A friend called me to seek advice for, and about, her 63-year-old aunt. Widowed at 60, S, the aunt, is now very active on Facebook. Through that, she has recently found a man she calls her boyfriend.
The boyfriend though is 33-years-old. He is married, with two children, but claims to be madly in love with S. With this new found love, S obsesses about her looks. From Botox and fillers to caviar face packs, S tries anything to make herself look young. They’ve exchanged numbers and WhatsApp each other daily. S’s mood fluctuates as per the drift of the conversation she has with this boyfriend. If he engages with her romantically she is thrilled. When he is curt she feels extremely insecure and frets till he becomes “normal” with her again.
According to my friend, S’s conversations with her boyfriend are more about him praising her — be it her thoughts, how well she writes, or how young she looks. S, of course, is yet to meet him offline. She waits for him to initiate this. Facebook says they are in the same city, but it’s been two months since they’ve connected and he has not shown any interest in meeting her in real life.
I understand my friend's fears about her aunt falling in love with someone she became friends with on Facebook. Is there a chance her aunt might end up being scammed? Indeed, a big one. What bothered me, however, was my friend's statement: “What’s got into her? This is not the age for her to be going around town and falling in love," she said.
Why is society so judgemental about senior citizens finding love?
In fact we rarely acknowledge, and especially if they are widowed or divorced, elders are singles. Very rarely do people try to set them up, which they do so eagerly for a younger single person. We just assume, that for these individuals, the romantic phase of their life is over. Even though, as individuals who aren't in a relationship, they have every right to one.
This seems easier elsewhere in the world. There are so many fantastic romantic Hollywood movies about seniors finding love. Bill Holderman's 2018 film Book Club, with stars Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen as four friends who are part of a monthly book club for the last 40 years. The plot revolves around how they read Fifty Shades of Grey as part of the book club and the influence it has on their personal relationships. Three of these four women are single. All three seek a romantic relationship and one of them, Judge Sharon Myers played by Bergen, signs up on Bumble to resume her dating life.
I also spoke to a counsellor, out of curiosity, to ask if she had any clients in similar situations. The counsellor told me about an Indian lady living in Australia, whose children had reached out to her. Their 72-year-old widowed mother was also prone to finding love online. One of her suitors on Facebook earlier this year was someone who called himself Anthony Bourdain. The children had to gently break the news that the real Anthony Bourdain was not even alive and this might be a fake account.
The mother soon moved on to a musician who does a daily livestream of him playing the guitar. She thinks he is performing for her and at times excuses herself to go get a cup of tea, unbeknownst to her that he is not aware of her existence. As a precaution the children have put a sort of parental control on her online activity and approve any financial transactions themselves. As per the counsellors advice, the children are watchful and gentle, they try not to be judgemental. They even encourage and help their mother now to meet gentlemen who she can date.
Age has nothing to do with our wish/need to experience romantic love. Instead of ridiculing her aunt I recommended to my friend that she hear her aunt out with empathy and understand her need to be loved. This would keep the channel of communication open, so her aunt is able to talk to her without any inhibition about what’s happening in her life. This will also enable her to point out any red flags and help her aunt have a better understanding of the risks of financial fraud, of which senior citizens are easy targets.
I think it's time we treated our single seniors like we do younger singles, be it an aunt, uncle or even one of our parents. Help them find love, if that’s what they want.
This is a limited series by Simran Mangharam, a dating and relationship coach, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org