Midlife dating — only for the brave

2010-02-12 00:00

THEY are divorced, bereaved or have never been married. Their children have moved out of the house and their lives are established with a stable career­ to match.

These are the over-40s and beyond ... And they’re looking for love.

Known as senior or ou toppie (old man) dating, people over 40 are back in the dating game and trying to find their feet.

Far from the wheelchair-bound, silver-haired individuals the term senior dating evokes, these older people are wiser, sassier and looking for adventure in their lives, say relationship experts.

It’s not all that easy though.

New challenges face someone who has returned to the dating scene after a long absence.

According to Gauteng counselling psychologist Sharon van Doorene, people over 40 face a variety of physical, social and emotional challenges as an older dater, as well as a changing dating environment.

The most obvious physical challenge would be ageing and the effect it has on physical appearance. Van Doorene suggests that people who in the past depended on physical attractiveness to initiate relationships would struggle the most, especially if their self-esteem was based on physical attributes.

Charlene*, a 40-something nuclear­ technician from Springbok in the Northern Cape, says it becomes harder to find someone compatible when looks begin to fade.

“As a teenager and a 20-something person I competed with other young women, but we were all on an equal footing when it came to appearance,” she says.

“I still have to compete with those young women, except now the equal footing has slipped. Newly single [older] men also tend to fall for younger women.”

With any new relationship, sexual health is also an issue.

One would need to consider carefully and negotiate methods of contraception, if still applicable, and protect against sexually transmitted diseases.

Protecting against HIV/Aids is especially prevalent since a 2009 joint report by the United Nations programme on HIV and Aids (UNAids), and the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that the majority of new HIV and Aids infections in sub-Saharan Africa are among older heterosexual­ couples over the age of 49.

The emergence of HIV/Aids in older couples could probably be attributed to awareness campaigns being focused mainly on young people, as well as the decreased use of condoms in those who can no longer conceive.

For those who already have adult children, it can be very hard to start dating again without worrying what the impact on their children will be.

“Introducing a new partner to one’s children can have significant consequences on the family and result in behavioural and emotional changes that would need to be addressed,” says Van Doorene.

Children may feel that getting a new partner is an act of betrayal by their mother or father. Parents should sit down with their children and broach the topic of a new partner carefully before a formal meeting is arranged.

In the end, the older person’s emotional wellbeing should be a priority and children need to understand that.

The emotional wellbeing of an individual may be especially fragile if he or she has lost a partner to death or divorce and experiences a period of reduced self-esteem as a result.

People may doubt their own worthiness­ or fear further loss in their lives, which could make them wary to date again and face possible rejection.

A person could get into a cycle of rejection, causing a preference for isolation rather than intimacy. As a result of this cycle, many people have turned to online dating as a way to be isolated and intimate at the same time.

Ramon Thomas, an online behaviour expert at NETucation, which is an independent research organisation based in Gauteng, says online dating can provide a safe environment for people to find, meet and interact with people.

“It is easier to accept rejection via a website or e-mail than it is in person­.”

Online dating can help someone find a partner with similar interests and hobbies. It’s as simple as making a list of what you like and matching it up to people with profiles that fit your criteria.

One online dating user from Randburg, 58-year-old web developer Willem Verster, uses this method with great success, although he says that a match on a list is no guarantee that both people will click.

“You meet some people you like, but the feeling is not mutual and yes, you meet women who like you but who you would prefer to stay clear of.”

Willem has also encountered a less attractive side to online dating.

“I have been approached by married women wanting to be friends, young women from Russia who really want to get out of the country, swing-club members who are wanting an extra partner and even married couples who are looking to invite a third person into the relationship. I especially meet a lot of older single women who are in dire poverty and are looking for a financially stable person to support them.”

As with any technology, there is a dark side to online dating that could be daunting for people who were not part of the technological revolution of the nineties.

Charlene says when she went onto a popular South African dating site she found that there were fewer people who were serious about finding a lasting partner and more people who were looking for casual sex.

“It has been my experience that there are plenty of people (guys) who use these sites to prey on lonely women­. There are married men who either lie about being married or they are upfront about finding something on the side.”

Charlene’s most memorable online dating experience to date is a man who was looking for investors for his fledgling business.

It is thanks to these experiences that Charlene has given up on dating for now.

Online dating provides people with a chance to be anyone they want to be as the Internet offers a sense of freedom, says associate professor Eliria Bornman of the Unisa communication science department.

It is very easy to create a bogus identity and pretend to be someone else, most probably a more glamorous and perfect version of themselves.

For those users who have never been married, are divorced and/or have children, it would be understandable that they would want to portray themselves in a more favourable light.

This favourable light includes exaggerating aspects of physical appearance­ and using a profile picture of themselves 10 years back, if not a picture of someone completely different­.

Despite all these challenges, dating for the over 40s is a reality and can lead to very fulfilling relationships and a second lease on life.

People in midlife often re-evaluate their lifestyles and make choices that lead to an overall happier sense of wellbeing than in earlier adulthood.

Dating at an older age brings the advantage of hindsight, maturity and experience.

* Not her real name.

New to online dating? Visit Maritzburg Matchmaker.

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