Your kids have grown up, your partner or spouse has moved on and you’re sitting around with lots of time on your hands and one big question on your mind: Is it too late for me to date?
The answer, according to experts and a handful of “silver singles” — people in their 60s, 70s and 80s who have re-entered the dating world — is that it’s never too late.
“The most common question I get is, ‘Is there really somebody out there for me?’ and the answer is yes,” says Dr. Terri Orbuch
, relationship consultant for SeniorPeopleMeet.com, a subsidiary of Match.com. “You’re never too old to find someone again. There are people of all ages seeking friends, companions and mates.”
Renewing old connections
Isadora Alman, MFT, a 69-year-old sexologist and psychotherapist from Alameda, CA, says she recently reconnected with an old boyfriend and the two are now living together. “The Internet was an enormous part of it,” says Alman, who writes, a syndicated column on sex and relationships on her website, AskIsadora.com
. “We’d vaguely kept in touch over the years via email and snail mail, but he recently put up a website — he’s a writer — and emailed me about it. I ordered one of his books and then a correspondence began.”
Alman says she’s also heard from many silver singles who have reconnected with old acquaintances via high school or college reunion sites. “Going out to a dance club on your own can be pretty threatening, especially for women my age,” Alman says. “But getting in touch with that nice guy that helped you with American Civilization 101 is not. It’s easier to reconnect with someone you know than to go into the vast blue yonder and find someone you’ve never met before.”
Although some people are wary of the web, Dr. Orbuch says the Internet is ideal for seniors since they can surf from home and maintain full control over who they meet in person. What’s more, computer classes — and Internet access — are often available free of charge at public community centers and libraries. “Even if you don’t have the funds or the desire to get your own computer, you can still be computer-savvy and try Internet dating,” Dr. Orbuch says.
Of course, many seniors worry that online dating isn’t safe. “My girlfriends don’t date and complain about it a lot, but they’re frightened of the Internet,” says Mary G., a 74-year-old semi-retired travel agent from Manhattan. “I keep telling them it’s nothing to be afraid of. If you meet someone and get the feeling something isn’t right, you walk away. I’ve found the most unbelievable relationships thanks to the Internet. If you wait around for someone to introduce you, it just doesn’t happen.”
Widowed after 38 years of marriage, Mary says she decided to try online dating about seven years ago and has had great luck meeting people since then, particularly younger men. “All of a sudden, I’m in a candy store partaking in all the fun,” Mary says. “You have the chance of getting to know thousands of people. I’m having a ball. People who don’t go on the Internet because of fear are 1000% wrong. I know a lot more about [my online dates] than if somebody calls me and says, ‘I want you to go out with Sarah’s cousin Joe.’”
Like most online daters, Mary says she follows some basic safety rules, i.e., never allowing a first date to pick her up at her home and always speaking with dates on the phone a few times prior to meeting each other to test their interpersonal chemistry. Dr. Orbuch says it’s important to meet in a neutral spot and to let a friend know where you’re going. Any other recommendations? “You also want to make your first date short and sweet,” advises Dr. Orbuch. In other words, save the stereotypical “dinner and a movie” option for later.
Posting an online profile is the first step, but how do you know what to say — or leave out? “I think it’s much smarter and more satisfactory to show who you are and exactly what you want,” says Grant F., 81, a retired appraiser from Richmond, CA, who’s been dating online for the past four years (before the Internet he used print-based personal ads, which Grant says have netted him a best friend and also helped his son find a wife). “Otherwise, it’s a horrible waste of everyone’s time. Your profile has to have the good and the bad — an accurate portrayal.”
While full disclosure may work for some, experts say that it can also scare off potential dates, too. “Psychological studies show that we become extremely uncomfortable about knowing too much, too soon,” says Dr. Orbuch, who is also a research scientist at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. “It’s like the person who sits next to you on an airplane and tells you his or her entire life story. You don’t want to lie, but you don’t need to say everything all at once. You want to gradually disclose things,” recommends Dr. Orbuch.
Some information should be shared before meeting face-to-face, though. “Our bodies now have all kinds of ailments that you wouldn’t have had to divulge if you were dating in your 20s,” notes Alman. “Before I met my old flame, I told him that I had real mobility issues and that my dancing days were over. If you’re going to meet someone you found online, let that person know beforehand if you use a cane or have a hearing aid or are unable to walk more than a block. You don’t want that to be an unpleasant surprise.” That kind of knowledge can also help you choose better date locations and activities to do together.
Speaking of surprises, recent photos are crucial: “I had six captioned photos with my profile — ages 10 through 80 — but the photo that attracted one woman the most was the one taken 11 years ago,” says Grant. “I think she picked the photo that she most wanted me to be like when we finally met in person. When I got there, she was upset that I looked older. I’m still recovering from that.” Of course, rejection is part of the online dating experience, too, and you should be prepared to accept it as part of the process when it comes to meeting new people. “You have to learn to accept that you’ll be rejected sometimes,” Mary says, “but don’t take it personally. If someone rejects you, it’s because that person doesn’t even know
you. So how can
you take it personally?”
Companionship… and more
Being clear about what you want and responding only to people who are looking for the same things is also key, according to Mary: “I’m not looking for Mr. Wonderful. I’m not interested in getting married. When matches talk about meeting their true mate, that’s not for me. I’m just someone you’re going to have a wonderful time with, someone you’re going to want to see again.”
Online dating does offer something for everyone, stresses Dr. Orbuch, especially silver singles. “Marriage is not the only outcome or the only goal in the dating scene when you get older,” she says. “People sometimes go online just to find a companion; someone to hang out with and do things together you wouldn’t want to do alone. You don’t need to go online to find a relationship that’ll last for 40 years.” Although that happens, too: “I told my cousin — who hadn’t had a date in 16 years — to look online and she’s now married to a wonderful man,” says Mary. “She met him on Match.com.”
Diane Mapes is a freelance writer based in Seattle and the author of How to Date in a Post-Dating World. She can be reached online at dianemapes.net.