The Thinking 

Are the Old Too Old to Marry?

June 13, 2010


A READER writes in response to this entry about a 97-year-old man who remarried.

Mrs. Marie Smith writes:

Marriage is about merging through sex, let’s not fool ourselves. A 97-year old can’t have sex, with or without the artificial assistance and often-disgusting methods of stimulation that are unfortunately commonplace today among people half that age.

I can think of two reasons why post-sexual old people would get married: either for legal and financial reasons or because they are senile – they are thinking and acting like adolescents.

I’m a crone, i.e., a middle-aged postmenopausal woman. If my husband should predecease me, I can assure you that that’s it for marriage or sex for me. I’m okay with never having sex, romance & marriage again, but to publicly admit to that would open me to endless ridicule so I am giving you a phony name and I hope you understand.

Laura writes:

Senility or financial interests are obviously a factor in some marriages among the old. A 97-year-old man might like to have a younger woman to care for him during his final years, but is that what marriage is for? It seems to degrade the institution. For adult children, there is always the troubling possibility of assets accumulated by parents over a lifetime going to the offspring of a new spouse who are strangers to the family.

Still, marriage among the old isn’t always absurd. Marriage is about love between those of the opposite sex. There may be a bond of love and friendship where there is no capacity for sex. One of the happiest marriages I have known was between two people who married in their sixties. They had been romantically attached for a long time and neither had been married before. They were married for more than 20 years.

But, I think many share Marie’s view and would rather not marry after the death of a spouse.

                                   — Comments —

A reader writes:

My in-laws were married for fifty years before my mother-in-law died of cancer in her early 70s. My father-in-law was really rather lost without her, and although my husband and his siblings did their best to encourage him (we even invited him to live with us), he was pretty depressed. He remarried thirteen months after her death, to a former neighbor and friend who had been widowed a few years before. Besides being dramatically different from my mother-in-law in manners and deportment, this woman encouraged my father-in-law in all of his worst habits (gambling and smoking) and he died of a massive stroke fourteen months later. He had spent the Christmas holidays with us after my mother-in-law’s death; after that none of us saw him again. Every holiday was spent with this woman and her children and grandchildren; he sounded rather lost and overwhelmed during his infrequent phone calls. While he was never wealthy, he felt (either because of his personal character or the era he was raised in) that it was his duty to make certain his new wife was economically taken care of, so he paid off her mortgage and bought a brand new car (the first he had ever had). Because this second marriage lasted just over the requisite minimum year, his second wife got (and continues to receive) his generous retirement. We never expected to “cash in” on my in-laws’ deaths, and they were more than generous to us when they were alive, but the thought of this woman and her children living comfortably off of his money is unsettling, to say the least (particularly when there is something we need for our sons, or when we remember his traditional generosity towards his grandchildren around the holidays). Shortly before he remarried, my father-in-law confided to my husband that he had been impotent for a number of years, so this marriage was in no way a sexual union, and hardly a “love match.” It was a desperate attempt for companionship by a lonely older man, and as you so well noted, it seemed to “degrade the institution.” I might also note that although we were all shocked when my father-in-law announced he was remarrying (it was quite soon and quite sudden), we all wished him well and sincerely expressed our hope that he would be happy. Despite this, his second wife rather huffily noted shortly after his death that none of us had ever really accepted her (Did she want my husband to call her “mom”? What, exactly, did she expect?) and we have had no contact with her in all the years since (except when the IRS has contacted us, in an attempt to locate her to give her even more of my father-in-law’s funds). Perhaps I sound bitter – I must confess I feel that way at times. As I said, he was a devoted grandfather (my older child was extraordinarily close to him) and his absence and lost generosity are keenly felt.

Jim B.writes:

Just to add another point of view, my mother died of cancer at 58, after being married to my father for 35 years.  A year later, my father remarried (to an old friend of both he and my mother’s)  That marriage lasted another 12 years, until she too passed away.  About a year later, my father shocked us all by announcing his intention, at 70, to marry his next-door neighbor – a woman none of us had ever met!

A recipe for disaster, you’d think.  That’s what we all did – until we met her.  It turned out she’s a delightful women, and she’s been a wonderful stepmother, stepmother-in-law – and now is a wonderful
presence in our new baby’s life.  My Dad – who I really didn’t expect to live out the year after his last wife died – is happier than he’s been in years.  We even get along with all her children.  So
sometimes, it works out.

Laura writes:

There are disasters and happy matches, marriages that are foolish and motivated by grief, as well as some genuinely founded on love and friendship. The capacity to fall in love remains in some people to the very end. There is a dynamic between the sexes that continues even when sex is no longer possible or primary. And for those who have been married for many years, living alone can be terrifying. Perhaps marriages in old age are marked more by impetuousity. There is not as much at stake.



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