Dating Later in Life: Love Has No Expiration Date
Expert Advice, News

Dating Later in Life: Love Has No Expiration Date

by Natalie Miller Moore
(Excerpted with permission from Southeastern Virginia’s Senior Advocate Magazine, July-January 2015)

“Dating” often conjures up images of teens holding hands and young couples gazing at each other by candlelight in a quaint restaurant. But today, dating is done by many people during different times of their lives, including their senior years.

Due to death and divorce, seeking a new companion is now part of what seniors must navigate in addition to the challenges of growing older. Companionship has been proven to increase our lifespan and our hardwired need for connection doesn’t go away with age. But the challenges are quite different now than when seeking a mate in our teens and twenties – no longer are people seeking a person who has successful career prospects or who will make a good mother or father to potential children. That’s already been determined.

Dating is now a more complex mix of factors, from physical health to stubborn habits, from compatibility and honesty, to practical concerns. Anna Grace Foster, 75, enjoys dating and her advice is to have fun and don’t expect too much too quickly.

“Take it lightly and do not expect to find the perfect person on the first date. Look at men as friends first and find out what you have in common,” she said. “It is probably a good idea to find out whether the person has been married, if they have children, and what their background is – work, interests, and education.”

PHOTO GALLERY: The Historic Chamberlin, a Harmony Senior Services community
in Hampton, VA, hosted a recent social for single seniors.

Nelia Heide, 74, was surprised to find herself falling in love again after her husband passed away. She became friends with one of her husband’s exercise partners after contacting him to let him know of her husband’s death. His wife had also recently passed away.

“Neither of us was looking. We shared our stories and on that first phone call we talked for three hours. Then, on our coffee date, we talked for three more. I knew something really special was going on,” Heide said.

Dating at an older age may come with more and heavier emotional baggage. Most people in their 70s and 80s have been married at least once, and have concerns as a result of a tough divorce, an extended illness, or lingering grief.

Dr. Hoskote Nagraj, an internist specializing in geriatrics, said that it is understandably difficult to deal with the loss of a loved one.

“The transition to dating may also include fears about your new partner’s health as well, and that’s completely normal. People often don’t know what to do after they are widowed. It’s important to know what your goals are, related to companionship and marriage, and to look for someone with similar goals,” he said.

Not all seniors are looking to remarry – in fact some of them specifically don’t want to complicate their living situation or their children’s inheritance. But tread lightly – you don’t need to mention it right away.

“Many men are lovely to be with and share time with but don’t want to recommit. That’s fine unless the only thing you are interested in is remarrying, and then you shouldn’t waste your time,” said Foster “Do not dwell on the scars of your marriage and your past mates. Remember that he has his scars too and doesn’t want to dwell on them either. If he does, he may not be ready to date,” Foster said.

If both people have experienced the loss of a loved one, there may be an agreement about how you will discuss them.

“We very openly talk about the other partner without any reservation, almost every day. We lived our lives so long with other partners, of course there are reminders,” said Heide.

Instead of seeking parental approval, now there’s the children’s approval to consider – which sometimes is more complicated based on their feelings about their deceased parent being replaced, concern for their remaining parent, possible loss of their inheritance, or just general anxiety about change for their parents.

“My late husband’s children were thrilled for me. But my new husband’s children seemed a little more reluctant,” Heide said.

It’s important for children to know that people of all ages need love and intimacy, and no matter how they feel, it’s important to be supportive. If you are ready to date, it may be a good idea to explain why to your kids, and also to know what your end goal is as well.

Getting to know people on dates is a much more complicated process – there is so much background information to find out, including what the person did as a career, where they went to school, and the places they’ve lived. Their hobbies may be quite developed, as in a collection of some kind, or an advanced interest in creating something like a craft or woodworking. You may find their passion interesting or boring, charming or curious. They may have travelled extensively and that may shape their goals and worldview. Travel can be a great test of compatibility.

Foster recounts a story of a couple who agreed they loved to travel, but it turned out that she loved nice hotels, while he slept in his car.  It’s important to dig for the details.

One obvious way to meet people in your age group is to get out and do things you enjoy, such as hobbies, clubs, religious organizations and educational events. “I have met lovely men in church, music groups and art associations. Be open and friendly – you might even meet someone in the grocery store,” said Foster.
There are benefits of dating when you are older – you may know yourself better, and what you are not willing to change or put up with in a mate.

About her new husband, Heide said, “We are more alike than different and we don’t have to change ourselves. We are so similar and there’s more understanding.”

She is now happily re-married and her advice for seniors hoping to do the same? “Be open. It will happen when you least expect it.”

While there can be challenges, mainly how to get started and the fear of rejection, many of the rules of dating are the same for seniors as they are for younger people: be sincere, be yourself, and give the other person a chance.

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