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Dec112013

Retired and Dating: Starting Over When You Are Older

My live-in mother recently started Internet dating, which has been quite an experience for both of us. Whereas many adult children are uncomfortable with their older parents dating and actively discourage finding a new partner to replace a deceased or divorced spouse,1 I actually encouraged her to get back out there again.  

At first, she was very reluctant to start dating and continually said that she is not like the 120 lb. bombshell that she used to be. She was also worried that many men her age might be sick or expect their partners to take care of them; this was not something she wanted to do for the rest of her retirement years. Turns out that many other single, older aged women struggle with body image problems2 and also have a hard time balancing the desire for companionship with the possibility that there will also be caretaking obligations for an aging romantic partner.3 After several months of helping her build up her self-esteem and setting realistic expectations about what her potential dating partners might be like and what she was looking for, she finally agreed to start meeting people.  

She initially tried to meet eligible bachelors at our local senior center and her church. No luck. With about 1/3 of Baby Boomers unmarried, and the majority of adults aged 65+ unmarried as well,4 we were stymied about where to find all of these eligible similarly-aged single men. Due to my success in meeting The Consultant through an Internet dating site, she finally (and reluctantly) let me help her create an Internet dating profile.

The most difficult part of me creating a profile for her was describing what she wanted. She told me that she was not looking to marry again; she just wanted someone with whom to travel and enjoy the rest of her retirement years. Evidently, her relationship goals are similar to other older adult internet daters. In one study, researchers examined internet dating profiles of different age groups (middle-aged 40–54 yrs, young-old 60–74 yrs, and old-old 75 + yrs) and found that older adults (young-old and old-old), compared to middle-aged adults, were more likely to express loneliness and health concerns and less likely to desire a soul mate or romance.5 The young-old men (her age group) were interested in starting life over with a new romantic partner – essentially finding a new life companion. After sharing these research findings with my mother, she felt more comfortable making her profile “public” and making herself available to her dating pool.

Within a day, half a dozen men contacted my mother, a number of whom lived over 60 miles away. I found this interesting given that most of my own dating matches from online dating in the past were within a 60 mile radius of me. My mother did not mind the distance, however. In fact, in another study of internet dating profiles comparing older and younger adults, researchers found that older adults are not only more selective in their dating partners (e.g., age, religion, income), but they are also willing to travel farther distances to meet the most compatible partner.6 I guess that travel and adventure are some of the things my mother wants to do now that she is no longer working, so if a potential dating partner lives an hour or two away, this is not as much of an issue for her as it was for me, given that I have so little free time.

Although she has not gone on a date yet, and I will probably want to scratch my eyes out if I hear about any physical details of dates that she will go on (she is still my mother after all), I am happy that my mother is getting positive, flirtatious attention from potential suitors. And I’m also having fun thinking about the many types of companion options that she had not considered being available to her before.

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1Talbott, M. M. (1998). Older widows' attitudes towards men and remarriage. Journal of Aging Studies, 12, 429–449.

2Hillman, J. (2012). Sexuality and aging: Clinical perspectives. New York: Springer Science + Business Media.

3Carr, D. (2004). The desire to date and remarry among older widows and widowers. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 1051–1068.

4Brown, S. L., & Shinohara, S. K. (2013). Dating relationships in older adulthood: A national portrait. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 75, 1194-1202.

5Alterovitz, S. S. R., & Mendelsohn, G. A. (2013). Relationship goals of middle-aged, young-old, and old-old internet daters: an analysis of online personal ads. Journal of Aging Studies, 27, 159-165.

6McIntosh, W. D., Locker Jr., L., Briley, K., Ryan, R., & Scott, A. J. (2011). What do older adults seek in their potential romantic partners? Evidence from online personal ads. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 72, 67-82.

Dr.  Jennifer Harman - Adventures in Dating... | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Harman's research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.

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