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The Naked Truth

Love, American Style

France is the land of lovers, n'est ce pas? Au contraire. A new AARP poll shows that older Americans are more passionately in love than the amorous French.

Love, American Style

— Tanya Constantine/Getty Images

Ah, to be young and in love. There's nothing better—except to be older and in love.

Meet Randy Wilson, 60, a financial strategist in Raleigh, North Carolina, and his wife, Simone, a 56-year-old artist. Simone is telling the spark-filled story of the night they met. "I was doing a two-step with my dad at this funky bar, and this big ol' Texan asked me to dance," recalls Simone. "For me, it was all over at first sight." Randy strokes her cheek. "I'm still head over heels," he says.

So sweet. And the still-sizzling Wilsons are not, it turns out, romantic rarities—at least not in America.

How do we know? It started with a recent French survey, which found that 71 percent of French citizens ages 50 to 64 are "currently in love." In our winning-is-everything American style, we wondered how the United States stacks up, because we all know the stereotypes: the French love romance and Americans love money; they're poetry-spouting romantics whereas we're red-white-and-prude fuddy-duddies; they hold each other and we hold the television remote.

So in late summer 2009, AARP asked a nationally representative group of 2,000 Americans-ages 18 to 65-plus-several questions about love. And oui, mesdames et messieurs, we are the United States of Amour. Older Americans score just as high as the French on the ardor scale: 70 percent of our 50- to 64-year-olds reported being currently in love. And Americans 65-plus are actually more romantic than the French. Sixty-three percent of them claimed to be in love, compared with 46 percent of the French. We're also enjoying more intense love: 55 percent of Americans ages 50 to 64 claimed to be "very much" or "passionately" in love, compared with 49 percent of the French.

For both the French and the Americans, a belief in one great love- un grand amour- seems deeply, culturally embedded. Seventy-five percent of Americans ages 50 to 64 said they had encountered the love of their life, as did 81 percent of the French. But that's not to suggest you get only one chance at serious love. Thirty percent of the French, and 18 percent of Americans, said they'd encountered a great love "several times." Eileen D. (for privacy, some of those quoted are identified with a last-name initial ), a 63-year-old New York writer, fell in love with her college-sweetheart-turned-first-husband, then lost him to an early death. Since remarried, she says, "I'm glad to have learned that life renews itself."

The biggest difference between the French and the Americans revolves around-you guessed it-sex. In response to the statement "True love can exist without a radiant sex life," 77 percent of Americans ages 50 to 64 said yes. But 56 percent of the French in this age range answered, "Absolutely not!" Why the cultural disparity? "The French lifestyle is slower, more sensual," explains Mitch Tepper, Ph.D., founder of sexualhealth.com. "The French allow space in their lives for sex and a playfulness between the sexes. We keep tighter reins on ourselves."

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