She Was 56, He Was 92: Never Say Never to Love
A documentary filmmaker on the love story that she found both surprising and inspiring
I first met Cynthia Marks while producing the documentary, "And Now, Love," a biographical portrait of her husband, Dr. Bernard Bail, a pioneering Los Angeles psychoanalyst. As a baby boomer looking for love myself, I was always observing relationships, pondering, "What makes this one work?" and picking up tips that would lead me to my next great love.
And I confess, I had become captivated by this curious and seemingly exceptional love affair.
Cynthia Marks was 56 and Bernard Bail was 92. In Los Angeles, it's all too common to see an older man with a much younger woman hanging on his arm. But this was no trophy wife situation. While Cynthia is beautiful and charming, she is also a smart, independent woman with her own interior design business, full of creativity, talent and lust for life.
Playful and fun loving, I could see in every gesture, word and expression their deep connection.
Dr. Bail, though small in stature, had been a highly decorated lead radar navigator, fighting the Nazis in WWII. He was tough, confident and intelligent but also possessed a tremendous compassion for people in his mission to heal them from mental anguish. But even at age 92, he was a guy you couldn't mess with; he had strong opinions, stuck to his guns and went his own way. He also had an infectious and playful sense of humor.
As a couple, Cynthia and Bernard were adorable to watch. Playful and fun loving, I could see in every gesture, word and expression their deep connection. The vibration of their relationship had an innocent wonder to it that was contagious.
'Who Is This Man?'
So when it came time for me to interview Cynthia for the film, I could barely wait to ask her all the questions that I'd been amassing for months. She was so real, authentic and open that everything about her and her relationship with this man shone through.
Cynthia was introduced to Bernard Bail when a friend referred him to her as an older gent looking for an interior designer. She assumed he was probably looking for a new Barcalounger. But when a dapper, elegantly dressed man answered the door she was in shock. His apartment was filled with great art, sculptures and antiquities that he had collected throughout his travels, citing stories about each one as he toured her around his place.
She was immediately enchanted by his intelligence, humor and child-like wonder. She thought, "Who is this man?"
Once assigned the job, he invited her to lunch, which then became weekly, where they discussed the status of the apartment and everything else. They found they had a lot in common. At the time, Cynthia was at the end of her second marriage and Bernard was divorced from his second wife. As the apartment began to take shape, so did their friendship.
At one lunch, knowing Bernard was an expert on dreams, Cynthia told him about a dream she'd had. Being a professional dream interpreter, the dream told him there was something deeper about this relationship. Bernard confessed that it was in that moment he thought, "She's going to be my wife."
"I was hesitant. I thought what would people think? What would my family say? What would my colleagues say?"
Overcoming the Age Difference
While in her heart, she felt this was true, she struggled with the idea of being with a man so much older. Thirty-six years! Cynthia recalls, "I was hesitant. I thought what would people think? What would my family say? What would my colleagues say?" For months she was obsessed by these thoughts but every day she was falling more deeply in love with him.
She'd become enamored by his genuine care and whole-hearted attentiveness towards her. "For the first time in my life, I felt like I had been seen for who I really was, without judgement or criticism. It was the most powerful force I had ever experienced. Love like I'd never felt it before." How could she let this go? So she decided to follow her gut and go for it. There was no time to lose.
A Full Life Until the End
Now their love would really be put to the test. Just being out in the world formally as a couple was a challenge. They were often asked, "Is this your daughter? Your niece? Your caretaker?"
Friends and family questioned her actions and intentions. "What are you thinking?" "Is it for money?" "Have you lost your mind?" Her relationship faltered with her teenage daughter, who had a difficult time accepting that they were all going to live together. What could a fifteen-year-old possibly share with a 92-year-old man who had hearing issues and was partially blind? Had her mother lost it?
Cynthia admits, "It was not an easy time but I loved him and held true to my feelings, trying to make peace as I could." According to Cynthia, age made no difference in their love for each other or for them as soulmates.
Cynthia recalls, "As our love grew, I realized that my family and friends saw how happy he made me and that was all that mattered."
And what about sex? At first, she was concerned about having a physical relationship with him but what happened was a total surprise. "Everything worked perfectly," she said with a smile. "There is nothing sexier than the wisdom that comes with age."
They led a full life together, traveling multiple times to Europe and South America, dancing the tango, attending plays and concerts, and enjoying deep conversations about dreams and psychology.
Bernard was seeing patients until he was 99. In his final year, as his health began to deteriorate, Cynthia became his caregiver. Sadly, the dapper man she had known was fading. But his youthful spirit would bubble up and shine through whenever he told her he loved her.
Cynthia was appreciative of those small but tender moments which became less and less frequent. He passed away at age 100 of natural causes.
Cynthia reflects, "At the end of his life, he said (about me) 'I'm just his gift from God.' He's my gift. I was his special love and he was mine." ("And Now, Love" excerpts of the couple's love story can be seen here.)
Now continuing Bail's work by advocating for his theory of achieving pure love through the Holistic Psychoanalytic Foundation, she is sharing her belief that age doesn't matter when it comes to true love.
"Others were shocked and appalled when we were out on the streets together, but never let yourself be branded as an old person," she says. "You just have to be who you are, not what you look like."
Lessons Learned About Love
Observing their relationship over time had a big effect on me. And the lessons she learned resonated with me as well. Cynthia's advice includes:
Age is just a number: "Bernard was as fun and vigorous as a 14 year old — inquisitive, loving, romantic. I finally decided to take the risk, and jumped in to the greatest love I had ever experienced."
Age can be a turn-on: "An older partner has knowledge, wisdom and experience that is invaluable, will enrich your life and is very sexy! He also knew what he wanted after a lifetime of learning and it was me."
"At the end of his life, I was lonely and sad, as he needed me as a caregiver, which was all consuming."
Have patience: "You need to be able to self-support, as there will be trying times as your partner gets older and needs caregiving."
Come for true love: "At the end of his life, I was lonely and sad, as he needed me as a caregiver, which was all consuming. He felt guilty, but I had so much love for him, I wanted to be there for him until the end."
Appreciate every moment and make them memorable: "I have wonderful memories from our travels in Europe, our quiet nights reading together on the couch and glimpses of the younger Bernard when during his final days he was able to tell me he loved me. He will be forever with me."
Don't be fearful of any kind of relationship with an older person: "We have so little respect for elder people in our country. They deserve as much attention and respect as someone of any other age. Treat them as a person…not as an old person…they have great value."
As fate would have it, at the end of producing the film, I met my own true love, seven years my junior and age doesn't matter at all. I was finally ready to have my own true pure love.