When I was 65 years old, I married a man 25 years my senior. This was the third marriage for both of us, and he was almost 90. Mutual friends introduced us ― his best friend was married to my best friend ― because we were both widows, and apparently I needed more of a social life.
It started out innocently as two friends hanging out. He liked to take me out to fancy Los Angeles restaurants. He had his handyman fix everything for me, and he brought his gardener to tend to my backyard. And then, on a morning walk with my neighbor, I slipped and broke my wrist. I couldn’t drive myself to doctor appointments, so he did. My house had stairs and his didn’t, so he convinced me to stay at his house with no strings, my own bedroom and bathroom, until I was well. I agreed. Honestly, It seemed reasonable and less lonely.
I don’t think people realize how easy it is to be married three times. We both chose partners unwisely when we were in our 20s, in New York, and both our first marriages ended in divorce after six or seven years. We were both happy to be single for decades, until we each met our great loves. We were blissful until we lost them both to cancer. Neither of us had children. I was a widow for four years and he for two.
My neighbor said I was seeing someone with one foot in the grave, but although he was just turning 90, he was very fit. I wasn’t “seeing him,” I would say to her (and to myself); I’m just helping him through widowhood. I was embarrassed to be “seeing” someone who was almost 90 because I never imagined such a thing. I thought I should be able to do better, and I felt uncomfortable about what my friends would think. He didn’t elicit romantic feelings from me in the beginning, let alone any idea of marriage. But he was always dressed in laundry-pressed Brooks Brothers from head to toe and elegant leather or suede bomber jackets, which somehow made him seem younger.
He had more energy than I did. Unlike others his age, he needed no walker or cane. If he dropped something, he did a deep knee bend to pick it up. He took two stairs at a time. He was a WWII vet and he went to Woodstock (probably dressed like Frank Sinatra). He was at the Battle of the Bulge. He had been a Golden Gloves boxer and a successful businessman. No matter how old I got, I would always be young to him.
He was always dressed in laundry-pressed Brooks Brothers from head to toe and elegant leather or suede bomber jackets, which somehow made him seem younger.
It seemed like too early in the relationship ― we’d only been spending time together for about three months ― when he asked me to redesign his kitchen. I joked that no one ever cooked there. His beloved dead wife had filled the drawers, the oven and the dishwasher with file folders. But one day, I arrived at my temporary home, his place, to find that he had taken a pickax to the kitchen floor tiles and then shoveled them out the door. To do him a favor, I supervised the kitchen redo, new appliances, white paint on those awful cabinets and new chic countertops. I had the walls painted apple green, and even though I didn’t think I was living there permanently, the fresh, crisp color made me happy.
Little by little, he was investing in me and giving me stake in his house and his life. I knew he wanted me to supervise his life so he wouldn’t have to. I still owned my little house and could move back in anytime I wanted, but at his house I had a new kitchen and a housekeeper twice a week. She changed the sheets, did the laundry and polished silver without anyone telling her to.
And when my wrist healed within six weeks, I stayed on. My days were comfortable living with him and, before I realized it, weeks turned into months. I had neither siblings nor children and during the past year and a half I had lost my last four dear aunts and uncles who all adored me. He was their age and being with him made it seem like I still had family. Who was left to love me?
He had become my family. He began as a friend of a friend, became my friend and then an important person in my life. I moved into his house for convenience but his generosity really made me feel at home. Regardless of others, who focused on our differences, I truly came to love this man. When the next holiday arrived, he handed me a checkbook and said he would never buy me a present. If I wanted something, he said, just buy it myself. Not the most romantic gesture, but still, he was sweet. I know it was his way of wanting to take care of me.
After a few more months, we became intimate. He started to propose once a month but I refused his marriage proposals. I was embarrassed about how old he was and how others would see it. I was still sensitive that people would think I was marrying an old man with one foot in the grave to get his inheritance. What would it say about me to want to be with a man 25 years older than me? I did, however, agree to plan a trip for us and we took a wonderful expedition to the Galapagos. He was the oldest person on the ship by far, but he was always first at the top of the stairs or the trail.
I moved into his house for convenience but his generosity really made me feel at home. Regardless of others, who focused on our differences, I truly came to love this man.
By contrast to his robust health (never even a cold), I started to have atrial fibrillation that medicine didn’t control. I had some sort of heart drama two or three times a month. I had a code blue in the recovery room after an ablation procedure and they wouldn’t let him in because we weren’t family.
By now, we had been together for about a year. He was as close as I was getting to having a family. That was reason enough to get married, so we did. What did I have to lose? He was already the main person in my home life and my social life. We went out to dinner with his friends. He consistently reacted toward me with love, and I started to feel love for him, too. Although we both knew we weren’t going to replace our previous big passions, we could be happy together. I rented my house and let him into my bedroom permanently ― and, even with him being 90, we had really good sex.
I gave up my creative outlet of cooking because he only ate things one would find in an elementary school cafeteria: spaghetti with meat sauce, chicken noodle soup or tuna sandwiches. I let Trader Joe’s and restaurants cook most of our meals, but I still cherish the time in the evenings we spend together.
After about a year together, he was as close as I was getting to having a family. That was reason enough to get married, so we did.
After five or six years, we quit sleeping in the same bed because I fling my arms in my sleep and he has restless leg syndrome. It would be a few more years before the sex stopped. He still expects me to make him a sandwich for lunch. Putting a piece of cheese on bread is beyond him. He is a man of a different era. He can be a cranky old man; he complains that he can’t hear on the phone so he will never make a phone call or answer the home phone. I make all doctor appointments, refill all medications and troubleshoot all billing questions. The cable guy, telephone tech, plumber, etc. all deal with me. My second husband understood feminism and I never had these issues before, but now my husband had an idea of a “woman’s work.” I tried to change his mind about it to no avail, and it honestly didn’t bother me or make him a bad person.
I am the hostess and social secretary as I would have liked to be in any marriage at any age. By the time most women are into middle age and single, with children grown or no children at all, they are looking for companionship. I am no exception, and being with my husband eases my loneliness, regardless of what he expects me to do around the house for him.
I got a sweet man who is in good health and has no children. I have the security knowing I am provided for in his will. I don’t worry about him womanizing. I have single friends who are bereft to be alone. Many married women think they would be happier being alone, free and independent than being with someone two and a half decades older than they are. But the truth is, I feel very taken care of in my relationship. Sure, there still seems to be a slight generational difference and he likes to play out the gender norms, but I can manage it. I am happy, and that’s all that matters, so I’m going to enjoy whatever time we have left together, regardless of what people think about our marriage.
Correction: An earlier version of this personal essay indicated that the author’s husband had sailed on the Lusitania. However, upon further reflection, he notes that it was another sailing vessel. The story has been updated.
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