Words on Love From the Wise
By Isabelle Lee
Dating in the post-pandemic era feels as uncharted as trying to lock lips for the first time in middle school. Handshake or hug? A romantic restaurant meal or a socially distanced bike ride? And in this upside-down world, how do you know what’s real and what’s just a post-lockdown fling?
In today’s Daily Dose, we’ve sought answers to these quandaries from those who’ve been there, done that and bought the forever-in-love T-shirt. Yes, that’s right: Today’s seniors know a thing or two about finding and fostering lasting love. Join us as we share the best eternal love tips from those who know best.
LOVE TAKES TIME
Practice Makes Perfect
Love is easy when it’s meant to be. At least that’s how it turned out for my 72-year-old great-uncle, Charlie Lee. He first met Charity, a high school tutor and dog lover, when a mutual friend invited them separately to a dog’s birthday party in 2005. They hit it off and dated for a few years before going their separate ways. After 10 years, Charlie realized the mistake they had made and showed up at her front door to take her out for dinner. They were engaged shortly after. From there, love came easy for the pair, and three years ago they were married in their hometown of Woodstock, Vermont. According to Charlie, things just fell into place. “We are just very similar and love is very easy,” he tells OZY. As for his best piece of advice for a healthy relationship? Well, he has several: “When you think you are in love, make sure that you are having fun. [Love] is what makes the world go round,” he says. “Make sure you respect each other, always.”
Start With Understanding
Manorma Chodha, the 79-year-old grandmother of OZY’s marketing and communications superstar Shaan Merchant, knows a thing or two about building love. She and her husband, Paul, “had an arranged marriage in India and had not met before,” she says. “We had to build up an understanding between each other and grow to love each other.” It worked out. The pair left Delhi, India, in 1967 to move to New York, where she worked as a teacher and later for the NYC Health & Hospitals Corporation. Her best piece of advice for young people looking for enduring love is to try to be understanding with your significant other. “Everybody has grown up in a different environment,” she says. “So being tolerant and respectful of someone can help you learn who they are and grow to love each other.”
Work for It
The feeling of falling for someone may be electric, but maintaining a relationship? That’s a different ball game altogether. Charlie Lee has three words when it comes to tackling the challenges that go hand in hand with keeping a relationship flowing — for example, the mundane yet essential everyday acts of taking out the trash or grocery shopping: Practice makes perfect. “Loving is like a muscle; the more you use it, the stronger it gets,” he says. Lee says he practices loving in many ways, but his favorite is by leaving handwritten, illustrated notes for his wife every morning for her to wake up to. They can be, he says, a sweet anecdote or just a meaningful message. Equally, practice requires humility. Manorma Chodha advises leaving your ego and pride at the door when it comes to love. “It’s like the moon and the sun — both shine but they shine at different times. You don’t want to compare yourself to the other person, but let their light shine.”
KINDNESS IS KEY
The Restaurant Rule
“Look for kindness. If you’re kind to each other, you can overcome anything else.” Take it from 88-year-old Manny Stern from Belgium. Stern’s family fled Belgium in 1947, having survived the Holocaust, and moved to New York City, where he met his future wife, Rita. They got married when he was just 21 years old. With nearly seven decades of marriage under his belt, he recommends to those in the very early stages of a courtship to take their date to a restaurant and “see how they treat the staff.” That will offer a gauge of just how kind and respectful they really are. Rita was the first girl Manny had ever fallen in love with. How did it unfold all those years ago? He and a “very tall friend” went to a square dance, where they saw two girls walking toward them. One was tall, and one was short. Manny, who is on the short side, joked that he would “take” the tall one. That was Rita. “[I] never let go after that night,” Manny says, even after he was drafted for the Korean War and served overseas. Apparently, she passed the restaurant test!
Mary Westheimer, 66, has three main tenets that she and her husband, Kevin, live by as the source of a happy life together. “Practicing mutual spoilage” is No. 1, she says. The Phoenix-based couple have been married for 29 years. And for much of that time, they have been engaged in a rousing competition to see who can be nicer to the other person. Westheimer describes a typical nice-ness battle as: “You took out the garbage? Then I’ll wash all the dishes!” It also helps to operate in secret. “We don’t tell the other person what we’ve done — discovering the kindness is part of the fun — but we both try to outdo the other in loving acts,” she adds. The second is to treat your partner as you would like to be treated yourself. “Before you do something unkind, remember what it would be like to have it done to you.”
First Comes Love, Then Comes Friendship
Manny Stern, for his part, isn’t sure he believes in love at first sight. That particular feeling, he says, is “passion, but not real love.” To his mind, there’s an important difference. “Love is an evolution. What is left after passion is friendship and the things that tie you for the rest of your life,” he says. “After being married for 60-plus years, I am madly in love with my wife. We enjoy each other today as much as we ever did.” The foundation of any good friendship is respect, which brings us to Mary Westheimer’s third essential ingredient of a good relationship: always assume the best. “This is really about respect. If my husband does something I don’t like, my first question is why he might have done it. I assume he meant to do his best, so asking him for an explanation is the way we approach each other. Not ‘What the heck were you thinking?!’ but rather, ‘Help me understand this.’”
BRING THE BEST VERSION OF YOURSELF
Marisa Ferrera from Toronto, a 62-year-old empowerment coach and mentor, met her husband 20 years ago at a church dance. Previously, they had both been married, so when it became obvious theirs was a serious relationship, the pair wanted to make sure they got it right. As a personal development coach, Ferrera says her work, which sees her helping people build healthy relationships, informs her private life. For her, the secret to getting a relationship right centers on how it’s important “to let go of expectations and [instead] create agreements,” she says. “[That] requires taking time to communicate from your heart about what’s important to you and what you want from one another.”
Where to Start
For 79-year-old Susan Little, who was born in Los Angeles, her life has been a verifiable whirlwind of adventure. She’s enjoyed a career as a writer, editor, fundraiser and teacher. She started a nonprofit called the Imagine Bus Project, worked as chief of staff for a California state assemblyman and even flipped burgers. Her love life, however, has been equally as thrilling as her professional world. She’s been married twice and, in her own words, has had “lots of beaus.” Throughout all of her experiences, the most important thing she’s learned about relationships is to “make sure you don’t need each other to be happy.” If you are happy on your own, then a partner is the cherry on top, she says.
Don’t Forget to Laugh
Relationships are challenging and sometimes you find yourself hurting your partner. Marisa Ferrera tells OZY that when you have unrealistic expectations, ones that you don’t communicate to your partner, “you set yourself up for experiencing a lot of upset, hurt and disappointment that over time will destroy your relationship.” So for Ferrera, the key to maintaining a relationship is making sure you always communicate your expectations to get ahead of the “inevitable hurt that comes with feeling misunderstood.” For Susan Little, her advice is to find humor in the challenges you face together. She believes that before you get too “in the weeds of a relationship, make sure your person has a sense of humor that fits with yours.” If you can laugh at life’s challenges together, you can get through anything.
- Isabelle Lee, OZY Author Contact Isabelle Lee