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Published: Sunday, 6/13/2004

Dating over 40: Single men and women face different challenges in midlife

BY RHONDA B. SEWELL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toledoan Kathy Teigland, 52, is happy being single, but says she wouldn't mind if a man came into her life. Toledoan Kathy Teigland, 52, is happy being single, but says she wouldn't mind if a man came into her life.
HIRES / BLADE Enlarge

Going to the disco, meeting up at the White Castle, or parking the Mustang at Lover s Lane no longer qualifies as a great date.

That was the scene when men and women over 40 were teenagers. But now, for the ones who are single, the concept of Prince Charming and Sleeping Beauty truly is a fairy tale.

What s the dating game like at this stage of life? Does it even exist?

We talked to men and women in their 40s and 50s, and singles experts, asking them to describe the dating scene for this age group. We heard from those who have been dateless for years, and others who are happy in their singlehood. Many cited a yearning for marriage as a reason for dating, and ranked companionship as a key element over sexual desire.

According to a 2003 American Association of Retired People (AARP) survey, which sampled the views of 1,407 men and 2,094 women aged 40 to 69, nearly 30 percent of the singles reported difficulty finding dates, and said they would be delighted to start a romance if they could find the right person. The survey was published in AARP The Magazine, the flagship publication of the nation s largest advocacy group for Americans over 50.

Ila Stanger, managing editor of MORE magazine, concurred, adding that the over-40 category is one of the most-divorced generations in history. Because of this, there are many single men and women searching for safe and innovative ways to meet one another.

A large percentage, she added, are taking advantage of credible online dating services, or high-end personals such as the one published in the Harvard Review, for fun and companionship.

It just fascinates me, but at eharmony.com about 55 percent of their membership is aged 35 to 54 years old, Ms. Stanger said in a phone interview from her New York office.

MORE magazine, launched in 1998, is the only lifestyle publication that celebrates women in their 40s and 50s. Each issue showcases beauty and fashion via models that are 40 and over.

Ms. Stanger added that mature single women don t always fit the helpless, lonely stereotype.

Women over 40 and 50 have made their own lives. They are not pining away, and it s still often their decision not to remarry. They just want to be rescued for some fun and companionship, she said, adding that many are no longer burdened by the social stigma of dating a younger man. For example, 40-year-old actress Demi Moore s is having a much-publicized romance with actor Ashton Kutcher, who is 15 years her junior.

For mature men, Ms. Stanger added, the dating scene is not always an abundant sea of women.

Men have just as hard a time as women. If they ve been married for a long time, they ve forgotten how it happens.

There s this illusion that they are totally in charge, but many are very uncomfortable making the first move. Many are out there alone and having a whole lot more difficult time adjusting to single life, Ms. Stanger added.

The AARP survey also showed that 60 percent of singles age 40-69 are women, a majority of them divorced. Forty-two percent of the men, and 24 percent of the women had also never been married.

John Thomas, a local juvenile court probation officer who is single, said his views on dating have changed dramatically since his divorce in 1999.

"I was out there at one point, and this one lady told me that I just needed to slow down and quit looking for something and stop dating everyone. She told me that it's OK to sit at home and be alone sometimes, and that part really stuck with me," said Mr. Thomas, who is in his late 40s.

"Now, I look forward to being alone. That space is necessary at this age."

Mr. Thomas, who also moonlights as a professional R&B and ballroom dance disc jockey, added that he is more choosy now than he was as a younger man.

"Dating is rough, because I'm particular and I know pretty much what I want. There can be someone who is 90 percent of everything you want, but it's that last 10 percent that hits you with a yellow light," said Mr. Thomas, who prefers to date women in his age group or older.

"At this age, I'm seeking maturity, someone that is compatible," he said.

Mansfield, Ohio native Andrea Borders, 46, a single psychotherapist, said after moving to Toledo four years ago with her 16-year-old son, she has remained "dateless."

Andrea Borders: "At this piont in life we're not thinking that the prince is going to come." Andrea Borders: "At this piont in life we're not thinking that the prince is going to come."
ZAPOTOSKY / BLADE Enlarge

"It's hard to make friends, and it's hard to find a single individual just to date," said Ms. Borders, divorced for 10 years. She works for the University of Toledo Upward Bound site, a youth program.

"As a single parent, dating is also difficult because my son is my No. 1 priority. In his mind, he's the man of the house, so that is difficult, and if someone I'm dating can't understand that and work with him, or relate to my son, then dating is very difficult," she added.

Ms. Borders said women in her age group do not rush their decision to date.

"At this point in life we're not thinking that the prince is going to come. Choosing someone to be with or date is a well-thought-out decision.

"The one good thing at this age and that I learned from having been divorced is that there is nothing that I can't do. I'm tremendously strong and very comfortable with being alone," said Ms. Borders.

Ron Eckhart, outgoing president of the Society of Single Professionals (SSP), a 90-member Toledo singles group formed 25 years ago at the University of Toledo, said aside from online dating and personal ads, singles in the over-40 category tend to find one another in organizational settings rather than in bars and nightclubs as their younger counterparts might.

"Most go to dinners together, or join the singles groups; those are the places to meet people," said Mr. Eckhart, who added that church groups; organized singles nights such as those at grocery and book stores, and recommendations from friends are other ways this age group gets together. Blind dating is rarely pursued by the over-40 crowd, he added.

For single professional business consultant Kathy Teigland, the joy of her career, children, and grandchildren fulfill her life, and she has little time to think about dating.

Still, the divorcee said she wouldn't mind being "pleasantly surprised with some wonderful man if he accidentally stumbles into my life.

"At 52, I'm not finding many single men that I could say I am attracted to and share any common interests. . . . The first few years after becoming single again I dated a bit, but I found the whole experience laborious and fruitless. I believe that finding that special someone is merely being in the right place at the right time, and I don't think dating a ton of men or any man makes it happen."

Ms. Teigland, divorced for eight years, added that the joy of mature age is simply knowing who she is as a woman, but the challenge remains coupling that confidence with meeting a man who has her same level of maturity and ideals.

Lucas County deputy sheriff and minister Maurice Morris, co-founder with Nicole Roberts of Relatively Real, a singles group for both sexes founded in 2001, said the goal of dating for mature men has changed dramatically from when they were in their 20s. Mr. Morris and Ms. Roberts, who are good friends, are both divorced and founded their group to promote healthy relationships and dialogue.

"It's not hard for men to meet women in this [age] category. It's hard for them to meet quality women. But there are also men in their 40s who are not ready for the relationship and still act like teenagers," said Mr. Morris, whose group meets quarterly in private homes.

"I find that some of the men in this age group are content because the odds are greater for them to find a mate . . . many of the women who come to the discussions in this age group are bitter because of past relationships and how poorly they've ended. They just want to be by themselves because of all the drama a man has put them through. Many are waiting for their God-sent man."

Contact Rhonda B. Sewell at:rsewell@theblade.com or 419-724-6101.



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