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Finding a Way to Make Love when You’re Over 70


7 Minute Read

As long as I can remember, I believed I was neither attractive nor loveable enough.

That’s why, when I met Jim, I decided to see if I could make him fall in love with me.

I clearly succeeded because just 4 months later we got married.

This must count as one of the worst decisions of my life.

Marriage to Jim only worsened my self-doubts. He was a reserved man, totally unempathetic and not particularly interested in sex. I felt unloved and unimportant. And very lonely.

On top of all that, my self-perception as an attractive woman was destroyed, a belief that burdened me for years.

I was always the one doing the approaching – not because I wanted sex but because I yearned for the closeness and tenderness I always hoped would follow – despite the repeated evidence to the contrary.

In the last few years, Jim became impotent which I interpreted as a clear sign that he found me unattractive which did nothing for my self-confidence as a woman. I tried to talk to him about it but he just retreated within himself.

Even though the sex was so unfulfilling, I yearned for at least some expression of tenderness.

But I was afraid that, if I tried to show affection he would interpret it as me wanting sex which, would make him feel pressured and cause him to retreat even more.

Finally, when the pain of staying became worse than the fear of the unknown, I left. I was 60.

After some half-hearted attempts at online dating, I realised that men regarded women my age as too old.

I didn’t really mind not being in a relationship or not having sex given how ‘forgettable’ my experience had been. Every once in a while, I still hoped for love but it seemed like it was not to be. Not that I spent too much time dwelling on it.

I spent the next ten years living on my own and rebuilding my life. I learned to attract the most wonderful friendships and went on adventures including a paragliding holiday in Turkey to celebrate my 70th birthday!

Sue Plumtree Paragliding

I started running a group with my local u3a (University of the Third Age) for people over 50 called The Life-Enhancing Group which has now been running over six years.

I felt loved and fulfilled. I had everything I’d always yearned for!

About four years ago, I thought it would be fun to start a new u3a group based on one of my interests, cooking. I called this new group ‘Come Lunch with Me’.

One of the first people to call was a man called Paul. Like me, he was 70 and also like me, he enjoyed cooking.

It didn’t take long for me to learn to like him. He really listened (and remembered!), he had an interesting life, enjoyed contributing his skills for the severely disabled and was close to his family. The more I found out about him, the more I liked him.

Here was a man who appeared to check every one of the boxes I had hungered for all my life. The more I got to know him, the more I liked and trusted him and the more my wounds from my marriage began to heal.

It didn’t take long for me to start feeling attracted to him – I mean, REALLY attracted. For the first time in what felt like forever, I started experiencing sexual feelings.

That’s when I started worrying.

I worried about my body. I have scoliosis, a curvature of the spine as well as the changes that come from ageing all of which made me feel worried about being seen naked.

I worried about the fact that I hadn’t been in a sexual relationship in over 15 years.

I worried about vaginal dryness and much more!

As I learned later, Paul had his own share of worries.

We both struggled with our own demons, particularly the fear of allowing ourselves to be seen and being found wanting. I can’t tell you how scared I felt.

But things did change.

As we gradually grew closer we both began to feel safe enough to allow ourselves to be seen – physically and emotionally.

The novelty of feeling sexually aroused was as exhilarating as it was terrifying. I felt alive again but unsure if my feelings were reciprocated.

I also worried because it had been such a long time since I made love with a man. On reflection, I never really made love. Yes, I did have sex but I don’t think I ever made love.

But by then we’d started holding each other and kissing but nothing overtly sensual which frustrated me even more.

In the end, I thought “Sod It!”.

I remember that life-changing moment as if it were yesterday.

We were at my place, just holding each other and I was beginning to feel aroused. I kept thinking, “Why doesn’t he say or, better still, do something!”

I knew the subject would come up sooner or later but I wanted it to be sooner rather than later. In the end, even though I felt vulnerable, I decided to go for it. “Paul, I want you to come to bed with me,” I said.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to drag him with me to the bedroom but first, we both admitted feeling nervous. I even admitted to lacking confidence in my body and my lack of experience – a strange admission coming from a 70-year old woman.

Joking about being ‘newbies’ inserted some light-heartedness which helped.

Because neither one of us had had sex in many years, we both read articles about sex in later life.

These articles were helpful up to a point. But I noticed that some had a condescendingly reassuring tone trying to convince men who have difficulty getting and maintaining an erection not to worry too much as it would undermine their confidence.

Their advice to men was that there were other ways to find sexual fulfilment apart from penetrative sex but they made it sound second best – just foreplay; not the ‘real thing’.

As we became familiar with each other’s bodies, Paul and I discovered that far from non-penetrative sex being a second-best experience, the reality was vastly different.

We decided to read ‘The Joys of Sex’ together for inspiration. What an eye-opener!

The way Paul puts it is, “making love lovingly.” And that’s exactly what making love with him feels like.

We can’t keep our hands off each other (present tense) – well, I certainly can’t (an ongoing joke between us).

Outside of bed, we do a lot of touching – a loving hug, an unexpected tickle that makes us burst out laughing, a cuddle, a look that tells me he sees me as a beautiful and sexy woman. All of this means that, come bedtime, we’re usually eager for more sensual touching.

But, best of all, I’ve discovered that lovemaking is so much more than sex.

One of the lovely things is that it doesn’t take place exclusively in the bedroom.

Paul and I like saying loving, even sexy things to each other. “You’re so beautiful!” (yes, even after more than four years), “I love your body” (I had trouble believing him at first) or he’ll say, “Let me look at you” gazing lovingly at my face and stroking it gently.

A favourite of mine is telling him – “I’m potty about your botty!” to which he replies, “You’re outrageous!” and we both crease up with laughter.

It tells us we’re seen and appreciated as well as regarded as sexy and attractive despite our age.

I can’t imagine looking at another man when my own looks at me with such love and desire.

What I discovered was that, when we like each other, when we value and appreciate each other, when we accept each other as we are, when we make each other feel heard and understood, when we play and laugh together – that’s when sex becomes love-making.

There’s truly nothing like it.

They say that meeting new people and making new friends gets more and more difficult the older you get but that’s not my experience.

Going to events – talks, workshops, seminars – that you’re interested in you’re more likely to meet like-minded people.

But that’s not the only way. Offering to do something for others as I did for my u3a could be fun and bring interesting people into your life.

Most of all, enjoying your life on your own is immensely attractive to others. Happiness attracts happiness!

The Bolder Interview – Dominique Afacan and Helen Cathcart


5 Minute Read

Writer, Dominique Afacan and photographer, Helen Cathcart are both in their late 30s, in 2015 they launched the website be-bolder.com which featured inspiring people Over-70. Their mission is to change perceptions around growing older and they’ve spent the last few years interviewing funky, interesting Over-70s. Recently, they published a book – Bolder – Life Lessons from People Older & Wiser Than You.

So you and Helen are in your late 30s – how did you think of this idea re Bolder, your website?

The honest answer is that, despite our relatively young age, we were both scared of ageing. The message from society was that time was running out – we were constantly being reminded of our biological clocks, we were sold creams and potions that promised to ‘turn back the clock,’ and the conversations we had about growing old tended to be shrouded in negativity. Somewhere, deep down, we knew our fear was wrong. We met interesting and inspiring older people all the time! So we decided to do something about it – and Bolder was born.

Do people think it’s a little strange for you both at 30 to be engaging with age?

Not at all. Having interviewed 50 people over the age of 70 for the website and the book, it is clear that we are far more concerned about getting older than the people we speak to. There’s a lot of fear about the future at our age, whereas most of the people we speak to for Bolder are having the time of their lives and have let go of a lot of the worries and panics that we have every day.

What is the concept around Bolder?

The idea is that we interview a collection of stereotype-shattering people over the age of 70 and feature their stories on the site together with a beautiful portrait. We both normally go along and meet each person together as we get such a lot from these meetings. We’ll often stick around a lot longer than we planned – we sat drinking Guinness with Eve Branson in her garden after her interview!

Why is it important to you? And how do younger people respond?

We really want to show the positives of getting older and change the narrative around what it means to age. Ageing is a privilege after all and we are all lucky to be doing it every hour, every day – if we’re lucky.

How did you decide to make it for Over-70s?

When we started, we decided that 70 was the age we both felt was officially ‘old.’ We’ve since seen the error of our ways and know better than to stereotype or categorise by age at all, but that’s the truth!

And what about the book? How did that come about? Of course, Helen is a photographer which is handy?

We always suspected that the interviews and beautiful photos would come across well in print. We were lucky enough that Hardie Grant (our publisher) spotted that potential too!

Why is the idea that older people are educating younger ones? 

The reason we chose that strapline (life lessons from people older and wiser than you) is because we learnt so much from our subjects along the way. Alongside all the interviews in the book, we provide commentary on what the two of us have learnt about everything from love and health to success and regrets through the project. We really wanted to share that wisdom with our peers.

How did you go about finding these fabulous people over 70?

It was surprisingly easy! There are plenty of inspiring older people out there, it’s just that so often nobody is listening to them or giving them space in the media. Even the famous people we included were happy to take part – Michel Roux even invited us to his villa in the south of France and gave us an afternoon of his time – followed by a bottle of Bollinger in his garden!

I’d like to hear about Sue Plumtree, 72, who is a Over-50s Love Coach?

Sue was great. After decades in an unhappy marriage she found the strength to leave and start over. She’s a fantastic example of what it means to be ‘bolder.’ As she says, many people over a certain age just submit to being unhappy in a happy marriage because they can’t bear to face up to the years they have already wasted. But being brave really paid off for her; she not only found true love, but has started a new career and has a new enthusiasm for life.

And Eddy Diget the 73 year old personal trainer?

We met Eddy in the gym where he works and he ended up giving me a training session! He was far fitter than me! When we started Bolder we wanted to find people who drank gallons of wine or smoked 50 fags and were still going strong. But the reality is that most of the people we met looked after themselves, both mentally and physically. I think some of that has rubbed off on us.

Which story and person were you personally moved by?

I don’t think I can pick one! But our cover star Muffie Grieve always resonates with us as we met her over in New Zealand when we were at the wedding of our friend who designed Bolder (both the website and the book) for us. So it felt like this brilliant serendipity of what happens when three friends come together on a creative project. Muffie is a force of nature; at 87 she’s just got remarried, she’s learning Spanish and she plays championship tennis!

Are you carrying on finding people for more books?

Absolutely! We are always looking for more people! This project is by no means a one-off or a book project that is now and dusted. It is a passion project that breathes life into us and I can’t imagine either of us wanting to stop doing it.

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