Years ago, an anonymous widow confided in Dr. Stacy Tessler Lindau. The widow told her that if anything happened during her hospital stay, she shouldn’t call her children. Instead, she preferred Lindau call someone else very close to her: her longtime lover. This was all said in private because her family didn’t know this man even existed.
As Lindau later told NPR, the woman felt embarrassed about starting a new relationship after the death of her husband, so she kept it a secret. Romance, passion, and even heartbreak occur well into our golden years, but many still shy away from conversations about intimacy among seniors. Why though?
For one thing, love over 60 has been underrepresented in stock photography and the media at large. Even films that feature seniors in romantic roles often treat physical intimacy as comic relief or just leave it out entirely. There’s an ageism issue here. Inclusivity and deep, meaningful connections aren’t often extended to senior citizens but, as media makers, we get to start changing that narrative.
High quality connection
After many years of being overlooked, seniors are speaking out about intimacy — and the public is listening. A recent study out of the United Kingdom found that the quality of life is higher for people aged 50-89 who engaged in intimate activities and emotional closeness the past year.
Last year, the US National Poll on Healthy Aging revealed that one in three seniors is lonely, and isolation can have a profound effect on both physical and mental health. “Some research suggests that chronic loneliness may shorten life expectancy even more than being overweight or sedentary,” the authors of the study wrote, “and just as much as smoking.”
Intimacy in all forms, from holding hands to kissing and beyond, has a powerful impact on our wellbeing, regardless of our age. Stock photos and footage that highlight tender love and closeness among seniors can break down stereotypes, communicating that intimacy after 60 is worthy of acknowledgment and celebration.
Dating never gets old
The fear of aging may have reached new heights in our youth-infatuated culture but if we take a closer look, we might discover that the public craves authentic images of dating seniors now more than ever.
Older people tend to feel more comfortable in their skin, and they know what they like. For seniors, retirement can mean more quality time to spend with partners, and after the kids have grown up, there’s more alone time as well. It can also mean meeting someone new.
When hunting for some senior photo ideas, try including more imagery of mature couples out for ice cream, grabbing a coffee, going for a hike, eating out, dancing etc. You know, date stuff.
Passion isn’t reserved for the young people of the world. Stories about people finding great loves later in life resonate with us just as strongly as tales of young romance, if not more so. In 2013, for example, when The New York Times published a wedding announcement for Ada Bryant and Robert Haire, age 97 and 86, it quickly went viral.
In 2010, the author Joan Wickersham wrote for the Boston Globe about her mother, who, at the age of 80, developed a new romantic relationship. While her acquaintances thought it was “adorable,” she explained that it was stormy and passionate, sometimes painful and raw — as relationships often are. This story struck a chord.
“There’s an intimacy that comes later that is staggeringly wonderful,” Jennie B., an 82-year-old widow who chose to keep her last name private, told The New York Times a few years ago. “Old love, I think, is wiser, quieter and, in its own way, absolutely as intense.”
When you’re planning out your next sexy project, don’t forget the stock photos of steamy senior make out sessions and public displays of affection.
Intimacy for the ages
As for Dr. Lindau, that simple interaction a senior patient ultimately inspired her to conduct a study into intimacy among adults aged 50-85. Unsurprisingly, she found that most seniors believe sensuality is an important part of life. The unnamed widow wasn’t an exception; she was the norm. If she had seen images that depicted that “quiet but intense” older love all those years ago, would she have felt more comfortable telling her children about her companion? And would her family have received and embraced it?
While our desire for closeness might shift and evolve over time, it doesn’t disappear. Intimacy sustains and nurtures us, and without it, we suffer in ways we’re just now beginning to understand.
When a new generation of seniors begins to open up about their experiences with intimacy, we’d do well to take note. By listening to older people — and seeing them represented in stock photos and the media surrounding us — we can better address ageism, inclusivity, diversity, and nurturing connection. As it happens, growing old together can be just as exciting as falling in love for the first time. We only need to give it the attention it deserves.