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For ‘The Golden Bachelor’ and Others, What Dating After 60 Looks Like

For ‘The Golden Bachelor’ and Others, What Dating After 60 Looks Like

When Janet Ha, 65, first tried online dating in February, she found it “confusing and weird.”

Her son’s 20-something ex helped her make a profile on Bumble, but all of her initial matches were focused on hooking up.

“I had checked ‘something casual’ — because I didn’t think I was looking for a relationship — but I didn’t realize what that meant on Bumble,” Ms. Ha said, laughing.

She quickly learned to navigate the app, but still wasn’t sure what she wanted. Her nearly 30-year marriage had ended in divorce, and her children were grown. “I just did not want to have to take care of anybody anymore,” said Ms. Ha, a teacher from Minnesota who plans to retire in the spring of 2024.

Dating among older Americans is in the spotlight thanks to the upcoming premiere of “The Golden Bachelor,” which follows Gerry Turner, a 72-year-old widower, on his quest to find a partner in a “Bachelor” spinoff show featuring singles age 60 and older. (Ideally, Mr. Turner has said, a “high-energy” partner who might like pickleball or golf.)

Though reality TV is unlikely to reflect the typical experiences of older single people, millions of them are looking for love — and their stories are often overlooked. Older daters face all of the challenges their younger counterparts do — burnout, ghosting, gaslighting — but many of them have found that dating can be infinitely better when you don’t have as much to prove.

The prevailing narrative surrounding the growing number of unmarried older adults tends to focus on the risks of isolation and loneliness. But Sindy Oh, a licensed clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, said she was struck by how different dating can be for her older clients because they have a much stronger sense of self. “They have accepted who they are, and they are presenting themselves as is,” she said.

Though Ms. Ha’s introduction to online dating was inauspicious, four months ago she swiped right on Mike Ecker, 64, a divorced electrician from Wisconsin.

Had they met when they were in their 20s, Ms. Ha said, “I don’t think I would have been attracted to him, and I don’t think he would have been attracted to me,” describing herself as a “city girl” and Mr. Ecker as a “rural guy.” But their rapport formed easily and instantaneously. Whenever Ms. Ha matched with someone, she asked what song the person was “vibing to.” Mr. Ecker sent “Invisible” by Trey Anastasio. It felt like a sign, as Ms. Ha had been thinking a lot about the invisibility of older women.

On their third date, Ms. Ha drove three hours from her home to his so they could spend the weekend together. They have spent nearly every weekend together since, playing Yahtzee and cribbage, cooking and having what Ms. Ha described as “mind-blowing” sex. (The secret, she said, is good communication.)

“We are really open to talking about everything in a way that I have never experienced before,” Ms. Ha said. “I used to be afraid to show who I really was in a relationship before, because they might leave. And I don’t have that at all anymore.”

One in three baby boomers is single, said Susan Brown, a distinguished professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University who studies demographic shifts in marriage and divorce, and an estimated 14 percent of single people between the ages of 57 and 85 are in a “dating relationship.”

David, 61, described feeling like he was “shot out of a cannon” when he began dating after his marriage of 25 years ended in divorce. He said he had found the “loneliness of a cold marriage even lonelier than being alone,” and is now experimenting with polyamory and nonmonogamy. He’d had inklings of these things during his largely sexless marriage, but never felt like he could explore those sides of himself, and described the confidence he now feels as “a remarkable feature of mid-life dating.” (David asked that only his first name be used out of respect for his ex-wife’s privacy.)

“One thing I quickly discovered is ‘Wow, you really don’t have to play any games at this point in life,’” said David, who lives in California. “I don’t have to tell any story that’s not true about me. And neither do they.”

Kathy Denton, 64, said she felt “bolder” now, in part because she no longer experiences the pressure she once did to settle down. She has been able to find fun with some of the men she has met through dating sites, even if none have been a long-term match. One “delightful man” cooked her “the best soups and breakfasts”; another swept her off to his condo in Florida and showed her “how to have fun again.”

Ms. Denton would like to fall in love again, but she has also “fallen in love” with herself, she said, and realizes that she is the only company she needs. She goes to the beach, spends time with friends and plans to enroll in a stained glass-making class. “If I had to spend the rest of my life alone, I’d be fine with it now,” said Ms. Denton, who lives in Michigan. “I love my life.”

Dating after 60 isn’t all roses. Several people interviewed for this article mentioned how frustrating it is to meet people whose toxic behaviors have calcified over decades.

“We need a lot of patience with each other to undo some of this crap we’ve been through,” said Ms. Denton, who added that she had dated men who turned out to be compulsive liars, or who she suspected had alcohol issues. She has interacted with men who clearly did not bother to read her profile, she said, and others who sent naked photos. Some daters also brought up sexual dysfunction, the shrinking dating pool for older women and the threat of being scammed.

But for Ms. Ha and Mr. Ecker, opening themselves up to each other has brought them both surprising happiness at this stage in their lives. Mr. Ecker had been dating off and on for 10 years before he met Ms. Ha, and was coming out of a particularly difficult stretch when they connected. His mother and his beloved dog had both died, he had ended a three-year relationship and he had lost a chunk of his savings to stock market volatility, just as he was preparing to retire.

Now, he and Ms. Ha are planning the next stage of their lives together, thinking about what they want retirement to look like. They feel lucky to have found one another. “Ever since that first message she sent me,” he said. “I have felt that this thing has been guided and out of our control.”

Audio produced by Kate Winslett.

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