Dating and Mate Selection — 21 March 2004
Dating later in life is tough but rewarding

The experience of dating is challenging at any age, but may be even more so for older people who are dating again.

One may think that age, life experience, perspective and wisdom gained throughout the years may facilitate the process of dating the second time around. Actually, in some ways all of the above may complicate the psychological issues of dating.

There are many concerns, fears and worries that plague those who embark on dating after a long hiatus. Some of these anxieties are about the process of dating, one’s desirability as a partner, and the relationship with the children.

The initial anxiety for people resuming dating after many relates to the process. Older mate-seekers talk about the awkwardness they feel about being in a situation for which they are ill practiced. The behaviors needed for dating are seen as reserved for younger people and appear to some older individuals to be almost embarrassing.

“How do I go about meeting single people?” “What are the current practices of dating?” Though there are newer ways to find dates, such as computer dating and dinner clubs, etc., the preferred avenue is through friends. Second-timers find greater solace in the screening that occurs with personal introduction. They also feel helped by knowing some history, character traits, and preferences of the date prior to meeting him or her. They also say that the feedback and advice they may get from those who introduced them allays additional anxieties.
Those who resort to technology for date selection may view the search, selection and being chosen prior to meeting in person exciting ways to start a new relationship. Those who are less comfortable with using the computer as a dating tool may find this way somewhat intimidating.

Regardless of the method of meeting new potential partners, it is wise for people to be honest and talk to their dates about their awkward feelings. Most commonly they will find that their dates feel similarly, which is an early experience of a bonding intimacy.

Concerns about one’s desirability as a mate also impact people’s ease in dating again. Those who have had unsuccessful relationship in the past may have some doubts about their abilities as partners. They ask, “I thought I chose well the first time, how can I trust myself to select the right partner this time?” “If what my former partner said about me is correct, am I equipped to couple again?” “I thought marriage was for forever, once this belief was shuttered, what can I expect from a new relationship?”

Those who have been widowed while having a good relationship with their deceased partners, express concerns about the likelihood of another wonderful experience. Though they may not doubt their capacity for intimacy, their grief and caution may impact their ability to be present for love.

People are wise to realize that their worries are also a manifestation of their excitement about this new adventure. Regardless of their past experiences, those who bring their mature, hopeful and positive personalities to their dates, are likely to have a wonderful time. It is important to dispense with all preconceived notions about themselves or their dates and just experience the moment. Viewing every date as a great experience to connect with someone new and intriguing, is helpful.

Other common worries for the “later-daters” have to do with their children. Some anxiety evoking questions are:
“When do I let my children know I am dating?” “When would I know this is not just a new friend but a potential partner worthy of introducing to the children?” “What do I do when my children dislike or are rude to my dates?” “Do I need to seek a good parent for the children or a best partner for me?” Decision making competency in other areas may not be easily transferable to dating.

Your children love you and are concerned about your well being and happiness. Even if they are still troubled by the breakup of the family, seeing you happy will help ease their discomfort. Be cautiously honest with the children and reassure them that they will always be loved and cared for by you.

Finding oneself single at fifty is a very destabilizing state requiring a reconstruction of one’s self-perception. A tenuous self-image may negatively impact one’s presentation to potential future partners. A few unsuccessful dating experiences may shake one’s confidence and even lead to a sense of hopelessness.

Yet, many people date again, experience excitement, joy and love again. They amaze even themselves that despite all their doubts about the process, their desirability, the complexity with the kids, vanish once they are coupled well again.

Dating at any age is nerve wracking. It is an experience of self- marketing for people who are commonly not trained to promote themselves. It may involve rejection, hurt, insecurity, fears and concerns about oneself and how to please others. Yet, most people who undertake dating again overcome these concerns and achieve a new happy relationship.

If you are dating again consider the following:

  • All the feelings you are experiencing about dating are normal, healthy, and your date probably shares them with equal intensity.
  • You can prepare for dating by empowering yourself with positive thoughts about your good qualities and your desirability as a friend.
  • During the date concentrate on listening and assessing (not judging) your date as to his or her suitability to you.
  • Being concerned about what impression you make will only sabotage your ease at being your wonderful self.
  • Your children will thrive on seeing you happy again.
  • Dating can be a fun experience if you limit it to the present and abstain from the concerns and worries about the future nature of the relationship.
  • Make the dating goal be the joy of meeting someone new and exciting. The rest will follow naturally.

March 25, 2004

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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