Senior dating; busting the myths
First up, why are so many older adults logging on to the internet to find love? According to a 2016 report released by the US-based Pew Research Centre, there was a 100 percent jump in people aged 55-64 using dating sites between 2005 and 20151. Though there was no major hike in the 65+ cohort, we can assume more people in this age group are online due to population change. Given the numbers don’t lie, how do we explain this trend?
Though there are a variety of valid explanations that apply, the most straightforward rests on the fact that, demographically speaking, we’re getting older. This shift is observable in almost every advanced industrial country; ageing populations, coupled with higher life expectancies, have lead statisticians to forecast that over the next 15 years there will be a 56 percent increase in the number of people aged over 602.
It follows that there’s also been a rise in the amount of older people who’ve either gone through a divorce or experienced widowhood. Looking for some clarity we spoke to Summer Roberts, a professor at the University of South Carolina Beaufort whose interest centres on online relationships in middle and later life. The American academic feels that rediscovering love after 60 can be an intimidating prospect.
“For many older adults, dating has not been a concern in many years,” she says, “figuring out how to get back into the dating scene can be daunting. Additionally, some of the opportunities for meeting dating partners, such as workplaces, bars and clubs, are not available to older adults due to age norms.”
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Dating websites thus provide an accessible platform for mature singles to meet one another. Roberts reasons that the senior dating boom “is part of the larger set of technological advancements, including smart phones, tablets and social media, all of which have the potential to increase engagement”. “In terms of meeting new people to date, online dating sites offer possibilities for causal dates, as well as long-term relationships and support,” she adds.
Another expert we contacted is Eden Davis, a researcher at the University of Texas who published a paper in 2015 on older people’s experiences of online dating and how they vary from those of younger users3. She suggests that senior dating can have a distinct impact upon a person’s quality of life. “Online dating certainly has the potential to positively impact the lives of older adults. If individuals are able to find a romantic partner online, they have the chance to reap the benefits of partnership, especially in terms of decreased loneliness,” she says.
In light of the resounding evidence and upbeat possibilities, there’s still concern that older adults’ are marred by a stigma not felt by younger generations when it comes to online dating. If public perception of meeting people via the web has truly improved over the last 15 years4, why are older people still losing out?
Debunking delusions of decline
The main onus on older people’s romantic ruminations is ageism. At the collective level, we’re very quick to associate old age with decline, frailty and dependency on others. The threat of growing old frightens younger people as it summons the idea of losing authorship over your own fate, a severe affront to the individuality and independence associated with youthfulness.
An upshot of this logic that feeds into senior dating is the conviction that older people don’t have sex and aren’t interest in passionate romance whatsoever. This stereotype works against both older men and women; the former are denounced as less virile, whilst the latter must shoulder the notion that beauty belongs to the young.
“Older adults encounter ageism in being seen as unattractive and asexual, women in particular are devalued with aging,” says Roberts, “but single older adults are frequently interested in new experiences, dating, relationships, and sex.” Davis agrees with this point too: “Stereotypes of older adults present them as uninterested in sex, yet research suggests that older adults who have romantic partners are sexually active.”
In 2015 EliteSingles conducted a study that bolsters Davis and Roberts’ claims. The 2500-respondent survey, which explored the link between age and sexuality, found that 93 percent of 70+ year olds thought sex is important to a relationship. Of that cohort, 83 percent agreed that sex improves with age. Suffice it to say, those are pretty unanimous figures.
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An additional fallacy that’s pertinent here centres on older people’s internet usage. A handful of studies over the last decade have queried the widespread notion that older people are inept when it comes to adapting to technology5. Yet it’s glaringly obvious that this technophobic label is inaccurate, especially given that there’s solid evidence to the contrary.
Further research carried out by Pew yielded a host of stateside-stats concerning age and internet use6. Based on data collected between 2000 and 2016, the study found that 64 percent of US adults aged 65 and over were on the net last year, compared to a mere quarter in 2000. Similarly, only 46 percent of 50-64 year olds were online at the turn of the millennium, far less than the 87 percent surfing by 2016.
Roberts echoes these findings, though she’s measured with her words. “Older adults have been somewhat slower accessing the internet and using it to the extent that younger adults do, largely because they were not introduced to it through work and school,” she says, “however, internet usage has certainly increased among older adults and, when introduced to technology, they’re quite capable of becoming technologically literate.”