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Learning Today's Senior Dating Game

With mature adults living longer many of those unmarried are returning to the dating scene after a divorce, death of a spouse or some other circumstance. But those seeking romance need to be careful in doing so.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, more than 40.3 million Americans are 65 years of age and older, with a whopping 16.2 million of them not married. 

Because seniors are living longer, healthier lives than at any other time in our history, many of these unmarried, mature individuals – regardless of their advanced age, some even in their 80s and 90s – have returned to the dating scene.  

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, we talked to a therapist in the St. Petersburg area who often helps people, including seniors, in regards to dating.  We asked her for advice for the mature tman or woman seeking to re-enter the dating scene. 

Monica Burton is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, with a master’s degree in this type of counseling from Nova Southeastern University. She is also a clinical member and president of the Florida Association of Marriage and Family Therapy. Here is some of what she shared with us:

When does a person know it’s time to date again? Burton said you will know based on your own intuition: "You will have a gut feeling.” You will come to realize there is a certain void in your life, a need that is not being met.

According to an AARP study done of singles aged 55-plus, 49% said their reason for getting back into the dating scene was simply, “Having someone to talk to or do things with.”  Burton said either of these are good reasons. Making the decision to get into the dating scene doesn’t have to be that complicated.

How would you advise an older person, in terms of what he or she can do to take the first steps in the dating process? Burton responded for singles today there are many “safe” options in seeking a mate. “Go with those you are most comfortable with,” she noted. 

Options she mentioned for mature singles include: 

- Participating in a “support network’. She noted there are often “safe” senior support groups people can join right in their retirement living communities.  Other venues where older mature people can gather to talk and get to know one another are networking groups through churches and other houses of worship. 

- Being a regular visitor at a senior center can sometimes open the door to romance. An excellent example is Arda Unjian, 99, and Arlene Wilbui, 93, both of Gulfport, who found one another by attending the Gulfport Senior Center’s weekly Senior Chat Room

Started by Carol R. Ehrenkranz, owner of Rent-A-Hand. Inc. – a long-time local company that provides low-cost personalized services to seniors in need – the original intent of her chat room was to provide a place where lonely older people living by themselves with time to spare, could congregate, stimulating their socialization. Although program continues to serve this purpose, it has also led to dating within members of the group: the most serious being the romance that has blossomed between Arda and Arlene. You can find more about the senior chat room by visiting the Rent-A-Hand website: www.rentahand.com.

Consider finding a mate through online dating sites. “People often are anxious about searching for someone on dating sites, but many sites are really safe these days in helping compatible singles find one another,” Burton said.

The proof: According to a 2006 survey by the renowned research company Nielsen, in their quest to find love and companionship computer users aged 55-plus accounted for 16.7% of all traffic to on-line personal sites. And in a survey done a year later by Lehman Brothers Equity Research, they discovered that the fastest growing group of subscribers for online dating was the 50-plus-age segment in the U.S. Two sites Burton recommends are match.com and eharmony.com.

• Always make your initial dates with someone in a public place. Certainly, your first date and perhaps other initial dates with someone should be in a public place.  Burton recommends that couples consider such activities as: having dinner, meeting for coffee, going to a fresh market together or simply walking on the beach with one another as a good first date. “You want to take this time to talk and get to know one another. Therefore, avoid places with loud music and certainly don’t go to see a movie.”

• Consider going out with someone in a group setting. Burton suggests that a singles couple go out with another couple on a first date, or perhaps several single seniors get together and go out for a group activity. This will provide you with the opportunity to talk to one or more people in the group you might be interested in dating. 

• When it comes to sex, be careful. The number of people 50 years of age and older with HIV/AIDS has increased dramatically in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease and Prevention. In a 2005 study, the CDC found persons 50-plus accounted for 19% of all new AIDS cases diagnosed, 29% of this population was living with AIDS and 33% of all AIDS deaths were from people in this age group. Burton concluded, “There is no excuse for not protecting yourself.  Condoms are easily accessible these days.” 

For further professional advice on senior dating you can reach Single, Married and Family Therapist Monica Burton at (727) 565-2551 or via e-mail: monicaburtonlmft@yahoo.com.

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