Monica Porter guides you through the dos and don’ts of dating over 60 and reveals her life-changing adventures as a single sexagenarian.
More and more of the over-fifties are finding themselves single nowadays, following divorce, separation or bereavement. It happened to me.
When my long-term relationship broke down a few years ago I was just shy of my 60th birthday and it was a shock to realise that at this stage in life I would be going it alone, children all grown up and gone, an older woman without a partner. I had never expected or planned for this, and was enveloped in gloom. What next?
Find out more about dating in later life
Fast-forward to the present. Every day I wake up thankful that my ex and I split up. I had no idea the life of a single in my sixties could be such an adventure – both more exciting and more relaxing than my earlier coupledom.
Sometimes I am positively light-headed with the freedom and independence. And I put it down in large part to the wonders of today’s daring, digital dating scene.
I had never imagined that I would try internet dating. What, me? But after a few months of moping around and feeling sorry for myself, friends persuaded me to give it a go. The first dating site I signed up with was a total flop. The men on it mostly made me cringe or yawn, with their cliché-ridden profile ‘narratives’ and uninspiring photos. What was worse, they didn’t seem to care much for me either. I mean, what was wrong with them?
But then I switched to a much bigger, more mainstream and multi-generational site and, miraculously, the dating floodgates opened. Life has not been the same since.
The first thing I discovered was that in the 21st century it seems everyone is online dating. From fresh-faced 18-year-olds to grey-bearded grandads in their seventies. There is absolutely no stigma attached to it any more. It’s like shopping at Tesco. And in more ways than one, but I’ll get back to that later…
Through dating sites I spent a year meeting dozens of men, who varied greatly in age and occupation, cultural and ethnic background, and socio-economic status. I learned a lot, about both myself and the opposite sex, as well as about relationships, desire and delusion.
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If you, too, are considering taking the plunge in your fifties or sixties, I’d like to save you some time and trouble by sharing my top pointers for navigating the wild waters of online dating:
Be sceptical about everything people say on a dating site. Most people ‘edit’ the truth to some extent – guilty, m’lud! I took a few years off my age – others, however, tell outright lies about who they are and what they want. It is so easy to pretend online. Some people post woefully out-of-date pictures of themselves, from before they got fat or bald or dentally challenged. In the worse case scenario, a purportedly single man will turn out to have a hapless other half. So take nothing at face value; reserve judgement until you actually meet your date in person.
Be on your guard against scams. It’s astonishing how often men and women are still taken in by online fraudsters: the male crooks who deceive emotionally vulnerable women by declaring their love before tricking them out of their life savings; the purring lovelies (often prostitutes) who seduce men in order to get into their wallets and perhaps even gain a passport. Just remember, no one ever got ripped off by being suspicious.
Find out how to avoid dating scams
Get a firm grip on your emotions. I know this isn’t always easy, but it’s a bad idea to invest emotion in any ‘match’, until you are sure that it is built on something more solid than the usual shifting sands of online dating connections. Build a protective wall around your emotions or you will be hurt again and again, even by essentially well-meaning people who are just so dazzled by the smorgasbord of dating candidates on offer they are rendered incapable of committing to anyone or even sticking to an arrangement.
Practise safe sex. We had the Pill to free us when we were young, and HRT keeps us on good form now we are older. How liberating to know that you can no longer get pregnant! It’s easy to get a little careless and I admit I have been at times. But the current rise in STIs (sexually transmitted infections) is greatest among the older generations. Young people have had caution drummed into them, while we rebellious baby-boomers are still ‘letting it all hang out’. But there is no greater dampener on bedroom frolics than a dose of chlamydia or some other equally unappealing STI.
Find out about why it pays to play it safe when dating over 50
If you follow these essential rules of the game, you can get the most out of internet dating. Those in search of a committed, long-term relationship might perhaps find that online. After all, quite a few of today’s married couples met that way. But in my view you are more likely to succeed if your aim is simply to have a nice time with people whose company you enjoy, and see what develops. Don’t take it too seriously; have fun.
It’s important to find the right dating site for you. There are thousands to choose from and it can be confusing. My advice is to cast a wide net by choosing a broad-based one rather than a site defined region or specific interest (eg dating for bird-watchers or vegans). Sign up on two or three for the minimum period (usually a month) and decide which suits you best.
Find out about the best dating sites for the over 50s
Be friendly but don’t give away intimate details about yourself online. Write a simple, direct, short narrative about yourself – nothing too cheesy, a bit of humour always goes down well – and upload a few snaps showing you at your best. Then see who comes ‘winking’, messaging and ‘favouriting’ you. Have nothing to do with those who refuse to show photos of themselves. They are married, hiding from the law or know that their looks would put you off, and none of those is good.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the smartphone dating apps such as Tinder that have become so popular. Virtually effortless to use and a quick way to meet people based nearby, these apps were devised for the fast-living young but their parents’ generation has cottoned on.
Their main advantage is that two people must first register a mutual attraction before they ‘match’ and can communicate with each other, so no one need suffer the pain of rejection.
A year ago I had a wild week or two on Tinder (a site which, it might be fairly said, caters for those probably seeking something more on the physical side rather than the cerebral), meeting younger men, but I realise that such cougar-ish encounters are not for everyone.
When I recently gave the app another little whirl, I matched with older fellows, but please don’t think that ‘older’ necessarily means ‘traditional’. One nice-looking man in his fifties said he wasn’t interested in the ‘vanilla’ type of woman and when I asked what he meant he explained that, should we become an item, he would encourage me to have other, ahem, ‘friends’, as he found that a particularly exciting dynamic. And people call me racy!
I don’t think anyone should do internet dating indefinitely. You will either meet ‘the one’ or you won’t. And if you don’t, there will come a point when you feel it has run its course, when you have had enough of its uncertainties and frustrations, and when you suspect that unless you stop it could change you for ever. Because, as I learnt from my own experience, the danger of being presented with a seemingly endless parade of potential dates is that you begin to commoditise people, to view them as off-the-shelf products, easily obtainable and just as easily disposable (hence the comparison to supermarket shopping).
In short, you become hardened, and while this protects you from hurt it also stops you from being a fully caring human, which is a high price to pay.
In case you are wondering, no, I didn’t find my ‘one’. But then I wasn’t looking for him. The last thing I wanted after the breakdown of my relationship was to dive into anything serious. My aim was merely to stop feeling sad and start enjoying the single life, and by golly I did. A big dating site is a microcosm of society.
I met some eccentric characters and some dodgy types who helped sharpen my powers of discrimination, a few lovely people who have become friends, and best of all, a handful of fabulous lovers.
When my membership subscriptions ran out I left the internet dating world behind, richer in experience, greater in self-confidence and generally emboldened in my approach to life. I am open to the idea of another serious relationship but if it doesn’t happen, well, life won’t be too bad. I will always have my wonderful family, some good friends, and a bank of thrilling memories.
I still go on dates, of course. I’m not ready to throw in the towel! But lately, instead of dating sites, I’ve been meeting men through social/professional networking sites and at public events.
I wrote a memoir about my year of internet dating, and when it was published I learnt that even in this era of ‘anything goes’ there are still many people who disapprove of a single older woman (a grandmother no less!) who knows how to have a good time. But that, dear reader, is another story.
Raven: My Year of Dating Dangerously by Monica Porter (Head of Zeus, £7.99)
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Monica Porter is a journalist and author of five books, including Raven: My Year of Dating Dangerously.