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Randy B. Hecht
A 51-year-old man who was married for a few months at 20, raised his daughter alone and never remarried meets a 50-year-old woman who never had children and ended her 11-year marriage in 1978. Although neither reports any instant fireworks, the couple were married within two years.

John and Marcia (who asked that their real names not be used) met online and quickly joined the growing population of people who are over 50, on-line, and altar-bound again. Is there a common secret to their success? For the three couples I interviewed, each has matured into a sense of what's really important to them and discovered what they need to make a relationship work--something each believes could not havehappened when they were younger.

Attraction or distraction?

John and Marcia's union was hardly love at first sight. "Things seemed to go pretty well, but neither of us was swept off our feet," they recall. "We just knew we'd had a nice time and had spent a nice evening together. We weren't physically attracted at first, which made the rest of it much easier. We were best friends first, and fell in love afterward."

Hope, a 50-year-old, twice-divorced woman who'd been single for fourteen years before meeting her current husband online

reports a similar experience. "I was (and still am) surprised that we 'took to' each other so easily," says Hope, who moved herself and her consulting business from Grand Rapids to Milwaukee, where her husband Dave, 53, is a member of the Symphony. "Actually, our phone and e-mail conversations had not been stellar, but enough to see that there were possibilities."

On the other hand, Annie, who is approaching 50, was instantly smitten with Alan, the same age. "When I got home after our first meeting, I sort of knew this would be it," she recalls. My friends were very suspicious--they aren't on-line, most of them--and they thought I was slightly crazy. But compared with bars and 'social' groups, I think I was the sane one."

The feeling was mutual. Alan, a self described geek (he's a computer software engineer) says, "I thought the meeting with Annie was just an opportunity to exercise my very rusty social skills. Thought we'd just have coffee and chat." But he knew "within minutes" that the relationship could turn serious--despite the fact that although both were in the midst of separation and divorce, neither was legally divorced yet.

Role reversals

Before they knew it, these people had become couples--and had to meet two, three, or even four generations of one another's families. How does being a parent and introducing a mate to your teenager compare with being a teenager and bringing someone home to meet Mom and Dad?

Marcia, an only child who'd never had children, suddenly was meeting John's brother, sister-in-law, daughter, and grandchildren. How did it go? She reports that John and his brother "are so much alike that it's scary, so I had no problem warming to him immediately," and his wife "hadn't had a sister-in-law for so long that she was pretty grateful not to have to handle both of them alone any more!" And from the way she refers to "our daughter" and "our grandbabies," you know even before Marcia says so that they "snuck into my heart and stole it while I wasn't looking." As a bonus, she adds, John's relationship with his daughter has improved "about 200%" since their romance began.

John had it much easier; all he had to do was charm Marcia's mother, who Marcia says was "thrilled to pieces. She'd worried, of course, that I'd be alone forever, and since she was 81 at the time, she was afraid she'd never live to see me in a relationship that made me happy. Well, she's seen it now!"

When mom falls in love

When Annie, a semi-retired theology teacher, psychological counselor and philosophy instructor, began "singing around the house," she caught her son's attention. The 20-year-old student, who lives at his mother's house when not at college, "said I was acting like a teenager," she says with a cyber-grin, "but he meant it as a compliment."

None of the couples interviewed for this article wish they'd met at a younger age. "We've talked about this," says Marcia. "We were both married at 20 and agree that it was waaaaaaaaay too young. We hadn't had time to season, to mellow, to age sufficiently. We needed to experience all that we have in order to become the people we are and appreciate what we've found in one another. We have more patience. The little stuff doesn't bother us as much. We know we're in this forever, but most young people figure that there's always an 'out' and are much less likely to put the effort into making the relationship work."

No room for betrayal

"The physical part is completely unimportant," Marcia adds. "What honesty, faith in one another, belief in one another, and integrity. Since we're best friends, we relate on two levels, neither one of which has any room for deception or betrayal." Hope agrees. "I'm glad we didn't [meet at a younger age]. It would not have lasted," she says. She lists the things she and Dave have now that younger couples cannot have: "Life experience. Acceptance that each of us is doing our very best at that moment. I also have so much less of a fairy tale idea about marriage, and now find so much more pleasure in it!"

Venus envy?

So is there anything younger couples have that these couples envy? Dave and Hope say that apart from "the chance to have children together," younger couples have "very little" they envy. "For me, nothing," Alan says. "I don't feel a lot different from my 20s!"

"The only thing younger couples have that I envy is time," Annie says. "They say youth is wasted on the young. Now I truly understand that." John and Marcia echo her sentiment. Younger couples, have "absolutely nothing" they envy--"except that they'd have longer to be together than we have. But if we can hit 75 or 80, we'll be grateful for even that short a time."

So no matter what your past, you can have romance in your future--and make it last a lifetime the second time around!

Randy B. Hecht

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