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February 10, 2016

Love at any age: Philly's elderly prove love is timeless

Lifestyle Relationships
Carroll - Senior Love Stories Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Peter Rafeli and Naomi Bloch Rafaeli seated at the table where they first met.

No one can say love is discriminatory.

It embraces 5-year-olds who pluck dandelions for their schoolyard crush, wallops 20- and 30-somethings when they least expect it, comforts middle-aged partners when their heads hit the pillow together at night and, notably, reappears later in life even when we think we've had our fill. 

"A lot of people just think they're too old [to date]," Rita DeMaria, a couples therapist for the Council for Relationships, told PhillyVoice. "But falling in love is timeless."

DeMaria, co-author of "The 7 Stages of Marriage," explained that despite obstacles facing people 65 or older -- finances, overprotective children, declining health, etc. -- many of the elderly people she works with do manage to find love. And they often do so with great success, for a multitude of reasons.

“They already know themselves -- especially people who’ve had a previous relationship," she said. "They’re not as idealistic, and they tend to choose a little more wisely in terms of interests they have and share."

But also, DeMaria said, yearning for romance never fades.

“When people are older and do have their faculties about them, they are more aware of the preciousness of time and I don't think they have the same issues around [love] that people have when they’re younger," she said. "They’re happy to enjoy that time; they’re romantically inclined and sexually still functioning, and very excited about that."

Below, a few of Philadelphia's elderly share their stories of love when they least expected it.

Peter Rafaeli and Naomi Bloch Rafaeli

"Is it too late for dinner?"

It was 6:30 p.m. and then-80-year-old Peter Rafaeli, Philadelphia's honorary consulate for the Czech Republic, had just gotten back to retirement community Rydal Park from a meeting.

"It's not too late," said the hostess, "but you don't want to eat alone."

She asked him to sit while more people came down to join the dinner crowd. While waiting, Rafaeli noticed his neighbors shuffle down with a blonde-haired woman, radiant among the bunch.

What a nice-looking lady, he thought.

The hostess, still trying to match Rafaeli with company, asked the neighbor if he and his group -- including that radiant lady -- would mind joining him for dinner; the neighbor abruptly (and stubbornly) said no.

But with a change of heart (and a shake of a cane from the man's more sympathetic wife), they made their way to a table where Rafaeli joined and sat next to the blonde-haired woman, whose name he learned was Naomi. The table was quiet until Rafaeli began chatting up a storm about his history with the Holocaust, living in a kibbutz in Israel and -- the real aphrodisiac for Naomi -- his passion for cars.

Naomi: You just didn’t sit and hold hands and be together [when we were younger] ... My husband, he went to work and I went to work, and the children were always the main focus of everything that was done and you didn’t really have the time to spend with one another. 

"I love cars, and I’ve always been the person in the family who bought all the cars for sons, daughters, in-laws -- everything," Bloch Rafaeli, 78, told PhillyVoice, her eyes aglow with a schoolgirl's affection.

When she learned he was a Mercedes dealer, she was practically ready to dial up the wedding planner. He called her the next morning to ask her to dinner at Marco Polo in Elkins Park. About a year later, in January 2014, they were married.

Bloch Rafaeli, a former teacher for the School District of Philadelphia and dual master from Temple University, explained that neither of them had been looking for love. Both, in fact, had recently lost their spouses of 50-plus years; she, in particular, had barely left home for nighttime outings in the year that had passed since her husband's death.

But it felt right, and their meeting seemed serendipitous -- "meant to be," she said. Their kids approved (with the exception of one initial skeptic), even joining them on family trips. She further explained that their happy marriages leading up to their union, too, helped them start their own relationship from a healthy place.

"We've spoke before that our lives were relatively happy for all the years of our marriages, and that we just kind of got into this together and it -- there wasn’t any reason for it to be any other way," she said. "There was no baggage to pull from any problems."

The biggest difference later in life, she expressed, was the time she's now allowed to nurture her love.

“You just didn’t sit and hold hands and be together [when we were younger]," Bloch Rafaeli said. "My husband, he went to work and I went to work, and the children were always the main focus of everything that was done and you didn’t really have the time to spend with one another. 

"This is unbelievable. It’s very romantic, and there’s no one interfering with our relationship.”

Ralph and Anita Bloch

NoneThom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Ralph and Anita Bloch.

By comparison to the Rafaelis, the Blochs were a much more deliberately paired couple: They met on JDate.com.

When Ralph Bloch's wife of 53 years died in 2005, he made a move from Huntington Park to Warrington, downsizing his home and eventually signing up for JDate on a whim, where he'd meet several women.

"I figured I'd have my bachelor pad and maybe once in awhile get lucky," Bloch, 89, told PhillyVoice. 

Then, sitting next to his now-wife, Anita, on a sofa, he looks to her and grins.

"But then I got real lucky."

The two met for lunch one afternoon at West Avenue Grill in Jenkintown after Bloch perused her photos and took a liking to her. (He admits he seldom read profiles.) They hit it off at lunch; Anita Bloch, 86, recalls thinking, I hope he calls me. Especially since, she said, she'd met some "real characters" on JDate.

They spent the next five years living together before finally getting married last May. 

Their relationship, they agree, is built on love but motivated by companionship. They just returned from a cruise through the Caribbean together and participate in a regular bowling league ("We show up to the alley, anyway -- I'm not sure you'd call it bowling," Ralph Bloch teased). Much like the Rafaeli's, meanwhile, they agree having had happy lifelong relationships beforehand made all the difference in allowing them to connect so seamlessly.

That, and the wisdom that comes with old age. Anita Bloch said she's become more empathetic over the years.

"You have to be able to understand a person's point of view," she explained. "It's as simple, and as difficult, as that."

Ralph Bloch, meanwhile, said he never expected to find Anita, but that love at his age is simply a matter of recognizing what you have. He referenced a classic George Carlin joke to make the point.

"Once you've found it, why would you keep looking?" he said. "It has to be in the last place you looked."

Jane Haines

NoneThom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Jane Haines.

Northeast Philadelphia native Jane Haines -- who has asked her age not be mentioned -- has had a rough go of it with love. But that's not to say she hasn't had a lifetime full of it.

She met her first husband in Ocean City, Cape May County, who she married at 21 and stayed married to for 25 years until they divorced. Shortly after, she married again -- though he died unexpectedly five years later. 

When her 60s rolled around, she was single and not exactly looking for love, but open to it when she continued to encounter a man named Sam while visiting her father at a nursing home. One Sunday after their visits, he took her out for brunch; she was enamored, and they continued to date until they eventually married and moved in together in Willow Grove, Montgomery County. 

She lights up when speaking of Sam and refers to him -- with some guilt attached -- as her "favorite husband."

"He was kind and funny. Very funny," Haines told PhillyVoice. "I laid a brick up at Old York Road Country Club where he belonged, in his memory, which says his date of birth and death and then says ‘Funny and kind.’”

"I figured I was lucky," she said of meeting him at that stage of life. "It was the happiest time in my life. He had high energy, he was intelligent, funny, everybody loved to be with him and he was caring. And he played bridge, he could fix anything in the house -- he was everything."

But her love story didn't end there. In 2006, she started dating Dick, a man she met at a group brunch at William Penn Inn. They dated for eight years and lived in separate apartments at Rydal Park before he died in 2014 -- that was very difficult for her. The continued challenge for her, she said, is watching as friends care for their ill partners. 

Perhaps for that reason, among others, Haines is now single and ready to leave it that way.

“I’m not sure how good I'd be living with anybody -- I’m so independent now. I’m totally independent," she said. "I have lots of outside interests and friends and a good life here. And I just don’t want to be bothered taking care of any man."

... But that doesn't mean you won't occasionally find her flirting with the gentleman down the hall.

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