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Switzerland

Where Seniors Are Getting Married Like Never Before

Love knows no age
Love knows no age
Adrien Donas

LAUSANNE — After living together for seven years, Guillaumette Sauvé and Pierre Boizot wed on June 30 in a civil ceremony in Lausanne. They are 62 and 59 respectively, and have both been married twice before.

The bride didn't wear white. And only a few friends were invited. "At first, we weren't too excited by the idea of marriage," Guillaumette explains over the phone. "Our experiences didn't particularly make us want to it again." Practically speaking, however, it made sense.

"After buying an apartment in Lausanne, getting married seemed like the easiest way to take care of the inheritance" she says.

Six months earlier, Mary-Claire and Richard also tied the knot — at the Yverdon-les-Bains city hall, in western Switzerland. She's 64. He is 63. The couple had been seeing each other for several years.

While marriages between people over the age of 60 aren't exactly commonplace, they are, nevertheless, part of a growing trend, at least in and around Geneva, where the number of such weddings nearly doubled over the past decade. In 2004, there were only 13 "senior unions" in the area. In 2013, 78 older couples wed, according to the Cantonal Statistics Office.

Love and practicalities

So what's behind all these seniors getting married? Pragmatic reasons, linked to the fear of dying, seem to play a role. "We got married to protect each other and our children in the case of inheritance," says Guillaumette, who acknowledges, nevertheless, that "being husband and wife doesn't bring us any monetary advantage."

But like with any marriage, senior unions are also about love and commitment — about trusting in the future. "This marriage, which at first was simply administrative, made us put things into perspective regarding our previous marriages," says Guillaumette. "In this union at more than 60 years old, we find a deeper meaning. We're maybe more aware, more mature, more responsible."

For the family specialist and sociologist Jean-Marie Le Goff, from the University of Lausanne, these senior weddings put an end to a certain idea of marriage. "In Switzerland, marriage still has a very strong link to parenthood," he explains. "The question of marriage usually comes with the arrival of a child. In this way, senior couples who get married are giving a new meaning to this commitment, which can thus be freed from social constraints and come down to the feeling of love."

Record holders

Senior marriage is a relative term. Guillaumette and her new husband are veritable spring chickens compared to George Kirby and Doreen Luckie, who tied the knot in front of their families and relatives on June 13 in Eastbourne, in southern England. The couple lived together for 27 years before deciding, at the ages of 103 and 91 — a world record — to finally make it official.

The groom was in a wheelchair. The bride was in a blue flowery dress, with a fascinator like only the British still wear. Between them they have seven children, 15 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Working out the inheritance will be fun.

The previous record, with 191 accumulated years between the groom and bride, was held since 2002 by François Fernandez and Madeleine Francineau of France, where last year, another famous senior couple — Michel Legrand, 82, and princess Maria-Magdalena Wladimirovna Gagarina, 74, better known as Macha Méril — tied the knot. The composer and the actress met in 1964 in Rio de Janeiro. They met again five decades later.

Shifting social mores

In Switzerland, the average age for first weddings is slowly but surely moving back. At almost 29 for men in 1950, it was estimated by the Federal Statistical Office to be 32 in 2013. Sociologists point to rising life expectancy, the belated start of working lives and an increasing defiance towards the sacrament of marriage to explain the change.

Not all of those marriages last, which is how people like Guillaumette and Pierre, Doreen and George, Macha and Michel find themselves in the position, years later, of taking vows for a second or even third time.

Jean-Marie Le Goff believes demographics are a factor behind the in the increase of senior marriages. "Today's seniors are yesterday's baby-boomers, and there's a lot of them," he says. Sociological changes also play are role. "Women in widowhood, for instance, used to be excluded from the matrimonial market. And the divorce rate was very low," says the Le Goff.

Social norms regarding age — and what is, or isn't appropriate for seniors — have shifted too. People in their golden years openly exercise. They dress fashionably, as evidenced by the popularity of Advanced Style, a blog run by Ari Seth Cohen, a young fashion photographer who likes old ladies. They go on dates — with the help of websites such as Netsnior.fr, Maxisenior.fr or Senior-rencontre.com — and, since one thing often leads to another, more of them end up at the altar.

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Photo of Cilia Flores (left) and her husband Nicolás Maduro (middle)

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