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Is it Really Possible to Merge Lives With a New Partner Later in Life?

My boyfriend is 76 and I’m 67. We've got baggage.

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Jin Xia
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I was watching The Golden Wedding — half-smiling and half-cringing at the made-for-TV matrimony — when I nearly choked during the vows.

The officiant, Susan Noles, a former contestant on The Golden Bachelor, announced to the happy couple: "Your lives, which began on separate paths, will be joined as one … You are declaring to each other: 'every experience I’m going to have, I want you to be part of …'"

What? Really, Susan?

This 72-year-old “golden” groom, Gerry Turner, and his 70-year-old bride, Theresa Nist, are supposed to merge decades of their personal friendships and their kids and individual interests and basically strap their limbs together and do a three-legged race through whatever’s left of their lives?

Is this what marriage is? Constant togetherness?

The implication of "two becoming one" is that "one" is better than two. I can see young people buying into that when they must navigate having kids and building households together. Or if they’re religious and believe the Bible’s "two become one flesh" verse. Or if they’re lonely and want a partner to fill a void.

But the reality of merging two full and fulfilling lives after 65 is not "two become one." It’s "two become three" — you, me and our stuff — all of it, our things and our people.

We’ve got baggage. Our "separate paths" are long and winding roads.

My boyfriend, Dan, is 76, and I’m 67. We both have grown children and grandchildren — plus two houses in different states. He lives in North Carolina, where I spend much of my time. My house in Florida is near three of my six daughters. I have many lifelong friends who are important to me, as is the place I grew up, Palm Beach County.

Dan fits in delightfully with my friends most of the time. But I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want to watch a Barbra Streisand movie marathon with my friends Vince and Bob. Or go to my 50th high school reunion in April.

And I don’t want to watch his grandkids play volleyball. I don’t want to watch anybody play volleyball.

I love Dan, and I support his desire to see a game — without me. I like being at my own house sometimes — without him.

Does he like this? No.

Dan is a widower who spent 45 years in the "two become one" camp. I can’t ask his beloved late wife, Sue, how she felt about that, but Dan suspects she didn’t like the idea by year 20. I suspect many couples realize that "two become one" is a vow without a "how" — there’s no instruction manual that doesn’t verge on codependency or control. Yet, we are set up to believe that love conquers all.

"The idea of doing everything with your spouse is deeply embedded in popular culture: for example, ‘The Golden Bachelor’ and song lyrics such as ‘I just want to be your everything'," says Bella DePaulo, author of Single at Heart: The Power, Freedom, and Heart-Filling Joy of Single Life.

Because Dan is used to togetherness — and did not build many friendships outside his relationship with his wife — he feels more secure when I am with him, which I am most of the time.

I am divorced and independent. I am what DePaulo calls "single at heart." I love being in a relationship, but I don’t value the idea of moving in lockstep, nor do I find security in locks. So, I go back and forth from Dan’s house to mine. When we travel, we usually go together — but not always.

Dan gets nervous without me. As he says, "My brain keeps searching for what it misses" — that constant companion. Yet, he’s committed to expanding his views. "I am rethinking many ideas, such as 'happiness requires togetherness'," he says. And he’s begun reconnecting with old friends, rediscovering the many enjoyable facets of his own long life.

"The wonderful thing about having a relationship at older ages is you get to choose what kind of relationship you want," says Francine Russo, author of Love After 50: How to Find It, Enjoy It, and Keep It. "This has to be negotiated with your partner."

Russo is 77 and has had "two wonderful marriages." Her first husband, Alan, died of a heart attack when he was 49. At the time, their daughters were 15 and 9. When her younger daughter went off to college, she met Chris, a widower. They married in their late 50s and were wed four years when he died of lung cancer. Then, she met Michael, her live-in partner of seven years. He’s 81 and has no children.

Russo has two biological children and three stepchildren, all scattered across the country. "We all get together at Thanksgiving," Russo says. "And once a year, I go to visit each child for three to five days on my own. Michael doesn’t love it, but he accepts it. This doesn’t work if you’re with someone who wants your time all the time."

She reminds couples that they have a choice: get married, live with each other or "live apart together" — a growing trend among older people. As it turns out, lots of couples like their own space. (FYI to Golden Bachelor fans: that scene showing Gerry and Theresa and their kids making Christmas cookies was staged — the couple spent Christmas apart, according to Theresa’s Instagram.)

I will probably always need more time apart than Dan wants. I write for a living, which requires solitude. I cherish my many lifelong relationships. As a sign on my desk says: "My friends have made the story of my life."

Dan and I have negotiated our way to togetherness for five years. We are keenly aware that our time is finite, but our love is not.

As author DePaulo says: "Many people are coupled but have key characteristics of people who are single at heart — they like their freedom, they like having time to themselves, and they like attending to people in their lives beyond just their romantic partner. Those single at heart typically have 'The Ones' rather than 'The One' — and that can be a very good thing."

Have any of you found love later in life? How have you merged lives? Let us know in the comments below.

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