Every month in Sex at Our Age, award-winning senior sexpert Joan Price answers your questions about everything from loss of desire to solo sex and partner issues. Nothing is out of bounds! To send your questions directly to Joan, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m 71 and widowed. I have fallen in love with my fellow churchwarden, also 71, a very shy bachelor. There are signs that he feels the same about me, but I can’t be sure — maybe he is not sure himself. I have occasionally given him a peck on the cheek, but it has never gone further than that. I pine at night for this wonderful man and think about him day and night.
He is a kind, intelligent man. He has been a bachelor all his life, and I am certain he is not gay. We are thrown together quite a bit because he has vision problems and can’t drive, so I take him to meetings. Many people, including his brothers, think we are a couple. I have invited him for meals or drinks when others are present. Sometimes he accepts, on other occasions he finds some excuse. He has never invited me for a meal, even to a restaurant.
He had a heart attack last year. Although sex would be the icing on the cake, I am not selfish enough to insist — better to have him alive! I invited him on a holiday trip so he could take a break and recover, but he said no.
Maybe he does not know what to do because he’s so shy. If so, how can I help him? I am shy myself, which does not help. Finally, a few months ago, I wrote him a letter explaining my feelings, and although he said he needed time to reply, he never did. Will I have to be content with what I have, or how can I take this further?
— Shy but Eager
Joan Price responds:
We all know what it’s like to love someone and hope that it’s reciprocated. We gather clues that the other person feels the same. But although you hoped I’d tell you something different, the clues point in a different direction. He’s grateful for your friendship, but I don’t think his feelings for you are as strong as yours for him.
You extend all the invitations. You drive him. You invite him for meals and a vacation trip. Sometimes he accepts, sometimes he doesn’t, but he never reciprocates. You’ve given him plenty of openings towards more intimacy, but he keeps you at a distance and his feelings to himself.
You wrote him a letter baring your heart. His response? No response. If he felt the same, it would have been easy to reply, “Yes, I feel the same about you!” But he said nothing. As hard as this may be, I think you should take the absence of “yes” as a clear “no.”
Please don’t regret sending the letter. I applaud you, especially when you describe yourself as shy. It gave him an easy way to come forward if he felt the same. The answer implicit in his silence conveys that he doesn’t share your eagerness, and that’s important to know.
He was wrong to ignore your letter, especially when you see him regularly. It would have been far kinder to say, “I really like you and appreciate you, but I don’t feel the same way you do. Can we continue as friends?” It’s crazy-making not to get any answer at all!
You say he’s a lifelong bachelor and you’re certain he’s not gay. How do you know? Has he said so? If you think you can just “tell,” no, you can’t. I’m not saying he must be gay if he never married and doesn’t correct his brothers who think you’re a couple. I’m just saying that you can’t assume anything about his sexual orientation.
Just FYI, people who have had heart attacks can have sex safely after they’ve recovered. See “Sex After a Heart Attack: Is It OK?” from WebMD.
What should you do now? Some options for you and others in your situation:
- Ask yourself, “If this relationship will never be more than it is now, would I rather pull away or continue?” Listen to your gut.
- If you want to continue, consider saying, “I’m assuming that your lack of response to my letter means that you don’t feel the same. That’s fine, let’s continue as we were.” At least you’ll stop waiting for an answer.
- If you think your heart would heal faster if you didn’t spend so much time together, help him find another driver. You can tell him honestly why you’re doing this, or simply say, “I want time to pursue other interests.”
- Expand your social activities. If your social life revolves around your church now, explore other ways you can meet people and have new experiences. Volunteer for a cause you believe it. Take a class. Join a book club or a walking group or whatever you’d enjoy.
- When you feel ready, start meeting singles in your community. It’s not too late to date at 71. Whether you use online dating, join a support group for widows and widowers, or ask your friends if they know available men, you’ll get a step closer to meeting someone who will love you in return.
Would you like to see more questions and answers? See all of Joan’s advice in Sex@Our Age.
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Joan Price is the author of several books including “The Ultimate Guide to Sex After 50” and the award-winning self-help book “Naked at Our Age.” Visit Joan’s blog, “Naked at Our Age” and her Facebook page. For senior sex news, tips, event and webinar announcements, and special offers, join Joan’s mailing list. View Joan’s new free webinar, “Safer Sex for Seniors.”