Aging Well: Love later may be better

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Last week, Ray and Patsy Magness of Craig celebrated their sixth wedding anniversary.

Other than the rose he gave her and the special dinner out on the town, the day was not out of the ordinary for the couple, who make every day an occasion to express affection for each other.

Whether it's the dozen or so times they say "I love you," the constant hand holding or surprise hugs they share, one might assume they've been married for decades.

Ray, 76, and Patsy, 75, were high school sweethearts, but diverging roads took them in different directions and through two marriages each before they were reunited 52 years later.

"This has been the best six and a half years of my life," Ray said about his time with Patsy.

The couple is among many adults age 50 and older finding companionship later in life. Their stories have varied beginnings - a chance meeting of an old flame or a friendly chat with someone new - but all have a similar theme: They never knew it could be so good.

Do what you love

Johanna Hall was married and divorced by the time she was 30. Single for 20 years, she hoped to find a companion but was discouraged by negative "self-talk" about whether she was attractive enough or good enough to find someone new.

"I went through a lot of years like that," said Hall, now 52.

Then, in 2004, companionship found her at the Mount Werner Hill Climb mountain bike race, where she met Steve "Fleck" Fleckenstein. They casually started talking at the party following the race, and then he surprised her by buying her dinner.

Their first official date was a Spring Creek bike ride. A relationship quickly fell into place.

"Pretty much after meeting Johanna mountain biking : I figured we'd probably be together," said Steve, 55.

Steve proposed to Johanna atop a mountain overlooking Lake George in New York last fall, and they plan to wed this spring.

Similar interests and values, including spending time with friends and appreciating life in a beautiful place, helped foster a deep friendship, a key to their relationship.

"I just have so much fun with Fleck," Johanna said.

A challenge in their relationship has been figuring out the best way to merge their lives and belongings. The two decided to sell their separate homes in Hayden and Oak Creek and purchase a home together near Steamboat.

The "fixer-upper" is an appropriate Valentine's gift - they close on the house Wednesday and look forward to renovating it together.

Steve's marriage to Johanna will be his first. In his younger years, life was simply too distracting to find the time and energy to dedicate to a serious relationship.

"When you're older, it's just more fun to share something with another person than when you're younger," he said.

The couples' advice to others hoping to find love is to focus on things they enjoy doing while remaining open to new people and experiences that could enter their lives.

"Do what you like to do and if (love) comes along, it's a bonus," Johanna said.

Meant to be

After five decades apart, Ray and Patsy Magness may never have guessed that their romance would be just as exciting as when they were teenagers.

"It was just so smooth and nice - we never had a fight then, and we still haven't," Patsy said. "I guess it was just meant to be."

Ironically, Ray and Patsy's initial relationship was cut short by their parents, who thought the couple was getting too serious. Their story picked up years later when Ray saw a letter Patsy wrote to their high school alumni newsletter.

They began corresponding and made plans to go to their 50th high school reunion together as friends.

"When I saw her walk across that parking lot, I knew I was going to be with her for the rest of my life," Ray said about the day he picked her up for the event.

The two returned to separate lives and crumbling marriages in different states. Within several years, both divorced their second spouses. Ray left almost everything - homes, vehicles, even his favorite dog - to be with Patsy in Colorado.

That is just a small measure of his devotion to her. Just four months after getting married, Patsy had quadruple heart bypass surgery, and Ray, not wanting to leave her alone, slept on a cot in her hospital room during her recovery.

Patsy also copes with diabetes, multiple sclerosis, severe arthritis and other conditions. Taking care of her - helping her with daily tasks and medications, accompanying her on walks and to exercise classes, even shouldering household chores - may be a 24-hour job, but Ray considers it a gift.

"I don't mind that, I just want to be with her," he said.

Ray and Patsy's commitment to each other is fueled by healthy doses of affection, communication and honesty. Contending with pain and the stress of caregiving can lead to bad days for both Ray and Patsy, so they stay tuned to each other's feelings and need for space.

"We let one another know how we feel," Ray said. "This is the key to any relationship, you have to talk and be truthful."

Ray's and Patsy's suggestions for others seeking love? Don't settle for less than you want out of love or life.

Of course, in their case, it's hard not to wonder what might have happened if they'd stayed together from the start.

"I'm sorry in a way that we didn't continue our relationship when we were younger. : Then again, it may not have worked out," Patsy said. "This was the time to be together, so here we are."

Tamera Manzanares can be reached at tammarie74@yahoo.com.

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