Gray Date: Rules of the Game for Older Daters

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) – If you’re 50 and over, the chances that you will find yourself back on the dating scene are real. Relationships end for all sorts of reasons, but they are no reason to swear off finding another partner forever. And that means one thing: dating.

“Everything has changed in the dating world since most of us were last in it,” says Joan Price, author of Naked at our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex. “How we meet people, who approaches whom. Most people our age are going by the old rules and we don’t really know what those rules are.”

Sometimes those rules can mean the difference between a safe and an unsafe experience. Many people over 40 who suddenly find themselves back on the dating scene are lonely and not used to being alone, which may make them more vulnerable, says Anne Beckley Coleman, author of Matchless: Searching for Love Online. She says you need to be mentally prepared to make a lot of friends, but be cautious as well.

She tells the story of a friend who was swindled out of an expensive dinner. “She met a guy online and when she met him in person for dinner, he ordered expensive wine and a lobster dinner,” says Coleman. “He got up to make a phone call and never came back, leaving her with the bill.”

It’s a new dating world out there, so MainStreet put together a 10-point guide to help anyone returning to the dating scene after a long hiatus get up to speed on the rules of the game.

1. Online dating. “We live in a world where communities are not small and you can’t rely on someone to introduce you to someone the way they did a generation ago,” says Coleman. She cautions people who go into online dating to take it with a grain of salt. “Have fun with it, but if you get rejected, don’t take it personally,” she says.

2. Building an online profile. Another tip from Coleman is that since you want honesty in someone else’s profile, be honest in your own profile descriptions. “You want to find someone who can handle you for who you are, if you’re overweight, don’t kid yourself into thinking that your fabulous personality will overcome,” says Coleman.

Price, the senior intimacy expert, gives some tips such as not wearing sunglasses in your main profile picture “It looks like you’re hiding something,” says Price. She also advises providing more than a headshot in the profile photo and in addition to not lying about your weight, don’t lie about your age. “If you’re 58 and you find someone online who doesn’t want anyone over 55, don’t you want to know that? If you meet, it will come out,” says Price.

3. Email etiquette. Deanna Frazier, author of Dating 101: The Second, Third or Fourth Time Around, also known as The Dating Diva in Dallas, advises against long emails. “After you meet someone online, talk on the phone,” she says. “When you talk on the phone, you have personal contact that you don’t get in email.”

4. Knowing their intentions. While the experts say that dating should be a fun time, about learning who you are and what you want, you still need to be cautious. “The world has changed and there are a lot of crazies out there,” says Coleman, the online dating expert.

Frazier advises daters to do a little research online before setting up a meeting with someone. She recommends Love Fraud, a website that helps protect people from sociopaths. Other sites will do background checks on people and you can sign up for a monthly fee to check a person’s name, address, age and sometimes criminal background. “Part of you has to trust people and the other part needs to be wary,” says Coleman. “If red flags go up, trust your gut.”

5. Start out slowly. If you’re going on a first date, no matter what age you are, it’s always best to give yourself an out. “You may want to be out of there in five minutes, so don’t set up a full dinner,” says Coleman. An afternoon coffee or even a walk in a public park is good, agrees says Price, the intimacy expert. “You can get your daily exercise while meeting someone,” she says. “Make it quick, short and cheap and limit it to an hour.”

Price says one of her friends makes coffee dates one hour prior to the coffee shop closing, ensuring the date will end, or if they feel comfortable, be taken somewhere else. Again, all of the experts advise that if you don’t feel comfortable, don’t worry about appearing rude. “Make an excuse and end it,” says Price. It’s also a good idea to let a friend or relative know where you’re going and who you will be meeting, just in case anything goes awry.

6. The all-important ask. Concerning who should ask whom on a first date, “the rules are that there are no rules,” says Frazier. If you are in a public place meeting people, Frazier cautions that “men have to learn to flirt all over again. Bad pick-up lines and body scanning are out.” If you’re a woman, don’t worry, you can now ask a man if he would like to go for coffee. Price estimates that there are many more available women over 50 than there are men and if you’re a woman waiting, you might miss out.

7. The all-important bill. The rules once again have become blurred in the controversial area of who pays. “Always assume that unless otherwise stated, each pays for their own,” says Price. “Men will oftentimes say they want to pay and if that’s the case, go along with that if you’re comfortable.”

8. Dealing with long distance. If it’s a long-distance relationship you are embarking on, Frazier and Coleman both agree that the man typically is the one who does the traveling and foots the bill for the travel, at least at first. “As a woman, make them come to you, don’t be driving or flying to meet someone,” Coleman says. She says she knew a woman who flew across the country to meet a man she had connected with online. When she arrived in the designated city, she was surprised to learn the man had set up a rendezvous with another woman, at the same time.

9. Making conversation. Frazier advises older daters to follow the best practices in dating that have been around forever: talk about yourself, your interests and learn about the other person equally. What you shouldn’t talk about, she says, is your ex, your deceased spouse or marriage. “It’s all about self-worth and getting rid of all of your old assumptions about yourself and what you’re looking for,” says Frazier. “Keep the conversation positive and get to know the other person.”

Price says if it does reach a point where you feel you want to become intimate, she cautions to use protection against STDs. “The fastest-growing population for HIV infections is the over-50 group,” says Price. “Remember, you don’t know their history and it’s up to us to protect ourselves.”

10. Managing expectations. Older daters may feel more pressure than others to pair up, but Coleman says it’s important to surround yourself with other friends and activities so that your social life is not limited just to dating. “You should be mentally prepared to date 100 people,” says Coleman. “Don’t focus on a relationship to put your life in order.”

Did you know that MainStreet has a whole "Dating" topic page? Check it out to find stories like 5 Rules for Great Blind Dates or 8 Offbeat Valentine's Gifts!

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