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Dating for Older Women: Experiences and Meanings of Dating in Later Life
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Learn to read situations. Be honest and ethical. Set a boundary as soon as possible. See The True Meaning. Engage her emotions and her body. Turn Everything Into an Adventure. Sue was not uncomfortable being single, and she had not dated much in the past 5 years. However, she missed having physical contact with a partner, having someone with whom she could do things, and the support that a partner would bring.
Betty also missed having a partner and talked about her loneliness and desire for a companion. She wanted to find another partner like her second husband, but believed that the chances of this happening were doubtful. Therefore, marriage was unlikely, but she struggled with being alone and wanted a companion with whom to share her life. These four were not particularly interested in dating to date; dating to them meant finding a long-term, committed partner, and preferably marriage. For the other women, dating did not mean a pathway to remarriage. In large part, dating entailed companionship and having fun.
An acknowledgement that this is a couple-oriented world brought with it a desire to have a male partner with whom to have dinner out, go to movies, and to talk. As illustrated by Peggy, it was nice having a male companion with whom to do things. Included in the desire for companionship and having fun was the belief that dating meant something different than participating in activities with other women.
This was, in part, motivated by wanting to be appreciated as a woman. For Carol, it was an opportunity to spend time with a man and to be appreciated as her own person again. I found it very exciting to be a person again rather than a wife, a widow, a mother. Another aspect of this meaning centered on the enjoyment of the company and conversation of men.
The things that I enjoy, the computers and the investments and those kinds of things, are things that I enjoy talking with men about. Dating also meant physical intimacy. The definition of physical intimacy, however, spanned the continuum from holding hands to sexual intercourse. Because they were single when dating and were all brought up with the belief that sex belongs within marriage, they struggled with thinking about sex outside of marriage. In later life, eight of the women—six who are remarried and two currently single—still espoused the belief that sex outside marriage was wrong.
However, Anita, one of the women who strongly held this belief, had sex with her most recent boyfriend, and she regretted this decision. Because these women believed that sexual intercourse belonged only within marriage, dating was not for sex. However, dating did mean physical connection in the form of holding hands, hugging, and kissing. The other six women—four single and two remarried—have changed in their beliefs regarding premarital intercourse over time as a result of their own life experiences.
Pam was not interested in sex at this point in her life, although she did say that she might consider it within the context of a committed relationship. For Fran, the idea of sexual intimacy with a man again did not seem realistic. She occasionally missed sex and thought that if she met a man she liked, it might be possible for her to enjoy sex again.
She did not, however, think it would happen for her, and she was not worried or concerned if it did not. Sue admitted that her ideas concerning sexual intimacy have changed with age. Within a long-term, loving relationship, Sue would enjoy an affectionate, sexual relationship. Sue would not have allowed herself to engage in this behavior when she was younger. Martha and Karen, both remarried, also talked of having changed their attitudes about sex as they aged. Both of these women lived with their current husbands prior to remarriage, something neither would have considered when younger.
Both are also surprised at how much they are enjoying the sexual component of their relationships, something that is different from previous relationships they have had as well.
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Dating also meant facing fears. They had heard horror stories from their friends about negative dating experiences. Almost every woman interviewed had heard a story either from a friend about herself or about someone they knew who had been exploited by a dating partner. Exploitation involved having money stolen, being pressured for sex, and being left feeling foolish after a relationship thought to be long-term turned out to be temporary. These women felt wary about putting themselves in a position of being vulnerable to this type of hurt.
I just had heard nightmare stories, I guess. Lastly, dating meant being open to possibilities, the notion of being content with life as is , but being open to the possibility that dating might also bring enjoyment to life—dating might enhance a good life. These were women who had constructed lives with which they were content.
They had friends and family and were busy with activities. However, this attitude led to two different sets of conclusions.
For one group of women, there was a strongly expressed outlook that life was good, but that did not mean that they would not also enjoy dating. For them, dating could be thought of as an enhancement to life. These women did not want to spend time with a man just to spend time with a man. Even when they were interested in dating, they were not interesting in dating just anyone.
They were not willing to do those things just for the sake of having a date. There were, on the other hand, women who expressed a satisfaction with their lives and were not open to dating or its possibilities. They had structured lives that were content, and they had no desire to change that either by dating or marriage.
This lack of a desire for remarriage was a barrier to dating for some of the women because dating was assumed to be a step toward marriage. For these women, no desire for marriage meant a lack of a desire to date, and contentment with life served as a barrier to both.
Dating in later life is in some ways different from when they were younger. They feel older and wiser now. Even if they have apprehensions about dating, they now know what they want in a dating partner and are not willing to compromise. They have very full lives and are not desperate for a companion. These women know the type of person with whom they enjoy spending time, and they know how they want to be treated. This is different from when they were adolescents and young adults in part because they feel that they know themselves better now.
Very few of them have dated in later life to find a marriage partner. Therefore, dating someone who will be a good provider or a good father to their children, or someone with whom they can build a life are goals they had as young women. These are not their goals now. Finding a man who is interesting with whom they can go out and have fun and from whom they can be treated with kindness and respect are the goals voiced in these interviews.
The six single women, even those who enjoy dating, are now accepting if they do not date in the future. She enjoys having someone with whom she can do things. Along with contentment with the lives they had established was a satisfaction with or enjoyment of their independence. Whether divorced or widowed, some of the women had worked hard to establish their identities as independent women and had learned to do tasks on their own since becoming single again. They did not want to give up their independence through remarriage or even dating.
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Dating for Older Women: Experiences and Meanings of Dating in Later Life
That would be stressful. For Peggy, Pam, Anita, and Fran, the goal of dating was to have fun. Peggy and Anita both said they would consider a long-term relationship with a man, but not marriage. These four single women had enjoyed dating in the past and would be interested in dating again, but they emphasized being satisfied with their lives, enjoyed living alone, and they did not need to date because of loneliness.
Dating had a multitude of meanings for women in later life. These women acknowledged that they live in a couple-oriented world and by dating, they could participate in couple activities like dancing, which many of them enjoyed. Dating, for most of these women, was to have fun—to have someone with whom to go out to dinner, to go to the movies, to dress up for, and to talk to. Dating was viewed as a different experience than doing things with other women Dickson, et al.
Dating meant being seen as a woman—not a widow or a grandmother, but to be appreciated as feminine and attractive. Dating also had the potential for different types of conversation, talking about things that typically other women might not talk about, such as computers. Even if engaged in similar activities, dating meant a different type of experience when participating in an activity with a man as opposed to another woman. Intimacy was a complicated term. For some of the women, intimacy implied hugging and kissing.
For some, intimacy was sexual intercourse. The women in this study were positioned at all points along the physical intimacy continuum of what they were looking for in a dating partner. No one said that she dated explicitly for the purpose of sex. However, a number of women said they were open to the possibility of a sexual relationship with the right man. For some women, this differed from earlier points in their lives when they would not have considered sex outside of marriage as an appropriate option. Another dating issue that was different in later life than at earlier stages in life was what one considered important in a dating partner.
When they were younger, these women looked at the potential of a man as a long-term partner, as a father for their children, and as someone with whom they could build a life. In keeping with their current goals, only a few of the women were dating with the purpose of finding a marriage partner Dickson et al. Because of their current goals, they were interested in finding men whose company they enjoyed, men who treated them with respect, and men who enjoyed doing the things they enjoyed.
In order to date, many of the women had to confront their fears. Dating had the potential for fun and for physical intimacy, but there was also the fear of being taken advantage of, which can be found in prior research Dickson et al. An additional fear that these women spoke of was the fear of being bored. After divorce or widowhood, they had developed identities as women who were content with their lives. They had structured lives that were full of hobbies, family, and friends, and they did not want to go out with a man just to have something to do.
Dating, for most, provided opportunities to enjoy the company of men, to be treated as special, and to engage in activities as part of a couple. Interestingly, the women in the study who had remarried spoke of finding a resolution of interdependence where independence had not been sacrificed Watson et al. However, single women continued to guard their independence and were concerned that too much involvement with a man might threaten their independence. In some ways, dating was seen as a step towards marriage, not as a separate activity. For those women who did not want to remarry, often because of their strong independence or their contentment with their lives, this lack of a desire to remarry was a barrier to dating.
However, in looking toward dating in the future, the currently single women were still open to the possibilities that dating might bring. It might be nice to have a male companion with whom to have dinner, for example, but these women had female friends and family with whom to have dinner and do other activities. The experience would be a different one if done with a male partner, and it was fun when that opportunity arose, but these women saw themselves as content and independent and not lonely or desperate.
Dating was seen as an enhancement to life—if it happens, that would be nice; if it does not, life is nice as it already is. One of the major limitations of this study is the small, homogeneous sample.
Because some of the women were divorced, some were widowed, and some were both, the sample was very diverse in this respect. However, in an article that included all statuses, some of the individual nuances may have been overshadowed as similarities between all of the women were stressed, perhaps to the exclusion of the some of the unique differences of one or more of the groups. Future research would benefit from purposefully interviewing single women who are divorced and dating in later life, as very little information is known about their experiences.
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