Most people cringe at the thought of their parents or grandparents being intimate, but relationship expert Jessica O’Reilly said the desire for love and sex never stops.
In fact, according to a 2011 study, many older adults want to date again after the loss of a spouse.
“There’s just so little representation on television in terms of all sorts of diversity and stories around love and romance and sex,” O’Reilly told hosts on The Morning Show.
“These are desires that exist across a lifespan. You’re not like, ‘Well, I turned a certain age and now I’m done with it.’”
The media industry is making some progress as more shows are highlighting this reality. The Bachelor franchise, for example, is launching a spin-off featuring seniors.
How adult children can support parents who are dating
If someone feels uncomfortable about their older parents dating again, O’Reilly says they need to put themselves in their parents’ shoes.
Nobody likes to be managed on who they can and can’t date. Respect in this case has to work both ways.
“You want to be open to meeting partners when they’re ready,” she said. “You don’t get to demand.”
O’Reilly said a lot of people do not want to like their parent’s partner because of the idea of an “evil” stepmother or stepfather. But their parents’ partners are not coming in as a mother or father figure necessarily; it is a different type of relationship because you are an adult.
Supporting parents dating again
Being in that adult-child role is also complicated because some feel they want to protect their parents.
“We have to be really careful not to infantilize seniors.”
O’Reilly said the children have to remember that parents have been “doing life” for a long time.
“They’ve made mistakes and you’ve made mistakes but they’re always going to have more experience than you,” she said.
Dating has changed
If you are a senior who is testing the dating waters again, it will be different from when you were younger.
The traditional order starts with meeting each other, falling in love, getting married and then starting a family. When you are older though, you may not want to live together or have kids.
O’Reilly said this isn’t a bad thing, though: “The conversations could potentially be a little bit deeper because it’s not about, ‘What are your goals? I’m accessing whether we’re a good fit.’ It really is about getting to know someone and getting to know how you feel in their presence.”
If you are comfortable addressing sexual issues with a partner, a couples’ counsellor can still help partners learn how to talk about “the elephants in the room.”
Another difference, O’Reilly said, is that men are typically more inclined to move in together, while women hesitate to.
And the numbers reflect that because the amount of people who live alone has doubled over the past 35 years in Canada.
But O’Reilly said this doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker.
“You can have a relationship and not live together.”
— With files from Global News’ Laura Hensley
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