Dating game is a minefield for madalas

2010-02-10 13:21

THEY are divorced, bereaved or have never been married. Their kids

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


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 20-something person I competed with other young

women, but we were all on equal footing when it came to appearance,” she


“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 carefully consider and negotiate methods of

contraception, if still applicable, and protect against sexually transmitted


Protecting against HIV/AIDS is especially prevalent since a 2009

joint report by the United Nations programme on HIV & AIDS (UNAIDS) and the

World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that the majority of new HIV & 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 will be on their


“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


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/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


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


Ramon Thomas, an online behaviour expert at NETucation, an

independent research organisation based in Gauteng, says online dating can

provide a safe environment for people to find, meet and interact with


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

Thomas adds that everyone wants to be loved for who they are and

not be judged.

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 adds 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 ladies who like you but who you would prefer to stay clear


Willem has also encountered a less attractive side to online


“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 wanting an extra partner and even married couples looking to invite a

third person into the relationship.

“I especially meet a lot of older

single ladies 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 there were less 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

guy that was looking for ‘investors’ in his ‘fledgling business’.

“I still wonder whether anyone ever showed any interest,” she


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


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 ten years back, if not a

picture of someone completely different.

Despite all these challenges, dating over 40 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 wellbeing than in earlier


Dating at an older age brings the advantage of hindsight,

maturity and experience.

* Not her real name

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