Dating Apps for Older Singles: What’s It Like to Date Old Age?
Sometimes, before a date, Christina Thomas flutters like she’s heading to the ball. “You still cry to love songs, just like you do when you’re 16,” she says. “It’s really almost like being 16.”
Yes, like a teenager, she’ll rummage through her closet for the perfect dress and slip on her precious ring, adorned with a pair of calla lilies dazzled with diamonds. She could curl her hair if she went out after work or sprayed Elizabeth Arden’s “Pretty” – her long-time favorite perfume.
Tonight, however, is not such a night.
Tonight is Monday, and she just finished a day’s work as an insurance agent. She leaves, but it doesn’t matter. She doesn’t change from the flats, black slacks and silky royal blue blouse she wore to the office, nor does she worry about the liner around her frosty blue eyes. The 54-year-old puts on lip gloss, runs a brush through her blonde locks and heads to a St. George Cafe Sabor to meet her date for tacos.
She doesn’t think he’s her type, but he earned his chance by doing something as rare among older singles as 20s on Tinder, Bumble and Hinge: rather than texting her with “Are you busy on Friday?” or the infamous “U up?” he called her. “I was wondering if you would like to go to dinner on Saturday night at 6 p.m.?” He asked.
“Dude”, she thought, “this is how you do it!” She barely knew the guy – they’d chatted briefly on Facebook Messenger, and a quick scan of her profile told her they were probably not compatible, but, “Sure,” she told him, for such frankness is rare and appreciated. “Yes?” he said. “No one ever says yes.”
Thomas is a follower of love. She’s been divorced twice, so she’s not ready to rush into anything, not even on Valentine’s Day, which for her is just another day to be “loving and kind.” But this February and every February, she nevertheless refused to stop searching. The “twittering,” as she calls it, of a new romance is still going strong, despite a friend telling her it will never be the same again.
“It’s really sad,” she told me. “I believe I can have a passionate love affair until the day I die. So I haven’t given that up.” That’s why she sits with an open mind next to a man whom she already doubts will go on a second date.
Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and senior research fellow at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute who is also scientific director of Match.com, says such an attitude is completely normal. The appetite for company should not diminish with age. “You can be scared at any age, you can be happy at any age, be scared at any age, be angry at any age,” she says, “and you can be in love at any age.”
Statistically speaking, however, older singles are less likely to date than their younger counterparts. Data released by the Pew Research Center in 2020 revealed that 50% of American singles between the ages of 50 and 64 are not looking for relationships or casual dates, while the same is true for 75% of American singles. over 65 years old.
Yet for those who continue to venture into the romantic wasteland, the ecosystem they find is often similar to that inhabited by young people: a place where online dating dominates, where desires are varied and multifaceted. Sure, some things – like what makes a person attractive – change, but a lot of others stay the same. And older single people are less likely to marry, for a host of reasons – financial, societal, familial. But, observes Fisher, “that doesn’t mean old people don’t want to love and don’t want to be loved.”
A great place to understand this dynamic is St. George, Utah, one of the best places to retire in the United States. That’s where I found Tina Jasper, 58, single for 26 years. She’s caught between swinging mental forces of wanting to meet someone but feeling like she’s not “worthy”. His experience conditioned this last attitude. A guy recently got his number and never called. “Guys just don’t seem to care about me,” she says. “I’m not ugly! I’m five foot three, I’m tiny, I’m super bubbly – guys like that, I thought. But she keeps hope alive thanks to her mother, who herself found a more rejuvenating romance. late in life.” It felt like she was 16 again,” Jasper says, which is why she remains open to the pain and the elation. “The love is still there. The love will always be there.”
Like any large group, Older Singles is not a monolith. James Rowe, an investment banker named Jim, is 62 years old and has never been married. A devout Latter-day Saint, he actively searched for someone until his late thirties. He saw friends rush into ill-advised marriages like they were running from a clock, and he decided never to settle down. “I’m better alone than with someone and miserable,” he says.
But he recently decided to start looking again. The company’s appeal, he admits, is serious. He’s still not going to settle down, recognizing that his life is already wonderful and fulfilling, and that even as he gets older, he’s not afraid to die alone. “You’d be surprised how many people die alone,” he says. “(It’s) most people. I have a good life. And if I found someone who added to that, wonderful! Otherwise I’m fine.
Now consider Brenda. She told me her maiden name, first married name, and second married name and said I could use them. But, “None of those names belong to me. The only name that belongs to me is Brenda. That’s why she goes by Brenda and Brenda alone in her day-to-day life, and why (among other reasons) I choose to call her only Brenda in these pages.
Brenda grew up as the eldest of seven children and was married at 17 to a man who had cared for her from the time she first babysat when she was 10. He was 20 years her senior and she immediately became a teenage mother to five stepchildren. At 19, she had added her two children. “I was exhausted,” she admits.
Her first husband died of blood poisoning when she was 45. Therapy helped her unpack and acknowledge the trauma he had caused, but she still wasn’t looking to date. Until she meets Mike. “He just came into my life and made me fall in love. I had never fallen in love with anyone before,” she says. never knew what it did.
They got married in 2016, which was not an easy decision. The government was sending her her deceased husband’s social security payments — payments that would stop if she remarried. She decided to do it anyway. “I really felt like I was meant to marry him,” she says. “I learned to love it.”
But it turned out that Mike had past demons that Brenda didn’t know about. In 2018, he committed suicide. So now, at 56, Brenda is done looking — first and foremost because of a simple and devastating correlation. “I feel like a black widow,” she says. “Like if I remarry, that person will die too.” She knows, on some level, that such fear is irrational. But even when she uses a more rational approach, she’s still not interested. “I’ve never been in a home without children, even to this day,” she explains.
Indeed, her 23-year-old son and her 20-year-old daughter live with her. Although staying single means doing more chores on her own or paying her bills on her own, she appreciates the inhibition. For the past few years, she’s spent a month in Texas with her sister, just because she could. She traveled to Iowa to visit a friend, just because she wanted to. She’s a musician whose YouTube channel has grown to 450 subscribers, she’s proud to say, and she did it all – for the first time in her life – without needing anyone’s permission. “I’m so grateful,” she says, “for this opportunity to have freedom.”
David Foster Wallace once observed that “there are all kinds of freedoms” and that “the most precious one…involves care, awareness and discipline, and being able to truly care for others and to sacrifice themselves for them for the duration of their lives. and more than a myriad of petty, unsexy ways every day. What is love if not exactly that? Ask Christina Thomas. She wants nothing more than to care about someone. That someone is just hard to find.
His date goes wrong right away. He makes critical remarks about the tattooed youths, then invites them on an “adventure” of getting into his scuffed and dented ’89 Honda Civic, according to Thomas. She refuses but still follows him to a family amusement center for a batting cage night. “If you ever see anyone meeting me and calling me Red,” he told her, “those are people I knew in prison.” And with that, she pretends to head for the bathroom and sneaks to her car. She’s so scared that she doesn’t date her again for several months, though she does eventually try another chance. She always gives him another shot.
Because there’s nothing quite like feeling 16 again, talking about what’s ahead rather than behind. Staying optimistic, she admits, remains a constant struggle. She cries frequently, believing the chances of finding the right person are “pretty slim”. The weight of this knowledge gnaws and pushes.
But whether it’s Rowe refusing to settle or Brenda realizing she’s already settled enough, attitudes about love later in life are about finding the most meaningful path to follow. And for Thomas, and others like her, that means hope. “What’s worth it is making those connections and hopefully the love will come out of it, even if it doesn’t last forever,” she says. “Love is a gift, regardless of its form or duration.”
This story appears in the February issue of Desert Magazine. Learn more about how to subscribe.