I’ll be a first-time bride at 49 — and yes, love can be greater later

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own.

“How old are you?”

I was sizing up the man who had approached me an hour or so before, casually placing his chai latte alongside my old-fashioned on the theater’s bar as he introduced himself. Admittedly, I’d been enjoying our conversation, which felt easy and warm, even familiar. I also had to reluctantly admit I was sensing a vibe between us, but there was no way this man — whom I’d watched onstage earlier that evening — was interested in anything more than a friendly chat with a journalist covering his show.

“35,” he responded with a smirk.

A more-than-grown age; nothing to balk at. Except … it’d been nine years since I was 35.

“I’m…44,” I volunteered, offering him a gracious out. He didn’t flinch.

Four-and-a-half years later, we’re planning our September wedding, a first and hopefully only marriage for us both. As fate would have it, our wedding date falls during the only year we’ll both be in our forties.

While few people would even think to ask a 35-year-old actor why he’s never been married, a never-wed 44-year-old woman is bound to have encountered extensive inquiry into her marital status (or lack thereof), all essentially hinting at one question:

What’s wrong with you?

If anyone had ever dared ask me directly, I might’ve simply said in response, “Well, I’ve lived.”

I don’t say that with any sense of finality (I hope). It’s simply that, as a childless Gen X journalist now undeniably in middle age, I’ve become accustomed to uncomfortable questions and realities. Daily, I balance the keen awareness that my life is likely already half-over with feeling and at times, acting as if I’m still in my 20s. Nevertheless, amid a demanding career, the onset of perimenopause, middle-age spread, aging parents and retirement now more than just a vague idea looming impossibly far in the distance, I remain unconvinced my best years might be behind me. Instead, I’m preparing for a new life altogether.

To say I didn’t expect to be a first-time bride on the cusp of 50 is an understatement. After a certain point in life, I’m honestly not sure I expected to ever be married at all. A child of not one but two divorces, I also had the privilege of growing up in an era when women were famously told “a single 40-year-old woman is ‘more likely to be killed by a terrorist’ than to ever marry,” a statement rightly interpreted as a harbinger of doom for that generation and subsequent ones (thanks in no small part to its regurgitation in (“Sleepless in Seattle”).

That take was published by Newsweek in 1986 — and unsurprisingly, the single women in question were primarily white, American, college-educated and upwardly mobile. Despite being ultimately disproven, for Black women in the U.S., the stigma of chronic singlehood would deepen and persist. In 2002, we were told by no less than the National Center for Health Statistics that by age 44, the majority of ​​us (56%) never have been married, the lowest percentage of all racial demographics. And no matter how accomplished we might collectively become, the prospects of changing those odds seemed bleak; reports surfaced in 2014 that concluded Black women were among the least pursued on dating apps — even among Black men.

My own prolonged singlehood was, in a word, complicated. As a former model, musician and serial monogamist who enjoyed a sustained adolescence in the Never Never Land that is New York City, I didn’t necessarily suffer a shortage of suitors eager to have me on their arms (or in their beds). Some were wonderful — others, not so much; I kissed my share of frogs but can’t honestly say I was always a princess. And sure, there was talk of marriage on multiple occasions over those decades — in my early 20s, early 30s, and even nearing 40 — but inevitably, even the hottest of romances eventually came to an end, either in an explosion or a slow fizzle.

Meanwhile, as friends began pairing off, becoming parents or both, I, more interested in partnership than parenthood, transitioned from a hopeless romantic to a not-so-rich-but-still-glamorous auntie, purely by default. Exhausted by too many false starts and what felt like increasingly desperate attempts at a happy ending without a clear idea of what I wanted it to look like, eventually, I let it go; changing careers, moving back to my hometown, and becoming more intentional about a future I was increasingly content to spend alone.

I certainly never expected my future to look like a man nine years my junior.

Since I’ve never been a so-called cougar, I’ll never fully understand what compelled my millennial man to approach the middle-aged, overweight, world-weary woman nursing a cocktail at the bar that night (especially since he doesn’t drink). He says he simply couldn’t shake the feeling he’d forever regret it if he didn’t. By contrast, I’ve learned to regret nothing; any perceived missteps on my path led me to that bar and to him.

Of course, falling in love in mid-life is markedly different and not just because I’m more mature and self-aware. For me, most significantly, it’s been more honest. Requisite discussions — about whether biological parenthood (or parenthood at all) is imperative, what baggage and insecurities we’re working through, our fiscal responsibilities, mental health, and what we each need to invest and receive in a relationship — were early and essential in our understanding of each other. As a result, both my age and our age difference were quickly revealed to be irrelevant outside of our desire to be together as long as humanly possible. As it turned out, just like so many career pivots, advantageous opportunities and unexpected adventures that had defined my life before him, falling in love at this age was a much-needed reminder to never count myself out.

Undeniably, there is a singular magic to finding your person well past the age you’ve been told you should settle, but as special as I might consider my love story, I’m not an anomaly. In October 2023, theGrio’s White House correspondent April Ryan tied the knot at age 56 in a lavish ceremony. Anika Noni Rose was a radiant bride at 50 when she married fellow actor Jason Dirden in 2022, as was Niecy Nash-Betts, who took another bet on love when she married Jessica Betts in 2020. And in January of this year, legendary supermodel Beverly Johnson, 70, announced she had recently wed her longtime love, joining the ranks of countless other women (and men) whose marriages don’t typically make headlines — while bearing in mind that while marriage is a standard metric of legal commitment, it’s no measure of lasting love and companionship.

Recent research confirms this is more than a new or passing trend. “Since 1990, the midlife first marriage rate has increased by 75% for women and 45% for men,” reads a 2022 report from the National Center for Biotechnical Information, adding: “The shares of women and men entering a first marriage who were aged 40-59 quadrupled between 1990 and 2019…”

In short, there is no expiration date on romance, no timeline for love, and one can’t “age out” of attracting either. There may be no foolproof formula to finding your person — for me, it took a personal inventory and a chance encounter — but there’s no inherent failure in it taking the time it takes, either.

With that in mind, as we approach Valentine’s Day, theGrio launches its annual celebration of Black love with mature love as our inspiration. Whether new love, enduring love, unexpected love or a second, third or umpteenth chance at love, the couples we’ll be profiling in this week’s series are all over 40, each offering a unique perspective on the depths of love that can be reached past first blush. Some are finding new ways to enjoy each other after decades together; others are experiencing whirlwind romances; some are breaking generational curses and still others are unlocking new layers of love after incalculable loss. Let them all serve as reminders that love is an eternal adventure — and yes, it can be greater later.

Maiysha Kai is theGrio’s lifestyle editor, covering all things Black and beautiful. She is also the editor-author of Body: Words of Change series and the host of ‘Writing Black on theGrio Black Podcast Network.

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