Lessons on Love from the Real Experts

Author Karl Pillemer has talked to hundreds of senior citizens about love. He's culled some of the most valuable lessons from their collective wisdom in his book, 30 Lessons for Loving.
1st November 1974: Mr Francis Gainsbury (aged 68) and his wife (aged 74) outside outside Barking Registry Office after their second marriage ceremony together. They were married for the first time 28 years ago. (Photo by Ron Henbury/Evening Standard/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Although the rules around sex, dating and marriage have changed in the past 50 years, the wisdom of the elders is still as relevant as ever: after all, the fundamentals of love are timeless. We've culled some of the most valuable lessons from their collective wisdom as found in Karl Pillemer's book, 30 Lessons for Loving.

To read an excerpt from the book, click here. 

Don't view your partner as a "fixer-upper"

Think you can change your partner? You can't. "Don't view your partner as a fixer-upper," says Karl Pillemer. "The topic on which the elders were the most vehement is that going into a relationship with the idea that you can change your partner after marriage is an absolute fool's errand," he says. 

Can they at least hold down a job?

"This is a great example of how this possibly old-fashioned view is incredibly relevant for young people," says Pillemer. "You should at least ask yourself, 'can this person manage money well? Are they going to be at least able to hold down a job? And do they have some kind of career plan? They aren't saying that you have to choose somebody who is extraordinarily ambitious, they just want you to choose somebody who will hold up their own and not bankrupt you."

To breed or not to breed? That is the question

Pillemer says that the people he spoke to were "astounded at how many people don't have a clearly articulated discussion about children before they commit."

But that's one of the most important things the elders say you must see eye-to-eye on. "They say 'have a discussion about children, in detail,'" says Pillemer. "Not just whether you want them, but how many, how to raise them."

Humour is a window onto their world view

Pillemer's elders all agreed on the importance of a mutual sense of humour, but make sure that your senses of humour are in sync. If they don't, view that as a warning sign. "So if someone's sense of humour is sarcasm or mean teasing, they really see that as a warning sign. What does it mean in the bigger picture if you think very different things are funny?" says Pillemer. 

Plus, watch how your partner plays games. Gracious in victory? Sore loser? These are clues to how they'll deal with the larger challenges that life throws you.

On sex

The good news is, young folks probably have a lot of great sex to look forward to as they age. "One of the things they laughed about was the thought of young people worrying about this," says Pillemer. "They really feel that sex [as an older person] is a lot better than younger people think it is, and that the idea of the sexless older years is really a myth. People who have a partner are actually having sex pretty frequently. There were some people who told me in some ways sex was better than when they were in the midst of two careers and raising kids."

On deal breakers

"I found this area to be so surprising," says Pillemer. "Because some things that you'd think would be deal breakers aren't -- like infidelity. Infidelity was an extraordinarily serious problem but it was something many of them were able to heal from."

Here are the real point-of-no-return, non-negotiable dealbreakers:

*A single act of violence: If somebody hits you when you're dating, they're probably going to do it again

*Controlling behaviour

*Someone who is contemptuous of you: It's one thing to fight, it's another thing if the fight degrades you as a person

Finally, some wise words from those who've been there

"Hang in there when it gets tough -- remember the things you loved about this man when you met him and fell in love with him. Realize that the marriage can grow and become more beautiful, really, and that you can be happier than you ever dreamed of."

"My first marriage didn't work. I got 'fired', I say, after 24 years. And then I was single for awhile, and that gave me a chance to think about what I didn't contribute to the first marriage and how I might have done it differently."

"Whatever age you are, you know that when your husband puts his hand next to yours you say 'oh everything is just great, he's here with me.' And that's as you get older, those are the things that become very important: little things."