This is a serial about love and awakening. Previously: I get hooked for the second time on a man I call Billy the Bad. Click here to start with Part One.

We interrupt the story of Billy the Bad to ask: As we grow older, is it possible to find and keep love and sensuality in a committed relationship? Are we too set in our ways? I mean, every person I know is weird in some way. (I met a divorced doctor recently whose house is full of electric trains!) Or does our experience make us wiser and more able to compromise?

Not long ago I was asked by O, the Oprah Magazine, to write a piece about people who find deep love and lust after 40. I put out the word, and interviewed dozens who ranged from their 40s to their 90s, and who’d fallen in love with a person they consider a soul mate long after they thought that was possible.

The project gave me hope — that it’s never too late — and that it’s not just luck, there are internal changes we can make to release old patterns and create a healthy loving relationship.

One of the best examples is the actress Ellen Burstyn, whom I interviewed by phone. For 25 years, Ellen did not go out on a date.

Why not? I wondered.

“Nobody asked me,” she said.

“I find that hard to believe,” I said. “In 25 years, weren’t you attracted to a man, or pursued by one?”

”I was busy living my life.” She was working constantly around the world, won an Oscar for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and was nominated for five other films. She enjoyed being with her son, her friends, and her animals. Every so often, she would look around and think, Where are all the men? “I thought it would be great to go home and curl up in someone’s lap, but I didn’t sit around crying about it. I made a friend of solitude,” Ellen says.

But this ease took her decades to attain. In her 20s, she said, she’d been “promiscuous. Since puberty, I’d gone from man to man, and I had three marriages that were all painful and ended in divorce.” She knew she had to heal the wounds that kept her repeating the same pattern with men, “so that aspect of myself went into closed shop. I think I built an invisible shield that no one could penetrate.”


Young Burstyn – “Promiscuous”

She worked with a therapist, studied Sufism and reconnected with her Christian roots, which she describes in her book, Lessons in Becoming Myself. When she finally believed she knew how to do it right –“to attract a man who would treat me well and whom I could love,” she feared it was too late. On a whim, she asked a woman friend from the Actors Studio if she knew a man who might be suitable.

“I’ll have to think about that,” the woman said.

Shortly afterward, this same woman was approached by a Greek actor who had auditioned for Ellen at the Actors Studio when he was 25 and she was 48. He confessed to Ellen’s friend that he’d been in love with her for the 23 years since they’d met.

“What?!” Ellen said, when the message was relayed. “The Greek kid?” But he was 48 now, an attractive and successful acting teacher. He sent her an email, which she answered, guardedly. He wrote back, “I don’t see the word ‘no’ in there.”

When she continued resisting, he said, “Ellen, this is eros knocking at your door.” (I would later repeat the same line to Billy, not getting the same results.)

Ellen has now been living with the Greek man for five years, in her house on the Hudson River in New York state. She says it’s been an easy fit, “which is startling because he’s from a different culture and a different generation.” One reason may be her new approach. “Most of my life, if a man did something totally other than the way I thought it should be done, I would try to correct him. Now I say, ‘Oh, isn’t that interesting? You do that differently than I do.’ It’s the biggest thing I’ve learned,” she says. “It allows for a stress-free relationship. There’s not a lot of teeth gritting.”

Ellen’s challenge has been working with fear of abandonment. “I had so much anxiety in my former relationships—I was scared of losing men, all of them.” She believes there are patterns we can only work on in a relationship, and this is one. “Right now, he’s in Greece, teaching, and that brings up anxiety. ‘He’s away–what will happen? Somebody else will grab him!’ I have to see that and keep releasing those thoughts.”

She talks about how age can make love more poignant. “Around 65, I experienced my mortality. Not like ‘Oh yeah, I’m gonna die,’ but it’s a possibility that’s there all the time. And once that happens, everything becomes more precious.

“And to be in love!” she says. “To experience the joy of intimacy in the presence of death—that is delicious. When you’re in love you feel so young, and at the same time, you’re summing life up. So it’s beautiful and rich, and you have to be aware that it’s impermanent.”

She says that she and her partner joke all the time about funerals and ashes. He told her recently that he was driving home and a song on the radio threw him into a terrible dark place.…

“Oh, was I dead again?” Ellen said with a laugh. “Will you stop already?”

She says they don’t plan to marry. “We have being in love right now. We know that life is short. Death is certain. And love is real. We’re going to enjoy every moment of it.”


Please leave a COMMENT. Have you made friends with solitude? How has love – your experience and understanding of it – changed with age?

This blog is based on a true story, but I’ve changed names and identifying details to protect privacy. I’ve also, in a few cases, compressed time or altered elements to serve the narrative.The title “Sex Love Enlightenment” is an homage to Mark Matousek’s book, Sex Death Enlightenment



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17 thoughts on “PART 6 – EROS IS KNOCKING

  1. Beauregard

    After 10 years of single hood and passing age 60, I felt I had finally learned to give and receive love. I met the ideal woman. We lived together two years. In that time she added a son-in-law and two grandchildren, for a total of two married children and three grand children.
    She decided, her words, she didn’t have room for me in her life.
    So romance late in life has additional complications.
    This experience taught me
    a: a new meaning for sexagenerian and
    b: love and lust are possible
    I remain optimistic, though for the moment a recovering romantic.

  2. Davina

    I’m a 61-year-old woman who has met a 74-year-old man. He is so sympathetic and seems so right for me: and we’re both so intensely lonely and have the same needs and dreams.
    But I keep worrying about the age difference, since he is at an age where he could die at any point; and then I would be alone all over again. Is it worth it to invest in what will possibly be just a few years? Is a little bit of what you want, followed by grief, better than a span of years in which there is nothing?
    I’d love some feedback.

  3. Sean

    One of my favorite poets wrote, “Tis better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all”. In my dad’s second marriage, there was much conversation, about “What Bebee might do after dad died”. Unfortunately the better conversation might have been “What will dad do after Bebee dies”, for she pre deceased him by eight years. Few of us know where or when we might die, so it appears to me that putting off a potential love due to the proposition that he/she is older than I probably closes off any number of possible relationships that might provide a wonderful opportunity for love. While some say that love and life are incompatible, I believe that love so enhances my life, that I am willing to risk it’s loss rather than live without it.

  4. Debbie

    Loneliness can be such a problem as we age – I have seen this in my own mother, who chose to move to a retirement community in Arizona after my father passed away. Although she has made many friends, it is not the same as having someone to have dinner with and talk to every day. She often spends her weekends alone, although I think she has become more comfortable in her solitude as she ages.

    I also wonder if it is “worth it” to find someone, and then have that relationship end or the other person die. When I broke up 2 years ago with someone I dated for 9 months, I was absolutely shattered. I was 54 years old, and felt like my chance to be married and find true happiness with another person was over. But, time DOES heal most wounds, and we are still friends despite the fact that neither of us has found anyone else. I have surrendered to the idea that I may never marry, but I am still open to the idea of love with a compatible partner – I have seen it happen to several friends who had been single for many years.

    Perhaps that is what I have discovered to be most important as I age – the value of true friends. I don’t expect my friends to be available for me all the time, but I know they are there for me if I really need them. In the meantime, I have become more comfortable traveling alone and doing more activities by myself. I am not by nature a “social animal” anyway, and find many things to occupy my time without connecting with another person. So, I think the key is to “cultivate your own garden”, so to speak, but remain open to the possibility of love and connection with another without fearing how and when it will end.

  5. Anonymous

    At 65 and 6 years of widowhood, I have found intense love and sex to be better than ever before. The fragility and brevity of life is a strong motivator to really cherish the moments. The widower I met (in church even though everyone said you’ll never meet a man there) is wonderful beyond my imaginings. I had made my peace with singlehood and then there he was! We hope to be married in the future.

  6. Anonymous

    I loved hearing about Ellen’s new love life. I knew and worked with Ellen years ago on a film but did not know we had this life of solace in common. At age 63, I still possess a young and vibrant spirit and find men much younger than I to be the only ones that ever gravitate toward me. But I still maintain a protective shield when it comes to considering a romance with any of them mostly because I don’t want to feel like an old letch and I view these flirtations as just another encounter with an unavailvable man. After raising a daughter as a single mother, I have lived an almost celebite life since 40 with the excepting of a few brief encouters with unavailable men. Like Ellen I do not cry over a lack of intimate relationship and rarely feel lonely but mostly I feel comfortable being on my own now that my daughter is grown and gone from the home for over 17 years. I’m just getting used to living with a roommate for the first time in 3 decades and the idea of sharing my home and life with an intimate partner scares me. Reading stories like this gives me hope that the possibility for change and letting someone into my life is possible and I know I’m still open to change.

  7. Anonymous

    I can agree with something everyone has said so far: it seems to be fairly common, and I know I experience it, that lonliness can be the result of important choices to live according to one’s own inner compass, to not “settle”, to be creative, travel, enjoy a rich life. I have all these things, and the ideal old, VT farm where I live and garden (all paid for!) besides, but I still do experience lonliness, especially on weekends when plans fall thru and I am passing the time alone. Yet, in most cases, I do not want the alternatives either (going out, just to be with people, not accepting my solitude). Match, here I come, even tho I swore never to use it after the last time!

  8. veek

    “As we grow older, is it possible to find and keep love and sensuality in a committed relationship or are we too set in our ways?”…i believe that love and sensuality are always possible. i think if you remain open to love – if you choose to open your heart – love may find you, regardless of your age. it’s never too late. you may have to be paying close attention, though, because it may not walk in the door looking like it did in previous experiences. and what that will teach you about yourself may be more enlightening than what you learn about the object of your affection in the process.

  9. Kathy

    I am reminded that age is relative as I read stories from those beyond my years though I have been feeling too old for the dating game. I relate to many things Ellen said, as if we were living parallel lives. I believe that human relationships are the ultimate in learning experiences for our souls. An empty-nest for a single-mom sounds lonely, but I choose to look at it as a void which can now be filled. In the meantime I shall enjoy all the pleasures in life with my friends and family. I especially liked how Ellen has changed her perception with age regarding how a man does something! “Isn’t that interesting?” I find myself entering that arena now too, where I do not care about so many things that used to curl my hair! It is wonderful to age and arrive at this place of calm serenity, with or without a partner.

  10. Anonymous

    I love the new format of your blog. The posts are much more interesting and I can’t wait to keep reading. Also, the fact that is being regularly update helps a lot in holding my attention. Keep at it!

  11. Joel NYC

    Hello Sara, (internet/your blog making me feel a as if I can just address you as Sara, not Ms. Davidson)I very much enjoyed your latest blog post as I have all the others. Your Billy the Bad story, is as always funny, heart warming and truthful. Much of what I wrote about in my book, Bursts, essays and poems (self published, sold about 897 copies, I am so lazy) and of my next, (all poetry a sure best seller), are about finding love, peace with yourself, with another. What we all write about, one way or another. The mad rush into lust, the love we believe we have found at last, and the fact that almost instantly that wonderful, freeing, sexy relationship begins to decay. Or so it seems to dating-me and the joys that brings. I thought I would love it because I love to shop. Match and its ilk are truly shopping centers. Online malls for love. Hoping for the Jerry Maguire “ You complete me” moment, the Holy Grail, is why 1000’s of us are on Craig’s List, eHarmony and Match.Back on topic, your blog. Perhaps Ellen Burstyn is not rare, that we can find that “easy fit”, I hope so. Or perhaps we should check in with her in five yeas. On the other hand, (Fiddler), if you can find someone at 55+ and be happy for 5-10 years, what’s not to be happy about? After my marriage of 33 years (my wife and I are still great friends), I keep the hope alive; I share your blog and recommend and gift Leap. Thank you for your words

  12. Lara

    I have to fight my own cultural assumptions that it's too late for me, in hoping that love will come knocking. As a 20 & 30-yr-old cutie, I could always find new boyfriends within months of a breakup. Now, in my 60s, with the cuteness just a memory, I have to be proactive in finding someone worth having: it takes a deeper part of myself and the search is more difficult. But for that reason, if I attract someone now, it's because he wants the inner, rather than the outer me.

  13. RLS

    I *love seeing this hope that *love* is possible at all ages and is alive and pungent. Wonderfully written and a beautiful insight.

  14. milehisteve

    Ellen Burstyn’s views on solidtude really resonate with me. After being married for 20 years and raising two beautiful children, I’m rather content to focus on my own life, without all the complications of a relationship. I have a few friends and I enjoy meeting new people. I’m an optimist, but I’m not putting my life on hold hoping to meet “the one.”

  15. DrBarbra

    I relate to finding peace in solitude, but hope springs eternal that I could fall in love some day, now that I am in my 60’s.
    When I am being lonely, I tell myself that 20-30 minutes of loneliness is a small price to pay for all this tranquility.

  16. Piano player

    I am concluding (but this changes constantly) that you must know yourself best before you can find that person that “completes” you. I noticed first that Ellen spent time on her spirituality. For me, that has become a goal and I strive to learn something daily. When I became an e-harmony member, the most fascinating part was the psychological profile. I have spent many hours pouring over the words and pondering whether they fit me or not. I have learned a lot about myself and about what I (and he) might want or need in a companion that will enhance our enjoyment of each other. In regards to your “Billy” story, I have only read the first installment, but it has flowed through my thoughts on several occasions. The conclusion: why is it that we can’t trust those electrical sparks that are so strong in the beginning but get further apart as time goes by? Yes, I have hope that there is someone out there that can fulfill my “The Notebook” dreams. Love your blog Sara. Very thought provoking. p.s. (for reference: my personal story is about a 19+ year marriage, 2 children, divorce, lots of pain; then 8 year relationship with a person that I have come to realize was/is exactly the same “type” of person I chose the first time!)

  17. Anonymous

    I’ve been reading Sex Love Enlightment and I have a question. What about those of us that found love once, lost it, and gone on to be in good relationships with other people, but still pine for the first love? I’ve been married twice. I really thought that I had found my soulmate when I married my first husband. The trouble is, he found another soulmate (one he’s been with for the past 20+ years) and we divorced. The question I continue to have is how is it possible for me to think of him as my soulmate when he truly loves someone else?
    My life continued and I married again–to a very nice man. My life is fine but not a day goes by that I don’t think of my exhusband with regret and sadness. It feels like unfinished business of the heart. This is the first time I said this to anyone–to a perfect stranger. Not even my therapist knows that I feel this way.

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