it's complicated

How to Date in Your 70s

Photo: Robert Nicholas/Getty Images

Staring down the profile page on the dating site, MeetMindful, I’m simultaneously refereeing a debate in my head. Who wouldn’t want to date a sexy, smart, sophisticated woman? I ask myself as I post a smiling photo. An older woman’s nagging voice counters, “Who would find a graying, gluten-free grandmother desirable?” Even though my Jewish mother died at 87 in 2005, before my silver strands emerged, my diet narrowed, and my marriage failed, I can still compose her lines in our script. I learned self-criticism along with my times tables.

Who doesn’t carry conscious or unconscious messages that inhibit our behavior? In spite of mine, I returned to online dating at 70 last month with a new mission and a new attitude. This is my second go-round in the world of virtual match-making. I no longer need to prove myself lovable. I am and I know it. My biological clock is still ticking, but not in the same way it did in my 20s. This time the sweep hand says, “Enjoy every minute!” Now it’s more Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun and less Etta James’s At Last.

For over six years, I’d been seeing a man named Mike whom I met on in February, 2012. “Do you know how desirable you are?” he asked me on our third date. We had kissed for the first time while seated on a wooden bench overlooking Compo Beach in Westport. I shook my head. No one had ever said something like that to me before. So began an intimate and satisfying affair.

And then it was over. My desire had grown stronger while his flickered.

When I returned to the virtual world of courtship this time, I saw that it had expanded exponentially since 2012. To narrow the field, I asked single women and newly coupled friends which apps worked best for them. Based on that feedback I invested a few hundred dollars and enrolled in MeetMindful, OKCupid and Bumble. I tried the age-appropriate SilverSingles briefly, but felt it attracted too conservative a population. I rejected Match this go-round for fear Mike would see me on it. Of course, if he were there looking, why shouldn’t I be? But a catch in my belly made me resist.

I’d once shielded from digital exposure by a long-term marriage; after we split up, I’d avoided learning about this high-tech universe until being alone grew more painful than going online. I had to learn how to attract my ideal mate by crafting an inviting profile and uploading photos of myself.

For anyone just starting the online dating process, regard the undertaking less like a quick homework assignment and more like a term paper. Comparing notes with a like-minded and similarly engaged friend can help you leap the hurdle that this is how it’s done in 2019. My divorced friend and co-conspirator Sandy validated my wonder at men who posted photos of themselves in sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats, astride Harleys, or posed with their mothers.

If you’d prefer that Yenta, the matchmaker, do the footwork, there are sites where you pay for that service, one for as much as $50,000 where a team of pros does the research. But you still have to be clear about who you are and what you’re looking for.

I’d heard of Tinder, but was nervous about it. “It’s for hook-ups, Jane,” a friend advised me. Still, wanting to be hip, I tried the more female-friendly version called Bumble, where nothing happens until the woman sweeps her finger eastward first. Once she has right-swiped, an interested male can continue the interaction and move the dialogue forward.

After performing that next-step motion one evening, an attractive Manhattan man responded with an immediate ‘like’ and the message, “Where r u now?”

I read that as “Let’s have sex tonight!” though that may not have been his intention. I’m too new at the swiping thing to know the protocol. Nonetheless, I panicked and hit BLOCK. I was not looking for a hook-up. What must he think of me? What was I now thinking of myself? Sex, yes! But let’s establish some affection for each other first, please.

On one of my non-swiping platforms I received a message from Joe, who listed himself as 73. He invited me through the site’s intra-mail system to give him a call. Courteous men offer their number which allows the woman to dial anonymously if she chooses. She can phone from an unidentifiable number or press *69 to block a snoopy candidate.

“I love where I live!” Joe boasted during our chat. “I’m served three meals a day here.” I deduced that home was an assisted-living facility. That and details of his recent leg surgeries substantiated my hunch that Joe may be older than his posted age.

Even though nothing during our conversation invited me in, I didn’t say no to a dinner invitation.

“Choose a restaurant near you that you like,” he offered.

“Thank-you! Once I make the reservation, may I text you the address?” I asked.

“No, call me. I’m old-fashioned and still use a flip phone.”

Mindful that I was born with the judgmental gene, not having a smartphone in today’s world was a deal-breaker for me unless you’re Thich Nhat Hanh.

A relationship coach provided me with the all-important four-letter exit strategy for moving on. “Next!” is the mantra she taught and I adopted.

I used the intra-mail system to break the date with Joe. “Still feeling raw after my break-up,” I lied.

“He may be your last chance,” Mom whispered.

I logged onto one of my other sites the next day and saw a surprising message from Flip-Phone-Joe who’d found me there. “Not that raw I see…”

I swallowed hard and blocked him.

I’ve had a few afternoon outings, several phone calls, and lots of email exchanges. They’re all good practice, and I’m not discouraged.

I spend time on my sites almost every day. I’m not sure where this will lead me, but I’m committed to the process. I trust that there will be one man in a hundred who will be my match. I’m up to No. 16 at the moment. That includes every man I’ve had an in-person date with, a phone call, or a written exchange that was more than a reciprocated wink.

I’m confident that by the time I reach Man No. 47 or No. 63, I will feel a true connection, notice the heat and progress to a new romance. My job is to keep showing up, to continue to respond with grace and dignity and to allow the numbers to do their job.

Personal growth work keeps my attitude positive as I share with good friends about being ghosted — a connection gone dark — and ghosting — my own bowing out of an ongoing conversation for inexplicable reasons.

I often spot men and women on the subway speed-thumbing texts and swiping with abandon, though I prefer to conduct my romantic searching in the privacy of my own home and the convenience of a full keyboard and ten fingers to speak with.

“Who’s the old one now?” Mom inquires.

“Thanks so much for your input,” I respond, “but I’ve got this. You can go back to your matzah balls now.”

It’s Complicated: How to Date in Your 70s