"I would not give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity."
-Oliver Wendell Holmes
I met a man the other night who described his life as complicated. I found the statement odd because life is complicated. No one gets past 50 without complications. Whether it's your partners, ex-partners, children, aging parents, illness or unthinkable losses and the necessary adjustments, the list could fill pages. As you go through complications, you choose between cutting off from life and resigned hopelessness or you acquire depth, compassion, integrity and passion, all of which are important and valuable human qualities revealed through experience, courage and time. While it's both painful and exquisitely pleasurable to remain engaged in your dreams, you affirm life by risking disappointment in favor of hope.
What does all of this mean for the mid-life lover? Prince Charming may be on foot, the princess may need an estrogen patch, living situations may not be what we dreamed of in high school, and partnership may have to be defined in a new way, but love and commitment can have a depth that was not available before. Young people are looking for someone to love as well as a situation where they can safely develop family, career and character. Older people have the opportunity to find context through connection, rather than through situation. This gives you an amazing opportunity to love and be loved for what you truly are.
Relationships in your mature years may bring physical and/or mental challenges. But what you lose in illusion, you gain in the richness of authenticity. Your heart has been broken, you have held dear many things which have been lost, and you've seen your strength and loveliness redefined by time. Somehow, this only makes you more attractive to anyone you would really want to be with and more equipped to love with an all-consuming passion you didn't have when you were younger.
What are the new rules are for keeping yourself safe, realistic and passionate while building new love in the second half of life? I hope you'll join me in using these suggestions to whole-heartedly love someone. Remember: whatever you withhold from another, you withhold from yourself as well.
1. Don't get too enchanted with your own drama/story. Make a life spreadsheet to simply deal with problems as the inevitability they are. Don't allow them to be an excuse not to fully commit to what you are creating with your potential partner now.
2. Have fun. Hopefully by now, you've learned how to have a great time alone, and if not, you need to, otherwise you risk losing the pleasure of your best life partner--you. Make discovery and pleasure a priority and the goal of interaction.
3. Evaluate your hunger for love. Contrary to romantic lore, love needs reason, especially before you get into a relationship. What are your needs and desires in love? What is simply a band-aid soothe over whatever you need to deal with in order to grow? Write down your bottom line because your memory might not serve you well when you're tempted with a band aid situation.
4. Look both ways before crossing!
Big lives--and everyone over 50 has a big life--take big efforts to merge. Before you enter the game make sure that you want to play and allow the other person their own time to find their sea legs.
5. Know what you want and be responsible in not engaging in dynamics that do not lead to what you need.
6. Do not throw the baby out with the bath water. Sometimes people come into your life not to be the one, but to steer you in the right direction. Accept the gift and set limits, even if they're hard, so that the relationship doesn't become something it shouldn't be.
7. People don't change. If you can't live with what you see, don't engage thinking that the image will shift. Cut bait.
8. When you love, love fully. You won't hurt less for having held something back.
9. Do not be constrained by an old image of what a relationship or marriage should be. A full life requires a new paradigm. Be creative in finding a selection of possible living scenarios that fit you.
10. Life has failed you thousands of times. But, life has also gifted you just as many times. Aim to be even handed in your evaluation of your past and present. I love the saying that if someone handed you someone else's burdens and gifts you would gladly take back your own.
11. His/her body is ALSO droopier than it used to be!
12. Disappointment doesn't kill you unless you allow it to keep you from returning to a place of hope. Sure it hurts, but by now, you have tools to cope and the ability and intelligence to acquire new skills which will allow you to safely take greater risks.
When you were young, do you remember pretending not to be in love because you thought that would somehow protect you from heartbreak, but you broke your own heart because you held back? Pretending rarely works in any of life's endeavors, and even less so, as the years pass.
Mature love can be the most powerful, passionate love you've ever experienced. You struggled and survived situations that never occurred to you when you were young. You have a depth, passion and commitment that only comes with challenge and time, with complexity. There are precautions you can take so that you can be fully open, but one of the truths of love is that to truly love another is never safe and it is essential to being alive. You can sublimate that need, but to experience it directly with someone else is the fullest expression of life.
You are here to love.
Laura Day is the New York Times best selling author of "PRACTICAL INTUITION" and "HOW TO RULE THE WORLD FROM YOUR COUCH." The Independent called her "The Psychic of Wall Street." Laura has been featured on Oprah, CNN, Good Morning America, ABC News in Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal and other national and international media.