7/28/14: I wrote this in 2010. I’m updating it now, with a few more years of experience with dating as a senior. Here’s what I said in 2010, with updates italicized in blue.
Yes, I’ve started online dating, and I’m actually enjoying it.
I realize that my enjoyment goes hand in hand with not having anything at stake, no big expectations. I’m not looking to replace Robert (couldn’t be done even if I wanted to, which I don’t) or find someone to give my life meaning and joy (my life already has meaning and joy). I want to bring more male energy into my life, meet new people, get out, have new experiences. If that results in connecting with someone wonderful, that’s a big bonus.
I wrote this on a message board for women over 50 in response to one person who was scared to date:
If you think of dating as your way to learn about another person and about yourself without risking anything, it can be fun — go for coffee or a walk or dinner with someone new, talk, see what you both enjoy discussing and doing. It’s when you think of dating as auditioning a potential soul mate that it becomes fraught with anxiety, unpleasantness, and emotional danger.
First dates aren’t scary to me in the least. I’m interested in learning what we do and don’t have in common, and which of the divergences matter a lot. Plus, the writer in me loves hearing people’s stories, and first dates are a great way to learn a huge amount in an hour, because it’s expected that we share our stories.
Although I’m newly dating after almost ten years, I already have some strong opinions about online dating do’s and don’t’s. (When did you ever know me to not have strong opinions?) Here are a few, aimed at men because that’s my experience. I’m sure I’ll add more as I proceed, and I encourage you to add your own. (Be constructive, not nasty, please.)
1. Please use a current image as your default photo. It’s fine to include older photos also — I love to see the long, bushy hair you wore in 1969!–but label them with the year, and make those secondary photos, not your main one.
2. Include at least one recently taken close-up of your face. Do. Not. Wear. Sunglasses. I can’t tell you how many profiles I skip over because the man is wearing sunglasses. I need to see your eyes. (I can’t believe how many men wear sunglasses in their profile photos. Please, guys!)
3. Have a photo taken if you don’t have one already. You don’t need to go to a photography studio — all your friends have digital cameras. Make your default photo just you — no buddies on a fishing trip, no arms around a woman who might be your daughter or maybe your ex-wife, and absolutely no edited photo with the woman at your side cropped out (we can tell)!
4. Smile! Most of the profiles that men post show them either scowling or looking intently serious. I know that’s because you’re taking selfies and you don’t want to put on your reading glasses to see the tiny screen. Ask someone else to take your photo, and smile as if you’re glad to meet us.
3. Describe what makes you interesting and unique. Skip the usual “I like moonlight walks on the beach,” etc. — if everyone who said this actually did it, the beaches would be crowded at nighttime, and they’re not. Instead, think about the qualities and interests that will attract us and make you stand out from all the other profiles we’re reading.
Please, good men, I know you’re out there. How do we find you?
Since I’m a straight woman reading men’s profiles, this post is slanted to my experience. Help me expand it. I’d love to hear from you about your experiences, likes and dislikes, and pet peeves about the people of any gender whom you meet (or choose not to meet) through online dating. I hope you’ll comment!
A reader wrote:
I am 62, single, and once was a very sexually active woman. I’ve undergone treatment for breast cancer twice. My recovery required my full attention for years, but now I feel ready for new adventures — hopefully including sex. After rounds of chemotherapy, surgeries, radiation, and continued estrogen blocking medications, sex with another became a thing of the past.
Currently, sexual intercourse may no longer be possible for me — but I still enjoy having orgasms and I desire the wonder of touch.
However, I am so concerned about my limitations as a sexual partner that I am afraid to attempt to date again.
I have no idea what men in my age group expect or desire in terms of performance from their partners. What are woman experiencing in the 60-year-old dating world in terms of performance expectations? Would my current physical circumstance deter most men from being interested in exploring an intimate relationship with me?
I am grateful for this message and all it conveys about hope and healing and moving forward. I understand why you’re apprehensive. I would encourage you to get out there and go after what you want.
I know that many single men in our age group also fear “performance expectations” when erections are no longer possible or predictable. There are many who would welcome a sexual partner who did not expect intercourse, who would be happy exchanging touch, oral and manual stimulation, and fabulous orgasms — without intercourse.
These men may be cancer survivors themselves, wanting to return fully to life, including sex and intimacy, but they don’t know how to navigate the dating world either — when to divulge the cancer, when to divulge the sexual issues.
You might find out if there’s a local cancer survivors’ singles group. Or try online dating: I did a search on “cancer survivors singles” and came up with several sites that promote themselves as dating sites for cancer survivors.
There’s even one — “2date4love” — that “enables people who cannot engage in sexual intercourse to meet and experience love, companionship and intimacy.” I haven’t vetted any of these sites — if any of you have tried them, I hope you’ll share your experiences.
You don’t need to limit yourself to dating companions who share a similar medical history, though. Just be up front about your cancer on a first date if it looks like there’s potential for a second date. (If not, you don’t need to mention it.)
Then if you progress to a few dates and there’s chemistry, it’s important to explain that yes, you are interested in sex, but no, this might not include intercourse. Be prepared: Men who desire intercourse may want to discontinue getting to know you, and that’s okay.
When all the cards are on the table, if the relationship progresses, you have the delightful journey of exploring all the ways you can be sexual without intercourse!
Even when a date doesn’t progress to more, it’s still worth getting to know new people, “practicing” dating, trying out how to tell a potential partner about your needs, desires, and challenges.
If you take it all as part of the brave new world of dating experience, you don’t need to feel regretful or shamed when a new relationship (or potential relationship) doesn’t work out. Most of them will not work out — that’s the nature of the game.
Everything I’ve said so far presumed that you’re right that intercourse will not be possible for you. But please explore whether there are ways that you can heal yourself vaginally, if this is something you want to pursue. An excellent resource is “Vaginal Recuperation after Cancer or Surgery” from A Woman’s Touch, one of my favorite sexuality resource centers.
I hope you’ll check in again and share what you tried, how it worked for you, what you learned and gained.
I hope that you’ll share your thoughts, too, readers.
“I think I could only date a widower — only someone who has gone through this could understand,” I told a buddy when I thought I might be ready to start dating after losing my beloved Robert.
I put my preference for widowers prominently in my online dating profile. I later changed that, or at least softened it to “bonus points,” just because it narrowed the possibilities too much. But it remains my preference. Here’s why:
- When they are talking with animation and suddenly sink into silence and sadness, I understand.
- When they bring up anecdotes about their wives, I get it.
- When they slip into present tense talking about their spouse, then correct themselves, I remember how often I’ve done that.
- When they talk vulnerably about their grief, I know I can do that, too.
- When they laugh and talk about their future changes they want to make in their lives, I know what it took to get to that point.
How long does it take to be ready to date? I don’t know. We’re all different. Don’t judge us if we think we’re ready, then realize we’re not. We’re not grieving for a time, then suddenly done with grief — it’s a spiral: we cycle in and out of grief. We can feel that we’re truly ready to date, and then we’re struck down by missing our beloved powerfully.
And if you date a widow or widower, please don’t worry that you’re in competition with his or her perfect spouse. You’re not in competition with our memories. Understand that there will always be that layer of memories and love, and accept that part of us. It shows that we know how to love.
Recently, I’ve had a couple of dates with two different widowers. I love the conversation, how easily we slip in and out of past and present, how we acknowledge the fear and the reluctance to date again — and how we realize that our growth depends on learning how to do that. Maybe we should just date each other.
What do you think? Your comments are welcome, especially if you are widowed or are dating a widow or widower.
|Photo by Ruth Lefkowitz|
I discover it’s not just single women: I had a conversation with a man about my age who is no longer having sex with his wife because she’s too embarrassed about her weight gain to be naked with him.
Other men tell me similar stories — that their wives hide their bodies, and the men miss the sex and the intimacy, but don’t know how to ease their wives past their distaste for their bodies.
I’d like to talk to both genders here:
Finally, after meeting so many frogs (and not even tempted to kiss any of them), you’ve met a man who makes your heart flutter big time. You’ve flirted, you’ve gone on a few dates, you’ve talked half the night, you’ve laughed at his jokes and he at yours. On your last date, you kissed… and kissed. His hands went exploring, so did yours, and you know that on the next date, more than your lipstick will come off. You’ve even had the Condom Conversation.
But, your inner worrier keeps asking you, what if he sees your body and heads for the hills?
You’ve got to trust me on this, he’s not going to say or even think any of the following:
- “Oh, gee, you have so many wrinkles!”
- “You’d be so pretty if you lost weight.”
- “Huh—I thought you looked younger with clothes on.”
- “I like firmer butts and perkier breasts.”
- “Uh, I gotta go now.”
No, whether or not he voices it out loud or conveys it with a smile or melting eyes, here’s what he’s thinking:
Partnered women: Does your husband have the same body as when you first dated? I doubt it. Realize that your man wants you, wants the bonding with you, wants the sexual pleasure with you. Instead of asking him, “Do I look fat?” try asking, “What do you find the sexiest part of my body?” His answer might surprise you, and I’ll bet he’ll be delighted that you asked.
Men: You may not realize how insecure we women are about our bodies. We need to hear from you that you find us sexy, alluring, beautiful. If you think our breasts are gorgeous, or our rear view turns you on, please tell us. Even an “I could gaze into your eyes forever” will make our hearts flutter. We need you to help us affirm our bodies. A hefty dose of romance does wonders for us, too!
We women are our own worst critics, always have been. Remember those teenage pimples? Those worries about our shape and smell? Let’s decide, once and for all, that our bodies are just right, capably of visually delighting a partner and of bringing us both great pleasure.
If we can’t do that at this time of life, when can we? Even if we don’t fully believe it, acting “as if” we’re proud of our bodies will help make it so.
So when it’s time for that get-naked date, prepare with some gorgeous lingerie, dim the lights if you feel the need, but don’t black out the view (candles are sexy and flattering), have lubricant handy, and enjoy.
I’d love to hear from both women and men about this topic! Please comment.
This post was originally published in a slightly different form 11/8/11. I expanded and updated it 11/20/2012.