Last night while attending the Washington Press Club's annual dinner for members of Congress and the journalists who cover them, I resigned myself to the fact that, being a health writer, I probably wouldn't know anyone there besides my office colleagues. After making a beeline for the bathroom, I was surprised and delighted to meet Abigail Trafford, a health columnist for the Washington Post who told me she used to work for U.S. News. She was standing next to Miss America—the crown was a dead giveaway—and the three of us exchanged pleasantries. While struck by the statuesque, oh-so-thin, blond beauty queen, I found my gaze kept returning to Trafford with her silver coiffed locks and quiet self-assuredness. "You know," the 67-year-old confided to me as we headed to our separate tables, "love improves with age because women are better at it."
I called her today to elaborate. The new book she's writing, As Time Goes By, focuses on love in the over-50 set, attempting to dispel the notion that seniors are too old and crotchety for romance. Rather, she calls it the "high noon" for passion. She's been spending her days interviewing dozens of older folks, both attached and unattached, including those who've remarried each other after getting divorced. "The separation gave them time to find their own space, take care of themselves, and really change the nature of their relationship," she says. One couple who got back together originally split up because the husband was much older than his wife and was too tempted to be her mentor; after spending time on her own, the wife was able to become more self-sufficient and financially independent. When they reunited, they felt more like equals.
Other couples who stay married over time find themselves feeling a sense of urgency once the kids leave home. "They ask themselves, 'Who is going to be with me in this next phase?'" says Trafford. "It's not enough that you don't fight; you need to have areas of engagement and common interests." Those who don't often split up, but those who do find that, like fine wine, their marriage has become richer with time. Most women in their 50s, 60s, and beyond are more confident in themselves and don't rely as much on their partners' love for self-assurance. They're also more aware of their own mortality, which may help them cherish the time they have left. "One couple, both retired, told me that they just decided to be more polite to each other," she adds. "Who wants to live out their years in a sulk?"