Going Gray and Finding Love

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California is home to approximately 5 million people over the age of 65 — more than any other state in the country. Of that population, 36,694 individuals live in Santa Cruz County. There’s significant research on senior health, economic welfare, demographics, technology use and more. However, there are few studies on intimacy as people enter the 65+ range.

The following individuals were interviewed at Kindred Nursing Home and La Posada Retirement Community in Santa Cruz. They shared personal experiences with love and relationships, providing some insight into what it’s like finding love in old age.

Harry Woodward and Nancy Forsberg
Love, Wicked Humor & Dating a Married Woman

Three times a week Nancy Forsberg visits Harry Woodward at Kindred Nursing Home. Nancy does her best to bring him chocolate and take him out for a milkshake when they both feel well enough. Harry proceeds to give Nancy one of his drawings, a new hobby he has taken up in recent years, every time she visits him. Photo by Casey Amaral.
Three times a week Nancy Forsberg visits Harry Woodward at Kindred Nursing Home. Nancy does her best to bring him chocolate and take him out for a milkshake when they both feel well enough. Harry proceeds to give Nancy one of his drawings, a new hobby he has taken up in recent years, every time she visits him. Photo by Casey Amaral.

Eighty-three year-old tenor saxophonist Harry Woodward caught sight of Nancy Forsberg 21 years ago while performing with his band. Immersed in his jazz melodies, a reflection in the crowd caught Harry’s attention.

He turned to find Nancy, then 53 years old, swaying her body around the dance floor. It was a pin on her shirt that glimmered, and happened to be in the shape of a tenor saxophone. The two hit it off immediately.

“We didn’t know until we danced,” Nancy said. “That’s when there was electricity.” The two “snuggle danced” all night. Nancy was married at this time, but her feelings developed for Harry regardless. She and Harry soon started dating, often sneaking off to the beach. “We laid in the sand and kissed each other. That was our first date — rolling around in the sand, laughing.”

When Nancy explained how she was part of two different but significant relationships at once, she hesitated, leaned in and said, “I am still married to a person who is now a transgender woman. We have been best friends for 45 years, so she told me to go for it.”

“It sounds stranger than it is,” Harry said. “It all came about very naturally.” There were no secrets and a lot of support.

When asked what their favorite thing to do together was, they both looked at each other and Nancy said, “Besides making whoopee?” and they fell into a fit of laughter as they held hands. “We’ve laughed a lot,” Nancy said. They stress that humor may be the most important part of a relationship. “We share a similar sense of humor — kind of wicked, kind of dry, very British,” she said.

They wanted to grow old together, “and here we are,” Nancy said, hand in hand with her partner. They can’t go dancing like they used to or roll around in the sand all day, but “we hold hands, that’s about what’s left,” Nancy said with a chuckle.

“Love is what makes life worth living. And I wish it to happen for everyone,” Harry said with his hands folded in his lap, straightening his posture in his wheelchair.

Marion Hajdu
Liberating Love and the Beauty of Old Age

Marion Hajdu spends much of her time still working part time as a graphic designer and taking care of her furry companion, her dog Rose. She hopes to start working less as she gets older and spending more time with friends. Photo by Casey Amaral.
Marion Hajdu spends much of her time still working part time as a graphic designer and taking care of her furry companion, her dog Rose. She hopes to start working less as she gets older and spending more time with friends. Photo by Casey Amaral.

Marion Hajdu, 70 years old this April, spent the first 10 years of her life in Budapest, Hungary before moving to the United States with her family. Marion spent most of her adult life in New York where she learned about the cutthroat competition of the city. She was racing to find a man who could complete the societal picture of “success” in a place where women heavily outnumbered single, straight men.

“I was tired of being lonely and hunting for something that wasn’t happening,” she said.

In her 50s, Marion gave up on romantic love. She never married or had children. When she abandoned this limited notion of finding a spouse she said, “I felt like I actually liberated the love.” She began to see the overwhelming affection from all the other relationships in her life — her family, her friends, her pets and most importantly, her relationship with herself.

“I love that I can love myself,” she said. When she found self-love is when she finally started to feel free.

“That’s the beauty of age,” she said. “The walls we have erected around us, they start to fall away as we get older. We get to be more of who we are.” Physically, she admits, growing old can be difficult, but emotionally it’s a much easier way of life, at least for her. “Fear is the enemy,” she said and through meditation and a sense of a higher power she grows more fearless and optimistic everyday. “You don’t have to take the world by [a] storm,” Marion said. “So lighten up.”

Margarite Tuchardt
Reconnecting With an Old Summer Love

With a long list of past lovers, Margarite Tuchardt is no stranger to intimacy and hardship. A recovering alcoholic, mother, ex-wife and active participant in the women’s liberation movement in the 60s, Margarite has a diverse share of experiences but says she’s excited to see what the future holds. Photo by Casey Amaral.
With a long list of past lovers, Margarite Tuchardt is no stranger to intimacy and hardship. A recovering alcoholic, mother, ex-wife and active participant in the women’s liberation movement in the 60s, Margarite has a diverse share of experiences but says she’s excited to see what the future holds. Photo by Casey Amaral.

Margarite Tuchardt is 77 years old and has been a Santa Cruz resident since 1966. Of all the loves she’s had in her life, she recalls her musician lover Bill, a fiddler, most vividly. When she met Bill, she was 44 years old. That night, they ate at a diner and afterward Margarite kissed him in the parking lot, igniting their “summer of love.” Bill was in Santa Cruz taking lessons from a more experienced fiddler, but planned on leaving in September to go back home. The countdown made the relationship even more exciting and intense, she said.

They spent all summer together living in a cabin in Santa Cruz. She was enchanted by the parties where Bill introduced her to all the musicians and artists around town. The whole thing was fast and passionate, she said, not bashful in the slightest, “The sex was great, best I’ve ever had.”

The two middle-aged adults loved like teenagers during that 1983 summer. “Our love was the only thing that mattered. It was all-consuming,” she said. When September came around, the two split ways and Margarite was crushed. “I collapsed for months, I couldn’t do anything. My friends had to take care of me.” She slowly regained composure and had other romantic relationships but none that matched the love she had for Bill.

Four years ago she decided she had to see him one last time. Although she hadn’t seen or spoken to him in 30 years, she called to tell him her plans on visiting. She flew to meet him, and Bill greeted her with flowers and candy at the airport. As soon as they saw each other, she said, the electricity was back. But just like the first time, when they went their separate ways it was like an iron curtain came down, she said, it was quick and cold. “I cried all the way home,” she said.

Though Bill was the love of her life, Margarite is still looking for love. She’s less spontaneous now, but since she didn’t expect to live this long, now anything is possible. “I’m still open to love,” she said, “but guys don’t date in Santa Cruz, they all just want to hook up!”