Reality-Check Your Love Life

Boomers, are you being practical about dating? Find out—and heed this wise expert advice.

By Jane Ganahl

ecently, my 30-something friend Karen asked how a particular date had gone. “It was fine!” I told her. “We got along well, no food was thrown during dinner, we didn’t have sex but we did kiss…”

“AND…?” she eagerly asked.

“And… we realized there were too many obstacles:
Shed a few old patterns and swallow a dose of reality.
kids still at home, he’s still kind of a mess from his divorce… I liked him, but I value my singlehood too much to sacrifice it when I can tell there’s no future with someone. So we decided to be friends!”

“But without spending more time with him, how can you tell if he’s your soul mate?” Karen asked.

I laughed. “Honey, I think I outgrew that romantic notion when I hit 40! And when you hit 50, it’s all about practicality.”

Why being practical pays off

Granted, the wise middle-aged single person still leaves room to be surprised—in case Cupid’s arrow pierces you at the supermarket when you’re choosing an eggplant and clap eyes on an attractive stranger. But let’s face it, dating after 50 is less about wild-eyed romance and more about clear-eyed reality: kids, money, career, family, parents—all play a role in shaping the success of a union.

To Michelle Gannon, a San Francisco psychologist and co-founder of Marriage Prep 101 (, this is not a bad thing at all. “We often have couples in their 50s meet online and then take Marriage Prep 101—even if they don't want to get married!” she laughs. “They’ve finally realized the importance of meeting someone who is kind, loving and independent. Rather than asking themselves, ‘Is this person hot?’ they ask, ‘Is this someone I can trust, who will be there for me? Do we communicate well? Resolve conflicts? Share compatible life view and values?’ Attraction and passion are great fun, but friendship and partnership is a much better guarantee!”

Indeed, our middle-age could be the most enjoyable dating years of our lives. But first, you have to shed a few old patterns and swallow a dose of reality. Herewith, some tips:

1. Get real about your priorities
The notion of a soul mate is charming, but possibly not as productive as it could be. According to a poll by the AARP, boomers are the least likely to believe they have only one soul mate. That’s not at all surprising, considering most boomers have already been married and divorced by this age, and the “white knight” and “fair princess” myths have proven to be a load of hoo-hah.

Indeed, our priorities are in flux, and they are gender-specific, observes Rich Gosse, chairman of the Society of Single Professionals: “Male-female roles are totally reversed as we age,” he says. “Middle-aged men are less interested in sex — due to lower hormone levels and performance problems — and more interested in companionship. Women’s interests also change as they age. “Boomer women usually don’t want to raise a family and often do not need a man’s help financially. They are just looking to have some fun, both socially and sexually. In other words, the older guys are less interested in getting into bed and the older women are less interested in getting wed.” And is this such a bad thing, really?

2. Be ready to take a backseat to a complicated life in progress
Aging plays havoc with one’s love life. Not only does the bod not look nor perform the way it used to, by age 50 the average adult has big responsibilities: kids, mortgages, aging parents, often demanding careers. In one’s 20s, romance is all-important and all-consuming; in one’s 50s, it has to take a backseat to reality. So
You can live with bitterness… or you can live it up!
you have a date Friday night but then his kid gets sick. You can either get bent out of shape, or be patient and acknowledge that midlife people can’t just shirk their duties.

On the other hand, where a lack of income in one’s twenties dictate that dates consist of beer-drinking and video-watching, in one’s fifties, where the dates might be fewer, they tend to be much grander. I don’t recall ever going to romantic weekends on the coast until I started going gray!

3. Know yourself… but be flexible.
People over 50 can be (ahem) fairly set in their ways. If you’ve been single for a while at this age, you know how you like your life. You know what you like to do and what you won’t tolerate. I have my routines: morning walks, the flower market on Saturdays, foreign films, dinners with friends, family dinners. If someone I really liked suggested I take up skydiving with him, my guess is that I would say an unequivocal NO.

I’m not proud of that, but there it is. At this age, we can acquire a certain inflexibility—and that is NOT attractive in a dating situation. It’s something I continually have to work on.

Dr. Gannon reminds us that accepting differences between you and your mate is critical. “Smart middle-aged single people seem to know better than the young that love and attraction is not enough for a successful marriage,” says Dr. Gannon, “and they are more willing to accept and even celebrate differences.”

4. Try a new age group: Men should date older, and women younger
OK, I might be trying to stack the deck a little here, since I am an older woman frustrated with how many men my age date only infants. But it’s a no-brainer! If boomer women are frustrated with the lack of available dudes our age, try someone 10, 15, or even 20 years younger! It certainly ups the gene pool you have to select from, and I swear nothing makes you feel younger than being on the arm of someone half your age. Ask any man—they’ve been doing it since the wheel was invented.

And men—if you get bored with having to brief your dates on popular culture (“Yes, there used to be a ‘Bionic Woman’ show years ago as well!”), consider dating an older woman. It could change your life—and it wouldn’t hurt ours either.

5. Date—just because!
Let’s face it: At this age, there is less incentive to date. I mean, for all the standard reasons. The biological clock has stopped ticking, marrying for the financial support is not an issue, we are no longer looking for an escape—as some of us did as teenagers living at home with parents who drove us crazy. Most of us have been married at least once, and have learned that marriage does NOT “fix” your life.

You can use these facts to justify living your life in bitterness—or you can live it up! “It wasn't until I realized that my life was great with or without a man that I began to have fun dating,” says Renee Fisher, co-author of Invisible No More: The Secret Lives of Women Over 50. “It wasn't until then that there could have been even the slightest possibility of creating a healthy relationship with a man. Eventually, I remarried in 2006 at the age of 59. Now I say that I love my husband but I don't need him. I simply choose to be with him.”

So let’s just put a permanent moratorium on the notion that dating must lead to forever. Dating can also lead to great sex, fun travel, new adventures—and even love.

Jane Ganahl is a non-fiction author and journalist who wrote for San Francisco newspapers for 24 years. Her novelized memoir, Naked on the Page: The Misadventures of My Unmarried Midlife, was recently published by Viking.
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