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Very Legal: Sex and Love in Retirement

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Herb and Henrietta, who have moved in together.  

But Flushing House is an independent-living facility, not a nursing home, which drastically limits the level of supervision. Sure, the staff can stop someone from looking at porn on the communal computers, but when one resident started going out clubbing, for example, they turned a blind eye. If anything, relationships—as a useful antidote to loneliness—are encouraged. There’s a darkened TV room that plays a constant cycle of romantic oldies. There are tables for two in the dining room. There are even frequent dances in the glass solarium on the roof, from where you can see all five boroughs; security cameras recently caught one couple up there going at it in the nude.

The population is overwhelmingly heterosexual—though, until recently, there was one transgender resident—and more than two thirds are female, meaning that the men typically get to do the picking. When a guy comes on the scene that the women consider a catch—someone who you can tell was handsome years ago—jostling ensues. One male resident confessed to me that he hadn’t had sex in three days, as if it were a crime. Another confided that he still gets blow jobs.

The dining room is the social nexus of the facility. There’s Tony and Alice’s group, which is usually one of the first to be seated, with their friend Hilda begging Abraham (a staffer who escorts residents to their seats) not to put them in “Sing-Sing,” one of the tables farthest from the door. There’s a table of five women who implore Abraham to fill the sixth seat with “either a gorgeous guy or another woman we can talk to.” There’s the woman who always wanted to sit with the man who looked like her dead husband, until she did and realized he wasn’t like her husband at all. “I was married 55 and a half years,” she explains. “I don’t think I could go with anybody else.”

The most-sought-after dinner companion of late is a man named Roosevelt, who is a young 71 and who wears pressed shirts and speaks in a velvety rumble. Shortly after his arrival, Abraham noticed a trend: Women were trying to save a seat at their table, and as soon as Roosevelt sauntered up to the hostess stand, they would eagerly wave Abraham their way. Not that it did them much good in the end. By and large, Roosevelt feels the women at Flushing House are just too old for him.

Age, unsurprisingly, is the biggest deterrent to dating at Flushing House. Most of its residents have already nursed and lost one life partner and are not keen to do it again. As one woman explains, “I was married twice, and then I had a boyfriend. I don’t want to be bothered now.” Another resident tells me he doesn’t want to date an older woman, but refuses to make himself “ridiculous” by being seen on the arm of a young one. Even when residents are partnered up, there can come a point when one’s body becomes too fragile to entrust it to someone else. Herb and Henrietta, 97 and 90 respectively, were both too sick to even come downstairs most of this past winter. “Sex?” she says. “Oh, honey, there isn’t any.”

Al and Sally have had the most tumultuous relationship at Flushing House. They’ve broken up and rekindled and broken up four or five times. Al blames Sally’s declining health: Not only has their sex life dropped off, but she needs a walker these days and rarely agrees to leave the building. “I want to go out,” he says. “I want to drive to Jones Beach and take her to dinner. But she just says no. It wasn’t like that before.”

When Al’s family came to visit, “I invited her all week long. I said, ‘Sally, don’t forget you’re coming with me. We’re going to eat with them. We’re gonna go out to eat.’ The following day, she calls me up in the morning, and she says, ‘Al, I don’t feel good.’ I told her, ‘You’re full of shit.’ ”

Sally, for her part, can’t understand why Al expects a woman her age to always be up for anything. She’s had three husbands—a lifetime filled with men. If there were ever a moment when she should be let off the hook, when little should be asked of her, then that time is now.

And she isn’t alone in her no-nonsense approach. The couples at Flushing House seem to engage in a distilled form of dating. There’s a practicality that comes with knowing there are certain undeniable limits to how long a romance can last, or what romance at the age of 85 even means. Gone are certain external factors (financial viability, child-rearing capability, long-term life goals); compatibility can now boil down simply to the types of shared interests that traditionally populate personals ads—taking sunset walks or reading paperback mysteries. Couples may tell one another, as Kitty told David, “You’re the best thing in my present life,” but when they do pass on, they’ll often be buried next to their first spouses, as if their latter-day loves never took place.


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