You can’t hurry love

Written by Monique Butterworth for Australian Seniors.

Marianne Longworth always wanted to get married. She just never thought it would happen in her 50s. “I kind of saw myself just being single, really,” laughs Marianne, 56. “I regret not meeting Peter when I was younger because I think we would’ve had children – the whole marriage, two kids, house scenario.”

First-time bride after 50

First-time bride Marianne (pictured above) tied the knot with first-time groom Peter Longworth, 58, on 17 November 2019 at Sydney’s Royal Motor Yacht Club of NSW in Point Piper. Bookmaker Peter and Marianne, head designer for Goondiwindi Cotton, met through a mutual friend 16 years ago.

“There was always an attraction. I remember he walked past me and said, ‘Oh you’re trouble’ and I looked at him and thought, ‘I’m quite interested in you!’ But he wasn’t interested in me. There was something about Peter from the moment I met him, I felt he was ‘the one’. Which is odd!” admits Marianne. “He was very much a bachelor. He rang me because he needed help with something and as a thank you, he took me out for dinner.

“It grew from that and we started dating six years ago. He was really slow to make a commitment. Even his mother said, ‘If he doesn’t propose to you, I want you to walk away from him!’”

Peter finally proposed to Marianne on the eve of her 54th birthday in April 2019. “On my birthday we went out to dinner with Peter’s mother and we told her our news. She was so excited, she literally told the whole restaurant!”

Coming from a Catholic background, Peter felt pressured to have a church wedding but decided on a civil ceremony. “We wanted a wedding that was like a party and it was,” says Marianne. “According to everyone who came to our wedding, it was one of the best weddings they had ever been to. We had 120 guests and the food was amazing.

“We had the ceremony and reception in the same venue. Apparently, I bolted up the aisle. Everything was so organised, I got to the ceremony and suddenly I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m actually getting married.’ I really hadn’t given it a thought.”

A casual approach to getting married as an over 50

Marianne says she was so laid-back about everything she didn’t even have her wedding dress until six weeks before the big day. “I didn’t want anything too bridal, but I also wanted something that didn’t say ‘mother of the bride’,” she says. “I used to manufacture in Bali, so while I was holidaying there I had a full-length beaded lace coat with a cream silk slip to wear underneath made for me.”

Celebrant Glen-Marie Frost has officiated many ceremonies, including older couples embarking on their first marriage. “It fascinates me,” she says. “Whether it’s a first-time bride or groom, or both, in their 50s, 60s or 70s, when the couples come together in that moment, they are very comfortable with each other and prepared to make that union for life. You can see that spark in their eyes, that glow of love, giving their commitment to each other. The party becomes a celebration of the fact.”

Today’s older generation tend to be healthier and more active than in the past. Enjoyment of companionship, sex and the pursuit of common interests can form a strong bedrock for marriage later in life when there aren’t the traditional pressures of parenthood. Of course, it can come with challenges – especially if there have been previous marriages or children. “I don’t think anyone has a right to be judgemental of somebody else’s happiness,” says Glen-Marie. “Every now and then ‘baggage’ pops up along the way for some couples. But you just have to overcome it.”

Celebrant Glen-Marie Frost.

Celebrant Glen-Marie Frost

Glen-Marie is based in the Sydney and the Southern Highlands, and covers weddings, celebrations of life, funerals, naming ceremonies, commitment ceremonies and more. She has organised, hosted and spoken at many different events, and has a lifetime of experience in executive mentoring, leadership coaching, corporate networking, event design and public speaking.

Wedding vows for over 50s

For Glen-Marie, discovering the couple’s story and sharing it at the ceremony adds to the uniqueness of the celebration. “I encourage couples to write their own vows. Something straight from the heart. The way you speak is really the way your vows should be. Initially the thought is daunting for couples, especially grooms, but on the day, it’s often the groom’s vows that are deeper and more loving.”

Two of her ‘loving’ grooms – John Goldbaum, 71, and Paul Sharpless, 63 – married on 7 November 2021 at The Boathouse Rose Bay in Sydney. It was a first wedding for interior designer Paul and second marriage for retired GP John. “Paul and I had been friends for some years but we ran into each other again five years ago and developed a friendship which progressed from there,” says John. “Paul proposed to me – it happened on the spur of the moment.”

“John is wonderful,” adds Paul. “We’ve never argued and really there’s no point anyway – we both realise you can work everything out. We spend a lot of time together.”

“When you’ve found the right person and you don’t argue, it means you share the same values and objectives,” says John. “You make allowances for trivial things so they don’t become an issue.”

John and Paul wanted a small wedding of just 30 guests. “When you get older, you don’t have as many friends,” smiles Paul. The guest of honour was his 91-year-old mother Ramona. “I picked her dress and organised for a carer to bring her to the venue from her nursing home. Mum has dementia and normally uses a walker but she didn’t want to bring it to the wedding,” says Paul. “She had a walking stick, but when we took photos she hid it behind her so no-one could see.”

Planning the big day

Brisbane-based event architect Alysia Bridger, owner of wedding and event company Alysia Bridger Events, says many wedding plans start with the guest list. “Couples who are a little older are still looking to do something absolutely magnificent but with their closest friends,” says Alysia. “Especially if they’re planning a destination wedding and a weekend of events. Also, in most cases, they don’t have parents insisting aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews must come to the wedding!”

Alysia says she finds the weddings of all her clients, young and more mature, moving experiences. “It’s still a big day, but I think as we get older, we’re more comfortable in our own skin. It’s still really emotional and the day is not without stress,” she laughs. “Older brides and grooms can often be more food and wine-focused when it comes to the reception. They know what they love, whether that be food, wine, clothing or jewellery. The day is totally dictated by the couple.”

Wedding dresses

In terms of what the happy couple will wear, groom fashions rarely change – a smart suit is still the popular choice, regardless of age. And according to couture designer Nicky Apostolopoulos, owner of Velani by Nicky in Sydney, designing a wedding dress for a more mature bride is also no different than designing one for a younger client.

“I resonate with my older brides because I am their demographic! Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you can’t think young or have to sacrifice style,” says Nicky. “When you’re older, you’re more confident in your own skin. You’re more accountable for who you are and what you want.”

Nicky says that an older bride opting for traditional white or ivory is completely acceptable. “It’s all about a glamorous gown and what suits the skin tone. Older brides want to look bridal, not ‘mother of the bride’. They might not do a veil, instead opting for a headband or something chic rather than traditional.”

She believes that brides – regardless of age – need to dress to suit their personality. “When you’re a little bit older you’re not dictated as much by what you have to wear, rather it’s about what you want to wear,” says Nicky.

What to consider before marriage when over 50

By Annie Gurton, relationships therapist.

While getting married later in life can be a wonderful celebration, there are a few things prospective couples should be aware of. Annie Gurton, a Sydney-based Imago relationships therapist, says there is no doubt anyone in their 50s and above is somewhat set in their ways.

“Habits, likes, dislikes and prejudices are all more set in stone, and although there are exceptions, finding love late in life means looking for someone who already thinks and believes as you do, has the same interests and will fit reasonably smoothly into your life,” says Annie. “This is not the time to experiment living with a vegetarian if you are a committed omnivore, or finding peace with someone at the opposite end of the political spectrum.”

Seek couple’s counselling before major problems arise

Annie says, with luck, the couple has spent enough time together for any patterns and habits to reveal themselves and be tackled before the wedding. “There’s no sense in marrying someone who is stuck in their ways and expecting them to change,” she says. “If you do detect anything that is deeply entrenched, professional couples counselling can be useful and often the only way the habituated partner will make changes.”

Love can be just as blind late in life as it is with teenagers. “It’s easy to become involved with someone whose incompatibility doesn’t become obvious until after the wedding. Essentially, the same rules apply to older people as to younger ones: caution, wisdom, listening to friends who know you both well.”

Although Annie agrees today’s older Australians are healthier and more active than previous generations, you do have to consider it might not stay that way. “As the modern generation of older people are a lot fitter and health-conscious than their parents, marrying later in life means the relationship is set to last for another 30, 40 or 50 years,” says Annie. “The downside is that one might marry someone who appears fit and healthy at the time of marriage, but goes into a health decline soon after, or several years later, and one can find oneself as a caregiver.”

Finances are another issue to look out for. When couples marry later in life, they have generally each accumulated significant assets, so decisions need to be made concerning finances, inheritances, children, housing, superannuation and retirement. It’s not romantic but seeking independent legal and financial advice to address what happens to your money if you get divorced or when you die is essential, especially if there are children from previous relationships involved.

Check out Season 2 of the Australian Seniors podcast Life’s Booming, Dare to Date, featuring seniors re-entering the dating scene.

While love can strike at any age, some older Australians may find it difficult to obtain life insurance. With Seniors Life Insurance, you can apply for cover from age 45 up to 79.