Wednesday, August 23, 2006

More seniors play dating game

Contra Costa Times

Beth Cation's daughter calls her a "man magnet," and it's easy to see why.

Beth was 76 when she lost her husband of half a century. Nine months later, she started dating Ted, a charming fellow who shared her love of dancing. He put a ring on her finger and they spent 10 wonderful years together before Ted died of colon cancer.

Soon after, she met Erik. Like Beth, Erik loved line dancing and travel. They dated for six months before Erik, too, popped the question. The couple recently returned from Hawaii, where they celebrated their fifth anniversary.

"When you're in retirement, you don't waste time," says Beth, now 92 and living in Rossmoor. "This is good companionship."

Whether suddenly single following a divorce, playing the field for years or just looking for companionship, the 14.5 million seniors older than 65 are outnumbering twentysomethings at singles groups and online dating sites.

For four years, Connie Acton, who is "around 70," has been dating a man she met in a computer class she teaches. Before that, however, she found many dates on Yahoo Personals.

Her online experiences had both hits and misses.

"One (man) was absolutely gorgeous and showed up with armloads of flowers," recalls Acton, of Walnut Creek, Calif.

They dated for a few months and when Acton didn't hear from him, she moved on. She met another man for coffee who said he wanted to marry her right away.

"He was a widower and was basically looking for a housekeeper," says Acton, who teaches Internet Dating classes at the Pleasant Hill (Calif.) Senior Center.

In addition to following the standard online tips - use a screen name, post a recent picture, and be honest about your age - seniors should make arrangements to meet within the first few weeks of e-mailing someone, Acton says.

"If not, you'll develop a certain fantasy idea of what the person is and when you meet, it isn't what you thought it was," she says.

Also, be open-minded - even more than you might be offline.

"Don't rule yourself out if you're handicapped or anything. I dated a man who was in a wheelchair. And he was wonderful. You just have to be honest."

For friendship and companionship, seniors congregate at Shipmates, the 60-and-older singles group of the Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church in Lamorinda, Calif. With more than 200 members, Shipmates is larger than the church's singles groups for thirty-, forty-, and fiftysomethings.

"Everyone who shows up is looking for friends, if not more," says Kirsten Jensen-Horne, LOPC's director of Singles Ministry. "Shipmates do a good job of taking care of each other."

When Tom Pinder's wife passed away in 2000, his son and daughter-in-law encouraged him to join Shipmates.

"You meet people of the same circumstance," says Pinder, 80, of Pleasant Hill, Calif. "It's tough being alone. So we check up on each other to make sure we're still alive. It's tough to step forward and get involved with people again. I was married for 46 years."

The Shipmates make it easy by offering activities almost every day, from walking the Lafayette Reservoir and movie night to book discussions and symphony performances.

Moreover, singles groups can be the best place to make friends, or grow your social circle.

Ellie I'nnocente of the New Kids on the Block, a group for singles born in the 1930s and 1940s, says the female friendships are priceless, especially if you've spent your life in a relationship and haven't had time to make new friendships.

As for dating? Too much baggage, she says.

"There's family, health, kids, grandkids, experiences from your previous marriages," says I'nnocente, 71.

Seniors don't want to be burdened, says Tom Blake, a dating columnist and author of "Finding Love After 50" and the forthcoming "Finding Love After 60," due out next year. With a wave of boomers turning 60 this year, Blake's expertise is in demand: In October, sandwiched between Bill Clinton and Dan Rather, Blake will speak to thousands on the topic of senior dating at the National AARP Convention in Anaheim.

"As you get older, the qualities that emerge (in a desirable partner) are kindness, caring and warmth," says Blake, who writes for the Orange County Register. "Also stability. The last thing an older single wants is to hook up with someone who's in debt, needs to move in and rent a room on the first date. We want it to be as easy as possible."

Health is also a hot-button issue. "Let's say they start out healthy," he says. "If they get ill, then hopefully you'll stick by them."

Blake, who receives 100 e-mails a week on his column and national newsletter, says a lot of feedback is from older women who feel disenchanted about dating in their golden years.

"It's very difficult for women, just by the numbers alone," Blake says. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 33 single men age 65 and older for every 100 single women of the same age. Why? Because women have a higher life expectancy, Blake says.

"And not all these men in the pool are relationship material," he says. "They date younger women, they aren't in shape and they think they can be jerks just because the old codgers are so set in their ways."

The good news, Blake says, is that older women are using their alone time to enrich their lives, be it traveling, discovering new hobbies or going back to school.

And that, he says, is the best way to meet someone. At any age.

"You go out to enrich your life," Blake says. "And if you meet someone along the way, even better."

Dating tips

On the Internet: While, and Yahoo Personals have thousands of senior members, there are niche dating sites for seniors, including and does background checks on its members to avoid romance scammers, which oftentimes prey on seniors.

Author and dating columnist Tom Blake offers advice on getting out there:

Always carry a name card, giving potential dates an easy way to contact you. List only your first name, either a cell phone or answering service number, or an e-mail address that doesn't contain your last name.

Seize every opportunity to meet someone.

Be assertive, not aggressive.

Be happy, positive and friendly. Smile.

Get out off the couch, out of the house and have fun.

Get involved in activities you enjoy.

Join a club.

Socialize with friends of both sexes.

Don't go out hoping or expecting to meet a mate. Go out to enrich your life.

Have a nice appearance, firm up and get in shape.

Don't take rejection personally.

Trust your instincts.

Avoid losers, scammers and phonies.

Network with friends, relatives and business associates. Repeatedly remind them to introduce you to their single acquaintances.

Protect your assets.

More information on dating for seniors:

The Senior Dating Scene: A Guide for the Senior Widowed or Divorced Person New to the Dating Scene