Can people find love — and marriage — in their mature years? I have the evidence that they can: I’ve just attended the wedding of one of my oldest friends. The bride was a radiant 78 and the groom a glowing 83.
A discreet ceremony for those of senior years? Not a bit of it! It was the full church number, with all the trimmings: the Scottish pastor intoning vows of “till death us do part” and reminding all present of the meaning of wedlock; St Paul on “love is patient and kind, love is not jealous or boastful, love does not insist on its own way”; and the cantors (socially distanced) singing Schumann’s Widmung (“You are my soul, my heart. You are my rapture.”).
The bride, Marjorie, wore a short white dress in lace applique, adorned with a long fuchsia scarf in Shantung silk: she hardly looked any older than at her first, rather more Bohemian, wedding, at which I was the chief witness, back in 1974. The groom, John, wore an elegant, well-cut tailored suit with a silk cravat.
Afterwards, there was a fabulous, lavish reception with more music laid on — with the emphasis on opera — and the offspring of both spouses giving the main speeches after a splendid meal.
That’s the way to do it! A big splash — even if guest numbers are limited, and masks (some elaborate) are employed for part of the ceremonial.
Weddings are usually about looking forward, but weddings between older couples are also about looking back.
Marjorie and I shared a London flat in the 1970s, the scene of many dramas, not all of them edifying.
As I watched the bride approach the altar to pledge her troth, I thought back over the years that have passed and all the events on the road travelled in between: the wise and unwise relationships; the babies, planned and unplanned; the parties; the heartbreaks; the wins; the losses; the regrets; the jubilations; the disappointments; the many absent friends — absent both for reasons of pandemic restrictions, and, at our age, from the inevitable ravages of the Great Reaper.
Both spouses were now widowed and both had four children and numerous grandchildren each. The couple had known each other informally through the years of their first marriages, but only in widowhood had they got together, first, I think, somewhat gradually.
But a steady courtship is surely a good thing — even in the senior years. Perhaps especially in the senior years, when we’re likely to be a bit more set in our ways.
Even the most devoted couples get on each other’s nerves from time to time — will you PLEASE remember to put the cap back on the toothpaste? — so a period of courtship is a useful period to test points of exasperation. And then, there is a special consideration when a couple have four children each: will the offspring get along?
Acquiring stepbrothers and stepsisters in your thirties, forties and fifties — the new model of the “blended family” — probably requires a measure of geniality and tolerance.
Adult offspring aren’t going to be living in one another’s pockets, but when their respective parents are married to one another, there will be constant family contact and family arrangements.
But this blended family seemed to row along together remarkably well and all the offspring made the same speech: isn’t it wonderful that although our respective parents are so very different — she the romantic, he the pragmatist — they’re harmony itself when they’re together?
When oldsters marry, their adult children may also be pleased that a parent has a companion, rather than growing too emotionally (or physically) dependent on them.
Rather than grandma needily ringing up for weekend diversions, she’s off having a whale of a time with the new hubby.
Offspring can also be touchy about inheritance matters, but if there’s a pragmatist partner involved, that will be sorted out sensibly.
Weddings are lovely and, I think, necessary for society. The minister who officiated at these nuptials reminded the congregation that marriage not only benefits the couple: it also benefits society at large, as a beacon of stability and sharing.
As we have lived through a period when marriages crumbled and cohabiting partnerships became almost as popular as wedlock, the wedding ceremony still emphasises the significance of a formal, conjugal union, with vows taken in a context of the sacred.
After all the decades when all our Left-wing friends said, dismissively, “marriage is just a piece of paper”, or parroted Friedrich Engels’ view that marriage is “a patriarchal institution invented for the perpetuation of property rights”, the institution has survived and remains meaningful.
Everyone present agreed that the wedding had been a wonderful occasion and perhaps a few of us, in the same septuagenarian bracket, wondered if we would have the courage to marry again in the sunset years? Some of us have just become too accustomed to our own little ways.
But if the right candidate appears, the brave course would be — take the plunge!