Isabel Allende and Late-in-Life Love in the Time of Coronavirus

While under the Covid-19 lockdown in California, 77-year-old author Isabel Allende has been reading Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as well as writing another book and enjoying the company of her new husband, Roger Cukras. For Allende, it’s love in the time of coronavirus. 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. I was surprised to find that it was a lot more fun 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 later-in-life dating to be a blast.

Just like Allende, I had no interest in meeting anyone through online sites-that seemed too creepy for someone of my generation. Instead I contacted friends and acquaintances 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 had no trouble relating to others, listening to their stories and adding a few anecdotes of my own. I felt comfortable in my own skin and managed to build 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.”

I found out about Isabel Allende’s life under lockdown when I was watching her being interviewed online as part of a “Conversations with Authors” series for a local bookshop, Book Passage. It’s a wonderful independent bookstore in Northern California, one of the few still standing, but barely surviving the Covid-19 era, currently only able to sell online as the physical store is closed. Allende explained that she’s now writing about older characters falling in love. In her latest book, 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. She wanted to buck the norm of young people falling in love, getting hitched and then by the time they’re old having slipped into a marriage of convenience.

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 the couple endured the loss of three children, two from her husband’s previous marriage. After the death of his youngest son, he spiraled down into a deep depression. Nothing worked to lift her husband out of it and she eventually left the marriage. At the time, Allende believed that loneliness would be her new norm and got used to the idea of a single existence with her dog for company, maybe at the most having the occasional “freelance” lover. As Max Liu of 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 and just 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, she looked happy, radiant and beautiful when I watched her streamed interview for Book Passage. 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. So another point Isabel Allende made about late-in-life love was all the 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. Although I’m grateful for all the wonderful experiences my boyfriend and I have had together, I’m sad that we’re now apart.

The breakup of my marriage, going through breast cancer twice and now Covid-19 have made me viscerally understand the impermanence of life, giving me a much greater appreciation of the here and now. When my boyfriend had a health challenge of his own-a supposedly “minor” heart attack-I became very 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 my second book that 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 and every human connection.

Originally published at on May 4, 2020.

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