Finding love at any age is worth celebrating but finding love later in life, after previous loves, losses and the growing pains of life, can be truly uplifting. At least that’s how I felt after spending time with Susan Fadem and Richard Andersen, who married each other recently at ages 70 and 68, respectively.
They met through Match.com. Nine years ago, after her husband of 37 years had passed away, Susan was ready to date.
The only problem? She wasn’t sure how.
“I’m blessed with many friends, but I missed the possibility of sustained conversation with men,” Susan said. “It just wasn’t happening on its own and frankly, friends who were kind enough to fix me up — it just didn’t work and I felt accountable to report back to them.”
She recalled one lunch that she thought had gone rather well, but when he never called again she wondered if she even knew what constitutes “a good date.” After all, the last time she had been in a similar situation was roughly 40 years before, when Globe-Democrat gossip columnist Jerry Berger introduced her to one of his high school classmates, Rod Fadem. The two married when she was 23 and he was 40, and had two daughters together.
As a retired newspaperwoman with a distinguished journalism career, Susan had coached a number of friends in writing their online dating profiles.
“I would tell them to write something, then sit with it for a while, not to rush,” she said. “Finally, I decided I was going to write mine, so I dashed it off and pressed send. I totally disregarded my own advice.”
At first she heard from a man looking for a woman “with clean feet and hair that smells good,” she said. Another reported he was living in his car.
“There was a Wash U professor who sounded pretty good,” she said, “but he also sounded pretty good to all of my single friends and I don’t think he contacted any of us.”
Not long after, Richard popped onto her Match radar. She vividly remembers his profile: “I’m a homeowner and I’m retired and I like to work on my house and I like to garden,” she recalled. “And even those things I can’t say fired me up, but it was so much better than ‘I love to ride in my convertible with the top down and sit in front of an open fire drinking beer.’ ”
Richard, divorced and ready to Match, can’t pinpoint exactly what drew him to Susan’s profile, though as an agnostic, he was intrigued that she described herself as “a cultural Jew.” And then there was the matter of the photo she had included.
“I questioned it because it was the only profile picture I can remember looking at that also had a man in it,” he said. “She had one of the Kramer Marionette guys in it. It made me wonder what’s going on.”
The picture, it turns out, was from a marathon birthday party she and a friend used to throw for themselves. What could she say — she happened to like that picture of herself.
For a while they emailed back and forth. He told her he read a lot.
“What do you read?” she asked.
Everything from Stephen King to Virginia Woolf, he wrote back.
Each soon learned that the other was a vegetarian. So when Susan heard about an Indian restaurant that had a monthly vegan night, she mustered the courage to invite him to dinner.
“That went very well,” said Richard, who retired from the U.S. Corps of Engineers after 32 years. “We talked a long time. We basically closed the restaurant.”
He was polite, interesting, well read, attractive and paid for the meal. Susan left thinking this had potential.
Richard, too, saw potential in this curly-haired, vivacious, culturally Jewish woman who seemed genuinely upbeat and present. Sure, there were differences — he’s quieter, analytical and more introverted, “preferring a few close friends to her many” — but in Susan he saw someone who seemed to complement his essence.
Steadily, their relationship moved forward. When they decided she would move into his house in St. Peters and give up her apartment in the Central West End, they held a “non-binding commitment ceremony” at Lu Lu Seafood in University City. That was five years ago.
“I didn’t want to just ‘shack up,’ ” said Susan. “I felt it was important to mark the occasion with a commitment ceremony.”
Susan says she never had any intention of marrying again. Richard, though, never opposed the idea. Still, for years they were content to live together and enjoy biking, hiking and gardening. They’d go to the theater, see movies and cook together. Their conversations flowed.
Sometimes couples their age don’t marry because of financial or family reasons. That wasn’t the case with Susan and Richard — after their commitment ceremony, Susan felt fully committed to him, and he to her. But when she turned 70, something changed. Maybe it was as simple as wanting to call Richard, with his full head of cotton-white hair and electric-blue eyes, “husband” instead of “life partner.” There were practical concerns as well.
“We recognized that we were getting older and we didn’t want there to be any question of health care power of attorney or any of those things,” said Susan, who was diagnosed with early Stage 2 melanoma six months before they began planning their wedding.
“When I found out, I said to Richard, ‘You didn’t sign up for this. You can bail now. I will understand,’” said Susan, who after undergoing surgery now has a positive prognosis. “That’s the fear many people have about later-stage relationships. I watched a spouse die. I know how hard it is.
“But Richard’s response was something to the effect of, ‘I am here for you. No question.’ To hear that — to know that we are there for the bad stuff as well as the good means so much.”
The two married in April in Portland, Ore., where Susan’s daughters, sons-in-law and two granddaughters live. Richard’s 49-year-old son, a native Iowan like his father, couldn’t make it to the wedding, but came to a reception in St. Peters soon after. (An account of the couple’s nuptials can be found in their wedding announcement on page 22.)
“I’m not sure there is any one thing about Susan that I love or admire the most,” said Richard, in response to a question about that. “Her constant ability to always be positive offsets a tendency on my part to sometimes be negative. Her honesty, her willingness to try things I never thought she would try.”
For Susan, it’s also about their adventures together, and much more.
“Dating wasn’t enough because not all the best parts of a day happen on a date. It may be the hummingbird on the feeder that you just marvel at together because you tried a different portion of sugar and water, so you have some ownership in the fact that that hummingbird likes your mixture.
“There are so many things that happen in the course of a day that we get to share. I would be hard-pressed to say there is a time of day when all the highlights happen. But there is a joy and security of really being there for each other every day that makes my heart full.”