En español | In the course of my work as a sex and relationship educator, I frequently run workshops about dating after age 50. My audiences are people who are motivated enough to show up at such an event — but scared silly about diving into a dating world they hadn't even thought about for decades! It's my job not only to teach them some new skills about dating, but to calm their fears. I reassure them by saying that taking that first step is the hardest part.
If you've been out of the dating pool for a long time, starting up again can be frightening. But you'll be pleased to know that things have gotten a lot easier since you were going to high school dances and college bars. A whole host of online dating sites have sprung up to help you meet great people from social networks that normally don't intersect with yours. Some of these sites are specifically geared to the 50-plus crowd, and they are attracting more and more single, divorced and widowed people than ever before.
But just becomes it's relatively easy to find a potential partner doesn't mean you should start dating before you think about your goals and desires. Meeting new prospects before you're emotionally prepared can feel infinitely worse than sitting home alone every Saturday night.
Read the following statements. If you agree with all of them, go forth and conquer. If not, pay attention to those areas you need to work on.
1. "I'm totally over my previous relationship."
In order to be really available, you must be absolutely ready to move past your previous love and devote yourself to another person. That doesn't mean you don't honor your 40-year marriage that ended with the death of your spouse, but it does mean that you won't be constantly comparing new women to your late wife or new men to the husband who left you for his secretary. The grief of losing someone is genuine and legitimate, but if you are still grieving, you are in no shape to meet someone new.
2. "I am not bitter about the past."
When dating, most people want to avoid a person who comes with too much baggage. That's the individual who's still carrying the unpleasant events and feelings of their past relationships into the present. Bitterness in any form — even if justified — will send most new people running as fast as they can in the opposite direction.
3. "I don't want to divulge everything about myself right away."
People who reveal everything on a first, second or third date risk overburdening the fledgling relationship with too much information. Someone who has a chronic or life-threatening illness, for example, might feel compelled to talk about it, even during a first meeting. But this goes against the first rules of dating: Keep it light, and let your date see your most attractive characteristics first. There will be plenty of time to exchange more profound information, if there is enough interest and attraction between you.
4. "I know how to listen."
Of course we all like to talk about ourselves and the things that interest us. But a common mistake is to be so overwhelming that the other person never gets to say anything about him or herself. Truly, the most winning way to get to know people is to get them to talk about themselves — and really listen closely. Ask questions; help them be comfortable with you, and then reciprocate. You need give and take, and being the life of the party isn't required.
5. "I'm in good shape, and I look my best."
If you've been out of the dating circuit for a very long time, it's possible that you've gotten a bit too relaxed about how you present yourself. You might need to go to the gym, get a new haircut, or shop for some better fitting clothes. That doesn't mean you have to be model thin or that you need to wear the latest style. But showing some respect for your appearance will reflect better on you than sloppy grooming, wrinkled or ill fitting clothes and a dangerous body weight. Since most of us can't see ourselves objectively, it's a great idea to have a close friend take a good look at you and offer some advice.
6. "I'm ready to have a good time."
Most people in our age group are looking for someone with energy, optimism and warmth. If you are feeling unhappy, you won't be able to provide any of these. If your mood is bringing you down, it will bring others down too. Unless you are fairly content with your life, you are not ready to date. Go see a counselor if you need to, but be ready to face dating with a smile and an upbeat attitude.
7. "I don't expect instant success."
Dating is usually a protracted search for the right person that is filled with plenty of ups and downs. Sure, some people meet "the one" right away, but most don't. Sure, it can be dispiriting to have a series of coffee dates with guys or gals who just aren't right for you. But try to use these occasions simply to learn about someone else's world and life. Dating isn't always fun — it can even be heartbreaking if you are entranced by someone and it isn't mutual. But if you are resilient and assume it takes a while to find a match, you will find a wonderful person.
8. "I'm not looking for Mr. or Ms. Perfect."
If you've got a long list of sterling qualities, characteristics and lifestyle criteria, you are going to have a tough time finding anyone who's good enough for you. But if you have reasonable list expectations — for example, you want to meet a good person who is fun to be with and who shares your values and goals — you'll have an easier time. Be reasonable. Be realistic. And remember to stay positive: If you want to find a new partner and you're willing to work at it, you definitely will!
Published November 2011