"You don't have to be young, highly attractive or rich. You just have to be emotionally ready and willing to work at it,” says Russo, 74, who, as a journalist focusing on psychology, has written for Time, The Atlantic and Scientific American. Her new book, Love After 50, shares her journey, intertwined with anecdotes and research culled from interviews. We caught up with Russo to learn her insights on finding and keeping love.
Q: A year of isolation has many people feeling socially awkward. What can you say to help them?
A: If you decide you're emotionally ready, then I say, get rid of that pandemic hair and those sweatpants! Get a great outfit that makes you feel fabulous. And enjoy the fact that, hey, you're going to have a lot of adrenaline flowing and everything will be new again. Go to restaurants, be across the table from another human being — you're going to enjoy that, even if this person isn't someone you're going to fall in love with. Just enjoy life unfolding again.
Q: So, it's not superficial to focus on the hair and the outfit before you get back out there?
A: No, because you don't need to be thin or gorgeous or young to be dating, but you do need to feel like your best self. I'm past 70. Sometimes I look in the mirror and I say, “Oh, no.” But sometimes I will get a new haircut, I will put on some makeup, and I will wear a great blouse and go out feeling confident. Whatever your best self is, go for it.
Q: Do you think that some people, having lived through the isolation of the early pandemic, may experience more joy in dating than they'd felt before COVID hit?
A: I think people will definitely feel this. Many have experienced loneliness through COVID and are missing what a real partner could have given them. They miss companionship and just talking to someone else and seeing another face. And if you get to the point where you hold hands and hug, that's even better.
Q: You say that we can have our best sex after 50. But how is this possible?
A: I don't mean movie sex! I mean the most intimate, collaborative sex of your life. You and your partner work together. You talk more. You tell each other what you can do and can't do. It's more vulnerable, more intimate and more caring. Younger sex is performative; it's not necessarily an intimate act. But it's incredible the kind of sensations you can have if you explore each other's bodies. It doesn't have to involve intercourse. Sex is about fun and touching and being erotic. It's amazing what you can experience. The more I talk to people, the more I find there is hope for all of us.
Q: You write that we can widen our dating pool by narrowing our demands. But doesn't that mean we'd be compromising?
A: Suppose that you're with someone who does not check off a whole bunch of the boxes you have. This person does not have an important job, doesn't share your love of travel or baseball. But suppose this person really gets you and doesn't judge. This person is somebody who actually wants to hear about your day. Is that settling? I don't think so. I think you've found a great relationship.
Q: Why do you believe we're more likely to find deep love after 50?
A: Research has found that older adults are more emotionally stable and more focused on the positive. At this stage of life, you don't have to pick a mate who'll be a good parent or who can help you provide financially for your family. Your only consideration is to pick someone with whom you can have a truly loving relationship for who you are now, the person you have become.
Q: Where is the best place to find someone?
A: I have heard stories of accidental meetings — on an Uber ride, at church or at a gym. So being out in the world, and emotionally open, is good. But most people find that online dating gives them the greatest choice of people they wouldn't have met otherwise.
Q: How do we figure out which traits we require and those we can live without?
A: There's a hilarious chapter in the book about two 70-year-old guys. One had a short list and met someone immediately. The other wanted a woman who was attractive, 10 years younger than he was, outdoorsy, cultured, educated. He had a very particular list. And he had no luck. And women do exactly the same thing. Well, he eventually went back to one of the also-rans. She was a little older. And he said, “Well, she's outdoorsy.” And guess what! They're still together; they've been together for three years.
Q: How do you know it's right?
A: At our age we often say, “Let's be monogamous for a while to see how we work together.” I call it try-a-relationship. It doesn't take very long. Because at our age you find out very quickly whether this person is right. As one therapist told me, “Older people get better at catch and release.”
Q: What about those of us who are in long-term relationships? How do we continue to keep those growing and exciting?
A: There's a limited amount of time we have left with our partner. Neither of us is going to change our basic character all that much. We can grow and we can renegotiate, but we need to be forgiving of each other's flaws. You've experienced so much life — maybe divorce, illnesses. You've had losses. You've seen what the big blows are in life. So, with any disagreement, any annoying habit, you have to ask yourself, How important is this particular thing compared with the relationship I have? Happy couples tell me over and over: “I let it go.”
Christine Fellingham is a former editor with Glamour and O, The Oprah Magazine. Love After 50, published by Simon & Schuster in conjunction with AARP, will be available July 13.