Sociology Professor Emily Frydrych is a consultant for the University of California at Davis and Los Angeles Pierce College as well as an instructor for Missouri College, Westwood College, University of Phoenix and Ashford University. Before recent cutbacks, Professor Frydrych was adjunct faculty for four years at the California State University - Los Angeles and Northridge campuses. Among her other sociological specialties which include domestic violence and gender, Professor Frydrych specializes in the sociology of aging.
What are the benefits to dating for seniors?
Among other indicators, successful aging can be achieved by participating in meaningful activities. Dating can be a very enjoyable, meaningful and enriching experience in older age. While we often look at functional age – how people look and what they can do – subjective age identity is instead based on how old someone feels, which includes their activity level, and their health. When seniors date and when sparks fly, they tend to feel more alive, excited and vigorous. Dating can provide someone at any age companionship, travel partnership, passion, and love.
What are the biggest challenges seniors face in dating?
This all depends on what kinds of “seniors” we are discussing: the old, or the old-old.
For the “old-old”, agesim is a big factor. Stereotypes attributed to the elderly assume that they have lost romantic desire, and certainly their sex drive. This in turn sometimes contributes to an absence of programs to facilitate senior dating in the community, and in planned communities such as retirement homes and assisted livings.
Things have changed in the last few years though!
We are seeing many established programs for seniors, and certainly a great many online dating services specifically geared toward the senior demographic. But the stereotypes as asexual beings are still pretty strong, especially for the old-old.
This also poses a real threat to the community. Americans are living longer than ever, and having many sexual partners in later years of life following divorce or death of a spouse.
Today’s seniors don’t concern themselves with the risks of HIV and STDs like today’s youth. It’s extremely difficult for them now, after all these years to have to think about safe sex in their dating life. Practitioners in the community have to figure out ways to communicate the importance to people who weren’t raised thinking about safe sex. Seniors also have to break through the traditional privacy boundaries and taboos about sex, and know that it’s okay to ask questions.
Some challenges are being overcome. Twenty-five percent of all men are impotent by the time they reach age 65. However, with the advent and accessibility of pills like Viagra, erectile dysfunction is no longer a real impediment to a fulfilling sex life that they enjoyed in younger years.
If someone is older and lives alone, how should they approach getting into dating?
There are so many options out there today!
There are the “old school” ways like being set up through a mutual friend, or meeting through clubs and organizations. But in recent years, online dating has opened up a world of opportunity for seniors looking to re-enter the dating market.
There are hundreds of online dating services for seniors, where from the comfort of their own home they can search profiles and look for their ideal match. Some sites are geared for only those over a certain age-bracket looking for romance, travel companions or long-term relationships, while others market to seniors of any age as being a tool for finding a new marriage. Sites range in age brackets, and from causal daters to serious singles. While many sites require a monthly membership fee in order to create and search profiles, others are free of charge and provide access to thousands of users across the country.
An advantage to dating online is that it’s so easy to do from the comfort of one’s home, in a stress-free environment, particularly if it’s been many years since one has dated. If someone has been married for 40+ years, it can be extremely intimidating to jump into dating. Being able to sit at a computer and search profiles at one’s own speed, specify certain criteria, and send instant messages and emails to those that spark interest is both comfortable and empowering.
Many online dating sites for seniors also feature “advice columns” that may help put people at ease. Topics include issues like how to get back into the game, saying farewell to the past, the importance of exercising while dating, safety tips while dating, date ideas, romance and sex. These resources can make a real difference to out-of-practice daters reentering the dating scene. Users can also blog on these topics and leave comments – interacting with sites creates a nice sense of community they might need for support.
What’s a reasonable amount of time for a senior to wait after losing a spouse?
There’s no magical answer here…it depends of course on so many factors!
Depression is very common following the loss of a spouse. Depression is highest among those in their 80’s, followed by those in their 70’s. Their depression can be due to changes in cognitive ability and social status, such as employment and income.
Of course it can also be a consequence of serious and painful loss of a loved one. Data shows that women tend to exhibit more depression than men, and that the gender gap increases with age. All of this can conspire to work against someone getting out and dating again.
Widows and widowers tend to find particular comfort in dating people in their same situation. Following divorce or widowhood, most used to meet through clubs or organizations, but now with online dating specifically geared to the senior demographic, they have new, effective options – which help draw them into dating.
Women have a much higher chance of becoming a widow than do men. Men are far more likely to be married in later life than women because women outlive their spouses. In addition, widowed men are seven times more likely to remarry than widowed women. This of course, creates a huge imbalance in the heterosexual marriage market in later life.
When people don’t have families and career ahead of them, what becomes the focus of relationships?
Companionship, travel, and enjoying the community in which they live.
What should seniors consider when deciding whether or not to start dating?
Activity Theorists in the field of Social Gerontology posit that a person who ages “successfully” resists the shrinkage of her/his social world, and manages to stay active. Normal aging, they argue, doesn’t have to mean, and shouldn’t mean, mutual withdrawal and disengagement that results in decreasing social interaction between the aging person and society. So get out there!
Photo via Peter Kaminski