Midlife boy meets midlife girl: Is there a happily ever after?
The good news for midlife adults is that the rules of the dating game haven't changed. What is different is the emotional baggage men and women looking for romance bring to the forum.
"Some of the biggest issues in this age group have to do with money, children and grandchildren, work and/or retirement issues and the whole sex and intimacy issue," said Mary Berney, MSW, an author, speaker and creator of the new Dating Cafe, a personal connections experience especially for those over 40. "One of the most significant issues is having the self-confidence to be out there."
Jessica von Buelow, a 60-something La Jolla resident, has a lot of experience with the dating scene. In addition to being single, she works at The Riford Center organizing tea dances and other social events.
"(Dating) is very difficult," von Buelow said. "(At this age), most good men are married and have a family."
In addition to a shortage of suitable candidates, von Buelow said she believes there is a definite shift in the attitude of midlife adults: "When you're younger, you'll risk anything. When you get older, you become more conservative about who you're going to meet and who you're going to end up with."
anything. When you get older, you become more conservative about who you're going to meet and who you're going to end up with."
According to Berney, many individuals sabotage their chances of successfully connecting with others because of this tendency to become set in their ways or limit themselves to a checklist of requirements.
Sexuality is another big issue for women — and men — over 40. For women, it's body image; for men, it's performance.
Recognizing the need for a resource that would assist midlife adults with their re-entry into the social arena, Berney created The Dating Cafe. Through it, she offers education, coaching, support and a comfortable way to meet others.
"The Dating Cafe gives people over 40 a chance to learn and practice these new skills," she said.
First rule for romance is to re-engage — with everybody
Berney said many times midlife adults become isolated or withdraw from their community because of changes in marital relationships, children leaving home or retirement. In order to rebuild their social skills, regain confidence interacting with others and learn how to have fun again, she suggests that individuals start out with the goal of meeting new people and making friends rather than seeking a soul mate. A good way to do this is by participating in activities that offer opportunities to talk and mingle.
"The focus is not on things like knitting, but things that require a great deal of social interaction and adventure," Berney said. "You want to have a social life before you start looking for romance."
That approach has worked well for Rae Newoman, an over-55 single who loves contra dancing, traveling and outdoor activities with the Sierra Club.
"It's a pretty fabulous way to get exercise and meet new people," Newoman said.
The skills for dating are the same for all age groups: good communication skills, the ability to be discerning, tactful and assertive; knowing how to manage expectations; and being able to negotiate. According to Berney, people need to feel comfortable opening a conversation, as well as be able to relax and enjoy being themselves around others.
When people create a fulfilling, well-rounded, daring, interesting life, they cultivate what Berney calls "star power." It is that authentic, playful, natural radiance that then attracts romance.
"It all boils down to who you are as a person, how you feel about yourself and how you relate to others in the world," Berney said.
Know the ground rules
There are definitely do's and don'ts for adults over 40 looking for love. Berney said knowing the score can help people score — a date for Saturday, a double for tennis or a partner for the rest of their life.
"If you're a man, you pursue," Berney said. "If you're a woman, you engage."
Berney also recommends playing by these ground rules:
- Never flirt with anybody you're not interested in pursuing a relationship with.
- Make sure your thoughts and feelings are consistent with your words and actions.
- When you're ready to date, date. If you're not ready, don't.
- Be clear and focused about your expectations.
- Keep communication positive and upbeat.
- Start out fresh. Everyone deserves an opportunity to experience you; don't reject someone based on one glance from across the room.
- Be genuinely appreciative of the nice things your date does for you.
- Say goodbye with kindness and compassion.
One of the reasons Berney created The Dating Cafe and wrote her soon-to-be-released book, "Attracting the Right Person Into Your Life, The Real Truth," was to inspire lonely midlife adults.
"I want this age group to reconnect with a sense of hope and promise that the person they want to meet is out there and is looking forward to meeting them," Berney said. "It's time for you to start reorganizing your life in a different way around meeting the person you want."
La Jollan Victor "Zeke" Hlavacek lost his wife of more than six decades two years ago. After a year of being a widower, he rounded up the courage to begin dating again. Mutual friends introduced him to his new friend. Prior to going out, they met for lunch in Bird Rock.
"We sat down and I looked at her and I said, 'I don't know how you feel, but I feel like an 18-year-old going on my first date,' " Hlavacek said. "After being married that long, it was very weird."
Hlavacek and his lady friend have been seeing each other for a year or so. They go out for happy hour, take in a movie or enjoy shows at the theater.
"We make each other laugh," Hlavacek said.