When you're young you expect to fall in love. When you're not so young it can take you by surprise.
It's not necessarily that you've given up; it's perhaps just that you imagine that love in middle age will be more sedate.
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You tend to think the giddy thing is for teenagers, so it catches you unawares when there you are with your crow's feet and your wobbly bits that are losing the battle with gravity, excited like a kid before Christmas. Unfortunately it is equally surprising to discover that heartbreak hurts just as much at 50 as it does at 15.
I was married for nearly 20 years and when it ended I found myself single in my late forties. I knew I wouldn't stay single for the rest of my life but neither had I thought too much about the next steps. I did think about what I wanted: the kind of man, the kind of relationship. I even wrote it down; I like lists, and you won't find what you're looking for if you don't know what it is. Then I met someone I had known as a teenager; we had fancied each other then but had lost contact in those pre-mobile, pre-internet days. Meeting again was like getting hit by a bus. A nice bus.
Everyone who falls in love in later life expresses the same delighted shock to discover they are capable of giddy infatuation. Whether it arrives after years of being single or after a long relationship it is still, to most people, somewhat amazing. The preceding marriage might have been mostly happy and loving, but few preserve the giddy factor; it would be too exhausting to be giddy for decades. So to find yourself checking your phone every five seconds, looking forward to weekends, doing your hair for video chats and wondering what to wear taps into feelings unfelt for a long time.
Women in particular, so long led to expect, ergo accept, that their libido should diminish with age, are astonished to discover that presented with an appealing new candidate, their libido is not even slightly diminished. Far from it indeed. They might have terrors about getting their kit off in front of a non-medical stranger for the first time in decades - decades of child-bearing, gravity and horrible hormones; they may be be baffled about depilatory etiquette in this brave new carnal world. But the force is strong and they muddle through. Brave souls.
The health benefits of love, sex and happiness are many and well documented, with pheromones and hormones like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin and the natural steroid DHEA flooding your system to help with everything from reducing stress and illness to improving pelvic floor and prostate health. You look happier and younger, and you're more fun to be around; you're kinder because you're basking in the glow of good hormones. Such things are a pleasure at any age, but when you're knocking on a half century they are especially sweet.
The relationship I found myself in, though all hormone-lit and lovely, was complicated. There was baggage, but when you're older baggage is to be expected; it's perhaps how well dealt-with the baggage is that makes the difference. It was a serious relationship; there were plans and promises, but perhaps that was because that was all either of us long-married folks knew. We were conditioned to think that being an adult meant being serious, and being serious meant considering forever.
With hindsight, however, it is clear that the notion of it being forever fed into a sense of 'One Day'. And a relationship that is predicated more on 'One Day' than on the present leaves a lot of space for imperfection. You're so invested in how it will be great (One Day) that you put up with less than greatness in the present. None of this was apparent to me at the time. We were happy when we were together but there was also a lot of time apart. This was something we aimed to change, One Day. And then, just as One Day seemed within reach, it ended.
The whys and wherefores are disputed, but really they don't matter that much. My marriage had ground to a halt over time - there was a slow realisation, a kind of processing and adaptation. This new relationship ended unexpectedly; things were fine, then they weren't. I didn't cope well. Sad and bereft, also incredibly anxious for some reason, I couldn't sleep or eat. It was the summer so at least the nights were short. And I did get rather trim. In the beginning, when the wound was fresh I would have to sneak off to cry. It was strange to be around my kids and try to act as if nothing was wrong. Half the time I was living alone and it was a relief to not have to behave normally. After a while I had it more under control. Just occasionally someone would ask and I would cry. I went to see A Star is Born and for reasons other than the plot it scratched my scabbed-over heart and I sobbed in the hiccuppy snotty way that really doesn't lend itself to being in public.
People leave their marks in your life and those marks leave shards of shattered happiness that are there to trip you up at unexpected times, even when you think you're doing fine. A ringtone, a smell, a place, a ticket stub… wading through receipts to do my tax return that year was even sadder than usual - never did a petrol purchase or a parking ticket seem so poignant.
The loss of the person, the loss of loving as well as of being loved… they're huge things to deal with. But there are other losses. If that person is your best friend - and I will venture this affects men more than women - there is a double loss. Who do you tell your stories to? You don't realise how much you think about someone until thinking about them is painful. When you're in love, the object of your affections tends to be the first thing you think about in the morning. When the object of your affections has become a source of upset, it takes time to reprogramme your head for the day. If they leave you for someone else, that is a whole other festival of agony to torment your brain.
The future goes wonky, the life you discussed and planned has disappeared, and maybe that is more difficult when you're older: the idea of starting from scratch seems more daunting than it might at 25. In a strange way you also lose a version of yourself, the person you saw reflected through their eyes. Your self-esteem takes a right kicking: you gave your all and it wasn't good enough. My trust was also damaged - my trust in someone I'd had faith in, but also in myself. How had I got this so wrong? For me the sum total was emotionally paralysing. I remember feeling like I was floating suspended underwater - not drowning, not swimming, just suspended. It wasn't that I couldn't reach the shore, it was that I had no idea where it was.
Then there is anger, which at least feels like something. Even when you're angry for a time you think you would take the person back just to make the pain go away. And when they come back you're torn. Yeah we were happy, but you let me down once, you will let me down again. It felt like a part of me was gone for good - some innocent, idealistic part.
Part of me also thought it would have been a waste of all those months of pain to get back together. That sounds almost churlish but like any bad experience, heartbreak can be a source of great personal growth. It really does change you. In the beginning it feels like only bad changes: you don't want to go back but going forward feels impossible, you're untrusting, brittle, you can't open your heart because why the hell would you subject yourself to that again? But there are some really positive changes to be found too.
You learn who your friends are, and mine were exactly who I expected them to be. Not one let me down, whether it was listening, hugging or taking me to swim in the sea. My family rallied round, my parents looked after me, and therapy helped me to see where the shore was.
Sometimes being in a couple stops you learning. It can mask old habits you think are gone, it can make you just stop looking at yourself or it can be tempting to blame the other person for too much, thus absolving yourself of too much. There are two of you in it after all. When something bad happens it is normal to feel like a victim, but it's dangerous to get stuck there. Any bad times stir up an emotional mire but if you take the chance to wade through that mire you can learn who you really are. It isn't always pretty: I had to accept some things that surprised me and some that I did not want to admit but there is something so liberating about accepting your worst self. Fix what you can, accept what you can't. So even though there were some dark times I don't wish it hadn't happened.
In the beginning of the aftermath I went on dates to distract myself. There is a book in that experience, but I knew I wasn't ready so I retired from dating for a while. Living arrangements changed - perfect timing so I nested for a while, painted the house and Marie Kondo-ed every cupboard.
More months passed and so I set about a new list and somehow conjured an Italian, Diego, with whom came the delightful discovery that giddy infatuation is not a one-time offer. We live in different towns so see each other mostly at weekends; it's very cool to have something to look forward to every week. No one can fix you (you have to do that yourself) but kindness - someone never letting you down, never being anything but what they say they are, with no mind games or drama - can slowly help you trust again.
We both have pasts and know that life is unpredictable. A good relationship doesn't have to last for ever to do you good.
There is no question of having kids so we view each other very simply in terms of whether we make each other happy.
And when your combined age is nearly 100, you can't be faffing with One Day - the question is whether you make each other happy now. It feels like a great piece of luck to be able to answer, yes.