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A year ago, I sat my partner down for “The Talk”. Perhaps, I suggested, my mother should move in with us? Sure, she was fit and well now but who knows what decrepitude was around the corner? After all, I had listened to the warnings from politicians about all these baby boomers living longer, burdening the country’s social care, draining hospital resources. I would step up and do my daughterly duty.
I thought of my plans last Saturday night as I looked across at Mum sipping an espresso martini in an east London pub, Kylie Minogue blasting through the speakers. A group of friends had gathered to mark her last days of single life.
Because it turns out that my mother had harboured very different plans to my own; her ambitions were far more exciting than a granny annexe. Next weekend, Mum will marry for the third time. It will not be a lavish affair. She is poaching the salmon herself.
She is not alone. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show the over-60s are marrying in greater numbers. In 2015, 3.3 per cent of women marrying men were over-60, up from 1.6 per cent in 1990.
Businesses have spotted the romantic potential of the baby boomers. Apps such as Stitch promise to find companionship and love for older men and women at the swipe of a finger. The dating website eHarmony predicts that by 2050 the proportion of over-65s singletons using online dating services could be as high as 78 per cent, up from 12 per cent last year.
To get the sparks flying, Debrett’s, the publisher of British guides on lineage and etiquette, has recently released a guide for mature online daters, warning them against bringing “a friend to chaperone” or showing pictures of grandchildren. Throw caution to the wind, it says, go for that “hug, a kiss or an overnight stay”, these are words I cannot unsee.
Lynda Gratton, co-author of The 100-Year Life, predicts older weddings will become more common in the future. “At 70 there could be another 30 years of healthy living,” she told me over lunch. “That’s more than most marriages lasted 100 years ago. It’s no surprise that we are choosing to make these big life decisions later.”
Such actuarial pragmatism is lost on Mum, who is woozy with romance. Nonetheless, this marriage, she says, differs from her previous two — each suiting distinct phases of her life.
This third (and last?) marriage is different. She has no plans to share her home with her new partner. And while they both still work, they are no longer desperately striving; with no children’s packed lunches to make, there is more time to chat and cook.
I have spent a fair amount of time writing about how longer lives are prompting multiple careers, but had never looked into serial marriages. Just as there is no longer a job for life, so too, perhaps, for relationships?
Late marriages are not for everyone. The actor Maureen Lipman told me: “Documents, wills, stepchildren . . . I feel tired just contemplating my own ineptitude.” She describes what she has with her long-term partner as “a civilised, modern relationship . . . which blossoms when we are together and still exists when we are apart”.
While baby boomers are striking new relationships in their sixties and seventies, their kids and grandkids are learning to adapt. Today when I reflect on my plans for Mum’s granny flat, I feel like Annie Wilkes in Stephen King’s novel, Misery, smashing the ankles of her victim to prevent his escape.
There are plenty of parenting books but no manual on how to be a 40-something son or daughter. Before I met Mum’s new tattooed fiancé for the first time, I searched Google for etiquette tips. There was nothing for me. Only “10 Things To Do When You Meet His Parents and Eight Ways to Hit It Off With His Mom!”
Yet my mum’s excitement is contagious. Born in the 1970s into what became the Divorce Generation, I have always found marriage baffling. Despite a partner, a shared mortgage and children, wedding vows have always felt like a fairytale and a fuss.
Could Mum change my mind? Perhaps. Or maybe I’ll wait until I’m 70 when I can really appreciate it.
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