LOS ANGELES – After simply saying "Hi" and looking at each other from afar for some years, Rudy Calderon finally stood up, gave a hug and kiss to Christina Reed on their birthday. The celebration was mutual. The two share the same day – March 18.
Then he asked her out for ice cream. She accepted. The first date turned into more outings and about six months later they moved in together. "We just kept on eating ice cream," Rudy said jokingly. "Both were good, the ice cream and her."
Two years after that congratulatory hug, they're still together, as much in love as when they first started going out. They savor every day together, going out to dances, to eat, and even camping. For them love never gets old, even if the numbers on their birthdays keep getting higher. Rudy is 100 this year. Christina is much younger, almost 93. They are "the couple" at Alicia Broadus Duncan Multipurpose Senior Center in Pacoima, where they met and hang out several days a week.
Study Confirms “Power of Touch”
And they drive there in his car, just like they do everywhere. His driver's license is still good for another year.
"If they give it to me again, that'll be something," said Rudy, who remains active, seeing and hearing much better than others many decades his junior.
Study after study shows that love keeps you feeling young, involved and engaged, a sure fire way to keep illnesses away. Jeong Eun Lee of Kent State University, noted in her study on the "The Power of Touch: Physical Affection Associated with Reduced Cardiovascular Disease Risk" that "emotional partners tend to lower high blood pressure." Even holding hands, embracing, hugging or kissing can lead to a loving and healthy heart, and prevent the leading cause of death in the United States - cardiovascular disease. "High levels of physical touch and a positive relationship in older adults can enhance health outcomes among older adults," Lee said during a symposium at the Gerontological Society of America conference in New Orleans last November.
Rudy and Christina said sharing a home and checking in with each other regularly helps them remain independent, healthy and well. "As you get old, it's better if you're on your own. If you live with your kids, that's not good. You mess up their life a bit. It's better to find someone to be with," Rudy said.
"Everything's better in twos rather than one," he added.
Recently, they both got the flu. Christina ended up in the hospital and Rudy maintained a vigil next to her bed throughout the ordeal.
"We enjoy each other at the house. If something happens to me, he's there for me," Christina said.
"It's nicer to have a warm body next to you than a cold pillow," said Rudy, adding, "It's nice to share everything together."
And they do. "We have coffee in the same cup and if we eat, we eat from the same dish," Christina confided.
Global Aging, Global Loving
The aging of the population is progressing rapidly today. The proportion of the world’s population aged 60 and above increased from 8 percent in 1950 to 12 percent in 2013 and it is expected to reach 21 percent in 2050. Additionally, the older population is aging.
Globally in 2013, one in seven of those seniors were actually over 80 – and that will increase to one in five elders by 2050, according to the United Nations. And many of them will be living on their own. Rudy, for instance, lost his wife over 40 years ago. Christina had been a widow for over 10 years. But it also means that your second, third – or more – true love may be out there.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported that from 1990 to 1999, the percentage of unmarried senior couples 65 and older rose significantly. Martha de León, 65, and Pablo Corado, 81, are a couple who talks on the phone everyday like any teenagers, see each other every week and enjoy a healthy loving and sexual relationship.
They were both separated from their respective spouses for several years before meeting at Club de Oro (the Golden Club, an organization for Latino seniors in Los Angeles).
"He asked me to dance and I swept him off his feet," Martha says.
"I like everything about her, from her mouth to her big toe," Pablo quipped.
They said Pablo showed up at a down time for her. A few months before the met, Martha had surgery to put in a pacemaker.
"I was very depressed. I didn't even want to leave the bed, and when I started to go out with him, I realized the piece [of the heart] that still works, still beats for love," she said.
Pablo agreed. "Many people think that when you get old the heart is dead and no one can wake it up, but mine is very awake," he said.
And Sex? Yes!
And what about sex? Yes.
"It's different, but satisfactory," they both said, while noting that it's not as often or at the same pace as in their younger years. That's not surprising.
According to Maggie Syme of the Kansas State University Center on Aging, "Sexual behavior is normal, healthy and possible throughout the lifespan." That's because it can take on many forms, and be equally satisfying as the acrobatics of youth love making.
"Physical contact can be touching, masturbation and other forms of sex," she noted during a symposium at the gerontology conference titled "The Pursuit of Passion: Sexual and Relational Health in Later Life." But what they cherish the most is the companionship.
"You have someone with whom to vent, with whom to argue, with whom to fight, someone with whom to walk around," Pablo observed. Even if they have to do it in "hiding," such as from some family members.
Martha lives with the youngest of her four children, none of whom like the fact that she has a boyfriend. Even her 82-year-old mother disapproves.
In many ways, it's as if she was a teenager again, not only about her feelings for Pablo, but the fact that she has to maneuver to see him.
Part of it, she concedes, is that her kids "don't see it well that I have a relationship at this age."
But she stressed, "It's very nice to feel that someone loves you."
Indeed, love never gets old.
Francisco Castro, city editor of La Opinión in Los Angeles, wrote this article as the second in a series he developed with support from the Journalists in Aging Fellowships, a program of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America, sponsored by the Silver Century Foundation.