My grandmother has developed a habit of falling on her way home from Bridge Club. Her most recent tumble took place while she was carrying a bag full of fresh berries; as her body hit the pavement her precious cargo went catapulting into the air. Sitting upright on the New York sidewalk, her tiny frame shaking post-fall, she only had two questions for passersby: “Is my fruit bruised?” and “Can you call my husband?”
Certain human attributes simply can’t withstand the test of time — the precision of our vision, the strength of our bones, the synchronicity of our limbs. But as we grow seemingly weaker on the outside, my grandparents have demonstrated that, internally, we often tend to grow even stronger in our convictions. My grandmother’s body may be battling the adversary of time, but her adoration for my grandfather (and berries) remains an ally. Love, it seems, can age quite well.
With that in mind, I spoke to three women over the age of 70 to hear about the first time they fell in love, the ways love transforms over time, and their thoughts about all things romance-related today. Their wisdom has both inspired and resonated with me — all three perspectives are vastly different, and yet rich with history, emotion and nostalgia. I learned that experience in the present may be transient, but some memories are more powerful from a distance. And when revisiting the past, love is a lens that adds both color and clarity.
Behjat, 89, lives on the Upper East Side with her husband of 67 years.
I grew up living in Bombay [modern-day Mumbai], India. I liked to look at boys. If they were good looking, I’d try to be near them or speak with them. But that wasn’t possible because, religiously, we weren’t allowed to be alone with boys. [Ed. note: the subject is referencing Islam.]
When I was 12, a letter came from a family in Iran with a photo of a beautiful boy inside. I saw the picture and I fell in love with him straight away. A year later, my mother passed away and my father brought us to visit Iran. We went to visit the family who had sent the photo. He was the most good looking boy!
The boy used to take me and my sisters to an ice cream shop in Isfahan — the only one in town. I remember everyone would stare and gawk at us because we were dressed in full abayas which was unusual at the time. This was before the Islamic Revolution, after all. Anyway, this boy, he only had eyes for me. It was the first time I had ever fallen in love, really. And I thought I knew that I would marry him one day.
When I returned to India, he would send me photographs of himself. Photography had just been invented so this was quite a big deal! He later told me that he would go down to a shop and pay to get his portrait taken — it was very expensive. But oh, how I looked forward to receiving those photos. He only grew more and more attractive as time went on. I saved every photograph.
After 10 years, my family returned to Iran [Post-Partition] and he and I met again. When he came into the room, my eyes brightened because he was the most handsome man I had ever seen. We fell in love all over again. He was not married, and I was not married, so we got together. But our fathers, they fought! My older sister was still single and my father thought my [would-be] husband ought to marry her instead. But my husband refused! And we got married.
We’ve been married for 67 years. We have been in love a long time. I fell in love with him when I was 12 years old and climbing trees in our backyard. And I’m still in love with him, to this day!
We quarrel, we do everything. But we make up. I can’t live without him, and I don’t think he can live without me. We had to leave Iran during the revolution. Our two eldest daughters were already in the United States getting their degrees at University. But our youngest, she was only ten years old. We didn’t have time to think or prepare; we just left as fast as we could. We went to London and started over. We had nothing and no one, really. But eventually, we got used to it. We made a home, a life. London was our home for over a decade, until our first grandchild was born. Then we started over again, this time in New York. Our relationship has provided a foundation for change.
He’s the only person I’ve ever loved, really, besides heroes and actors. Like George Clooney — good looking men. I like to watch their films and movies. I always tell young girls, don’t take dating so seriously — be happy. When you’re young, you can meet and talk: Why not enjoy yourself?
Aimee lives in the West Village and has many, many boyfriends.
I was born in Hong Kong. I was a surprise baby — my mother was in her 40s. I was the baby of the family. I was spoiled rotten. When I was 13, there was a woman, the second wife of a news publisher. She decided she wanted me to be her son’s wife. My parents told her that we were Christians, and that we didn’t believe in stuff like [arranged marriage]. I had never seen the boy! I was 13! So we never married.
When I was in college at the University of Michigan, I fell in love with two people at the same time. They were both very different. Mel was an intellectual who was doing theater. He had the potential to be great. Richard was a hippie who drank tea and meditated. I had no idea why I was in love with him except I guess I just was. I had a choice to make, and I went with Mel — the intellectual.
We moved to Berkeley together in the early 70s, when they had guerrilla theater. We started doing street theater together; it was so boring and so bad. Mel was studying for his masters and couldn’t get a job, so I became a telephone operator. It was the best job I ever had. I made a good living and made a life for both of us in Berkeley. Then Mel got an invitation to do his Doctorate at NYU, so we drove from Berkeley to New York. He became a professor; taught theater. Eventually we separated, but he was my best friend; my first love — we took care of each other. He died last year.
He was a very interesting guy. He got an obituary in The Times. We used to say to each other, “Who gets an obituary in The Times?” He made up this story that you had to be cited 17 times in your life. So, when he was dying, I handed him The New York Times and said, “I don’t know if you were cited 17 times!”
[After Mel], I also went out with Mick Jagger. I’m a lyric in “Some Girls” — the Chinese girl referenced is me. I had a very good boyfriend whom I met in Milan. He was very rich — his father was a car designer in France. Through him I met a lot of famous people, including my good friend, Ahmet Ertegun, who was the chairman of Atlantic Records. He was insane! The funniest person I have ever met. He was in his 50s and snorting coke, drinking, smoking dope all at the same time, rambling. Anyway, through him I met The Stones. It was all very casual.
I was painted. I was mentioned in a book. I’ve had books dedicated to me. I had a poem written about me. I was a muse for a jewelry designer — he did a lot of the “Year of” Chinese pins for me — I’m the Year of the Cow. The gold he used was taken from one of my fillings.
Today, I fall in love with people all the time. First of all, Richard ([the hippie] from Michigan!) and I are still going. He lives in India and he came to visit me last year. I had sex at 68! That was weird.
I think love today is very impersonal! When you’re talking to somebody, you have a phone in your hand, so I just don’t think it’s as intimate. I also think it’s more innocent. America has become more provincial in many ways. I think it’s because of the AIDS crisis — everyone was having sex with everybody, but now everybody is so scared. It’s influenced the romance.
If I could do it all over again, I’d tell myself: Don’t go with your heart, because you’ll get hurt. Always fall in love using your brain. I’ve fallen in love using my heart so often, and it’s such a scary thing when it’s not reciprocated. Falling in love with a friend and becoming lovers is so safe. But maybe I’m just a chicken shit!
Angie, 75, lives in Crown Heights and is single and loving it.
I was born in Trinidad. I’m the fourth of 12 children. When I was young, there was this guy who came around — everybody’s eyes were on him. I was young — 17, 18. This guy was slim with a nice ‘fro. I told everyone, “Leave him. I want him.” And guess what? He chose my sister! And today, they’re still married. They’ve been married for about 50 years. All of us remain close.
My first love was way older than me. About 17 years older! He was in the army, the regiment. My brother was also in the service — when I went to visit him, I met this guy. It didn’t last — we just dated for a short time and that was it. But he was quite nice to me. Being older, he knew how to treat a woman. I was about 25 and we would go the movies and stuff like that. You see, I didn’t quite understand what love was, because growing up, we didn’t have a lot of love in our household. My grandmother, who raised me, had very old school practices.
When I moved to America at 29, me and the guy still corresponded. People kept telling me that long-distance romances didn’t work out, so I went down [to Trinidad] a few times and we saw each other and it was nice. But eventually he told me that it wasn’t going to work out because I was too far away and didn’t want to come back to Trinidad. And it was fine!
I fell in love once after that, but the guy died. He was younger than me — asthmatic. After that, I kind of lost interest [in love]. I never really got serious with anybody. Over the years, I’ve just had fun and worked hard — I took care of beautiful children. I used to party every night because my brother was a DJ. I’d attend every single Carnival — without a guy in my life. I was single, and oh, I was loving it. And still loving it even more now!
I have never felt like I missed out on a marriage or a child. I decided to make a life out of taking care of other people’s children — they are all my children. And my family has so many children who love me all the same. The life that I had growing up was too tough for me. I grew up deprived and I definitely did not want that for a child. I never wanted to bring a child onto this earth unless I could support that child and give it everything that it wanted.
When I see couples helping each other with suitcases while traveling, I used to wish I had a partner. When my brother was alive, he would do that for me. But now when I travel, I just ride in a wheelchair and people take care of me. I no longer need anybody. [Suitcase help] is the only thing I’d need a man for, and I don’t need that anymore!
I think people today just go online and pick somebody! I can’t see that at all. A long time ago, you used to see somebody and you’d say, “Oh, I like that guy.” And somebody else would say, “Oh you like him? I know him, I’ll go talk to him for you!” That’s how it used to be — matchmaking! Now the computer does all the matchmaking for you!
Life is hard, but beautiful. One of the best things about love is the feeling of wanting to melt in someone’s arms. I get the same feeling in church. Make sure you find the one who loves you, not necessarily the one you love. Don’t go for your crush, go for true love. True love is it. It has to be.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Iman Hariri-Kia is a New York based writer, musician, and Sex & Dating Editor at Elite Daily. You can often find her performing songs about those who wronged her in Middle School. Click here to follow her inner musings.
Photos by Emily Malan.