Happy Valentine’s Day month — maybe. The divorce rate for people age 50 and up has doubled since the 1990s, in a time when divorce rates overall have fallen 18%. It appears that younger generations are contributing to that decline, marrying later when their career and finances warrant the commitment and being more selective in whom they marry. Of course, many millennials cohabit without the legalities of marriage, so the jury is out in terms of the stability of their overall relationships.
That said, boomers have given their kids one more thing to be infuriated about when mom and dad decide to divorce, start dating and — the horrors! — even have sex in their 50s and 60s. Living longer has caused many of these boomers to re-evaluate their lives. They’ve raised their kids, and now it’s their turn to have some fun … and “their” doesn’t necessarily include their partner. Plus, let’s face it: Women outlive men, so there are a lot of older women alone — and senior isolation is a real and dangerous thing.
Is Senior Dating Different Than Dating When You Were Younger?
The first two lines of the song “The Second Time Around” by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen state: “Love is lovelier the second time around, Just as wonderful with both feet on the ground.”
Perhaps the “both feet on the ground” is the key piece here. You’re older and supposedly wiser. Where you meet could change. I admit I met my wife at a nightclub. Caveat — I was in the band, and a friend brought her to see us play. Still, seniors returning to the dating scene probably won’t be hitting the nightclub. A different kind of club might be in order.
Joining groups where your interest matches others is a good place to start. These include: dance classes, art cafes, group theater excursions, senior gyms, special interest and hobby groups, senior trips and excursions. The point of any of these is to meet in a safe, public place. And perhaps it’s a sign of the times for anyone, but let others know where you’re going to be. (We’ll get to the kids in a second!) As for the first kiss and who picks up the check? Opinions differ. Follow your intuition.
So, What About Sex?
Well first, it’s a health issue. The earliest boomers came from the “free love” generation, the 60s. At a stage in life when many would expect sexually transmitted diseases to be waning, STD rates for those 55 and older have increased by 43%. Over the past several years, some 2.2 million Medicare recipients received free tests for sexually transmitted diseases, about the same as the number who received colonoscopies.
Many older adults didn’t get the safe-sex messages that younger generations received, so their condom use is lower. More seniors are living in retirement communities where there’s more socializing. As you age and your immune system weakens, fighting these diseases becomes harder. Add to that the availability and marketing of sex-enhancing drugs, and — well, you can see the issue.
Sex in the Nursing Home
Make no mistake, people are having sex in senior living. A survey of 250 residents in 15 Texas nursing homes found that 8% had sexual intercourse in the preceding month. And according to a study in Clinical Geriatrics, of 63 physically dependent nursing home residents, 90% said they had sexual thoughts, fantasies and dreams.
There are all kinds of implications with this, of course. Then add granny cams to the mix, and you can really complicate things. If someone is in a home, you have to pointedly ask how they handle relationships and sex.
Many nursing-home workers simply don’t look at the elderly as mature adults, but as children who must be policed out of fear of legal or medical repercussion. Most facilities do not train their staff to see residents as sexual beings.
Providers walk a fine line balancing person-centered care with risk management. Yet risk can be minimized with sensitivity and empathy toward resident needs. The Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale, New York, is a national model, so I encourage you to see how they handle these issues.
But consider this true story: A son walked in on his 95-year-old father in bed with his 82-year-old girlfriend in an assisted living facility. Both had dementia. He went ballistic and removed his father from the home. After that, the woman stopped eating. She lost 21 pounds, was treated for depression and was hospitalized for dehydration. Clearly, for them, the relationship was real.
OK Boomer, What Will the Kids Think?
The knee-jerk response from me, a boomer, would be “get over it.” But it’s not that simple.
Understand where adult children are coming from first. The thought of mom or dad in a new relationship can be frightening — and maybe hurtful. Subliminally, kids might want to sabotage the relationship. And even when the children acknowledge their mom or dad’s right to date, they draw a mental line at marriage, which, in their mind, eliminates one parent from the equation entirely.
So as with most things, ease into a conversation. It’s natural to be curious about a parent’s partner. So ask. Maybe mom or dad has a history of being abused or taken advantage of, and the children want to protect them from heartache. In that case, intrusion is necessary.
Older adults are much more forthcoming than you might think. Keep in mind that the love of children and grandchildren can’t satisfy a person’s needs for love, romance and companionship.
A national poll reveals more than 3 out of 4 (79%) of adult children say telling their parents they’re taking away their car keys because they’re no longer fit to drive is the most uncomfortable conversation they could have. Talking to their parents about sex actually ranked third.
In a New York Times piece, Jake Maynard put things in perspective. At first appalled that his grandmother was marrying her former brother-in-law, he wrote, he evebtually came to this realization: “I saw my grandmother and Bill not as old people seeking each other’s comfort or as old people at all, really. I saw them as newlyweds, love-struck and hopeful. I thought about how they both had lost love twice before and how they entered into this new love, at 80, knowing they would lose it again. And all at once, they seemed brave.”
More from U.S. News