Re-engaging in dating, or dating for the first time as we get older can be just as challenging as when we were much younger. While the choices of where we’ll go and what we might do are different, the anxious feelings we may have are very familiar. But as we found in our research and interviews with five charming couples at Blair Seniors Services, Inc.’s Senior Centers in Altoona and East Freedom, that is not holding many seniors back, and love is definitely in the air!
Despite growing interest, just 14% of eligible singles, aged 57-85, are currently in a dating relationship. However, a record number of older adults are open to dating, and the number will only rise as more Baby Boomers reach retirement age. After all, one third of all Boomers are currently unmarried. And as quality of life continues to improve for older adults, the benefits that can come from dating—fun, companionship, and emotional support—seem more attainable, while the demands—time, energy, and money—feel more manageable. While the very prospect of dating might have once felt absurd to many older adults, more and more seniors are giving the idea a serious second look. Are you?
Earlier in life, most men and women report that they date primarily to find a spouse and start a family. For young daters, the intrinsic benefits of dating like social connection, fun, companionship, and emotional support are often secondary. To be sure, some seniors who date are also doing so to find a spouse. But many older adults feel that new long term commitments, like marriage, aren’t necessarily a priority later in life and very few seniors are looking to start new families.
Older adults who are in dating relationships or are looking to date often report that their main interest in dating is to have fun and find companionship, not necessarily to marry. Of course, many seniors do date with marriage in mind, but if you’re interested in dating, consider the benefits that may extend beyond the prospect of marriage!
Donna Gorman and Bob Lafferty originally met at the Central Blair Senior Center in Altoona. Bob was working his volunteer shift when Donna, who normally went to the Claysburg Center, arrived and immediately caught his eye. “She was pretty attractive,” Bob shared. Donna said she didn’t noticed him right away, but it wasn’t long before they went to dinner on their first date. She had been out with friends for lunch earlier that day and recalls it was ironic that she ate fish. When Bob took Donna to dinner the special was, you guessed it, fish. “I got the fish and she got a salad. People must have thought I was cheap,” laughed Bob.
That was the summer of 2015. Now you can find Donna and Bob shopping, going to dinner, traveling to Rocky Gap, and frequently at the Southern Blair Senior Center in East Freedom for lunch, playing bingo and dancing. Both encourage others their ages to start dating again and believe it is good to be with someone. Donna commented that her daughter doesn’t need to worry as much about her and she likes that he’s great at helping fix things around her home, inside and outside. Bob said, “If I knew we had ten more years I’d ask her to marry me. I already bought her two rings, one with a diamond.” Donna’s reply, “They didn’t count, what does count is that I know he loves me.”
When seniors date, they find a companion that can accompany them to social engagements and activities at which a partner is often traditionally expected or even required, such as weddings and dances. They also gain the frequent company of someone who shares similar interests, which can enrich recreational experiences and present new opportunities for seniors to do the things that they most enjoy.
Sure, platonic friendships can accomplish some of those goals, but most adults agree that the company of a companion is different and fulfilling, and seniors with just platonic relationships might miss out on that kind of connection. Meanwhile, the emotional intimacy of a romantic relationship exceeds and differs from the emotional closeness that friends develop. Many seniors also draw emotional intimacy from their adult children, but most seniors say that they would prefer to also have close relationships, trust, and warmth with their peers.
For Mary Ann Sollenberger, she said it was love at first sight when she met Ken Miller. They have been dating for two years. “We met here at the Center and I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him,” said Mary Ann. “He was and still is a handsome man.” Ken felt the same way. “I liked her right away. We sit beside each other in the van to come to the Center and hold hands,” shared Ken. “We kissed on the first date!”
For this couple, the Southern Blair Senior Center in East Freedom is the hub for their dating. They enjoy the entertainment, dances, playing games, and talking with their many friends they’ve made.
Older adults in a dating relationship often indicate higher spirits than their single friends. When you’re in a relationship, you have someone who you want to dress up for and spend time with, someone to make plans with, someone who you think about warmly when they’re not around, and someone who provides support and comfort when they are there. All of this can help older adults feel happier and more fulfilled, which can even buoy their physical, psychological, and spiritual health.
Ken Lingenfelter agrees, although he had to work when it came to convincing Alice Parker. Ken liked to hand out his phone number to all the ladies at their lunch table at the Southern Blair Senior Center in East Freedom. Alice resisted and even said she ran from him. “I wasn’t looking for a date and when he offered me his phone number, I declined,” shared Alice.
It’s now been three years since their first date and they continue to enjoy coming to the Senior Center. “I like the female companionship, having lunch, using the treadmill, and taking part in cooking classes especially the ones on healthy eating here,” said Alice. Ken said he likes the socializing and the attention he gets wearing a different Superman shirt every day of the month. “She likes to eat fruits and vegetables. I like anything that doesn’t get away before I eat it.”
Their advice on dating once again, “There are no rules on age and dating. Go for it, you only live once!” As for the future, Ken says he bought Alice a pre-pre-pre-engagement ring and a pre-pre-engagement ring. The next one might be it!
Overall, there are plenty of advantages to dating: you’ll meet new people, form new friendships, open yourself up to new experiences, and you’ll probably end up happier and healthier.
These days, there are more opportunities than ever before for seniors to date. Of course, there’s the old fashioned way: talk to people! Seniors who are open to dating tend to be more socially connected, which means they generally participate in lots of social events where you can find them, approach them, and strike up a conversation. And your chances of finding another single person are pretty good, since more than half of people age 65 and older aren’t married.
One of the best ways to find a potential person to date face-to-face is to seek out opportunities to connect with your peers by attending plenty of social events in your area that are geared towards older adults. Every issue of Seasons Magazine has a whole season’s worth of great events hosted by Blair Senior Services, Inc. (See pages 4 through 7.) Keep in mind that one of the advantages of dating as an older adult is finding a companion who shares your interests, so be sure to choose the events that you actually enjoy and attend them.
Dolores (Dee) Watcher and Dave Port have been dating for eight years after meeting at the Central Blair Senior Center in Altoona. “We met in the old lunch room where they put numbers on the tables and called you up to get your lunch,” said Dave. “My table was called before her table and I convinced her to move to my table. It worked”. Dee said she was reluctant at first due to her late husband telling her not to trust men. She would not give Dave her correct home address, but he kept trying. “He asked me if I liked chicken. I didn’t know him very well and met him at the Center before going to the Kentucky Fried Chicken in Ebensburg. We’ve been together ever since,” said Dee.
Both their families support their dating and like knowing they have each other even though her daughter still checks on her every day. Dee goes to the Center often with her friends for the exercise and ceramic classes. Dave likes to enjoy the entertainment and listen to the music. “The Center is a good place to get to know others. It’s never too late to fall in love if you meet the right person,” said Dee.
But for many, the idea of approaching someone out of the blue, striking up a conversation, and broaching the subject of romance is completely nerve-wracking. Most people found that stuff scary during their teens and twenties, and many find the prospect even more daunting later in life, when dating is not as common. After all, rejection is always a possibility, especially since many single seniors choose not to date, and that can be an embarrassing and hurtful prospect.
For Laurel Meres and Ron Reeseman, it was family members who encouraged them to become more active. That was August of 2016 and just one year later they got married!
“I came for lunch at the Central Blair Senior Center in Altoona and sat with my brother’s lunch group,” said Ron. “He told me I needed to get out and get a life!” For Laurel, it was her daughter who encouraged her to start being more social. “I started going for lunch and after a while Ron asked me to join their lunch group. One year later, we were married,” shared Laurel. “I asked God for a Christian man with a great sense of humor, who would love and adore me. I got all that and more.”
Ron shared it was her personality and how she likes to give to others that attracted him. Their first date was at an Altoona Curve Baseball game with tickets they won from Blair Senior Services, Inc. Not long after that, Ron proposed, they were married and went to another Altoona Curve game for their honeymoon. And for wedding gifts, they bought each other season tickets for the next year!
Both Laurel and Ron believe older adults do not need to be alone. They shared that if you hold back from engaging in a new relationship you may miss out on the companionship and joy that help you feel full and complete. “We laugh all day. Learning to let someone help you, cuddle and smile at you, there’s something special in that.”
While seniors can find fun, companionship, and emotional satisfaction by dating, it is not for everyone. Many seniors decide that dating is not for them, and they still manage to form completely fulfilling relationships through their friends, adult children, grandchildren, pastors, and others. There are many legitimate reasons why seniors choose not to date.
Some older adults, especially women, report uncertainty about dating because they fear that some seniors are in the dating pool primarily because they are looking for a caretaker, not a romantic companion. Many older adults value their independence, and they don’t want to risk losing it, particularly when a new marriage forces them to alter their lifestyle or become responsible for their spouse. While marriage is a serious commitment that involves responsibilities, including caring for an ailing spouse, seniors should not start dating because they are looking to marry quickly and get a new caretaker. And seniors should not be pressured to date or continue dating out of any feeling of social or personal obligation.
Regardless of whether you choose to date or not, your golden years are about enjoying life by doing the things that interest and energize you and spending time with the people you care about. For most seniors, the point of dating is to enhance this experience by seeking out a companion and a confidante with whom to share life’s great experiences. During all our interviews at the Senior Centers, the one thing that was most apparent and repeated by all the couples was the importance of having a good sense of humor for forming and keeping a relationship.
Clearly the large number of opportunities for socializing, great variety of activities and entertainment in a safe environment make the Blair Senior Services, Inc.’s Senior Centers a good choice for older adults considering getting back into the dating game!