Dating And Age - How Much Does It Matter?

Do people 50+ prefer to date younger, older, or do they truly not give a hoot? The surprising answers to this hot-button issue are ahead.

By Julie Taylor

hese days more than ever, single people in their 50s — both men and women — feel free to date a wide range of age groups. Still one has to wonder: Is hooking up with someone twenty years your junior like tapping into your own personal fountain of youth? Or, are you better off with someone who actually gets your references and doesn’t think Watergate is the latest brand of bottled H2O? What challenges do you face when dating people older or younger, and how do you cope? To find the answers, we sat down with some boomers as well as relationship experts to determine just how important age really is.

The Panelists:
Judsen Culbreth, author of The Boomer’s Guide to Online Dating
Joel Block, Ph.D., sex therapist and author of Sex Over 50
James Orr, 57, of Oklahoma City, OK — widowed at 51
Billie Fitzpatrick, 53, of Jersey City, NJ — divorced twice
Joy Evans, 63, of La Canada, CA — divorced once
Dick Camfield, 61, of Phoenix, AZ — never been married

First things first: When it comes to dating after 50, does age really matter?

Orr: Unfortunately, it does. I’d love to find a younger woman I have a lot in common
“It’s really all about physiological age—how well you take care of yourself.”
with. It’s hard, but I keep telling myself she’s out there.

Fitzpatrick: I think it matters more to men. I have a hard time finding a man my age who wants to go out with someone who’s actually his age—like me. They all want someone twenty years younger. That’s why I prefer to date older men.

Culbreth: It’s all in the attitude. I’ve dated younger men in the past, and they were very impressed that I had “grown-up things” like good china and silver and could cook a great meal. Yet, they also loved the fact that I play golf and have a youthful attitude. If you’re young at heart, that’s all that matters.

If age does make a difference, what are the benefits of dating someone younger when you’re over 50?

Culbreth: It can be very flattering to date someone younger than you are. People want to date someone fun, and many of us think someone younger is going to be more fun. Plus, Boomers are known as “zoomers” because they do so much these days—so most have no problem keeping up with someone ten or even twenty years their junior.

Evans: I love younger men, and they love me. I’ve had several serious relationships with men more than ten years younger than I am, and I’m currently dating a man who’s 52. They keep me young. I don’t want to date a man in his sixties—that just seems much too old for me. I know I’m in my sixties, too, but I feel so much younger than that. I need a man with some pep.

Orr: I guess I look at it as a status symbol of sorts. If I can be with a young woman, that means I’m still hip and cool and all those things I’ve always wanted to be. I’ve still got it.

That said, what are the downsides of dating someone younger?

Orr: I find I just don’t have that much in common with younger women. Plus, they make me insecure. I took this one gal out to dinner several times. She was 35—22 years younger than I am. I loved being with such a beautiful, young woman; it was a definite ego boost. But just as I was feeling pretty good about myself, she’d talk to a young waiter, or make a comment to a good-looking guy at the bar, and my confidence would just fly out the window. I guess deep down I always wondered why she’d want to be with an old guy like me! Plus, she wanted kids, and my two kids are already grown so I’ve been there, done that. It was never going to work.

Culbreth: Sometimes people this age fall into the trap of supporting the person financially or taking on a parental role. That’s a red flag that trouble lies ahead.

So what are the benefits of dating someone older when you’re in your fifties?

Camfield: I’ve dated women a few years older than me, and it makes me feel like a hot young stud!

Fitzpatrick: I enjoy older men. I find that they appreciate me more
“Older is better. Men are more tender. Women are more assertive.”
and spoil me, too.

Dr. Block: In my mind, older is better. Men are more tender. Women are more independent and assertive, less in need of reassurance or approval from their partners. Men become more nurturing, more comfortable with intimacy and able to share themselves in ways they never could before. Each has the wisdom and experience to celebrate the other.

And the downsides?

Evans: Dating someone older just doesn’t interest me. If I wanted to be someone’s caretaker, I would have gone into nursing.

Culbreth: People generally don’t want to be saddled with someone unhealthy—and most of us subconsciously associate getting older with mounting health problems. Genetically, we’re wired to pick mates who are good “specimens.” It’s a primal urge.

What’s it like to date someone your own age?

Camfield: There are many benefits to dating someone in my age bracket. Women my age get all my jokes. They remember where they were when Kennedy died. They’re facing the same sort of issues I am, like impending retirement. There’s more common ground.

Culbreth: Being around the same age is especially important to baby boomers because shared culture is so important to them. Boomers want to be with someone who remembers the same things they do from the past. If their date’s biggest cultural reference is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it’s hard to relate. After a while, most boomers can’t stand it. They want to find something real.

Does the age of your partner affect your sex life?

Fitzpatrick: Older men might have more problems in the bedroom department, but once they pop that little blue pill, everybody’s happy.

Dr. Block: Any most of the time, healthy, physically active men can continue to achieve erections into old age without medical intervention. According to the National Institute of Health, only between 15 percent and 25 percent of men over 65 have erectile dysfunction severe enough to preclude intercourse. What’s more, studies show that middle-aged and older people are actually more comfortable with their bodies than younger people are. After a certain point, most of us learn how to practice personal forgiveness when we look into the mirror.

What advice would you give people over 50 who are looking for someone?

Dr. Block: Don’t get hung up on chronological age. It’s really all about physiological age—how well people take care of themselves. We’ve all seen women who are 50 who look 60, or men who are 70 who look 50. Age really isn’t a good indicator of compatibility.

Camfield: I think it’s important to remember and believe that you’re not out of the game. Even though I’m 61, I still feel like I have a lot of living left to do and a lot to offer someone. But I’ve talked to friends who’ve been recently widowed who say, “That’s it for me. I’m done.” Never count yourself out too soon.

Evans: See yourself as sexy. If you don’t, no one else will.

Fitzpatrick: Deal with your baggage. Most of us over the age of 50 have baggage, and lots of it. But it doesn’t have to weigh you down. I’ve been married two times before, but I don’t hate my exes and I don’t hate men in general. I’ve spent lots of time in therapy and in yoga meditating. I’ve dealt with my stuff so other people won’t have to.

Camfield: After my wife died, I knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life alone. I quickly realized it would be important to embrace new technology. Go online, and see who’s out there. No one is going to come knocking on your front door.

Julie Taylor has written for Redbook and other publications.
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