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Senior Dating: What to Know When Dating Late in Life

Insights & Ideas Team •  November 17, 2016 | Enjoying Retirement

When his wife passed away a few years ago, Harold (Hal) Spielman found himself—at age 81—living alone for the first time in his life. “I had trouble coping with my situation, and I could find very little information to guide me,” he said. So Spielman took matters into his own hands, turning to what he knew best. “I’d been in the market research business for 50 years, so I approached the situation the same way I would if I was working on a project for a large corporation,” he said. “I started to design a variety of studies to get a better understanding of how mature people dealt with the challenges of being single again.”

Spielman then pulled together a team of researchers who explored the attitudes and expectations of today’s single seniors on topics ranging from finances to food preparation. Seven studies and 1,600 interviews later, the results led to the creation of a book, a website and a weekly radio talk show devoted to helping single seniors cope—all titled Suddenly Solo.

Much of the research centered on relationships. Of the men and women interviewed—all people in their 60s and 70s who had been married and were widowed or divorced—most wanted to find someone to be friends with. And nearly 4 in 10 had a strong urge to be “coupled” again. So what does that mean for people who face dating for the first time in decades? Here’s some of what the research uncovered:

1. Seniors are becoming increasingly active in online dating. Of the seniors he surveyed who were in monogamous relationships, Spielman says more than one in five met their partner on an online dating site. With websites like OurTime, AARP Dating and Stitch specifically targeting 50-plus singles, online dating has certainly gone mainstream for seniors.

Unfortunately, online dating has also created tremendous opportunities for would-be scammers; Americans lost $82 million to online dating fraud in just the last six months of 2014, according to the FBI. The threat is so real that AARP has compiled a list of tips to help dating seniors (and anyone, for that matter) avoid becoming victimized by online dating scams:

  • Don’t provide your last name, address or where you work until you’ve actually met.
  • If you’re using a mobile app, turn off your location settings so cons can’t find you.
  • Check out your potential date. Google him or her. Read his or her Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages. Check out photos, too, using Google’s “search by image” feature to see if that person’s image shows up in other places under a different name. Your state may also offer an online search of public court records where you could check for marriages, divorces or criminal activity.

2. Mature men and women aren’t looking for arm candy. Spielman’s research dispels what he calls one of the big media myths about older, single men. “Mature men don’t want to date young blondes,” he said. “The men we interviewed prefer to date women in their own age range because they have more in common with them. They can share experiences from the past while making new memories in the future.” Women didn’t necessarily prioritize good looks, either. Researchers analyzed online profiles of women in their 60s and 70s and found the most common traits they looked for in a man were integrity and honesty, followed by a sense of humor.

Social Security Simplified: The Right Options to Maximize Your Income3. Intimacy is still a big deal. If you think intimacy is dead for seniors, think again. Spielman’s team asked widowed or divorced men and women age 55 and older how important intimacy was to them. Here’s how they responded: 52 percent of women said it was important; 76 percent of men said it was important. In his book, Spielman writes, “I don’t think this is earth-shattering news to anyone but do think it is reassuring to know that desire doesn’t necessarily expire following the loss or divorce of a spouse or just from the simple passing of time.”

4. Seniors worry about how to tell the kids they’re dating. On his website and radio show, Spielman says one of the most frequent questions he’s asked is “How do I tell my kids I’m dating?” Many seniors worry that their adult kids will have a negative reaction to the news that Mom or Dad is seeing someone new. “The objections typically happen for one of two reasons,” said Spielman. “Either the kids have an emotional objection (Mom, how could you date another man after Dad?), or a financial concern (What will happen to my inheritance?).” To avoid either scenario, Spielman suggests telling adult children that you’re dating in a generalized sense, rather than dating a specific person—at least initially. “The kids will find that less threatening.”

Today, eight years after the death of his wife and at the age of 88, Spielman says his research has helped him become much more comfortable as a single senior. “I’ve dated and I’ve found there are a lot of very nice women out there,” he said. “And now I’m hoping to help others see that they can find new levels of happiness and satisfaction during the next chapter in their lives.” 

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