When Lauren Fleishman’s grandfather passed away, her family found a book by his bedside, and tucked inside were a series of love letters. They had been penned by her grandfather to her grandmother during World War II. “I had never looked at my grandfather as anything other than my grandfather,” says Lauren. “And I had always regarded him as old-fashioned because of the generational gap, but in reading the letters I suddenly saw him as a young man in love. I could relate to him, and all the generational boundaries were erased.”
The letters inspired Lauren, a photographer, to document the love stories of other older couples, and so she began to interview and photograph what ended up being 100 couples—straight and gay, of every race, from different countries—all with one thing in common: They had been together more than 50 years. In one case, as long as 80 years.
“I tried not to have expectations. If you go in with expectations then you often don’t get to see what is really going on,” says Lauren. “I suppose I thought I may learn the secret to everlasting love—but I realized there is no one formula or secret.”
“Over the years, you think of love differently.” – Sulie Spencer
The universal theme that did come from the interviews, she says, was one of passion. Although perhaps not as society typically imagines passion. “We can think of passion as only for the young, or for the beginnings of relationships, but I learned that this is not the case,” says Lauren. Hence she called her book of photographs and interviews, The Lovers.
As the stories illustrate, many of the couples began their relationships in a period of history vastly different to now. Some met during, or post, World War II, in an era when same-sex relationships were forbidden, and parts of the United States were still racially segregated. While the times have changed, the advice about relationships that the couples have to offer will never fade. “It is relevant here and now,” says Lauren.
Here are some reflections from the interviews that Lauren shared with Wanderlust, with words from the couples themselves:
Love doesn’t notice aging.
“You don’t really think about getting older … Like you don’t notice, oh you’re getting a little wrinkle here and tomorrow you say it’s a little deeper … I mean. I’m not thinking every day, ‘Oh my husband is 83 years old, he’s gonna’ be 84, oh my goodness, I’m married to an old man!’ And I hope he feels that way too.”
– Angie Terranova, married to Gino since 1947
“Over the years, you think of love differently. When you’re younger it’s the way they walk, the way they talk. The way he holds my hand. But after sickness and strokes and different things, you’re just glad he’s able to hold your hand. That he gets up in the morning and says good morning. You begin to see love through different eyes because the eyesight got dimmer anyway. I think love is like anything else. They say wine is better with age. That’s the way love is. It’s better because you appreciate little things….”
– Sulie Spencer, married to James since 1962
Falling in love does not happen just once.
“But what’s really amazed me as I’ve moved into our 60th year is how many, many, many times I’ve fallen in love with him over and over again.”
– Eric Marcoux, committed to Eugene Woodworth since 1953
Relationships require commitment.
“…in today’s world, sad to say, I see so many young people give up. And I mean, if that were the case, we would have given up many times. But you have to look at the total picture and work as a team and not always put yourself first. I don’t mean losing your identity, but think of the other person. And in turn that other person thinks of you….”
– Sandra Lambert Besser, married to James since 1960
Love doesn’t always look like we imagine.
“You see these movies of grand love affairs—Casablanca, Romeo and Juliet. Wow! … They’d never make a movie of us, we’re boring. We go to the market, we go to work, we love to shop. But there is a grand passion underneath that. Growing up I used to sit in the back seat of the car imagining loving someone as much as I love her. I never thought that would happen.”
– Sheri Barden, committed to Lois Johnson since 1964
Love requires give and take.
“Love is sharing with one another. I don’t care what you have, you share. And be willing to give. Another thing I tell people now is that you got to be able to bend a little bit. Because if the Lord hadn’t made a tree that was kinda’ wavy, it would break. So that’s love. Love is a powerful thing if you know what it means.”
– Theauther Love, married to Annie since 1950
Love does not have to be a fairy tale.
“…we’re still in love … He’s an amazing man … I never loved anybody else. And I wonder what love means to many people … I think it has to do with good times and bad times. They are not all good and they are not all bad and you can’t get mad every time it’s bad because you get over it … It’s not something that’s exciting every day. Maybe sort of tranquil. It’s easygoing. Exciting love I wouldn’t be able to tell you about. I don’t know what it’s like. Maybe you can tell me.”
– Dorothy Bolotin, married to Joseph since 1938
Lauren says that her interviews taught her that relationships do not always have to be perfect. “There were so many different stories, and while some couples said it was easy, most of the couples said there were tough times. Now when things go wrong in my own relationship, I know that it’s okay. Relationships don’t have to be fairy tales to be beautiful.”
Lauren Fleishman’s book, The Lovers, is published by Shilt Publishing and available here.
Photos courtesy of Lauren Fleishman
Helen Avery is a Section Editor at Wanderlust Media, working on the Vitality, Wisdom, and Wellness channels on wanderlust.com and YOGANONYMOUS. She is a journalist, writer, yoga teacher, and full-time dog walker of Millie.