As ‘The Golden Bachelor’ Demonstrates, the Key Elements of Falling in Love Are the Same at Any Age

Photo credit: W+G Creative/ABC
Given the premise of the new ABC show The Golden Bacheloras a senior-focused spin-off of its popular dating reality show—it only makes sense that the first episode looked a little different than that of its younger counterparts. The bachelor in question, Gerry Turner, is indeed a senior at age 71, and the contestants vying for his love are in their sixties and seventies. Naturally, their conversations dove more readily into topics like the women's lengthy careers, children, and the kinds of life experiences that can only come with time.

But specifics aside, the first episode unfolded much like any other premiere of a Bachelor season might, replete with glittery formalwear, memorable if not gimmicky limo entrances (one woman on a motorcycle, another threatening nudity), several kisses, and a first-impression rose. Which is all very fitting, given that therapists agree falling and being in love is, at its core, no different in older age than at any point in life.

Experts In This Article

Indeed, relationship experts confirm Turner’s journey to find love in older age is bound to follow a similar track as that of younger bachelors past (perhaps just without some of the social media-fueled drama). In fact, the sneak preview of the season to come hinted that Turner might just fall in love with more than one of the women, which is certainly not an uncommon dilemma on a show that requires dating multiple people at once and choosing one for the monogamous endgame of marriage. (Clayton Echard, anyone?)

“Regardless of age, people are looking for friendship, companionship, and similar interests and values.” —Carla Marie Manly, PhD, clinical psychologist

“Regardless of age, people are looking for friendship, companionship, and similar interests and values,” says clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD, author of Date Smart. In turn, the ingredients for romantic love1—attachment, caring, and intimacy—are no different in older age as they are in younger age, nor is the process of going on dates to determine whether you might find those elements with a particular someone.

What does change with age, however, is the criteria for marriage, and given that victory on The Bachelor looks like an engagement ring (and not just a declaration of love), we can suspect that Turner might offer his final rose to someone for different reasons than a younger bachelor might.

“We still have the same hormonal2 and neurological activations3 that occur and the same social reinforcements that occur [with love] at any age, but I think the difference [in older age] is that the social factors vary,” says relationship expert Jess Carbino, PhD, former sociologist at dating apps Tinder and Bumble. And that means how you choose a marriage partner—on The Bachelor or otherwise—can change with age, while love remains the same.

Why choosing a spouse in older age might look different, even if love unfolds the same way

Younger daters mostly evaluate partners for marriage on the basis of whether they can “build” together, says Dr. Manly. In these years, dating to marry (or be in a long-term relationship) is, at least in part, about finding someone with whom you can team up for such life milestones as buying a home and having and raising children. Whereas, older daters might not be as concerned with building so much as meshing the existing life they have with someone else's. “[Relationships] in old age are less about co-creating and more about maintaining,” says Dr. Manly.

"[Relationships] in old age are less about co-creating and more about maintaining." —Dr. Manly

Indeed, Turner has said that what he's looking for in his 70s is different than what he looked for in high school (which is when he met his late wife, who passed away in 2017). And according to Dr. Carbino, that distinction likely has to do with Turner having already achieved certain things in life, like having kids (and grandkids) and buying a home. “When you're older, you need to protect the assets that you have and look for somebody who can enjoy and who will complement your life, but who is not necessarily somebody that you’re going to build with in the same way,” says Dr. Carbino.

For some, that might mean there's a deemphasis on finding someone with an ambitious career trajectory or with aligned family-planning goals when dating later in life, says Dr. Carbino, which could lower the stakes. Rather than being concerned with what's in the future, dating and marriage in older age is about what's right in the now. Think of it like this: Dating for prospective marriage in the younger years is about finding someone with whom to start a new puzzle, while older daters are looking for the right puzzle piece to complete theirs.

Plenty of things could affect that partner selection at any age, with love being just one of them. (Remember: Love and monogamous partnership aren't analogous, given that the first is a feeling and the second is a choice that can take into account any number of social factors.) So while the process of choosing a long-term or marriage partner can change over time, falling in love—and all the feelings that come it—isn't subjected to the same variation.

In fact, says Dr. Manly, older isn't necessarily any wiser in the love department, either. And people of any age can have what it takes—or lack what it takes—to identify and form a loving relationship with a compatible partner.

"I've met some people in their twenties and thirties who have emotional intelligence that far exceeds [that of] some people I know in their fifties, sixties, and seventies," says Dr. Manly. "Emotional intelligence is earned by an ability and a willingness to dive inward, do the work [of understanding yourself], and then continue to do that work as you interact with others." It's a process as timeless as love itself.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Rubin, Zick. “Lovers and Other Strangers: The Development of Intimacy in Encounters and Relationships: Experimental Studies of Self-Disclosure between Strangers at Bus Stops and in Airport Departure Lounges Can Provide Clues about the Development of Intimate Relationships.” American Scientist, vol. 62, no. 2, 1974, pp. 182–90. JSTOR, Accessed 27 Sept. 2023.
  2. Esch, Tobias, and George B Stefano. “The Neurobiology of Love.” Neuro endocrinology letters vol. 26,3 (2005): 175-92. Accessed 27 Sept. 2023.
  3. Zeki, Semir. “The Neurobiology of Love.” FEBS Letters, vol. 581, no. 14, 2007, pp. 2575-2579, Accessed 27 Sept. 2023.

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