Liz Levaro is not a typical student.
While working in Berlin for 15 years before the Wall fell, Levaro earned a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s through overseas branch campus programs.
After returning to the U.S., she had a private practice in counseling, then spent another 20 years in magazine and book publishing before deciding to embark on a new career “that would engage me, where I could make a contribution,” she says.
Like many Baby Boomers seeking a career change, Levaro went back to school, this time pursuing a doctorate in Human Development and Family Sciences. In Karen Hooker’s graduate course on social gerontology, she found both her focus and a mentor.
Once again, Levaro took an unconventional approach.
While there is abundant research in gerontology related to issues of decline in late life, Levaro wanted to study new romantic relationships among older adults. “People still long for that intimate connection later in life,” she says.
Hooker has been an enthusiastic supporter of Levaro’s research, reminding her of the importance of caring connections to a person’s emotional, mental and physical health in late life.
“There’s not a lot of research in that area, and there’s going to be growing public interest — let’s learn more about it,” Hooker says.
Learn about it she has. Levaro says she’s found what men and women want in a relationship may always remain something of a mystery to the opposite sex, regardless of their ages.
As one 84-year-old-woman said, after telling Levaro about her dating experiences, “You know, I just don’t understand men. What do they want? Go and find out – and then come back and tell me. I want to know!”
Levaro also discovered that new love in late life is something of a numbers game; there are far more older women who are widowed than men. One woman, upon learning about Levaro’s research, said she had just one question: “Where do I find one?”
Levaro has focused her dissertation research on answering those questions.
Through interviews with men and women over 75, she’s looking into gender differences in what they say they want in a relationship and about the ambivalences they feel over such concerns as adult children, finances, and the tug between autonomy and togetherness.
She’s also trying to learn more about how societal ageism affects how seniors view themselves and each other.
For Levaro, Hooker’s support from the beginning of her program has not just been an encouragement, but an example as well.
“It may sound odd to talk about ‘potential’ in a 59-year-old graduate student, but Karen recognized something in me and encouraged it to unfold,” Levaro says.
“I will approach teaching and working with students with more compassion, tolerance and insight because of her willingness to look beyond what I lacked to see what I could become.”
~ by Gary Dulude