AS OF 2012, ONLY 57 PERCENT OF PEOPLE 65 AND OLDER IN AMERICA were married. So how is the other 43 percent finding love if they haven’t already? Perhaps though speed-dating, if they’re lucky enough to have an event in their city.
This is a concept filmmaker Steven Loring, 52, is hoping to promote with his new documentary “The Age of Love.” Loring had heard about special speed-dating events for people between the ages of 70 and 90 in Colorado and Florida before inquiring around his hometown of Rochester, NY, to see if a senior center there could get one going. As soon as one was planned, Loring began documenting the stories of the 30 singles who signed up.
The narratives that unfold in his film are full of vulnerability and frankness from a demographic whose experiences usually go untold. These daters are dynamic, hopeful and just as nervous as anyone at any age brave enough to put themselves out there — yes, romantic rejection stings just as much at 75 as it did at 25.
Huff/Post50 spoke to Loring to hear more about his film and the stereotypes that he said cloud society’s view of the emotional lives and romantic needs of older people who continue to have the same basic desire we all have: human connection.
What got you interested in looking into the love lives of the elderly?
It was a personal story. My dad passed away, and my mom was alone. She was nearing 70 and she was without that emotional, intimate partner for the first time in her life, so she was struggling with that a bit. That same year, my uncle who was in his late 70s and had never been on a date in his entire life, as far as anybody knew, suddenly met a woman and they just fell in love like they were high schoolers again.
Then I looked out in the media and found that there were really very few stories about the needs and desires of the hearts of people in that age range. There were a lot of stories about practical things, like social security and healthcare, and the fear of deterioration that comes with age, but not really about growth. I just felt like there was a story there, if I could find a way into it. So I followed people looking for love, because I figured who, at any age, wouldn’t understand what that meant?
Did you go into this film with any preconceived notions?
I thought that the people who signed up were probably embarrassed about it; they might not want to tell their kids; they certainly might not want their faces on movie screens across America. When I called the first woman, I explained that I was looking into the topic of the hearts of older people and that I wanted to feature people in a documentary. At some point, she stopped me from my spiel and said, “Let me tell you something: My children love me; they take care of me; they drive me places; they call me everyday. But even my own children never ask me what’s in my heart at this stage in my life. I would be happy to talk about it.” I was really startled and amazed to hear that all 30 people gave me permission to film them.
My idea that they would be embarrassed was wrong, because these people felt invisible, overlooked. They felt, “What do I have to lose? Nobody’s speaking about us with any honesty anyway, so let’s talk about it.” There are a lot of stereotypes about age. This isn’t “cute”; this is real-life. Why do we see their love as “cute”? Is that patronizing to older people? Let’s start looking at them realistically. It’s not “adorable” that they’re looking for love — it’s human.
What expectations did the daters have when they were going into this? Did they think they were going to find The One?
I think everybody played it down, but there were surprising glimmers. One woman who had never been married said to me, “I read romance novels all of the time, because I don’t have a man. But someday, I won’t have to read them anymore, because I’ll be living one.” Just the idea of somebody nearing 80 years old still feels that way and has that expectation was eye-opening. The people were realistic about it, but they always left the door open. Everybody said, “I’m not looking for Prince Charming, but if it happens it happens — we’ll see.”
There were a lot of people who had lost long-time partners. Why do you think they still had hope of finding love again after mourning such a big loss?
As we get older, we’re all defined by all of the loves and all of the losses we’ve had in life. I guess there’s no huge revelation to it. When my dad passed away, my mom said to me, “Every night I would get in bed and reach over and find dad’s hand. It was always warm and it always made me feel like I could go to sleep.” For a long time, her hand would still reach over to his side of the bed and she would realize that his hand wasn’t there. She didn’t lose the need to find that hand. She defined herself as part of a love team in life, so why wouldn’t she still be programmed to need that? There are certainly a lot of barriers to finding love at that age, but it’s not like you decide it’s not important to you anymore.
Do you think these people were looking for the same kind of love they may have had when they were younger or something different?
A lot of people talked about companionship. In talking to these people, it made me think: Is companionship different than the love that younger people seek? Or is what we consider love and romance just add-ons to companionship? The home and the family and the kids and the looks and whatever else is part of finding somebody when you’re young, if you take all that away, isn’t it essentially companionship? Someone who will look at you and listen to you and understand you so you’re not really alone? I think love when you’re older is the same, just everything else is stripped away.
Were the people at the event also looking for sex?
I think they were, sure. Some people were more eager to have a sexual relationship, but touch was something that came up a lot more with people. People wanted to be held; they wanted to feel connected to another person physically. You go through your life being hugged, being kissed and having a physical connection. If suddenly you don’t have it, that’s huge.
Do you think we ever get to an age where it doesn’t sting our pride to be romantically rejected?
You could see, afterwards, in those key scenes where they opened up their envelopes to find out who liked them, their fears were palpable. Those scenes to me were really the heart of the movie, because who expects to see a 75-year-old woman start crying over not getting the man she wants at a speed-dating event? Or somebody to express such joy that so many people wanted them? The goal of our lives is to reach out and touch other
What was the best advice about love you got while filming?
Lou, the body-builder, said something that was just so simple and profound: “A lot of people have trouble saying ‘I love you,’ but if you feel it, why not say it?” At 82 years old and a champion body-builder, he said, “The bodybuilding doesn’t mean anything to me compared to relationships I have with people. Love is still the key. If you can tell somebody you love them, tell them. Don’t hold back.” We all hold back and worry, but when you’re 82, what’s to hold back? You just put it out there, because you see the importance of doing it today, as younger people might not.
After following this group of daters, do you think that it becomes harder or easier to find love as you get older?
I don’t think that there was any less desire to be with a really good partner — people really opened themselves up to that. They might have been more skeptical of finding it, because they knew a lot about life and what they’d lost was always on their minds. It just becomes harder as you get older, because there’s less opportunity.
Everybody who came to this event was empowered to see themselves as someone with the potential to find new love. As Matt says at the end, “I haven’t found the love of my life yet, but I haven’t stopped looking — and I feel more aggressive now.” These people gave themselves permission to see themselves as potential lovers in a way that they didn’t before. There were quite a few dates that came out of the event, so they were ready to put themselves on the line. That’s the message of the film, in a lot of ways: Regardless of age, given the opportunity, people still have the desire to be wanted and to connect in a deep emotional way.
So the speed dating was a good experience for everybody?
There wasn’t anybody who didn’t call up and say, “When are they doing this again and can I come twice?”