates, people search engines, and now social networking websites, but it is not a new phenomenon. I have been researching rekindled romances since 1993. A majority of my survey participants (55 percent) chose to reunite with someone they loved when they were 17 or younger – their first loves. And another 29 percent chose a former sweetheart from late adolescence (ages 18 to 22).

Reunited SeniorsSome individuals reported “returning” to people they considered lost loves from when they were 8, 9, or 10 years old. Participants older than 65, especially, reunited with these “puppy loves.” These reunions had the same high success rate as reunions of lost loves from high school or college.

The reunited couple grew up in the same community during their formative years, went to school together, shared a peer group, and were often close to their first love’s family. Descriptions of the rekindled romances invariably included “comfortable” and “familiar.” Lack of sexual involvement when these couples were teens neither increased nor diminished the adult couples’ success in the reunion.

Successful senior reunions
Thirty-seven percent of the participants were in their 40s and 50s when they reunited with their lost loves, 10 percent reconnected between the ages of sixty to seventy, and 4 percent were in their 80s or 90s. Longevity, of course, is a factor in the decreasing percentages with age.

Although the number of reunions decreased with age, the success of these reunions increased. In their written comments on the questionnaire, seniors attributed their success to their maturity: improved communication skills, a new-found ability not to “sweat the small stuff,” and knowing exactly how they wanted to spend their later years. They also commented that they lacked tolerance for arguments, so they avoided arguing. These factors have also been reported in research on relationships of seniors with their spouses and their old friends.

The couples’ love had endured through their many years apart and, in the case of widows and widowers, often through very happy intervening marriages. These older reunited couples were more spiritually inclined than the younger participants in the study. They often believed they were soul mates and that a Higher Power brought them back together. One man in his 70s wrote: Where we end up after death, only God knows. But we will surely be together.

Risks & stumbling blocks
The high success rate for rekindled romances suggests that older adults who are lonely or reluctant to date strangers should consider pursuing an old flame. However, seniors should be warned that there are risks and stumbling blocks.

By 2005, two-thirds of my new survey participants were in extramarital affairs. Seniors were no exception. Most of the extramarital affairs started with innocent email exchanges; usually the adults who initiated the correspondence were divorced or widowed but found that their lost loves were married. Neither of them planned to become involved in an affair, but the correspondence escalated quickly: email led to phone calls, and the vocal reconnection led to a face to face meeting, which usually began an affair.

Because they were brought up in an era when premarital and extramarital sex was especially stigmatized, members of the World War II generation who were involved in affairs expressed shame and guilt to a greater extent than younger participants.

Affair or not, their adult children often disapproved. When parents were widowed, their children saw the old flames as interlopers. This is true in many second marriages, but rekindled romances bring special concerns: the old flame preceded the other parent. Even middle-aged children felt uncomfortable with that, as if the parent were telling them, “This is the person I should have married.” In fact, some parents said this directly to their children, leaving them to wonder, “So then, I shouldn’t have been born?”

In addition, the middle-aged children were often protective. Many believed that the lost loves came back to their parents just to take their money. And they worried that their parents could not know this person anymore: after all, 50 years may have passed. Some adult children expressed being worried that a reunion was an indicator that their parents were senile, or at the very least, chasing a fantasy.

To make matters worse, these romances proceeded very rapidly. Elder lost loves feel they have wasted too many years without each other, that they have little time left in life, and they do not want to wait. They married within months — or days — of reuniting. No wonder their middle-aged children were worried.

Rekindled romances have a different history and a different pace, they follow different rules and have better outcomes, than average romances. These are loves that were interrupted. For my oldest couple, the interruption lasted 75 years, and the happy marriage began on her 95th birthday.