Author Q&A: Francine Russo

- Interview by Elena Bowes

Elena Bowes talked to New York-based author Francine Russo about her new book, Love After Fifty: How to Find It, Enjoy It, and Keep It.

What were a few of your most surprising discoveries made while researching Love After Fifty? I, personally, was shocked to read that as much as 67% of 55-64-year-old divorced people remarry. But then again, I did.

The numbers of people re-partnering after 50 or 60 were staggering. They are doing it in so many untraditional ways. The remarriage rate is remaining steady, cohabitation has quadrupled for people in this age group who don’t want to marry. And Living Apart Together (LATs) where people who have their own home, but are in a permanent, committed death-do-us-part relationship is also rising like crazy. Even the people who get married have untraditional elements, so that each person comes with a separate life, with children, with interests, with friends, so whether you marry, cohabit or live apart together, you’re not joined at the hip as a couple.

How did you meet all those men and women in your book?  So many people talked to you so openly about their experiences in later-life love.

That’s another thing about this huge trend – these people are everywhere! I started by asking my friends if they knew of anyone, and friends of friends, Facebook, other journalists, people poured in. There are literally millions of people who have found love in later life. You might look at these couples and think, ‘oh, they’re both kind of unattractive and dumpy and not very interesting. Or this lovely woman is with this guy who has terrible skin. So what? She’s happy!

What advice would you give those mature folk looking for love during the time of COVID?

Most people over 50 are vaccinated. But people may be more selective in who they decide to meet. And that could be a really good thing. I know somebody who’s been chatting on Zoom with somebody for a while. It looks like they’re falling in love. Of course, they won’t know until they meet. They’re so connected intellectually and emotionally that I would give it a good shot. Right now, they’re not in the same city.

Where people are in the same location, there are plenty of places, especially now in the warmer months, where people can meet outdoors, whether it’s an outdoor café, or on a park bench, somewhere in public because people should be careful of safety.

In your Acknowledgements, you quote your editor Priscilla Painton as telling you: “Your biggest challenge as a journalist will be to speak in your own voice to write a self-help book”. Can you expand on that – was it a challenge and how did you overcome it?

Writing about my own experience, which I am not used to doing, (was challenging). I just had to write my drafts and have my editor say, ‘OK, more of this, go deeper’.

What was the most fun part about writing this book?

Talking to people, definitely – there were so many people who would tell me these long stories that were so inspiring. They explained how they had been lonely or desperate or had been terribly emotionally abused in their past marriage and how they had grown emotionally and learned how to become the person that they wanted to be, to be able to find a great partner.

Your honesty and openness about your own experiences are admirable. You divulge your favourite online sex shops (Pg 168). Have your adult children read the book, and if so, any squirming on their part, that you know of?

I did have to think about – I am going to be very honest, and my adult daughters will read it – I give a very honest appraisal of my marriage to their father. It was in many ways a very happy marriage, but also filled with conflict and silliness and arguments and dissatisfaction. So, I was nervous about that, but I thought you know, they can handle it.

And with my stepkids, I talk about meeting their father and how I was very nervous about how obese he was. I decided everyone has something. And women go out there and think they’re going to meet Prince Charming, well, in a way, he was Prince Charming, but he had some issues. It’s amazing what you can learn to live with if you find a real emotional connection.

Your book has fascinating and practical information throughout, but I especially liked your Rediscover Sex chapter (now my children are squirming). Have you gotten feedback from readers on which parts of the book they found most helpful?

People have said the guidance about how to date and how to develop the right attitude so as not to be stuck by negative stuff. Also, there’s a chapter in Love After Fifty about picking the traits that are most important to your happiness so not your standard list with things like right religion, big deal job, a certain educational degree, so much money. Those things do not matter to your happiness. If you and your partner can work out a life together and you connect emotionally and this person loves you and gets you, doesn’t judge you and is there for you, that’s what you want.

Any tips for aspiring authors who want to write a research-reliant self-help book?

There’s the market. If one is going to spend four years of their life, or however long it takes, for me it was four years, on a book project, you really want to write something that you think people want to buy. I have always written about what I see happening around me, including what I see in my own life.

And that would be my advice for other writers, you’re likely to spot trends that haven’t been intensely covered yet in your own group, you’ll pick it up first.

Describe a typical writing day?

I’m like a jack-in-the-box. I can’t sit and focus for more than 45 minutes. I go have a cup of coffee or a snack or go for a walk. At four o’clock I absolutely collapse. And I’m lucky my partner and I both have our 4 or 4:30 nap. We lie down the bed together, we spoon, and we just drift off for half an hour to an hour and it’s blissful. One of the things that works in our relationship is I love a lot of physical contact and so does he. We fulfill that need for one another without even having to ask.

You say in your Preface that you get a lot of your story ideas by noticing new trends among people you know, hence your cover story for New York magazine: “Live-in Divorce: Tortured Couples Who Have to Live Together” and then your first book, They’re Your Parents Too! How Siblings Can Survive Their Parents’ Ageing Without Driving Each Other Crazy. And similarly, for this book, you noticed a surge in romance and relationships amongst those you knew over fifty. What new trends are you seeing? Do you have another writing project underway?

It took me ten years between books to get a new idea. So, I don’t have a new idea yet. But since I am a journalist, I am loving a part of promoting this book – I am writing articles for the NYTimes, Time Magazine and the WSJ. The article for the NYTimes was about how older people, particularly older women, are afraid of getting into relationships for fear that they will end up as a full-time caregiver. And many therefore choose to live apart. This article first appeared online. It was so controversial it got over 900 comments.  And then they reprinted it in the paper. It was so great for me to know that I could turn out a piece that touched a nerve.

Please tell us something surprising about yourself?

I’m a big personality, but I’m a tiny little person. I’m 4’11”.

Thank you so much for writing the book and agreeing to let me ask you questions about it.

 Interview by Elena Bowes

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