Feeling ready to date again
Research has demonstrated that friendship, companionship, and emotional intimacy with others are significant predictors of both physical health and mental health. So, close relationships are very important throughout our lifespan. You don’t have to be in a committed relationship – or even a romantic relationship – in order to be healthy, but you do need others in your life with whom you can spend time, laugh, and share your experiences.
According to the 2019 data from the Pew Research Center, 36% of adults aged 65 and older are unmarried. In other words, about one-third of senior citizens in America are single. About 20% of men aged 65 and older are single, and about 50% of women aged 65 and older are single. If you find yourself in this group, you are most definitely not alone.
If you are one of the 36%, are not in a committed relationship, and would like to begin dating, how do you know when you’re ready? Aging in Place (www.aginginplace.org) and Love Happens Magazine (lovehappensmag.com) recommend that you consider these questions:
Are you still bitter about what happened in your previous relationship, or are you still grieving a partner?
If you have not yet worked through your feelings about a previous spouse or partner, then you might not be ready to seek out a companion just yet. It is important to work through these feelings before you begin dating so that a potential companion or partner is not turned off. It can take months, or even years, to work through previous hurts. Make sure that you’ve given yourself adequate time to move forward. Some signs that you are not yet ready include:
- Frequently checking your ex’s social media accounts
- Seeking updates about them from mutual acquaintances
- Habitually looking through old photos of them
- Silently wishing your ex will return
- Comparing new dates to your ex
Are you interested in listening to and getting to know other people?
Sure, you may be ready to talk about yourself and show off photos of your grandchildren or pets, but are you prepared to truly listen to others and learn about their lives and experiences? If you can be an attentive listener who is genuinely curious about another person, then you might be ready. Also, if you feel a spark of excitement about meeting new people, then you are probably ready to begin dating.
Are you ready to have fun?
If you have been struggling to cope with a divorce or the death of a loved one, it can be difficult to begin enjoying life again. If you have been able to find contentment in your current season of life, then you may be ready to date.
Do you know what you want in your next relationship?
Experience has taught you what traits are desirable (as well as undesirable) in a partner. You also are likely to know yourself better now than you ever have. It can be easier to re-enter the dating world if you know what qualities you are looking for, and what qualities are deal-breakers. This knowledge allows you to focus on people who have greater potential to be ideal companions.
Have you become more independent since your last relationship?
It can be difficult to invest in new relationships if you’re feeling broken, hurt, or incomplete. Make sure that you are not looking for someone to fix you or to make you feel whole. Instead, you’ll know that you’re ready to date again when you feel capable of loving and taking care of yourself, creating your own happiness, and engaging in activities that energize you.
In addition to asking yourself these questions, it can be helpful to discuss dating with people you trust, such as close friends or adult children. You will benefit from the support and encouragement of others as you begin to meet new people. In addition, they can provide an objective, unbiased perspective on potential partners, which can help you be on the lookout for people who might take advantage of you in some way.
When you begin to make yourself available to potential partners, hang on to your values. It can be helpful to set your own standards, which might include things like not kissing on the first date, dating only in groups for a period of time, or having someone over to your home only when you know them well enough. Just because the dating scene has changed significantly over the years, does not mean that your values and standards need to change.
At the same time that you are getting back into the dating scene, having fun, meeting new people, and creating new experiences, you also must remember to make safety a priority. Some strategies for decreasing your risk of harm include:
- Going on group dates rather than one-on-one dates
- Meeting out in public places rather than letting the person pick you up at your home
- Making sure that a friend or relative knows your plans
- Setting up an “escape call”
The escape call occurs when a trusted person agrees in advance to call your cell phone at a certain time during the date. You can use the call as a chance to (a) step out for a minute and let the caller know that you are safe and having fun or (b) pretend that something urgent has come up and tell your date that you need to leave. Alternatively, if you do not have anyone who can call you, you can set an alarm on your cell phone to go off at a certain time; you can then pretend that is a text or call that warrants your immediate attention, thus giving you a reason to politely depart.
If after considering these issues you conclude that you are ready to date, then go for it! Some seniors need to give themselves permission to begin having fun, particularly if they have dealt with grief or heartache, or if they fear that their children will not approve. If this is the case for you, then I suggest that you talk with a trusted friend or relative, or even a pastor or counselor, who can help you work through these issues, feel confident in your choices, and embrace this season of life.
Farrah Hughes, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and serves as the director of Behavioral Health Services at HopeHealth. She is happily married to her best friend of over 22 years and together they have two children. She is a member of the American Psychological Association, the Collaborative Family Healthcare Association, and the Society for Couple and Family Psychology.