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Isabel Allende and Later Life Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Finding Second-Chance Romance in Midlife and Beyond

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Isabel Allende at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair. 
Image by Heike Huslage-Koch, Wikimedia Commons.
Isabel Allende at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair. Image by Heike Huslage-Koch, Wikimedia Commons.

While under the Covid-19 lockdown in California, 77-year-old author Isabel Allende has been enjoying the company of her new husband, Roger Cukras. After her long-term marriage ended in 2015, Allende expected to be single till she died. But now she declares she is in love and in lust with the man she married last year, and that if she can do that, anyone can.

I have to agree somewhat, because I was in a similar position. When my husband’s affections shifted to someone else and my marriage crumbled, I felt sure that as an older woman, albeit considerably younger than Allende, I was doomed to be a singleton for the rest of my life. Yet after three decades of monogamy, I began dipping my feet into the dating pool, feeling more feminine and attractive than I had for years. Surprisingly, it was better than when I was single in my twenties. I no longer looked like an awkward, flat-chested 12-year-old or needed a drink just to muster up enough courage to talk to a guy. Quite unexpectedly, I found midlife dating to be a blast.

Just like Allende, I had no interest in online dating sites—that seemed too creepy for someone of my generation. Instead I contacted friends I had lost touch with over the years. I also took up activities I enjoyed where I could meet people who shared my interests. My training as a BBC reporter must have paid off. I related easily to others, listening to their stories and adding a few anecdotes of my own. I felt comfortable in my own skin and built a strong circle of friends, some old, some new. I reconnected with a man I had worked with in my BBC broadcasting days in London whom I had not seen for thirty years. It didn’t take long for him to become my “significant other.”

Allende is now writing about older characters falling in love. In her latest novel, A Long Petal of the Sea, a couple who enter a marriage of convenience grow to fall in love in their later years. Allende paints an optimistic view of aging.

As the author told Rory Carroll in a December 2015 interview for the Guardian, her first marriage ended after 27 years. Allende had believed it would always be rock-solid. But after the death of her husband’s youngest son from a previous relationship, he spiraled into a deep depression and she eventually left the marriage. At the time, Allende believed that loneliness would be her new norm with only her dog for company, maybe at the most having the occasional “freelance” lover. As Max Liu of inews.co.uk reported, Roger Cukras heard Allende on the radio talking about her new life of solitude and decided to send her an email. After a month of correspondence, they met up. Three days later, he presented her with an engagement ring.

Allende is a poster child for aging well. Despite the coronavirus lockdown and her 77 years of age, Allende looked happy, radiant and beautiful when I watched her being interviewed online for Book Passage, a local independent bookstore. New love can do that to you, whether you’re a teenager or in your golden years. I can attest to that, at least as far as being happy and radiant and I hope, moderately attractive. Sadly though, unlike Allende, I’m under lockdown without my lover as he’s 6,000 miles away in London. An observation Isabel Allende made about late-in-life love was thus more poignant for me: There’s no time to waste. You don’t get bothered by things that you might have made a fuss about when you were younger. Instead, you can let go of all the crap and just enjoy being with each other—that is, if circumstances allow.

The breakup of my marriage, going through breast cancer twice and now Covid-19 have made me viscerally understand the impermanence of life and appreciate the here and now. When my boyfriend had a health challenge of his own—a supposedly “minor” heart attack—I became conscious of his mortality as well as mine. So why waste energy arguing about trivial issues when we could be snuggling up together or walking out to enjoy the sunset? Now in the coronavirus era, I have been wondering when we will be allowed to travel across borders to see each other in the future. The awareness that our time is finite has added a sweet, intense edge to our relationship. As I write in a book I am currently completing, Hotel Chemo: My Wild Ride through Breast Cancer and Infidelity, nothing makes you feel more alive than when the icy breath of death brushes across your cheek. An embrace from the dark side makes you cherish every moment.

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