Kathryn's Blog

The Boston Globe tunes in on mid-life dating…

I like this article that just came out in the Boston Globe.  It features just the folks I write for and coach, those singles over 35 or 40 who want to find the love of their lives.  Too bad the author didn’t find me, because as you all know, I found my love on Match.com, am a Romance Coach, and am from Maine—so is Stacey Chase!  Oh well, maybe next time.  But anyway, back to the article.  I LOVED how the author treated the gay male couple exactly as she would have a heterosexual couple, right down to the question of getting married.  I do think that the women’s expectations of the guys at the dating event were too high.  Go easy, ladies.  Thye may not see you as that much of a catch, either. 

Older, Wiser, and Available The middle-aged dating scene, filled with singles weighing one another’s emotional baggage, isn’t for the weak of heart.
By Stacey Chase
July 27, 2008

IT’S A MONDAY NIGHT AND Gretchen Grufman, a home remodeler with freckles and strawberry-blond hair, has just met eight men in a series of six-minute “predates” - the romantic round robin better known as speed dating - at a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, sports bar. There was the soft-spoken, baldheaded Briton; the goateed general contractor who loves ballroom dancing; the 48-year-old grandfather of seven in a suit; and the Harley-riding IT manager who divorced a second time three months ago. * Single since 1992, Grufman is herself twice divorced with two grown sons. “I’ve been engaged a few times, but I haven’t worked up the courage to get married again,” says the 55-year-old who recently moved to Amesbury from Wells, Maine. Still, middle-aged dating is not for the faint of heart. Baby boomers like her, born between 1946 and 1964, are more likely than previous generations were to find themselves - graying and with badly bruised egos - on the youth-obsessed dating scene. The high incidence of divorce, declining marriage rates, and longer life spans have contributed to the single-boomer phenomenon. An AARP analysis of 2007 US Census Bureau data found that of the 76.7 million baby boomers, 18.5 percent were divorced or separated, 10.6 percent had never married, and 2.8 percent were widowed, making nearly a third of the generation (24.5 million) single.

“Fifty, 60 years ago, dating among this age group would be unheard of,” says 46-year-old Mary Elizabeth Hughes, a demographer at Johns Hopkins University and coauthor of a 2004 study The Lives and Times of the Baby Boomers. “Most people would already be married, and if they weren’t married they probably weren’t dating.”

For those looking for love with like-minded and like-aged people today, it’s a brave new world often complicated by love-gone-wrong histories with ex-spouses or lovers, and by children and grandchildren, dependent elderly parents, careers, health problems, and emotional baggage that won’t fit into the overhead compartment. Framingham State College sociology professor Virginia Rutter says all that can be good: “The baggage is actually part of what makes the person you’re with a human being, and you have this opportunity to connect with them in the middle of the plot of their story.”

Many older daters, like those at the speed-dating event sponsored by Cupid.com/PreDating, are embracing Cupid and other online dating sites like Match.com and eHarmony.com. Though helped along by modern technology, much of the conversation Monday night was painfully predictable: weather and work. One man mentioned the diarrhea outbreak at his mother’s assisted-living facility. Another told Grufman afterward that he’d frequented a strip club in her old town.

Sally LaRochelle, a 49-year-old two-time divorcee and administrative assistant in Dover, New Hampshire, sporting ultra short white hair and dark-rimmed glasses, was turned off by the potential suitors. “On a scale of one to 10 . . . they’re probably like twos,” she says. “They seemed a little desperate, and some of them just seemed to be too old.”

The newly re-divorced IT manager, Charlie Petrikas, 56, from South Berwick, Maine, confesses: “I still think I do need to heal a bit, but I don’t want to sit around.”

Susan Fox owns Personals Work in the South End, a matchmaking service that provides its largely female boomer clientele with tools such as ghostwriting personal ads and flirting and style tips for finding a mate. Says Fox: “I’ve even told women who’ve come in that they need to color their hair.” She helps singles to first figure out who they are and what they’re seeking - physical characteristics, occupation, religion, interests, smoking habits - and then create a list of “non-negotiables” for Mr. or Ms. Right, often disregarding a client’s “wish list.” (One client rattled off 142 deal breakers and, needless to say, was not a success story.)

Her advice? Forget love at first sight. Take a second look - and a third, and a fourth.

“We’re not all pulled together with the same level of hormonal urgency that we were when we were 27 or 33,” says the 50-something Fox. “People really need to be able to say, `OK. I like this person well enough to see him or her again and see if something develops here.’”

Bostonian Beverly Summer is a slender brunette in her mid-40s, never married, childless, Ivy League-educated, and runs her own financial-services company. “If I were a guy,” she quips, “I would be the most eligible bachelor in Boston.”

Having tried everything from charity events to pub crawls, Summer turned to Personals Work two years ago in her hard-charging hunt for a husband. Since then, she has viewed dozens of profiles and dated two men from Match.com, going out for several months with each of them, but she still hasn’t met The One. “There’s no science to it,” she says. “It’s a just a matter of time, kissing frogs.”

THEY SPARKED THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION, but for many boomers - those in the first wave are turning 62, while late boomers are hitting 44 this year - reentering the dating game, sometimes after decades, or continuing to search despite long odds, is both unnerving and liberating in ways that hooking up in their younger days was not. “The romance of your 20s - whether you actually decide to have children or not - is the script about how, especially in the heterosexual ideal, we get together, and we make a family, and we have our little dream world,” says the 44-year-old Rutter, who became a widow at age 35. “That is no longer on the table when you’re in your 40s, 50s, and 60s.”

By shedding stereotypical gender roles, Rutter says, midlifers have a lot more freedom to be themselves, and romance becomes less of a fantasy than a practicality that involves negotiating complexities such as child-custody arrangements, retirement planning, and medical directives. “That isn’t less romantic,” she says, “but the romance is different.”

Michael Walsh, a 50-year-old landscape designer in Braintree, and his partner, David Richman, 52, of Aventura, Florida, had a whirlwind courtship after viewing each other’s profiles on Match.com on October 2, 2006. That Monday night, they exchanged e-mails. Tuesday morning, they talked by phone. On Friday, Walsh was picking up Richman, a commercial property manager, at Logan Airport. By Sunday, they were in love.

The blissful pair, who currently maintain separate homes in their respective states (and another in Seattle), are together roughly 70 percent of the time. They have yet to decide whether they’ll marry, or to work out the logistics - primarily their careers and assets - in order to live in the same city. “My home is where David is,” Walsh says, “and his home is where I am.”

“It’s such a relief [not to be looking anymore] because that was my life - I was always looking for a partner,” continues Walsh, who eats only organic food and advertised himself on Match as Upbeat Buddhist Jock Seeks Attachment. “Other people stop looking; they give up.”

Boomers still on a quest for a mature, meaningful relationship say they have learned from their mistakes and heartaches and - though the peer dating pool is significantly smaller - seem to even cherish the peculiar bittersweetness of middle-aged love: that the biological urge to reproduce is typically over, that expectations of love are more realistic, that women tend to have a greater level of equality, that partners understand neither person will be molded to fit the other’s desires.

“With the mush comes the gloom,” Richman says. “I want to be able to be naked in front of somebody . . . and be completely comfortable. And naked in even more than the physical sense, emotionally be naked.”

Annie McCormick, a 51-year-old graphic artist in Burlington, Vermont, has had her heart repeatedly ripped out in a series of long-term, monogamous relationships since her 1984 divorce. “I tend to choose men who have addiction problems,” she says. “One cheated. One was violent. One was an alcoholic who drank. And, then, the last one was a pothead.”

McCormick blames herself, not the men. “I’m not honest from the start, as far as: `This is me. These are my needs,’ “ she says, “I’m a people pleaser.” Five years ago, after she and her last, live-in boyfriend split, McCormick says she “kind of went into hiding” but is timorously ready to seek love again. “I do get lonely lately, a little bit.”

Boomers, who took the first birth-control pills and campaigned for women’s rights, are leading active sex lives, surveys show, but those out of practice and on the prowl can be as nervous as fumbling teenagers when it comes to physical intimacy. “Generally, for people who are widowed or gone through a really painful divorce, there’s a fear,” says Fox, the matchmaker and a trained psychologist. Others are free-lovebirds who want “to get back out there and have sex to kind of get them in the swing of things again.”

“I’ve worked with women clients who regularly have sex on the first date!” she adds. “And older boomers!”

In 2004, a sexuality study by AARP revealed that slightly more than a third of the midlife and older respondents - and half of those with regular sexual partners - reported having sexual intercourse once a week or more. In addition, 53 percent said they engage in sexual touching or caressing, while 69 percent reported they kiss or hug their partner on a regular basis.

Leonard Steinhorn, a communications professor at American University and author of The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy, predicts boomers will continue to transform American society even as they age. “Boomers are going to also reinvent the idea of what it means to be elderly,” says the 52-year-old former political speechwriter. “They’re going to look at being elderly as being vital, as vigorous, as still irreverent. Boomers are going to grow old but stay young.”

They may, or may not, decide one is the loneliest number. Cathy Chamberlain, a 59-year-old human resources manager in South Burlington, Vermont, has had boyfriends but never gotten married or had children and says she’s committed to her singlehood. “The loss I feel is more the sense of family,” she says. “I have it with a variety of girlfriends - you create your own family - and I just don’t know what that’s going to look like 10, 15 years from now.”

Meanwhile, Grufman, the speed dater from Amesbury, continues her pursuit of a mate. On her Cupid.com score card, she selected the option “Let’s Talk!” over “No Thanks” for five of the eight men she’d recently met; three men indicated they would like to hear from her again. (She believes some of them didn’t pick her because they thought she was an actress or model hired as a ringer.)

“My uncles, and my dad, and my grandfathers all treated their wives like they were on pedestals,” Grufman says. “I don’t really expect to be on a pedestal, but I sure expect to be treated pretty good.”

Looking wistful in a dark corner of the bar, she adds: “I’m not an unhappy person, but I definitely don’t want to grow old alone.”



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