How older men can approach the dating life again — and why they should.
One downside to aging is the higher likelihood that at some point you will not have a partner. No matter what the reason for your singlehood, a healthy remedy is to begin dating again.
"Pursuing a more robust social and romantic life is good medicine for your mental and physical health," says Dr. Sharon Bober, founding director of the Sexual Health Program at Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
For instance, social isolation and loneliness have become an epidemic among older adults, and dating can help. A 2018 report from the AARP Foundation found that 35% of adults over 45 are lonely. The report also showed that people who have large and diverse social groups, frequent contact with friends, and regular sexual activity were less likely to struggle with loneliness.
Men in relationships also tend to stay active and have better heart health. "Having a partner can mean you have someone to exercise with or go walking or dancing with," says Dr. Bober.
What are you looking for?
Your first step to dating is to determine what you want out of the experience. Are you looking for someone to have fun with or a potential life partner? Do you want a social companion, or are you hoping for a romantic connection? Would you like to meet lots of people, or do you want to take it slowly with one person at a time?
"Clarifying your values can help you interact with someone with shared interests and goals," says Dr. Bober.
Older adults often get trapped into a preconceived notion about what dating entails and where it is supposed to lead. "Dating does not always mean you are looking for a potential long-term partner," says Dr. Bober. "It could be a means to widen your social circle, develop a new friendship, or do something fun with someone whose company you enjoy."
Where to find dates
Nowadays, it can be much easier to meet people than it was even 10 years ago. One avenue for older adults is online dating. A 2020 survey from the Pew Research Center found that 19% of adults ages 50 to 64 have used an online dating website, as have 13% of those ages 65 and older.
"Online dating has the advantage of connecting people who share the same goals and interests, but simply might not have had the chance to meet otherwise," says Dr. Bober.
There are many dating sites available that cater specifically to seniors. Some are designed to help match people with specific interests or common factors like religion, race, and professional experiences. Popular sites for older adults include SilverSingles (www.silversingles.com), OurTime (www.ourtime.com), SeniorMatch (www.seniormatch.com), and SeniorFriendsDate.com (www.seniorfriendsdate.com).
Another means to expand one's dating network is to volunteer for a cause or attend a community event or faith-based gathering. "These can remove the pressure of an actual date, and place the focus on simply interacting with others and sharing an experience," says Dr. Bober. "Participating in a social or service opportunity also means you may find yourself among people with similar interests."
Other options are to take a class in an activity that interests you, like cooking, wine tasting, or painting. "These settings are good for anyone who wants practice interacting with others and striking up conversations," says Bober.
Stay safe from STDs
About 40% of older adults are sexually active, according to a 2018 poll of 1,000 people ages 65 to 80. However, age does not protect you from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Older adults are just as susceptible as young people to infections, such as syphilis, gonorrhea, genital herpes, and HIV. While it can be a tricky subject to bring up with a new partner, STD testing is something that benefits both of you. "A conversation about addressing sexual health shows that you are concerned about their health and yours," says Dr. Sharon Bober, founding director of the Sexual Health Program at Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. "It can help couples feel closer."
One barrier many older men face when dating is the notion that their aging body will turn off a potential partner. "Keep in mind that everyone brings something to the table in terms of physical issues and emotional challenges," says Dr. Bober. "Never assume you are the only one with concerns, since everyone has certain things they feel vulnerable about."
Understanding this can help relieve the pressure and expectations from a new relationship. "One advantage to dating later in life is that you both have some perspective on life and aging," says Dr. Bober. "You can enjoy the energy and excitement of a new relationship and realize that you both have the wisdom and confidence to talk about and address issues together."
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