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The ‘Emma’ Dilemma – Dating a Carer

The idea arises from the classic romance by Jane Austen, You may have read the novel or watched a film version, (or possibly have been forced to watch the film version under sufferance when dating). Its main character is the eternally matchmaking busybody ‘heroine’, Emma, who has a very elderly, querulous father who needs caring for. Of course, this fictional family are wealthy and have servants to do all the chores, allowing Emma complete freedom to interfere in other people’s lives. She doesn’t face constant boring domestic drudgery, she ends up with the man of her dreams and simultaneously manages to organise her life around the needs of her father.

However, her essential dilemma in is still one faced by women in their 40s and above on online dating websites like Toyboy Warehouse. Some have found at this age that serious ill health often strikes the generation above, sometimes completely unexpectedly. When this happens, it’s frequently a daughter who will take on the caring role for parents, aunts or uncles.

Over the last year, I’ve seen this happen with at least five female colleagues and friends. The circumstances are all different but once a caring element has been established, it’s far from a stable situation. In fact, the role seems to take up an increasing amount of time and energy. In every situation I’ve known, the elderly person involved seems to have suffered relapses or an additional catastrophic blow to their health. It’s as if the older people are suddenly confronted by their own mortality and their bodies respond by becoming very frail. Someone I know (not myself) took on all the practical responsibility of caring for an elderly mother, even living with her, because as opposed to her siblings, this lady was single and childless. Perhaps it was the right thing to do, perhaps not, but it took over her entire life and she was left very lonely for a number of years. Just because someone has caring responsibilities should not mean they are completely deprived of any physical comfort or romantic pleasure.

So, your love interest is in this age group? It’s too easy to build fantasies of a beautiful, sophisticated older woman with no commitments (other than seeing you)! It’s best not to assume that because she has no young dependants, she has totally flexible spare time. Ask some questions first, find out about her life and be sure you are clear about her expectations.

Looking for a mature woman with elderly relatives to look after may well be looking for long term companionship as an ideal. However, with complex caring commitments which may be slowly taking more of her time, she may only be able to accommodate something in the moment. Casual fun, a short-term affectionate affair or an arrangement with open-ended commitment may be the only practical options. If you get on well and want to take things beyond ‘date four’, negotiate what your relationship will be like and make sure you’re looking for the same things. Be honest with yourself about whether you have sufficient reserves of compassion and understanding to get involved in the first place. Be prepared for dating arrangements to have to change at very short notice.

If a loved parent dies, especially one where a caring role existed, most women will be utterly devastated and distraught, so be kind and supportive to her. When lives are entwined in this way, an enormous void is left, the day-to-day arrangements and habits of life collapse and must be reshaped, there may be a difficult period in terms of a reworking of life.

At any age, the intense grief of bereavement sometimes unleashes an unbearable loneliness. It’s not that well known but sometimes the depth of this grief means people need physical comfort in a way that they don’t under normal circumstances. They can behave in a way which is totally out of character. It’s a normal human reaction, so if she really needs your body, do the compassionate thing: give generously and be kind. She will really appreciate the comfort of skin on skin and you get to feel heroic doing what comes naturally!

Someone who is strong enough to take on caring voluntarily is likely to be a very brave soul with an incredibly generous heart. We could all do with a few more people like that in our lives!

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