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DatingSpeed dating with a twist for those 60 and older – News – Sarasota Herald-Tribune | #dating | #elderly | #seniors

Speed dating with a twist for those 60 and older – News – Sarasota Herald-Tribune | #dating | #elderly | #seniors

So how do the rules of dating change when you’ve recently lost a spouse, suffered through a divorce or just been on your own for quite some time?

SARASOTA — It may not have been the most romantic start to a date, but these were special circumstances.

The first question they asked each other was, “Were you born overseas?” Instead of a tablecloth and candles, there were white slips of paper and clipboards. Instead of a three-course meal and flowers, there was craft beer and a buffet of light food. And an intimate date it was not: more than 20 people, ages 60 and up, gathered in the cream-tiled dining room of senior living facility Aviva for a “speed dating with a twist” event recently in the hopes of meeting someone special. 

So how do the rules of dating change when you’ve recently lost a spouse, suffered through a divorce or just been on your own for quite some time?

It’s not easy.

Donna Lindenau, 70, walked into the event hesitantly. Widowed two years ago, she came at the insistence of a friend in Bradenton.

“I’m a little skittish,” she said with a smile, looking unsure. “I’m looking for friendship — it’s possible I might meet someone.”

As Lindenau lingered around the room, 71-year-old Brian Connolly fearlessly approached several women, asking them one of the ice-breaker questions on his clipboard. Connolly’s exuberant grin and rosy cheeks seemed to make him an ideal candidate for a speed-dating event, where a willingness to put oneself out there is perhaps the most important factor in potential success. 

“I’m looking for a potential partner,” Connolly said. “I want one person for the rest of my life.” 

Dating later in life 

Despite Connolly’s spirit, research shows that people like Lindenau are not alone in their reluctance to date again. On average, women spend about 17 years in widowhood, according to University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee professor Kathy Black, who focuses on aging studies and social work. Trends differ significantly based on gender, Black added. 

“We’re far less likely to get remarried, whereas even if a man gets divorced or widowed, a man is far more likely to stay married or get remarried,” Black said. “It’s acceptable for them to get remarried, but there’s a lot of women looking out there.” 

Among people in their 80s, 4 out of 5 men are still married, compared with only 1 out of 5 women, Black said. In Sarasota, women living alone outnumber men living alone 3-to-1, a ratio in line with national numbers. Women generally live longer and are more likely to be widowed, and divorce has also become increasingly common. 

“We get to these later ages in life and you were raising the kids, everyone’s working, and now all of a sudden it’s like, ‘I don’t really know you and I don’t really like you,'” Black said of why many people get divorced at an older age. “It’s much more acceptable today to do that, so there’s a lot of reasons why people find themselves single.” 

Although the common belief that the divorce rate continues to rise has been mostly disproved, 40 to 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce, according to the American Psychological Association. 

With a charming smile and winning personality, 66-year-old Michael Bernard, who is divorced with children, came to the speed-dating event to help out, ironically, his girlfriend. Bernard actively pursued a relationship after his divorce. He golfs regularly with a singles group, and he met his girlfriend online nine months ago.

At last month’s event, Bernard played the pivotal role of herder: he brought most of the men who were there from his golfing group. That accounted for the event’s fairly even ratio of men to women, since Black’s first reaction to it was to ask: “Were there any men there?”

One of the main issues at senior dating events can simply be a lack of men, Black said. 

Still, not everyone fell into that group, including 91-year-old David Wagner. He sat at a table in the back, watching some of the couples take to the dance floor, swaying to old-time hits like Frank Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight.” Wagner is recently single — his wife passed away a year and a half ago, he said. He came out to meet people, but he had little confidence that he would find someone. 

“They think they’re going to be my caretaker,” Wagner said of his potential love interests. 

Looking for something  

At a certain age, Black said people look for different things: they often trade looks for similar interests or even just companionship. She recited a joke about a conversation between a recently married 88-year-old man and his friend. The friend asks the man, “Why did you marry her?” After his friend offers a litany of reasons, the 88-year-old rejects them all and finally says: “Because she can drive at night.” 

“Everybody is an individual,” Black said. “Some people are going to be wanting somebody 24/7 to sleep with every night, some people are looking for travel companions, some people are looking for someone to go out to dinner.” 

The challenge for some women, like 76-year-old Norine Cohen, is meeting someone who makes her feel a certain way. She lost her husband 10 years ago, and since getting back out into the dating world, she’s been unimpressed.

“There are too many boring people,” Cohen said. “It’s hard to find someone who has an interest in life and doing things when you go out.” 

Still, Black insists that there are love stories to be found at every age if you seek them out. Recently, she was in a doctor’s waiting room when she noticed an elderly married couple seated nearby. When the man went into the appointment, the woman shared her story with the other patients. She and her husband had been married for only five years — both of their spouses had died, and they were introduced by a relative at church. “I never thought I’d know love again,” she told Black.

“That whole waiting room — everybody just smiled,” Black said. “It was the most beautiful story.” 

By the end of the night, some budding relationships seemed to be emerging at Aviva as well. Connolly was dancing jokingly with 70-year-old Nancy Aquino, gesticulating his hands in a manner reminiscent of John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever.”

The motions were silly and haphazard, but when they made eye contact, their connection seemed authentic.

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