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Mercy Community’s ‘golden oldies’ share top tips for dating on Valentine’s Day

Nudgee aged care residents, Valmai and Jack.

They met and fell in love in a time when traditional gender roles were rigidly observed.

Back then ‘dating’ was known as ‘courting’, parental approval was a must, and letter writing was a sure-fire way to win a lady’s heart.

It might sound like hard work to some.

But six decades later, Mercy Community’s residential aged care couples are still going strong, with a lifetime of relationship experience that the younger generations can only aspire to.

To celebrate Valentine’s Day, these ‘golden oldies’ have put together a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ to help teach millennials and Gen Zers a thing or two about first-date etiquette and the secrets to everlasting love.

Part of the “silent generation” – born between 1928 and 1945 – this demographic is best known for its traditional values.

Judith and Frank Gill are no exception.

The couple, who have two children, six grandchildren and three great grandchildren, met while working at a bank and have been married 67 years.

Judith, 87, said, “When I was courting, we dressed more conservatively,” 

“I’m not surprised people don’t have lasting relationships anymore. They prefer not to get married and that isn’t the same level of commitment. A man can just pack up his port and go somewhere else tomorrow.

“If you do end up getting married, then don’t moan at your husband as soon as you’re wed. Make the most of it and stay faithful.”

While all our couples had plenty to say on relationships, everyone agreed on one thing – it is better to wait until you get married before you live together.

“It spoils the surprise – and definitely do not jump into bed on the first date,” said Valmai Gannon.

A photo from Valmai and Jack's wedding day.

The 83-year-old was three months pregnant when she married Jack. It was 1961 and there was a strong social stigma associated with pregnancy outside of wedlock, so Jack did the honourable thing and proposed.

They went on to have five daughters, and now have eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

“I think we were brought up to understand that marriage is for life (unless it is abusive), as the saying goes, ‘You pick, you stick,” she said.

“It’s not always been easy, but we did as best we could, and we had a good life and enjoyed it.

“Then when the kids were off our hands, we enjoyed ourselves going out with friends.

“The problem with the younger generation is they all want perfection. When we were first married, we lived with Jack’s parents and had an outdoor toilet that we all had to share.

“When we got a second toilet, we thought that was absolute luxury. Nowadays everyone expects an ensuite.

“My top tip for a successful relationship is not to argue – even if you know you’re right.”

The couple first met on a blind date underneath the General Post Office clock in Queen Street, Brisbane, and then went to a dance.

Jack, 84, said Valmai “wouldn’t leave me alone”.

He believes mobile phones are ruining romance.

“People need to put their phones down and have a proper conversation if they want to enjoy a good relationship,” he said.

“They shouldn’t expect too much either. It’s important to realise that you won’t win a casket every day, but if you take your lady to a dance and do whatever comes naturally, the rest will all fall into place.”

Louis and Susie De Martini married on a leap year in 1964 and have two children and four grandchildren.

They were friends first, and then Louis, 97, asked Susie to a 21st birthday party – the rest is history.

“He was a gentleman and that’s important,” said Susie, 92.

“A man must pay for lunch or dinner if he is taking a lady out. Girls should dress nicely.”

Louis’s top tip for the most romantic day of the year?

“Send a Valentine’s card – but also make sure you mean it!”

Dating for the ‘silent generation’ had its own unique characteristics that differ from what we see today.

Mercy Community’s aged care couples navigated a world shaped by post-World War II societal norms, economic shifts, and evolving gender roles.

These included:

  • Formality and tradition: Dating was often a more formal and structured process. Traditional gender roles were prevalent, with men typically taking the lead in initiating and planning dates.
  • Courtship rituals: The concept of courtship was still prominent, emphasising a gradual and intentional process of getting to know someone before entering a committed relationship.
  • Parental involvement: Parents were often more involved in the dating process. Meeting the parents was a significant step in a relationship, and parental approval was important.
  • Social settings: Dating activities were commonly centred around social settings. Going to dances, attending community events, and spending time in groups were popular ways to socialise.
  • Phone calls and letter writing: Communication was primarily through phone calls and, in some cases, handwritten letters. Long-distance relationships often relied on written correspondence.
  • Fashion and etiquette: People paid careful attention to their attire and manners. Dressing up for dates was common, and adherence to social etiquette was expected.
  • Drive-in movies and diners: Popular date venues included drive-in movies and diners. These places provided a casual yet enjoyable atmosphere for couples.
  • Limited technology: The absence of modern technology meant that dating relied more on face-to-face interaction and shared experiences.

Top tips from Mercy Community’s ‘golden oldies’

  • Don’t live together until you get married – it spoils the surprise
  • A man must pay for dinner
  • Dress sensibly and conservatively
  • Always do things together
  • Be a gentleman
  • Send a Valentine’s card – and mean it
  • Don’t wear thongs
  • Don’t jump into bed on the first date
  • Don’t argue – even if you’re right
  • Take her to a dance
  • Do what comes naturally
  • Put your phone down and have a conversation
  • Do not date two people at once
  • Having a partner is not the same as a marriage
  • Married men should not take other women out to dinner

Mercy Community’s Counselling Program Manager Jessica-Lee Stonier’s top 10 tips for a long-lasting relationship

  • Being realistic about the relationship, and knowing that there will be ups and downs
  • Quality time together
  • Respecting each other’s boundaries and rights
  • Having an essence of friendship at the core of your relationship
  • Having core commonality with values and beliefs
  • Mutual trust
  • Mutual communication (knowing each other’s communication style and working with this)
  • Compromise
  • The ability to genuinely apologise (and have empathy)
  • Giving each other space and being able to be independent outside the relationship.

For relationship counselling, please visit our Family and Relationship Services page

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