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When Rhonda Lynn Way was in her 50s and on the dating scene for the first time since she was 21, she had no idea where to start. She tried to use dating apps, but the experience felt bizarre and daunting. Way is now 63 and still single. Throughout their adult life, their generation has had higher rates of separation and divorce, and lower rates of marriage in the first placethan the generations that preceded them. And as people are living longer, the divorce rate for those 50 or older is rising.
But that longer lifespan also means that older adults, more than ever before, have years ahead of them to spark new relationships.
Getting back out there can be difficult, though. The only way she can seem to find a date is through an app, but even then, McNeil told me, dating online later in life, and as a black woman, has been terrible. In fact, many gay bars have become something else entirely—more of a general social space, as younger gay people have turned to Grindr and other apps for hookups and dates. Dating apps can be overwhelming for some older adults—or just exhausting. He and others I talked with were tired of the whole process—of putting themselves out there again and again, just to find that most people are not a match.
But apps, for all their frustrations, can also be hugely helpful: They provide a way for seniors to meet fellow singles even when their peers are all coupled up. A study led by Michael Rosenfeld, a social demographer at Stanford University, found that the percentage of single, straight women who met at least one new person for dating or sex in the 12 months was about 50 percent for women at age 20, 20 percent at age 40, and only 5 percent at age The date-finding rates were more consistent over time for the men surveyed.
Their schedules, habits, and likes and dislikes have all been set for so long. Finding a good match can be particularly hard for straight older women, who out their male counterparts. Women tend to live and stay healthier longer, and they also tend to wind up with older men ; the older they get, the smaller and older their pool of potential partners grows. One possible explanation for this gender disparity is that men rely more on their partners—not just when it comes to cooking and housework, but also for emotional and social support.
Women are more likely to have their own friends to lean on, and they may not be eager to take care of another man. Still, healthy men are in high demand in assisted-living homes, Brown told me. And many of the older women I spoke with said that they were desperate to find someone active, screening dating profiles for mentions of physical activity and asking sly questions about family health conditions. Health becomes a pressing dating concern once people enter their final stage of life.
One year-old woman I spoke with, who asked not to be identified in order to protect her privacy, has been dating an year-old man for more than 10 years. When she visits him in his retirement home a few times a week, she can sense that his health is declining.
Without kids to take care of or jobs to juggle, older adults are forming the kinds of relationships that work for them. Read: What happens when we all live to ?
Those relationships, whether casual or serious, typically involve sex. Some researchers have found evidence of a loss of libido in older age, especially among women, but other researchers I interviewed disputed that. Of course, there are physical challenges: Starting around age 50, erections are more difficult to sustain and less hardand take longer to regain after orgasm. Natural vaginal lubrication dries up, the pelvic floor becomes prone to spasms, and the cervix thins out and becomes irritable.
Sex can be painful, or just embarrassing or frustrating. And many of the medical conditions that are common in older adults, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease—or the medications used to treat them—get in the way as well, impacting libido, erectile function, or response to sexual stimulation. But there are plenty of ways to get around those limitations, from Viagra to hormone-replacement therapies to lubricants. And more than that, an assumption that older people will be incapable of sex because of erectile dysfunction or vaginal dryness ps a narrow definition of sex, limited to penetrative intercourse.
Karen, a year-old in New York City who asked to be identified by only her first name to protect her privacy, told me that sex is great at her age. Suki Hanfling, a sex therapist and a co-author of Sexuality in Midlife and Beyondtold me that she knows lots of elderly people having great sex; she mentioned one who had her first orgasm at the age of This is a sharp contrast to what many women now in old age experienced earlier in life.
Moreover, she said, older adults are freer now to explore the fluidity of attraction and gender. Some who have identified as heterosexual their whole life are trying out same-sex relationships that they ly thought of as off-limits. That reality can cast a shadow, tingeing even the best moments with an edge of sadness, but it can also clarify the beauty in each other and the world.
I heard this firsthand from many older daters; they were conscious of their limited time, sometimes painfully so, but those who had found new partners felt particularly grateful that they were able to do so later in life. And those I spoke with who were single were often happily so.
Al Rosen, the sexagenarian with the dating-app flash cards, told me he was—for the first time ever—really enjoying spending time alone. So although lots of unmarried older people aren't going on many dates, they aren't all dissatisfied. They found that the single people least likely to compromise on attractiveness and feelings were those 60 and older. Rhonda Lynn Way, the woman from Texas, has decided to pull back from dating for a while. I asked her whether she was happy being single.
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