When it comes to love, sometimes you have to trust your elders.
It's Valentine's Day. Personally, I'm at home eating piles of my boyfriend's homemade nachos. But considering that we got in a fight last night about an open relationship that left him in the fetal position under the sheets, I figured I should stop taking my own advice and seek out some love wisdom from those with a few lifetimes on me.
Steve is an 82-year-old artist who swings both ways and lives in a gigantic loft in Soho surrounded by paintings with his cat Spooky. Sid is a 98-year-old chemist who figured out how to successfully dye polyester without using hazardous materials and has outlived two lovely wives. Joe is a 96-year-old widowed veteran who spends his days doing the foxtrot with his new girlfriend.
- Sophie Saint Thomas
VICE: So, who is the love of your life?
Steve: The love of my life? Oh my god. This is very dicey. You see, I have a rather checkered background. Well, the one that was involved in my life for the longest was Cornell.
How did you meet Cornell?
I don't remember. It was so far back. He's in the great beyond. It's a good place, I hear. And then there's Kaitlyn. I was involved with her rather than her being involved with me! It's been very strange. Ida was in my life for some time. I was going to marry her. But then... things got in the way. I don't want to get into it all that. Ida was very important, I can't say more than that. She's in Florida now. I gave her about ten paintings. I doubt she kept them. She probably got rid of them. It doesn't matter.
What was the dating scene like in New York when you were younger?
Younger! That's a long time ago. I'm 82; I don't even know how I got to this point. I don't know what to make of this, it just happens. You just keep on living and here it is. I wasn't too good at dating. There were some beautiful times and there were some not too beautiful times.
Do you have any regrets or things you wish you'd done differently?
No. I had some very nice relationships with both men and women.
Nice. I date both women and men also.
You do? Save a little for me! It doesn't matter to me. I like the person, you know? It's the person that counts. Cornell was great. These days, Kaitlyn is someone I see every so often but we're not having any smoochy-woochy. I told her I loved her once and then she didn't see me for three or four weeks. That didn't feel too good.
Do you have any dating advice for me?
I wish I did. I'm at a loss for everything lately, I don't know what's happened but my mind's been shot. Wait, wait. My cat's getting into something here. Spooky! Hey! His name isn't Spooky for nothing. Oh my god, this place is a mess. The loves of my life are cats!
VICE: Can you tell me about yourself?
Sid: I was born in Portland, Maine. I lived in Portland through high school, until 1933. I was born in 1917. I just celebrated my 98th birthday. I finished high school when I was 16 then graduated in 1939 with a Cum Laude degree in Chemistry from Harvard.
Tell me about your experiences with love.
I've had two marriages. One of them took place after I finished college. In 1940, I was married. My wife and I had a wonderful marriage; she died in 1998 after 58 years of marriage. She died of cancer. After she died I purposefully avoided being fixed up on dates with other women, but there was one who had two husbands who died who I knew for over 50 years. She happened to be a very good friend of my wife. That marriage lasted nine years, and she died of cancer! So now I haven't even looked at another woman since and I don't intend to.
What advice do you have to give about love?
Well I've had two great marriages. I think that the thing is not to say or do anything that you think will make your partner unhappy.
Will you give an example?
She wanted to buy a certain coat, which I didn't like. But she liked it. And I didn't say "That doesn't look well on you at all." She liked it, that's the key thing. If you think what you say or do will make your partner unhappy, don't do it! The other thing is you have to love this person first of all, and not just in a certain way. Not just going to bed with somebody. What she does, what she is, what she likes, that's love.
How would you celebrate Valentine's Day?
We wouldn't make a big fuss out of it. We would send each other Valentine's Day cards. We didn't make a big fuss about our love for each other, we just did it.
VICE: Are you married?
Joe: I was married for 50 years—one month shy of 50 years. I'm a widower. Now I have a companion.
What did being married teach you about love?
For 50 years I was happily married. We got along beautiful. We were always together, never went out alone. When I got back from the war, I went into business and she worked at home during the week and helped me in the business on the weekends. I just loved her all the time and she loved me.
You served in the war?
I'm a veteran of the 45th Infantry and served in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Southern France, and I liberated Dachau.
What was it like being married while being so far away from your wife, living through such horrors?
We wrote to each other all the time. Almost every day I got a letter. She sent photos; always sent me a Valentine; a birthday card. I would write her but couldn't tell her details about where I was.
Do you still have your love letters?
The men in my platoon were [Native Americans] and they were illiterate. They were gentlemen, just didn't know how to read or write. So they asked me to write letters to their wives. They said, "What do you write?" I tried to make up stories from my own letters. But you know it's a very personal thing, a love letter. And then I'd have to read the wives' letters back to them. But I was happy to do it. To answer your question, I don't have the letters from my wife.
When were you married?
I was on furlough. We had a week together. It was the most blessed week of my life.
What was it like coming back to your wife from the war?
She fed me for a year and helped me get back on my feet. I was under a lot of tension and fear for a few months after being discharged from Fort Dix. Then I went into the poultry business and became very successful.
What makes a marriage successful?
You can argue all you like, but when you go to bed, make up. We didn't have many arguments. I was too busy. She'd have dinner ready for me and we'd listen to the radio together.
What types of things did you do together to keep the romance alive?
We'd go out to dinner; out to shows. We'd go dancing. Ballroom dancing: the tango, rumba, fox trot, merengue. Not disco like today. We would go to nightclubs—La Conga, Havana Madrid, Latin Quarters,The Copacabana. Sometimes it was just the two of us; sometimes I'd take my mother-in-law and her husband with us. One of the most romantic times I remember was when my brother and sister-in-law took us on a boat ride in Bear Mountain. It was the first time I felt free.
How do you know you're in love and not just infatuated with the person?
When you're young, love is real. When you're old, it's infatuation.
I would think it would be the other way around.
You have the expectation of spending your life with someone when you're young.
How did you meet your current companion?
Here [at the Knights of Columbus] at a dance social. Ballroom dancing, not disco. We were seated at a table and everyone else had gotten up to dance and we were the only two left. So I asked her to dance.
What's dating like at 96?
We speak to each other every morning. I got her an apartment next door to me. She has supper with me some nights. She cooks, I cook. My daughter cooks. We dance with each other when we go to parties or weddings. You love each other in a different way when you're older. I told my girlfriend, "If you're looking for marriage in this affair, it's not going to happen. I was married for 50 years and don't want anything to change that." She had also been married; she's a widow so she wanted the same thing. That's good and that's where we are today.