I am a sixty-two-year-old, retired, financially secure man, and I would like to start dating, but I don’t know where to turn. I am openly gay and a couple of years ago my husband who I’d been with for twenty-five years died suddenly of a heart attack. We had a wonderful relationship, and now I am very lonely and want someone in my life again. I dated one man for a while and later learned he had a wife. I’m considered handsome by my friends, physically fit, and drink only socially. I read and I like to travel. I don’t like gay bars and I’m not interested in meeting someone just to have sex. Do you think it is possible at my age to find someone? Is it too late for me?
I receive questions like this quite often, sometimes from men who are recently leaving heterosexual marriages after coming out but also from men who’ve been widowed after having been in long-term, loving relationships with a spouse. Men who’ve lost their partners seem to have a particularly difficult time of it. The latter group has built a social world based on being a part of a couple, and now that structure is gone. And just like their heterosexual peers, they sit at home eating dinner alone, staring at the chair where their former lover used to sit.
The surviving partner first must go through a period of grieving, and grief doesn’t have a an expiration date. I often describe the process like waves on a beach. You get hit by a big one, and then the force of it subsides, only to be followed by another one. Over time, they become less frequent and have less amplitude and power. Then a birthday, a holiday, a photograph will suddenly leave you gobsmacked with grief. Eventually, you learn to bob with the waves, and they don’t overwhelm you.
The point of discussing grief first is that this work must be completed before one has the emotional energy to even consider investing in a new relationship. Those who seek a partner before this work is completed are vulnerable to choosing someone, almost anyone, who can fill the void left by the deceased partner.
One of the other caveats for grieving people is that they must develop a network of supportive friends and not focus all their efforts on finding a partner. But I can also assure you that as a person whose values include making a commitment to one person, you are a hot commodity for others who are looking for someone like you!
In the past, gay bars were often the community centers for the gay community. That is where people went to meet others and to socialize. But gay bars aren’t what they once were, particularly for older men, who often feel on the outside.
In Psychology Today, I wrote “Loneliness Is a Killer,” and evidence shows that loneliness can be hazardous to our health. It can cause everything from heart problems to dental problems and is more deadly than cigarette smoking or excessive drinking. And unfortunately, loneliness removes the motivation to take the one action that would lead to its demise: connecting with people. In that essay, I wrote, “The keys to fighting loneliness are:
- Identifying with a larger social group
- Having frequent and unplanned interactions with others
- Having a chum with whom one can share the most painful of our conflicts”
Although online dating apps are used increasingly, most people meet their partners face-to-face. For many years, I have been associated with Prime Timers Worldwide, a social organization of mature gay and bisexual men with about eighty chapters, mostly in the United States and Canada. Its primary mission is to provide social opportunities for men. Des Moines, Iowa, where I live, has many other organizations: a breakfast club, a gay men’s chorus, gay bowling, country and western line dancing, and others. Try something out. If it doesn’t fit, try something else.
Dine-outs and dinner parties are good ways to engage, but often they are oriented to couples. One concept I love is “Nine to Dine.” The concept is that by having an odd number of people for dinner, singles are not only welcome but essential.
Although most couples get together outside of dating apps, the Pew Research Center polling in 2016 found that 15 percent of US adults report they have used online dating sites or mobile dating apps. Although young people use them more than older people, the numbers are growing for older people too. Online dating has lost much of its stigma, and a majority of Americans now say online dating is a good way to meet people.
One man in his early fifties who is just coming out of a heterosexual marriage has used online dating apps very successfully. I asked him about his experience and here is his response:
For dating (i.e., not just hooking up), I really like OKCupid. It requires more work up front, with lots of questions to answer and pictures to post. But, it is well worth the effort. I also like it because it allows me (for an extra nominal fee) to go incognito, meaning only those I choose to see me can see me.
Having said that, gay friends in less populated areas (especially rural areas) of the country tell me there aren’t enough gay guys nearby to justify its use. In those areas, they may have no choice but to use Grindr (which is geared more towards hookups) or Tinder (mainly for straight but also for gay).
Match.com is also okay and may have more users, depending on the location.
Are you too old? As I wrote in this essay in Psychology Today, “The Curse of an Attraction to Older Gay Men”:
Former Pennsylvania Senator Harris Wofford . . . at ninety years old [married] Matthew Charlton, his forty-year-old lover, whom he had been together with for fifteen years. Senator Wofford had spent nearly half a century married to his wife, Clare, who died when they were both almost seventy.
I have heard stories like this over and over. In every case, the man who’d been left alone had to take the first steps. The bottom line in all of this is “you don’t get the butt you want if you don’t get off the butt you have.” It means taking some risks, making yourself vulnerable. It means taking some action.