Tinder, ghosting, dick pics, polyamory… It weren’t like that in their day. With modern love more bewildering than ever, what can older men teach the Netflix-and-chill generation about dating and commitment? Here, in their own words, four men who came of age in the fifties and sixties share their stories, and offer wisdom about life, love and women that only comes after decades in the game.
Artist and Royal Academician Anthony Green, 76, has been married to Mary Cozens-Walker since 1961. They met in 1957 at the Slade School of Art, where they were both students, after Anthony plucked up the courage to ask her for a dance.
If you don’t ask anyone to dance, you stay a wallflower.
We made polite conversation about art and went to see French films. We were like that until 1961 until we got married. Anything more was unthinkable. Even at art schools which had a reputation for being wild, well it wasn’t really.
I asked Mary’s father for his permission. He said to me, “Have a hard look at her mother because that’s who you’re going to end up with.”
When you are 20 you think anyone in their 40s is dead and shrivelled. But I realised that Mary’s mum was like a ripe peach. I thought, “It’s looking good”.
We’ve had our golden wedding anniversary now. I sometimes pick up the paper and see how much young people have sex and I think, “It’s spoiling the fun”.
One shouldn’t watch too much porn. That’s not the way sex works. Pornography is quite fun, but not real.
Our marriage has been a partnership and my advice is to be a double act on a tandem bicycle. Pull together. Never think, “That’s a man’s job or that’s a woman’s job”. Mary has had Parkinson’s for the past eight years, so I have taken over the cooking. You need to be as one.
It’s hardly a secret, but the trick to a successful relationship is making each other laugh. I’m an absolute fool. I am not afraid of being silly. Stop trying to be macho if you’re not. Not everyone is Clint Eastwood.
Two people giving each other the benefit of the doubt, holding hands in the street. That’s what a relationship should be.
Bill Lavender, 76, retired foreman of a petro-chemical plant, has been married to Margaret for 55 years. They met at a dancehall called The Rink in Sunderland.
The men would always ask to dance. If you got her up to dance you might say, “Can I walk you home?” There was none of this business of, “Come back to my place…” It was all very genteel. I suppose some naughtiness went on but not in our sphere.
It was getting to the end of the night and I thought “I haven’t had much dancing” so I thought I’d ask Margaret, who I didn’t know. We chatted and I said, “Can I walk you home?” Well, imagine nowadays asking that? How old-fashioned! Nowadays it would be sinister. The next day we went and had coffee. That was it. We saw each other every week after that.
We had no phone at home until about 1972! Good grief, this was 1957! You didn’t ring. You made an arrangement and that was honoured …Or you got stood up.
After five years we got engaged. In the years we weren’t engaged we took up cycling and going on the train. That was the way you did it. An outdoor life, seeing things. That’s how you become proper friends.
Margaret did the bottom drawer business. You don’t know what I mean by that? It was common that when you got married you collected things like sheets, towels, mugs, in a bottom drawer. The contents would be taken with you if you got a place of your own – because you started with nothing.
In those days money wasn’t a problem because your expectations were very low. So when you did have something it would be brilliant. No one expected to be able to buy a house when they got married – there was no chance of that. If someone had fitted carpets in the house, well that was really something. Today’s generation expect more.
The biggest decision I made was to be hardworking and honest. It sounds corny but I lived in a rough area. I made a decision to be honest and to work hard in my job to make some money for when I got married and had a baby.
The problem with a lot of lads nowadays is that all they want is you-know-what. And if they can get away with that why get married? Having a shared, planned future is what makes it work. In our time we went through all the rituals of courting and getting married. You never depended on parents. You had to be responsible for your family.
People who say their marriage is perfect are lying.
Our marriage has worked because we’ve stuck together. We let each other be our own person.
It’s more than love. It’s when you’re friends [from] when you’re very young. You start to depend on each other. When I do anything I always think, “What would Margaret think?” It’s the gratification of doing things together – if you do them together it will be better.
Actor, Terence Harvey, 72, has been in a relationship with girlfriend Jane for 17 years.
I was conventionally not bad looking, believe it or not, but I still felt that I had to make girls laugh to get them out to dinner and the rest. I suppose that’s how I went about it and I believe that. Make them laugh.
Pre the pill when I was 15 or 16, in the late fifties, it was very difficult to get your end away, as it were. For me when I was younger it would depend on the class of the girl as to what would happen. Upper class girls were, well, up for it. Lower middle class girls were more circumspect: they had less choice and had been propagandised into obedience.
You are very lucky if you meet someone you never want to disappoint. Which is how I feel about Jane. That is one of the reasons a man would remain faithful. It’s not wanting to upset someone, which is what fidelity is about, I think.
I have to say that I am a door opener. I’m not patronising anyone when I do it – I can be horribly offensive but I like to think I’m well-mannered. Even with long-standing girlfriends, I’d open doors. I’d go downstairs first and upstairs second. I’d walk on the road side of the pavement.
With paying bills it would only be if someone insisted we’d go Dutch that I’d accept that – but in general, as a man, one paid. If they insisted on going Dutch the subtext was, “You don’t buy me anything, I don’t give you anything”.
Strangely enough, Jane and I have never had a row. We’ve been on the verge but we avoid it. Because rows are nasty and most of the time, pointless.
The worst thing you can be in any relationship is thoughtless. It is the little kindnesses that cement the relationship.
If you maintain respect, then loving someone is pretty easy, really.
Retired lawyer Richard Roney, 73, has been married twice. He is currently in a new relationship, having dabbled with online dating.
My father always told me that if you go to a dance, you ask every girl there to dance because there will be one or two there who might not be as attractive as the other girls, and feel left out. So you must always be a gentleman and ask them.
You would not kiss on a date in my day! If you fancied the girl you might try to kiss her. Until the moment she tells you no, you’d try. Every now and again, you got a kiss.
I think there’s probably more respect these days for women because they are doing the same jobs as men now. But good manners from men don’t seem to be followed quite so much these days. Chivalry is dying, which is a shame because it’s really just a show of respect.
You should always take your hat off to a lady when you meet her, a lady is first through the door unless the door is very heavy. I always take my hat off in a lift, it’s a very old-fashioned rule and I don’t know why you do it, you just do.
When my wife died my physician told me I was lucky because for every ten widows or divorced ladies my age there is just one widower or single man. He told me that I would get a number of invitations to dinner parties and that I must accept them all because at one of them I’d meet someone I’d want to have a relationship with. The invitation part proved to be true. But although I met lots of women nothing went any further.
I started online dating with the Encounters site and I was sceptical. I thought I’d never find somebody. And then I did. The relationship has developed dramatically since then – a full on intimate relationship. It made me nervous at first. One doubts one’s ability.
A big change in dating is that my generation of men would have always been the one to pay for dinner. My first and second wives would not have anticipated having to pay. I always paid, of course I did. Except perhaps on my birthday. In my new relationship, she tries to pay her way, but I don’t feel that’s right and try hard to pay myself.
My advice is what my father gave me: never argue with a woman because she is always right. Go through life knowing women are the superior sex and you won’t have a problem dating.