For those of you, like me, who never much cared for Romeo and Juliet (even when I was forced to read the play in middle school, I thought that if the teenagers just waited three days, they would have fallen in love with someone else), you might find it heartwarming to know that there is plenty of romance to be had “the second time around” in midlife. Whether you’re looking for love in midlife, or are ready to rekindle the long love you already have, these seven women who have found love the second time around are sure to inspire.
1. Don’t worry about aging.
“Just be yourself and they’ll love you.” This was the advice the novelist Kate Christensen’s mother gave her whenever Kate talked about ‘getting work done.’ Kate’s mother advocates eating right and sleeping well, health tips that seem to have worked great for her — she’s an incredibly active woman who keeps a blog, travels the country, and looks beautiful and vibrant at age 82.
The advice has worked for Kate as well. The accomplished author, who has written seven novels (including The Last Cruise, published in 2018) and two food memoirs, and who has received the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, has stayed youthful and lovely by eschewing Botox and plastic surgery and by instead embracing cooking and eating delicious home-cooked meals, walking her dog with her second husband Brendan Fitzgerald, and living in the country in Maine. Her second husband, by the way, is 20 years younger than she is, a fact they both find “incredibly sexy” (as will anyone who sees a photo of them together). Kate, who is 56, says that while she is of course aging, “because it happens to everyone,” finds that it makes her happier not to fight it. “Not fighting it, paying less attention to how I look and more attention to how I feel, makes me feel younger and happier somehow.” I guess it’s true what they say: Mother is always right after all.
2. “You can’t change the world, but you can change your world”
Diane Wintjen Garza of San Pedro, California was married for over 20 years to a man who was a great father to their two sons and a great provider, but Diane felt something was missing from the marriage. Diane liked to be going 24/7. Her husband liked to come from his work in the Los Angeles sheriff’s department and watch TV. When one son was in high school and the other was in college, Diane decided that if she didn’t have someone in her life to share the things she enjoyed, that if she didn’t have intimacy, she wanted to separate. Her husband didn’t argue or agree to counseling, so Diane left, and once she did, her family, friends, and customers saw her transformation: Her life was full of joy. She was doing what she wanted, traveling, and trying new things. Her son said, “I see you happier, and I see Dad more relaxed.” Diane said that was huge, and the divorce was final in 2011. One of her customers told her, "I have the perfect guy for you," but Diane said that she wasn’t interested in a relationship. The customer persisted, and finally Diane agreed to go on a double-date with John, and the customer and her husband. Little did she know that would be one of the best decisions of her life.
John was divorced after having been married for 30 years, also had two sons, and had been missing all the same things Diane had been. “I met a guy who was just as excited about trying new thing as I was. Tasting, feeling, smelling, living, and enjoying simple things, like walks on the beach, hand in hand, while talking, or a glass of wine.” Seven years later, they’re still going strong. “I am one lucky 55-year-old. I don't feel it was a midlife crisis. I felt a part of me had died. When one makes a vow in church in a wedding ceremony, you say, ‘Until death do us part.’ Well, I couldn't see going on with life when a part of me had died. One Sunday, while sitting in church, the priest was giving his homily, and he said, ‘You can't change THE world, but you can change YOUR world.’ So I did.” In changing her world, Diane found love again — and has never been happier.
3. Trust your gut when it tells you, “Now or never.”
Julie had been with her female partner for 10 years when they broke up — partly because her partner didn’t want children, and Julie very much did. “I was 38,” she says, “and the little voice inside me told me it was now or never.” She and her partner had been living in Taos, New Mexico, and Julie applied for a job within her company and moved to the Bay Area in California to start a new life. She joined an LGBTQ Meetup group — not necessarily to find a romantic partner, but simply to make like-minded friends and become involved in the LGBTQ community. But at the very first Meetup event — a family-friendly picnic in Mission Dolores Park — Julie met Anyssa, a divorced bi woman with two kids. “We hit it off immediately,” Julie says. Julie loved Anyssa’s sense of humor, warmth, and intelligence, and she connected with her young daughter and son. Within a year and a half, they were married — at an outdoor ceremony in Mission Dolores Park, with the children as flower girl and ring bearer. Julie says she no longer feels the need to have her own biological children, but she’s nonetheless grateful for the ticking of her biological clock, which led her to make a change. “I’m glad I trusted my gut. That voice which whispered, ‘now or never’ led me to Anyssa and our children,” she says. “And I can’t imagine my life without them.”
4. Remember that love is about sharing the sunshine and the storms.
When Keri Olson met Larry in 1993, Keri was recovering from a divorce and a second bout with breast cancer. She was 34 years old and says that she “wasn't the picture of youthful vigor, health, radiance or beauty. Rather, I was pale and thin.” She didn't bother to disguise the fact that she had undergone bilateral mastectomies, and she wasn’t wearing a wig before all of her hair had grown back in. The last thing on her mind was a romantic interest. Yet, as they served together on a chamber of commerce committee, Larry got to know Keri and saw beyond her appearance and asked her out. That was 25 years ago, and they have been together ever since. Keri says that Larry has stood with her through other health challenges as well, his devotion never wavering. “Knowing that Larry could see something good in me when my appearance was far from my best is one of the greatest gifts I have received from my experience with second love,” Keri says. “Love isn't about how young and beautiful and perfect we can be. It's about embracing the imperfections, even the scary stuff. That’s where the foundation of a strong and lasting relationship is built. I am blessed to have found second love with Larry so that, together, we can share the sunshine and the storms.”
5. Find love again after a 30-year wait.
Nina McCollum of Cleveland has experienced a great deal of love in her life. She has been proposed to 10 times, has been engaged four times, and was married for 11 years, before she and her ex-husband divorced, when their son was five. After the divorce, Nina attended a party hosted by a college friend, where she reconnected with Rich, a fellow former student who once lived in their co-ed dorm. Back in college, Nina and Rich had experienced “an intense mutual attraction.” Nina says they used to “to flirt a lot and spend a lot of time together, but he was too shy to make a move, and I was too stubborn to do it myself, so nothing ever happened.” When they reconnected after Nina’s divorce, Nina learned he was married, but unhappy with his life. They kept in touch, and then, a couple of years later, he mailed Nina a long letter expressing his feelings for her, which he had kept hidden for 30 years, since their college dormitory days. Even with all of Nina’s romances, she had never received a letter like that, and didn’t know what to do. Nina was involved in a long-distance relationship, and Rich was married, but in time, both relationships ended, and in 2018, Rich moved to Cleveland, and in with Nina and her son.
It’s been nearly a year now, and Nina says that this is the easiest it’s ever been in a relationship. “He is an amazing partner in every way. Fiercely attractive, devoted, hard-working, romantic, attentive, engaged, loving, funny.” Nina says he is a wonderful stepdad, and, along with Nina’s ex-husband, an active role model in Nina’s son’s life. “Rich would throw himself on a grenade for me without a second thought … and he's a hot silver fox as well — when he does the dishes without a shirt on, I feel like I'm living some woman's dream life. He's everything I've ever wanted in a partner, and more, and I can't wait for the rest of our lives together.” Nina’s story reminds us that sometimes great things are worth waiting for — even if the wait takes 30 years.
6. Fall in love with yourself.
Angela Witczak, now “38 and three-quarters years old,” of Baraboo, Wisconsin, didn’t expect to go through a divorce at 31. Most people she knew her age were just falling in love for the first time around. She had spent so much time being a part of an “other half” that she never felt whole or complete on her own. Then someone said to her, “If I asked you to name all the things you love, how long would it take you to name yourself?” Um, never, Angela thought. She decided, then and there, that she had to fill the void in herself. So she began an experiment, asking herself what she liked about Angela. A little overweight. Dumpy. No, no, no! she told herself. If she wanted to be the person with whom she was madly in love, she wanted to be someone she admired. So she started with figuring out what kinds of clothes she liked to wear. She realized that she liked to look feminine, so she changed her style from button-up shirts to flowy skirts and dresses, and she cut and dyed her hair until she found the cut and color that she loved. Then, she looked in the mirror. “Gazed was more like it,” she says. “I deeply looked at myself, admiring me, telling myself that I was madly in love with myself. Every single day I told myself that I was beautiful.” She took herself on dates, exploring new restaurants, going to the movies. She traveled to the West coast. She frolicked in the ocean in San Diego, rode a motorcycle through the rose gardens of Portland, Oregon. She planned grand adventures for herself and for her children. She stopped placing all of her identity in seeing herself as a single mother — she had five children (three biological and two adopted) — and “just became wholeheartedly me.” For the first time in her life, she says, “I enjoyed myself. I didn’t need anyone else to fulfill me. I was a complete. I was in love. Wholeheartedly in love with myself.” We are always being told to “love ourselves first”; we might take a page from Angela’s book to learn just how.
7. Fall in love with your first love.
Ann (who asked to remain anonymous) is a 45-year-old stay-at-home mom with three children, who was married to her husband for 17 years when they experienced problems that led them to marriage counseling. What followed was the most difficult two years of Ann’s life. “There were plenty of times I wasn’t sure we’d make it,” Ann says, but when it was over, “Our marriage was stronger than ever.” She adds, “I experienced love the second time around with the same man: my husband.” They will be married 20 years next year, and they are planning on renewing their vows. “We’re different people than we were 20 years ago. We have a different marriage than when we were newlyweds; than before we faced our problems. But you know what? It’s a better marriage than the first one, and that’s worth celebrating.” Love the second time around doesn’t need to be with a different person, as Ann’s story reminds us. After all, since we’re always changing, aren’t we different people than we used to be, anyway?
Whether we are 16 or 106, love and human connection remain central to our lives. But love is different in midlife. We understand there is less time, and so an awareness of mortality puts intimacy and relationships in perspective; we prioritize friendships and romantic relationships we value, and are more likely to abandon ones that aren’t working. When we find love “the second time around” in midlife — whether it’s with someone new, someone we used to know, the same person who has always been beside us, or love for ourselves — it’s a discovery to rejoice. After all, Romeo and Juliet never had the chance to experience love in midlife; that might be one of their greatest tragedies of all.
Kelly Dwyer is a novelist, freelance writer, and playwright who lives with her husband and teenage daughter outside Madison, Wisconsin.