Judging from the questions I was asked after AARP's "Finding Love at 50+" panel in Las Vegas this spring, what happened in Vegas won't stay in Vegas after all. That's because the attendees really want to get out there and date again!
Among the first to approach me after the session was a woman in her late 60s. "How come all men want women my daughter's age?" she demanded. "Yet we can't be with younger men?"
"Not all of them do," I replied. "And we can." Three examples sprang to mind:
My husband, 15 months younger than I am, had dated only women about our age before meeting me.
My sister, age 70, has a partner 14 years her junior.
A divorced friend, organizing a fundraiser 12 years ago, innocently flirted with the younger-by-seven-years florist she hired for the event. The two of them have been happily living together for 10 years now.
"The rules have changed," I told her. "Many men find women their own age or older to be more confident — and sexier. You seem lively, smart. Find a man who wants a smart, lively companion, not a youngster or a visiting nurse."
Had the man behind her heard me utter the word "sexier"? I'm not sure, but he wanted my advice on the best time to have sex in a new relationship.
"Probably later than you think," I told him. "And certainly later than you wish." I stressed the importance of going slowly, of getting to know the other person well. "Sex colors everything," I said. "I would urge you not to rush: Hold off … wait … you'll both be glad you did."
Next to approach was a man in his mid-60s. His wife had been in a psychiatric hospital for the past six years, he explained. For years before that, he had been devoted to her — accompanying her to doctors' appointments, administering her medications, handling all aspects of her care. Now, it looked as if she would never be discharged and that the hospital might remain her permanent home.
Then he cut to the chase: "Is it OK for me to date?"
I hesitated, because that "for better or for worse / in sickness and in health" part of the marriage vows was echoing through my mind, and I'm a big fan of loyalty at all costs. But as I looked into his eyes and listened to him speak, I saw a kind, down-to-earth person. He had given his wife everything he could, I believed, and he deserved to go on with his life, be it dinner dates and movies or a partner.
"Why not?" I finally replied.
"How do I get started?" He said he lived in a small town and did not know any women.
"How about posting a profile on a dating site?"
He looked away, then back at me. "What do you think I should say?"
"I'm not going to tell you what to write, but say something in the first sentence that shows who you are."
"Could I start with something like: 'Devoted caregiver to my wife for several years...'?"
"That's perfect." I smiled. "You're bound to get responses from women who've been caregivers themselves. In fact, if I weren't married, I'd respond."
The woman behind him — an impeccably groomed retired teacher with gorgeous red hair — confided that she'd just been abandoned by her husband of 39 years. "He told me he wanted to be alone." She rolled her eyes, then flashed a nervous smile. "I don't want to get married. I don't want to post a profile online. I just want dinner, a movie and a little conversation with a man."
Glancing at her cool-looking beads and earrings, I was tempted to ask her to accessorize me. I suggested she might find kindred spirits at events or on trips for educators, or simply by pursuing whatever activities and hobbies she loves.
"Even if you meet no one," I pointed out, "you'll have fun. Fun is attractive — you can't keep it off your face. What do you like to do?"
"I like to read — but please don't tell me to join a book group, because I don't know of any."
"Not a problem," I replied. "Start one. Call friends. Call friends of friends, and former colleagues. Make it coed.
"While you're at it," I went on, "tell everyone you know that you want to be fixed up."
"That sounds scary."
I couldn't argue with that. "I know. It was for me too, but the guys who delivered my Chinese food — the only ones I saw when I was newly divorced — weren't in the dating pool. Taking any risk is scary. But not taking one is even scarier."
The lovely woman looked unconvinced, but I forged ahead. "Go out to eat in restaurants — alone, not with a friend. And not with a book."
"I couldn't do that. I had to leave my comfort zone just to come up to you."
"But see? You did it! Now just keep going." I told her she was pretty, engaging and easy to talk to, and that men would find her likewise. "Start small," I advised her. "Go out for breakfast or lunch."
I have no doubt she will. And the attendees around her seemed to like the idea, too — fingers crossed that they put it into action!
Nancy Davidoff Kelton writes about dating after 50 for AARP.
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