What is love, and how do we find the sort of love we’d ideally like in our lives? For many older people there’s a palpable tension between the need for independence, doing things the way we want without someone else interfering, and the need for company, warmth and intimacy. Some of us will have partners, often of many years’ standing, but as time progresses more of us will find ourselves “single,” or “single again,” and wondering what we can expect in the way of fulfilling companionship and physical closeness. Potential partners are thinner on the ground, we tend to be more set in our ways, and the effort of building and maintaining new intimacies can seem daunting.

Do you want someone next to you in bed every night? Do you want to go on holiday with the same person every time? How much time do you really want on your own, doing your own thing without being interrupted? How much do you really want to have to take someone else into account?

Then there’s sex. Everyone seems to be telling us that there’s no reason why sex should stop or slow down as we get older. To some extent they’re right; indeed, with all our experience, time to relax and enjoy, and no need to worry about contraception, there’s every reason for it to get better and better. But it is worth thinking carefully about what “sex” means, especially as our bodies change and hormone levels gradually decline.

The little research that has been done suggests that as we get older, relaxed skin-to-skin intimacy and arousal becomes more important to us than faster orgasm-driven intercourse. To find the sort of intimacy that works for us requires both self-knowledge and the ability to communicate clearly and lovingly with our partner; for those of us brought up in a sex-is-not-to-be-talked-about culture this is in itself quite a challenge.

Fortunately there are an increasing number of resources to help explore what “love” means in practice for older people, and some interesting ideas about how to balance the right sort of independence with the right sort of intimacy. You can almost certainly have more of what you desire than you think!