Love is possible the second time around

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Love is possible the second time around

Kim Kyung-ok, 70, married at the age of 23 but her husband left her after a year. She worked hard to raise her daughter, nephew and niece. Through all those years of loneliness, Kim (a pseudonym) never expected romance to re-enter her life.

But last March, she went on a blind date organized by the Incheon City Government. Cho Ki-young, also a pseudonym, is 12 years older than Kim. The two go out on dates, usually to the movies, and take turns spending days at each other’s homes.

“When I was young, I didn’t know the feeling of love was this warm,” said Kim. “He’s so gentle. He kisses my forehead when it’s time to go home.”

Cho said he never expected to be happy again after his wife died two years ago. He’s happy now. “Kim is what keeps me going and want to live longer.”

Romance in a person’s twilight years is becoming a fact of life for Korean seniors. People are living longer and the number of seniors choosing to live apart from their children is growing. With that freedom, many choose to have late-life romances. Then they have people their own age to watch out and care for them.

Many couples live on their own during the week and spend time together on weekends.

Incheon’s city government organized two blind date programs for 200 people over the age of 60 in March and November. It was a surprising success: 40 couples were able to meet new loves of their lives through the program.

“We accept 50 men and 50 women each for every event,” said Kim Se-jin, an official at the Incheon Cultural Center for Elderly, “but they’ve been so popular that 150 women enrolled with us last November.”

The Planned Population Federation of Korea, which is affiliated with the Ministry of Health and Welfare, organized five blind date programs for seniors last year and also holds sex education programs for people concerned about their sex lives.

According to a survey conducted by the Gyeonggi Family and Women’s Research Institute, one in five elderly widowers or divorcees was currently in a relationship, and the figure was one in 10 for widows and female divorcees.

The survey was done last March with 400 people aged between 65 and 84 in Gyeonggi.

The main reason seniors seek new relationships was loneliness, according to the survey.

“Many elderly people who live alone decide to end their own lives after being constantly left in loneliness,” Ahn Tae-yoon, a researcher at the institute said. “So romance in the twilight years is actually an excellent method to deal with Korea’s growing number of senior citizens who live alone.”

Seniors’ desire to have satisfying sex lives was also high, according to the survey. About 70 percent of male respondents said they believe having a sexual relationship is good for their health, while 34.8 percent of male respondents said the reason why they wanted a relationship was because of their “sexual desires.”

The Ministry of Health and Welfare also commissioned the Korea Consumer Agency to conduct a survey from June to December last year on 500 senior citizens in Seoul and Gyeonggi. According to the survey, seven out of 10 respondents said they “still engage in a sexual relationship with a partner.” Among the respondents, 50.8 percent said they use Viagra-type drugs, while 19.6 percent said they have purchased sex toys.

“Sexual desire in the elderly means that they are very healthy,” said Ahn Tae-young, urology professor at Asan Medical Center in Seoul, “and it shouldn’t be dismissed or laughed at.”


By Park Yu-mi [sharon@joongang.co.kr]

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