Just recently, researchers put that question to eight remarried women living in a retirement community in Central Texas, U.S.A. The women, aged 64 to 77, talked about single life, remarriage and how they met their current husbands. Prior to their current marriages, the women had lived alone from six months to 17 years. Only three of them expressed interest in remarrying.
The research was led by Dr. Wendy Watson of Bowling Green State University (Ohio, U.S.A). Watson and co-workers reported in the Journal of Aging Studies (Vol. 24, No. 4, 2010).
Not that desperate
Researchers found that half the women had dated and half had not. Martha, Mary and Karen had enjoyed dating to varying degrees. Carol saw dating as an opportunity to spend time with a man and be appreciated as a person again, instead of as a mother or widow.
Anne, Sally and Virginia were wary of dating. They feared being pressured for sex, or having to make conversation with men whose interests they did not share.
None of the women had joined a dating service. As Mary explained:
It [dating] wasn’t something just to do if I didn’t care for him or didn’t like him . . . It wasn’t worth the effort. . . . Because I had a . . . very good life. I mean, I had lots of friends, very active, very busy, and enjoyed my life. I mean, so I wasn’t going to go out and look for something else.
Researchers reported the women met their future husbands through family, work or at community functions.
Even though participants had expressed little interest in remarriage, the women re-married quickly after meeting their future partners. In fact, all the participants had tied the knot within an eight-month period.
Surprisingly perhaps, the women did not consider the brief time — from meeting to remarriage — as remarkable. "I just think it was meant to be," said Sara, who remarried less than a month after meeting her future husband.
So, why the change of mind?
Participants discussed three aspects of their marriages:
For the women, the new romance was unlike any other. "I am probably more in love with this man than I have ever been in love before." Karen said. "There’s that feeling of total and complete contentment, of happiness, of, for lack of a better word, comfort. You know?"
Martha reported her husband puts his arm around her and holds her hand. They leave little glass hearts and love notes around the house for the other to find.
And Sara, who talked about not loving her first two husbands and being okay with that at the time, described her current husband as the love of her life.
The study found most of the women believed sex belonged within marriage, and since most had not anticipated remarrying, they had not expected their futures to include sex. In fact, most said that they would have been content with a marriage that did not include sexual intercourse.
So, the women were both surprised and delighted by their new-found sexual desire.
Sally described the sexual dimension of her new marriage as " a real bonus."
Carol found new meaning in sex:
A climax is a climax is a climax. . . . I mean, there’s that. . . . There is that … you know? Never doubt that physical release. There is that, but there is a sweeter emotional kind of flavour to it . . . and maybe because of experiences . . . life experiences, there is even sort of a spiritual realm to it.
Furthermore, Mary and Sally challenged the myth that older women were not interested in sex and not sexual people. As Mary saw it, when you find someone you love, sex is important.
Another not surprising finding was that the women viewed companionship as a key priority in their new relationships. Mary, who had being married for 47 years said she found being a widow a lonely experience, "You miss having somebody that is special."
Yet some feared losing their independence. Women appreciated having a partner to help pay the bills and service the car, but they did not want to lose the abilities they had developed by living alone. As Martha explained, "I mean I might die first, but the odds are that he will, and I will be right back there. Well, I do not want to revert to this little dependent person again."
Love’s the thing
The initial findings echoed previous research, which suggests older women reject remarriage in favour of independence.
But the women in this study changed their minds after they met their future husbands. And instead of giving up on the relationship, they negotiated independence — finding both a way to merge their lives and maintain independence appropriate in an intimate relationship. In so doing, they affirmed the power of love and the implications of gained relationships.
The research team noted these women might have had an advantage in the decision to remarry because their backgrounds allowed them to compare what they want and do not want in a marriage and to choose what is best for them at this point in their lives.
With human life spans stretching out, the investigators say more studies are required to explore the diversity of late-life relationships.