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Is Love Possible Late In Life?

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I have heard it said that a woman over 40 has a better chance of being killed by terrorists than she does of finding a husband. I don't buy it. I've seen too many examples of older couples finding true love.

My parents, Ken and Gloria Gallagher, were both in their 50s when they divorced after 31 years of marriage. They each moved on, found new love, and have been happy with their respective partners for 35 years now.

My friend Joan Hill met the love of her life, Joe Donlan, when she was 60 and he was 55. They've been together and deeply in love for 20 years.

My friend Anita Goldstein met Paul Schneider when she was 52 and he was a few years younger. Anita had been married previously - divorced after 25 years. She met Paul in 1982 and they've been a committed couple ever since.

My mentor and dear friend, Warren Bennis, married a beautiful, smart woman he had been in love with 30 years earlier - when he was a young MIT professor, she a resident at Harvard Medical School. In the intervening years, they had each married and divorced a couple times, and raised their kids. When they reunited in 1992, it was the kind of fairy tale happy ending that makes you cry in movies. I once asked Warren what it was like to finally marry his beloved Grace Gabe after 30 years apart. He replied, "It's like coming home."

So I don't buy what the pundits say about terrorists versus late-life love. I also don't buy it when women say, "All the good men are taken already." Nor do I buy it when men complain, "I can't find any good women."

Such lamenting is simply selective perception and self-fulfilling prophecy. That is, you only notice that which supports what you already believe. If you think there are no good partners available, you're right. And if you think there are plenty of terrific people to choose among, you're right, too.

So for those who believe it's never too late to find true love, here are some practical tips from people I interviewed for my new book, It's Never Too Late to Be What You Might Have Been.

Author and coach Pat McHenry Sullivan has four suggestions:

1. Be true to yourself - that's where you meet people from.
2. Have at least two or three people in your life who know who the real you is. These are the people who will help you see the goodness in yourself, as well as call you on your own bullsh*t.
3. Don't assume anything. Sweep away expectations. Be fully present in each and every moment, with each and every person.
4. Laugh a lot. If possible, choose in-laws who laugh a lot, too.

Former newspaper editor Diane Spatz, who found her terrific husband Bob Smith while working in Washington D.C., offers three suggestions:

"First, I think you need to be really clear on what you want. I had my famous 'Three S Test' when I was dating: 'Single, Straight, and Solvent.' You'd be surprised how hard that was to find in the dating world!

"But seriously, I wanted a man who was smart, confident in himself, and fun to be with. I needed someone who wasn't threatened by my high-powered job or the money I made.

"Second, you have to put the word out that you're looking for a mate. You have to go places, be social, put yourself into places where you're likely to meet appropriate men. Tell your friends what you want; enlist others in finding good candidates for you.

"Third, you have to work at it. Some people say that love falls into your lap when you least expect it - that hasn't been my experience. I made a commitment to finding love. ... The dating process was not much fun ... but it paid off. Bob and I found each other. All these years later, we still love being together."

Oakland attorney J. Gary Gwilliam offers thoughts based on his own late-life marriage:

"First, true love is not for the young. I think you have to know who you are and what your life is about before first. I wasn't ready for a real relationship until I had experienced a lot of life, read a lot of books, delved into personal development work and therapy, and really come to understand myself. By then I was 53 ... and Lilly was 48.

"Second, the purpose of a good relationship, is not to make you happy. ... happiness is a by-product of spiritual growth. I can't make somebody else happy and she can't make me happy. We can do things that contribute to happiness, but happiness comes from within.

"The purpose is to grow together so each of you can become the best human being that each of you can. ...Think of two candles burning brightly next to each other, as you're holding one in each hand. Now, slowly bring the candles together at the tips and watch the two flames join each other. They become one larger, brighter flame. That what happens when two souls come together in true love. Both become better, brighter."

How to get started finding true love? Just as Gandhi told us to "BE the change you wish to see in the world," perhaps we would do well to "BE the kind of person you'd like to love."

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