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'Never Too Old to Find Love'

February 14, 2008 By:
Michelle Mostovy-Eisenberg, JE Feature
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Hadassah Levin says Carl Rothman has in the past few years become her "best friend."
When Hadassah Levin moved to Martins Run in Media four years ago, she said the last thing on her mind was the intention of finding a special someone.

Levin, whose husband Manny passed away in 1988 after more than 45 years together, instead looked at the senior residential community as a way to make a friend or two.

"Then I spotted Carl," recalled Levin with a light laugh, as a smile appeared on her face, "and thought, 'I need to keep an eye on him.' "

Carl Rothman has lived at Martins Run since 1990, when he moved there from Northeast Philadelphia with his wife, Rosalind. She passed away in 1997.

Rothman and Levin struck up a friendship, and the two quickly realized that they had many common interests, including enjoying classical music, attending local theater productions and listening to lectures. Both were also attending regular religious services at the residential community, where they would sit together and talk afterward.

Neither Rothman nor Levin were looking to find a significant other. But, as Levin put it, "it just happened."

Now Rothman, 94, and Levin, 86, are a major part of each other's lives, and have been serious for the past two years.

"They have a very supportive relationship," said Eleanor Han, the social worker at Martins Run. She added that Rothman and Levin are very respective of one another's histories and families, and each is eager to help out when the other is sick.

Tea for Two
Levin and Rothman aren't the only ones who have found romance again after a longtime spouse has passed away.

Seeing Sam Coleman, 88, with Phyllis Handel, 89, there's no denying the affection they feel for one another, an emotion that's blossomed over the past few years at Martins Run, where they, too, reside.

Coleman and Handel were both widowed within months of each other six years ago. These days, they maintain separate apartments, but spend much of their time together.

Since they both have diabetes, there tends to be some bickering when it comes to food, but they claim that it's further evidence of their concern for one another.

"I keep after him to eat better," said Handel, who explained that they don't share meals together most nights, preferring to dine with their same-gender friends, because, she admitted, she tends to be overbearing about what he eats.

"He eats too many sweets," she said, adding that "we [check] our blood together in the morning."

"I don't know what I'd do without her," said Coleman, with a wide grin on his face, as he looked over at Handel. "I guess I'm stuck with her."

As Margery Farbman, director of development at Martins Run, said: "It goes to show, you are never too old to find love."

Senior residential communities are not the only places where single seniors have found committed companionships.

Sam Blyweiss, 91, and Anna Acciavatti, 78, met at the JCC Stiffel Senior Center in South Philadelphia, where Acciavatti helps serve lunch. Though the two are of different faiths -- he is Jewish, she is Roman Catholic -- religion at this age doesn't really matter to them, they said. They added that they've accepted each other, and their families have as well. When Blyweiss received a volunteer service award last June at the annual meeting of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Philadelphia, Acciavatti was there, joining with his family on the special occasion.

Young people sometimes think that seniors don't need a connection or to feel a human touch, but according to psychologist William Shapiro, "until the day we die, we need connections and need people who love us."

"Good relationships are good for people," said Shapiro, a clinical psychologist who specializes in geriatrics and is program director of outpatient services in the department of psychology at Albert Einstein Medical Center.

Research shows, explained Susan Moyer, M.D., a geriatrician in the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network, "that people who are in the best health are married or in a relationship," and are less likely to be depressed. Healthy relationships also help lower blood pressure, control blood sugar, decrease stress, and allow for better sleep habits and hygiene.

Though these three couples were, in time, mentally and emotionally able to move on after their spouses passed away, not all widowed seniors are able to do so -- and that's okay, said Shapiro.

It can be intimidating, he said, to go out and meet new people after losing a spouse. There's also feelings of guilt, of seeming disloyal.

"It is hard to take that first step," he continued. It's important to remember "that you are not going to replace your former spouse."

Moreover, adult children of seniors are often uncomfortable with the idea that their widowed parent is seeing someone new, noted Shapiro.

"It was a transition for us," admitted Elise Leibowitz, Coleman's daughter, when she and her brother, Ron, were told their father had met someone. But she said that she got over feelings of ambivalence because she recognized her father's happiness. "He came back to life."

Leibowitz understood that her father was lonely, and it was good he met Handel, who is now a regular at Coleman family dinners, events and holiday celebrations. In fact, Leibowitz said that Handel has "become a staple in our family."

Ron Coleman agreed with his sister.

"They've become quite close," he said of his father and Handel. "My father relies on Phyllis a lot. They are very supportive of each other. They're a good match."

You don't always get another companion in life, said the younger Coleman, adding that his father is fortunate "to have someone to share things with."

"We're happy to see him happy," added Leibowitz. "I'm glad there is somebody there for him. She takes care of him. They're crazy about each other."

Ron Rothman, Carl's son, said that he and his brother, Mitchell, "thought it was wonderful" when their dad told them he had met Levin. The grandchildren in the family know that Levin "is not a grandmom replacement," said Rothman. Rather, "she is my dad's friend, who's welcomed into the family."

"Having a friend has been a wonderful addition to his life," added Ron Rothman. "Just knowing that he has a companion is a real asset to him being at Martins Run. He has dinner with Hadassah each night. He has somebody who shares his interests."

Sex, Money and Single Abodes
Senior relationships take many forms, explained Shapiro. They can be more friendship-based, or they can be sexual.

It's a misconception to believe that once people grow old, they no longer need to be close to someone else physically and emotionally. It's important when starting a new relationship that seniors are clear about what they want, added Shapiro -- whether it's just friendship or something more.

"[Seniors] do have those needs," he said. "People are sexual until the day they die. Everybody needs to be touched, to be held, to be close to someone."

For the sexually active, dysfunction issues are common, noted Robert S. Charles, M.D., chief of urology at Abington Memorial Hospital. These issues include getting and maintaining erections, or the loss of libido and desire.

There is a preconceived notion that as you get older, sex decreases. But being sexually active has nothing to do with age, he said.

"Men should be able to continue sexual function into their 70s or 80s," according to the doctor. However, those with certain health conditions -- diabetes, hypertension, cardiac issues -- may not be healthy enough for sexual activity.

There is a female factor, too, explained Sherry L. Blumenthal, M.D., a partner in Womencare Obstetrics and Gynecology, a private practice in Abington, as women can experience sexuality problems after menopause due to a decrease in estrogen. Women may experience dryness and pain during intercourse as they age, but treatment is available for them as well.

Perhaps one of the more unusual aspects to aging relations is that marriage isn't always part of the picture. None of the senior couples mentioned here are married to their new companion.

While numerous reasons exist as to why seniors in new relationships don't remarry -- or even live together -- a prime factor revolves around one thing in particular: money.

For many senior couples, "money is a very big issue," as it is often financially impractical for them to remarry, explained Lynne Gold-Bikin, chair of the family-law department at the firm of WolfBlock.

Financial reasons for seniors choosing not to remarry or live together include tax disincentives; a loss of Social Security, military benefits, alimony, health insurance or a pension from a former spouse; or wishing to keep debt or assets separate. But if an older couple does decide to remarry, Gold-Bikin does advises that a prenuptial agreement be drawn up.

Sometimes, senior couples choose not to remarry for personal reasons, such as the feelings expressed by their children.

There also exists the plain-and-simple reason of "because they just don't want to," stated Gold-Bikin. "They've been there, done that. They just want someone to go to the movies with."

Studies seem to point to the fact that senior men are more eager to get remarried. It's the women who prefer not to -- their days of doing laundry, cooking, cleaning and running a household are over, and widows have simply grown into their newfound independence. That's not to say they aren't eager for love and companionship, they just do not want -- or need -- formal ties to show that they're spiritually committed to the other.

While some of the men interviewed for this story expressed interest in marrying their significant other, the women were adamant that marrying was not an option for them.

When asked if her father would remarry, Leibowitz said that she didn't think so.

"For all intents and purposes, they are like a married couple," said Leibowitz about her father and Handel. "It's like he remarried; they just don't have a piece of paper."

So where can you meet a fellow single senior if you are looking for some companionship?

Shapiro suggested becoming involved in clubs or activities, where you're more likely to find people who share common interests. Friends and mutual acquaintances can also lend a hand, as can, these days, Internet dating sites.

Remember, though, that it's important to take things slowly when starting over, Shapiro advised -- "put your toe in the water rather than jumping in head first." Seniors can be very vulnerable and could be taken advantage of, he warned, as some people do have alternative motives. Be wary, he cautioned, of a new partner making financial requests or needs known too early into the relationship, or a new partner being quick to anger.

Moyer suggested a comfortable social setting, such as a synagogue, to meet other people; this is "a fairly nonstressful setting to get the information you want without putting yourself at risk."

Or heed some advice from Belle Rosner and Daniel Lyons of Northeast Philadelphia.

The 70-somethings met at the JCC Klein Branch in fall 2005, and were a couple by the following June. Neither was looking to meet someone, both having lost spouses in 2004, they explained, but a friend introduced them in the lunchroom -- "and that was it," recalled Rosner, as she held hands with Lyons. "It just happened."

"When you are not looking for a relationship, that is when it comes," she advised.

When tragedy hits in your lifetime, explained Rosner, things can never go back to the way they were. "But that doesn't mean things can't get better."

"It's not that you forget your former life," she added. "You continue on. Life goes on -- you have to, or you crumble."

Lyons agreed, adding that they take things one day at a time.

"He's so cute," she said, leaning over and cupping his chin with her hand.

"I feel like a bride would feel. It's great. We're blessed."

Lyons quickly added: "We're blessed because we have each other."

And when people ask them how long they've been together?

Lyons' answer: "Forever." 

 

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