Dating can be an unnerving experience at any age. But dating after age 50 presents a unique set of challenges. “You have a 50-year-old body with a 20-year-old headset,” says Judith Sills, a clinical psychologist and author of Getting Naked Again: Dating, Romance, Sex, and Love When You've Been Divorced, Widowed, Dumped, or Distracted. “You are anxious and giggling the way you were when you were 19. You feel like you have dialed the clock back.” To help you ace that first date, here are some pointers:
Try a new activity. Let your friends know that you're dating and ask if they know anyone who might be right for you. Also, expand your social circle by taking on new actives such as a cooking class, hiking group, or becoming a docent at a park or museum. “Find a situation that brings people together and offers an opportunity to meet and get to know each other,” says Abigail Trafford, author of As Time Goes By: Boomerang Marriages, Serial Spouses, Throwback Couples, and Other Romantic Adventures in an Age of Longevity. Her suggestions for great places to meet a love interest: community centers, elder hostels, music and book clubs, or other community associations.
Look up an old friend. Remember the guy you dated in college for two years and lost touch with? Do you still think about the beautiful girl your traveled around Europe with for a month? If you remember someone fondly from your past, it could be worth looking them up online. “A large percent of people who get married in their 50s...they find people they met in their past and look them up,” says John Gray, a certified family therapist and author of Mars and Venus Starting Over: A Practical Guide for Finding Love Again After a Painful Breakup, Divorce, or the Loss of a Loved One. Try Googling their name, contacting college or high school alumni offices, or even an old-fashioned phone book.
Go online. Americans age 50 and older are the fastest growing demographic on the dating website Match.com, and they make up 20 percent of all users. “My mom found someone on Match in five months and she is 63,” says Whitney Casey, a relationship insider (her actual job title) for Match.com and author of The Man Plan: Drive Men Wild...Not Away. The stock market slump may further contribute to a surge in online dating. “On days when the Dow went down by 100 points, we found an increase in our site usage relative to when the Dow increased by 100 points,” says Gian Gonzaga, a senior research scientist for the dating website eHarmony, which saw a 20 percent spike in users between September 2008 and January 2009, compared with the same time period a year ago. “Economic news tends to be stressful, and as you become more stressed, you begin to look for things that will offer you comfort and help you out during these tough times.” Post a flattering picture of yourself online, but don't use a photo 10 years younger than you are. “Get friends to look at [the picture] before you put it online and find the best picture that really represents who you are,” says Casey. You should also avoid exaggerating or downright lying in your profile. “The more descriptive and honest that you are, the better match you are actually going to make,” says Casey.
Keep it light. Don't turn a first date into a job interview. Go into the meeting with the intention of having a good time. “Let go of the goal-oriented dating of finding a soul mate,” advises Gray. “You want to lower your expectation of finding someone to spend the rest of your life with. Find someone to date that seems intriguing to you.” Be open to experiencing each date and each person for what they have to offer.
Prepare conversation starters. There's nothing worse than awkward pauses on a first date that stretch into eternity. “You need to have a list of three surefire conversation starters and continuers,” says Casey. Her favorite questions: What is the most memorable meal you've ever had? Where do you want to travel to? Movies, books, and television shows are also safe topics, she says.
Mention, but don't dwell on kids. It's important to mention that you have children in passing or if asked, but don't talk about their first words or college choices for two hours. “When people talk about their exes and their children, it's boring,” says Sills. “Your children are never ever as fascinating to other people as they are to you.”
Don't mention your ex. It probably goes without saying that by age 50, you have had a few love relationships in your life. There's no need to give a new love interest the play-by-play. “People in their 50s often have a history of being in a relationship where it didn't go well,” says Gray. But that's no excuse for imposing that resentment on a different person, he says. Don't talk about your dating life, either. “Cute, funny stories about horrible men you have dated do not make men laugh,” cautions Sills. “Don't bring up your ex-husband or your ex-wife for a very long time."