Connection is key to health and well-being. With one-third of boomers currently single, it might be time to get back on the proverbial horse.
Margaret Sampson hasn’t been on an actual date in almost 35 years – not since she was 21. She wants to find a partner, but has no idea where to start.
“My marriage ended and although it wasn’t perfect, it was comfortable,” she says. “The idea of dating again feels daunting. Do I even know how to do it still?”
Her situation is not unique.
Let’s face it – sometimes life doesn’t pan out. People grow apart, illness happens. Or maybe life has passed you by and that special someone hasn’t surfaced yet. There are many reasons people find themselves single at an unexpected age.
Whatever the circumstances, more and more people are finding themselves single after 50, so if you are lonely, you are certainly not alone. The proportion of older adults looking for a partner is on the rise.
Sampson is now 57 years old and single. And she is in good company.
According to Linda Waite, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, more than one-third of baby boomers are currently single. Their generation has had higher rates of separation and divorce, and lower rates of marriage in the first place, than the generations that preceded them. And as people are living longer, the divorce rate for those 50 and older is growing.
The good news? The longer lifespan means that older adults have years ahead of them to spark new relationships. “Some people [in previous cohorts] might not have thought about repartnering,” notes Waite. “But they weren’t going to live to 95.”
As people get older, the way they understand and attach meaning to dating evolves and changes significantly. The intentions for dating that you had in your 20s – marriage and children – don’t necessarily apply as you get older.
In their study Experiences and Meaning of Dating Later in Life (2011), Wendy Watson and Charlie Steele say that, across the board, companionship is the key reason for dating, followed closely by the need for physical affection – that’s right, sex!
But most of all, they explain that dating is good for your over-all health and wellbeing: “A dating partner often assumes the role of friend, confidant, lover and caregiver and has been found to be a buffer against loneliness.”
Loneliness – especially among older adults – can harm a person’s over-all health and well- being. In fact, in 2018 England appointed its first Minister of Loneliness to combat the issue overseas.
According to the study, Loneliness and social isolation in older adults (2020), “Loneliness and social isolation are growing public health concerns in our aging society. Whilst these experiences occur across the life span, 50% of individuals aged over 60 are at risk of social isolation and one- third will experience some degree of loneliness later in life.”
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR YOUR HEALTH?
Psychologist Susan Pinker states that direct person-to-person contact triggers parts of our nervous system that release a “cocktail” of neurotransmitters tasked with regulating our response to stress and anxiety. Social interaction also triggers a release of dopamine, which gives us a little high and kills pain – like a natural morphine.
The way the body reacts is just the tip of the ice burg.
We learn and grow based on what our peers are doing. We tend to mirror the habits of those around us. If those people are health oriented, just being around them encourages us to stick with healthy habits or achieve challenging lifestyle goals.
Plus, the act of enjoying close social ties with a partner can make us happy and improve our overall life satisfaction in the long run.
PUTTING YOURSELF OUT THERE
Prominent American sociologist and sexologist Dr. Pepper Shwartz recommends that before you put yourself out there, make sure you can answer an emphatic YES! to the following statements.
I am over my last relationship.
In order to be really available, you must be absolutely ready to move past your previous love. That doesn’t mean you don’t honour your past relationship, but it does mean that you don’t compare them to your potential new relationship. If you are still grieving, take the time you need before dating.
I am not bitter about the past.
When dating, most people want to avoid a person who comes with too much baggage. If you are still holding on to unpleasant events or feelings from the past, you will send a potential new partner running for the hills.
I don’t want to divulge everything about myself right away.
Oversharing is a real thing. You don’t need to reveal everything about yourself in the first few dates. It can overburden the new relationship with too much information. Keep it light and let your date see your most attractive characteristics first.
I know how to listen.
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.
I’m in good shape and I look my best.
Showing some respect for your appearance will reflect better on you than wrinkled clothes, sloppy grooming or dangerous weight. If you haven’t been in the game for a while, you might want to hit the gym, get a haircut and invest in some new clothes.
I’m ready to have a good time.
Remember, dating is supposed to be fun! If your mood is bringing you down, chances are it will bring others down with it. Make sure you are fairly content with your life before you date.
I don’t expect instant success.
Dating isn’t always easy and it can even be heartbreaking. But if you are resilient and assume it takes a while to find a match, you will find a wonderful person. Try to embrace the ups and downs.
I’m not looking for Mr. or Miss 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. If you have a reasonable list of expectations, you’ll have an easier time.
SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE
If you haven’t been on a date in a while, you might be wondering if the dating world has changed. In lots of ways it has. But good manners and high standards for yourself and others never go out of style.
If your rule was always not to kiss on the first date, stick to that. Create boundaries for yourself and enforce them. If your date doesn’t respect them, they’re likely not the perfect person for you. There’s no need to compromise your values to find a partner. There are plenty of fish in the sea.
CONNECTION IS KEY
Dating will help you build the deeper connection with another human being required to maintain your mental and physical well-being. Retreating into isolation may feel safer in the short-term, but you’ve got a whole lot of life left to live. Finding someone to share it with will make you happier and healthier in the long-term.
You might also enjoy this insightful article on sex as we age.
Author:Julie Lawrence is a communications specialist and journalist from Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is the associate editor for HUM@Nmedia – Canada’s largest health and wellness media company.