Shelly Russell and Bob Curran found a second chance at romance at the Penn Cove Taproom. (Photo by Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times)

Shelly Russell and Bob Curran found a second chance at romance at the Penn Cove Taproom. (Photo by Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times)

A second chance at love is found in a taproom

For some people, Valentine’s Day isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

They are the Ebenezer Scrooges of Feb 14. They might be middle-aged and have given up on romance, perhaps because of loss, regret or loneliness.

Shelly Russell and Bob Curran were in that category the last time the holiday rolled around. She was still grieving. He was separated. But then fate intervened and two people with a lot in common found each other at a little bar in Coupeville.

“We weren’t looking for it,” he said. “It wasn’t planned. Love finds a way.”

Recent studies show that their experience isn’t unique.

While overall divorce rates in the nation continue to decline, the rate for couples in midlife has risen sharply. But at the same time, so has the rate of later-in-life recoupling, but often in a nontraditional way. The number of unmarried people over 50 living together tripled between 2000 and 2013.

“Translation: People are doing what it takes to be happy, regardless of preconceived notions or traditional rules,” a study states.

For Russell, life used to be pretty traditional. She lived in a house on a beach near San Diego with her husband, Los Angeles County firefighter Joe Savas. She had a great relationship, great friends and a great job.

And then tragedy struck. Savas was diagnosed with brain cancer. The couple would soon learn that cancer is the leading cause of death in firefighters, and brain cancer is one of the most common killers.

Savas succumbed to the disease not long after the diagnosis, and Russell, who left her job as a event coordinator to be with him, descended into a world of grief and uncertainty. She said Savas’ “firefighter family” helped her get through the darkest of days, but eventually she realized that she needed change.

A friend, Dawna Nolan, talked her into moving to a faraway place called Whidbey Island.

Curran’s road to Whidbey was different. Currently an instructor at the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Unit, he has been in the Navy for 19 years; he left once but then returned. He worked at many different bases and lived in many different places, eventually finding himself in San Diego.

“There was a time and place where we had to have crossed paths,” Russell said.

Curran said he was tired of living in crowded places and happily moved to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

They met at the Penn Cove Taproom, where Russell works. At first, they weren’t impressed with each other. Russell scolded the woman Curran was with for swearing, and he made a sarcastic remark. But he kept returning, and they started talking.

In a twist of fate, Russell found herself at Curran’s Fourth of July party, and a romance was born.

“The reality was you never know where love is going to come from,” she said.

A study by AARP showed that 70 percent of people from 50 to 64 years old reported being currently in love.

About a third of middle-aged people reported that they are “passionately” in love.

Russell and Curran say they fall into that category.

“We love with all our hearts,” she said. “We are both very affectionate and caring people.”

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