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Everything You Need to Know About Gray Dating

Pursuing romance over 60 is not for the faint of heart.

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Hannah Whitaker
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A little over a year after my husband of 36 years died of pancreatic cancer, I ventured into online dating. I was approaching 76. Like many seniors, I knew little about modern dating practices. However, senior singles in America make up one of the fastest growing demographics in online dating. So, I figured I would try.

I became quickly discouraged when the first person I was interested in ghosted me after two meetings (at that point I did not know the term). And, I became even more discouraged by the kind of men I was encountering, but I persisted. While I navigated the online marketplace, I was anxious to hear from other older people about their dating adventures. Thus, my book Gray Love: Stories About Dating and New Relationships After 60 was born.

My co-editor Daniel E. Hood was the ninth man I dated using Match.com. After our third date, I asked him to help me with a book on widowhood that I was working on. I don’t think we were an “Item”  yet, but I sensed he would make a good editor. And that has proven to be the case. One of the things I liked about him was that we had much in common: we both lost our partners after a long-term marriage and we both have adult children.

Before I dated him, I tried to be open to men whose profiles were significantly different than mine. But dating someone too dissimilar didn’t work. That is not to say that Dan and I are carbon copies, but I think I am better able to ignore differences that irk me than I was as a young married person.

In our research process, we read and edited 42 stories written by men and women ages 60-94. They told tales of dating failures and dating successes. There is a lot of frustration for those who use online dating apps in their search for human connection. A survey by Singles Reports of 18- to 54-year-olds found that nearly 80 percent experienced emotional burnout or fatigue with online dating. 

Dating after 60 is more difficult for women in part because there are far fewer available older men than women. This alone may well explain why roughly half of women over 65 are without partners, while only 21 percent of men in that category live alone. A 2023 Pew Research Center study reports that lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults are having more success in becoming partnered using online dating sites than heterosexual adults. Also, as women are increasingly dating younger men, that might eventually change the percentage of women without partners.

When I started looking for a partner, I  was concerned that I might meet a man who had some chronic ailment or life-threatening illness. I did not want to become a caretaker; many of us have already done that at least once. Many older people will tell you that is one of their biggest fears about entering into an elder relationship.

And even if it’s not serious illness, we are all dealing with the realities that time and age have wrought on our bodies, from revealing disfiguring scars to concerns about a decrease in libido. Some of my friends even encouraged me to color my gray hair — which I did not do.

In addition to physical changes, older daters have had more time to develop complicated histories that include previous long-term partners and breakups. They must navigate reactions from family and friends and consider alternative models of commitment, deciding whether to share space or live apart.

I see Dan twice a week, occasionally more. Neither of us wants to live together; our habits and lifestyle differ in important ways. We both have children but have no desire to connect the families. We work together, enjoy each other and support each other emotionally. For 81 year olds we are mostly healthy, though, of course, have increasing aches and pains. We are comfortable with our aging bodies, and our aging selves.

Here are some of the lessons I have learned about finding and sustaining love at this stage of life:

(Lesson 1) You need a kind of relaxed acceptance and flexibility. That means abandoning a long list of what a partner is required to have in looks, personality, financial situation and interests.

(Lesson 2) You need to be open to alternative models of connection. Understand that there is a continuum of relationship types rather than a binary single or married state.

(Lesson 3) You must accept that you are not likely to change anyone. That means letting go of what you believed in your youth — “Oh, their annoying habits will change once we are a couple.”

(Lesson 4) By this late age you should understand that one person cannot give you everything you want. That means sustaining your friendship network and not focusing on one romantic relationship for all your emotional needs.

(Lesson 5) Finally, if you are over 60 and you do discover romance again, do not hesitate to pursue the relationship.  Work together to fulfill each other’s needs and desires as much as possible. This requires open, honest communication. You must talk to each other — a lot.

The ultimate lesson I have learned from our book and being in an elder relationship is the value and scarcity of time. At a 40th school reunion, Dustin Beall Smith, 74, connected with a classmate; they joined households even though one of them had a terminal diagnosis. Smith advises us not to hesitate, but to jump right in.

As he wrote for our book: “We did not shrink in the face of all the obvious and often comic absurdities of late love: the ghosts of former loves, the incremental loss of hearing and even memory; the incessant entropy of human flesh and bone — any one of the realities that might have served as a persuasive excuse not to act …”

The rewards of gray dating with caring companions are well worth the risk. I often sit back and feel amazed that at my age I have found someone who can be there for me — and vice versa — in these last years.

Have any of you found love later in life? Let us know in the comments below.

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