Never too old for romance - He Kitenga 2008 Research Highlights

Blossom outside Clocktower

Romance in later life remains one of the few social taboos left in our liberated world, even more than sex between consenting elderly partners. Yet, as Professor Amanda Barusch reports, "Far from being a romantic wasteland, late life provides unique opportunities to experience love fully and intensely".

That was just one of many striking revelations gerontologist Barusch uncovered in five years of research into her seventh book, Love Stories of Later Life, released in March this year.

Romance in later life is a neglected area of research because gerontologists tend not to study love, and love researchers tend not to study the elderly, says Barusch, a professor in Otago's Department of Social Work and Community Development. The book, described as "a much-needed remedy" to this situation, is based on 110 in-depth interviews of Americans from a diverse range of backgrounds, followed up by an internet survey of more than 1,000 participants.

One of the biggest surprises of her work is that older adults appear to be just as susceptible to romantic infatuations as teenagers. "But infatuation doesn't last," she says. Infatuations can enrich our lives, but they can also be destructive, breaking hearts and ruining committed relationships.

Computer dating is another minefield for the old and young alike, she says. The internet creates the illusion that people and relationships are replaceable. Lonely hearts who get to know potential partners through the internet can experience huge disappointment when the relationship goes beyond the purely cognitive.

People are also living longer which places greater pressures on relationships and many elderly are now looking for creative alternatives to marriage, such as what Barusch terms "living apart together" relationships.


Goodwill Family Foundation