In the past fourteen months since my divorce, I’ve become a student of love. Even though I’d been married for forty years, I felt like I needed to go back and take a fresh look. Archived in the things that I’ve carried in my life are love letters written between my parents. They had twenty-seven years together, and from what I and others’ witnessed, they truly loved each other.
Now that we’re in the season of love with Valentine’s reminders everywhere, I go back to that shelf in my closet that holds the box of love letters. This is from the post I wrote last February 14th:
“It’s Valentine’s Day and I’ve returned to the love letters that were left by my parents. Last year I’d discovered their treasure trove of correspondence during the late forties when they were ‘courting.’ Mama was twenty-six and Daddy turned thirty on their wedding day– February 26, 1950. I pulled out the box filled with their letters to remember my parents and the example of true love they left as a rich inheritance.”
My education about love started with my parents– like it did for all of us; our first understanding of the love between a man and a woman comes from observing their example. How did they speak to each other? What were the messages in their non-verbal behavior? Did they show love in their actions?
Looking at my parents’ letters, I find that this year I’m most curious about how Daddy communicated with Mama. How does what he said compare to the way men communicate with me on my dating path?
Daddy had a high school education and was in the Army during WWII. He came back from the war and took care of the family farm– along with doing other types of work in carpentry and factories. While he didn’t have a college education, he always used good grammar and did the majority of the family correspondence in his careful penmanship.
In every letter, Daddy starts off with a tender greeting. One of my favorites is from a letter dated June 2, 1948:
How is my little red head tonite? Sure hope you are fine darling.”
And yes, that was how they spelled tonight back then.
I think Daddy was proud of his “little red head” and didn’t mind her freckles that she hated. Her Scotch-Irish ancestry showed in her hair color and in her Irish “gift of gab,” if that’s really a thing!
Mama used to tell us stories about dating another man, “Dave” and then Daddy came into her life. For a while, she kept seeing Dave and evidently Daddy persisted until he won out. It seems Mama must have played “hard to get” for a while, given what Daddy said in one of his letters:
“Darling I miss you so very much. Do you still think there are no advantages to being married? I sure hope you don’t really feel that way. I could have named them but if you don’t see any then it would be no use.”
Daddy clearly was smitten by Mama and didn’t hesitate to tell her that in a most honest and tender way. I admire the way Daddy allowed himself to be vulnerable and didn’t hold back in telling Mama his true feelings; those are great qualities in a potential match.
Throughout the years as I observed my parents, I saw a steadfast love. They both worked hard and Daddy was often gone– working long hours on the farm and at his second-shift job in a factory. One treasure in their box of correspondence is a note he’d left on the kitchen table for Mama:
I got home at 1:45. Sorry I missed seeing you.
When Daddy wasn’t working, he was with Mama; there was no running off to do his own thing, even though he could have used more recreation in his life. Whether it was pruning the rose bushes in our yard or just sitting in our den and watching television, that was time they had together. They showed me that the most important thing was finding time to be with the one you loved.
While I’ve focused on Daddy, and how he communicated with Mama, I do see the ways she let her feelings be known to him. Throughout her letters she exhibits a coquettish side. Her high school English teacher had once labeled Mama as “the flirt of Lillington High School.” Mama always denied that and said the teacher was just joking; given Mama’s accounts of her dating years and her letters to Daddy, I’d say the English teacher was on to something!
Mama seemed to enjoy the attention of the men around her– in a healthy way– and let them know what she thought of them. From the stories she told of her years of dating, she went out and had fun and was confident in her attractiveness. I never heard her talk in a negative way about body image, or her intellect, or any aspect of her worth; she knew her value. What a great example to her three daughters.
While my most formative education about love has been from my parents, of course I moved on to learn from my own life experience and what I observed in those around me. In my forty years of marriage, my husband and I certainly got some things right– but then there was enough that wasn’t right for things to end in divorce. I assume the same was true for other couples who were in our circle of family and friends.
And now that I’m at this point, a sixty-six year old baby boomer who is rethinking what it is to love, I also draw on the resources that are available online. I’ve subscribed to the emails/videos of two relationship coaches: Jordan Gray and Adam LaDolce. Both have provided information that has been good to consider as I navigate my dating path– mostly with guys I’ve met through online dating sites. Much of the information can be applied whether you’re a thirty-something or a sixty-something. When I’ve written blog post about my experience of online dating, I’ve gotten responses from women who are much younger than me, thanking me for sharing my experience because they’re dealing with the same thing.
I’ve come to understand that love is love no matter your age and that’s why we can have such similar experiences even with age differences. A friend recommended the NPR podcast, “Dating While Gray” written and hosted by Laura Stassi. I was immediately drawn to her podcast of April 22, 2021 entitled, “The Older Brain on Love” with guest Helen Fisher, Biological Anthropologist and Premier Expert on the Biology of Love and Attraction.
In that fascinating podcast, Fisher says that we can feel love the same way no matter our age because love is based in our brain system, not in hormones like estrogen and testosterone that wane over time.
“We’ve found the same experience of true love in a two-and-a-half year old and an eighty-seven year old. It doesn’t go away because you age.”
She explains the VTA system that’s in your brain and resides at the base of the brain next to the center for thirst and hunger. Fisher, looking at it as an anthropologist, says “love is not an emotion it’s a basic mating drive.” She talks with Stassi about how the brain images of people in love show an increase of neurotransmitters like dopamine that increase and give energy, focus, and positive feelings. They also show an increase of oxytocin (sometimes referred to as the “love hormone”)with snuggling which produces feelings of trust, nurturing, and calm. She says that if you’re in a good relationship it will “slow the aging process” (now there’s some good news! LOL!).
Listening to the podcast, it helps me to understand why I can go through the same emotional ups and downs with dating, with those snatches at love, that I did when I was sixteen; my brain still responds in the same ways. My responses aren’t based on logic, pragmatism, life experience; they’re based in a response that’s structured into my brain. Enough said!
I close this post, later than usual, on the Sunday afternoon before Valentine’s. I’ve been delayed by unforeseen turns in this dizzying path of dating, and like Mama– leave a man named Dave behind. I hope that you are finding what you need in your love education and that your path is filled with true love that will last.
Best to you,
See NPR podcast episode entitled “The Older Brain on Love” April 22, 2021 at