9 Love Stories for Every Decade of Life
A reading list for hopeless romantics at any age
Romance blooms and ages alongside us, developing crow’s feet and laugh lines to mark the time spent in love, as well as muscle aches and twinges as tokens of time spent unrequited. As a romantic, I live for all the stages throughout this evolution of young romance to seasoned.
There are the first times as teens and young adults, where two characters are still yet unused to the pull of attraction beginning to form. Then, there is love that has lasted to life’s sunset, battle-tested and reminiscent, where all that is left to do is bask in the vast pool of memories that have accumulated over many years. Yet, even as we age, perhaps believing ourselves more impervious to crush-induced blushing and stuttering, there can still be a romance that will be just as flustered and sweaty as asking someone to the freshman formal. That spark of feeling is precious no matter the age, so here are nine love stories, each in a different decade of life.
The Teenage Years: The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes
Yamilet Flores is a Mexican American teen at Slayton Catholic, a school for the rich and white. Seeing as much of her identity will be defined by her conspicuous name and brown skin, she hopes to distinguish herself in ways that are more meaningful to her sense of self—with her killer winged eyeliner for example. As a new student, she makes it a priority to not stick out in the same way that she had in her previous school: as the lesbian. After revealing her crush on her best friend and being subsequently outed by that friend, she resolves to give herself a fresh start, and keep her sexuality a secret. Her resolve is weakened by an openly gay student at the school named Bo, who manages to be a devastating trifecta of talented, intelligent, and cute. So, despite Yami’s plans, The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School develops into a heart-wrenchingly sweet sapphic romance about self-love and acceptance.
20s: Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers
Grace Porter, a 28-year-old PhD student in astronomy, goes to Las Vegas on a girl’s trip and drunkenly marries a stranger. This is out of character for Grace; she’s used to following her father’s strict expectations of a perfect life. When she returns home to Portland, she is faced with the suffocating reality of being educated but unemployed in a job market that undervalues her Blackness and her womanhood. In an attempt to escape her existential dread and job-hunting burnout, she decides to visit her mysterious new wife, of whom Grace can only remember the distinct smell of flowers and sea salt. Morgan Rogers’ debut novel explores the feeling of loneliness, and the whirlwind of expectations that all twenty-somethings feel when finding their way into the world.
30s: Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber
Sirene is 39 and remains blithely unmarried. Despite the consternation of her loving uncle, she is happy enough working as a chef at her Lebanese restaurant, and letting male attention come and go as it will. But she finds herself drawn to a returning customer, a well-known Arab Literature professor with a deep appreciation for her food. As she begins to fall for him, Sirene slowly unravels the professor’s story—of his family, and of his tragic exile from Iraq.
The novel delves into issues surrounding Arab identity in America, particularly in academics and politics. Professor Hanif and Chef Sirene’s romance simmers alongside rich descriptions of Levantine cuisine. Similarly to Like Water for Chocolate, Diana Abu-Jaber has enriched Crescent with recipes to invoke the scents and smells of Arab American food.
40s: The Magnolia that Bloomed Unseen by Ray Smith
At the age of 48, Molly Valle believes that she will no longer fall under the gaze of male suitors. She is a school teacher and a divorcee, and in her experience, women like herself are not desired by men. She dismisses herself from the dating pool so she wouldn’t have to subject herself to the scorn of men in search of younger women. But then, John Pressman, an ambitious activist, moves into her Mississippi hometown. The two fall in love within the backdrop of the Civil Rights era, finding in each other a certain magic that neither was expecting.
50s: Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory
54 year-old Vivian Forest tags along on her daughter’s business trip to England, excited to vacation abroad at the grand royal estate. She unexpectedly meets Malcolm, the Queen’s private secretary, and their attraction to each other is immediate. Their flirting quickly becomes a steamy fling, one that is set to end on New Year’s Day, when Vivian will return home to California. Despite their differences, they find themselves quickly building a deeper relationship than a short trip would ordinarily allow. Royal Holiday is a sweet and lighthearted romance between two mature adults who are in danger of falling into the youthful impulsivity of their heart’s desires.
60s: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Retired Major Ernest Pettigrew is a proper English gentleman living in the countryside, unlikely to diverge from the values of duty and decorum that he has lived by throughout his 68 years of life. However, the unexpected death of his brother places 58-year-old Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani bookkeeper, in his path. Mrs. Ali is widowed, a booklover who stands out to the locals with her saris and overall rejection of cultural assimilation. A friendship blooms, but their bond is threatened by disapproving villagers and the ladies who have had the Major in their romantic sights. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand boldly tackles interracial relationships, and does not sugarcoat England’s colonial past.
70s: Second Wind by Ceillie Simkiss
The book opens with the unexpected death of Martha Appleby’s husband. The 71-year-old books herself a flight to Glasgow, where she plans to scatter her beloved husband’s ashes in his home country from the top of Glasgow Tower. On this flight, she happens to run into Pamela Thornton, a dog trainer and Martha’s childhood sweetheart. They have not seen each other in 50 years, but quickly come to realize that they each still hold a special place in the other’s heart. In one hundred brisk pages, we see Martha and Pamela’s second chance at companionship as they rediscover their love for one another.
80s: John and Jackie by T.J. Klune
At the age of eighty, it is rare and beautiful to love the person that you met at age twelve. In the last hours of John’s life, he and his husband Jackie recount their 70 years together within five stories, through hardships and happy times. John and Jackie by T.J. Klune is a window into a deep, meaningful, and long lasting relationship between two people who have become each other’s world.
90s: The Switch by Beth O’Leary
Leena Cotton is sick of her fast paced life in London. She is in her twenties, and has already had a nervous breakdown caused by the demands of her career. So, she escapes to her grandmother, Eileen’s, home in the countryside for some rest. Eileen is nearly 90-years-old, and is meeting her ninth decade with vigor and hope for new romance. Yet, she is frustrated in her search for love within the small Yorkshire village’s dating pool. Realizing that their problems may have similar solutions, Eileen proposes to Leena that they swap homes for two months. Leena can relax and find herself in the countryside, while Eileen can mingle among a large pool of interesting Londoners. For the two women in vastly different stages of their lives, their trade is an invaluable learning experience for both of them.