Getting back out there can be difficult, though. Wendy McNeil, a 64-year-old divorcée who works in fundraising, told me that she misses the old kind of dating, when she’d happen upon cute strangers in public places or get paired up by friends and colleagues. “I went on so many blind dates,” she said, reminiscing about her 20s and 30s. “So many wonderful dates.” She met her former husband when she went to brunch by herself and saw him reading a newspaper; she asked whether she could share it. Now her friends don’t seem to have anyone to recommend for her, and she senses that it’s no longer acceptable to approach strangers.
The only way she can seem to find a date is through an app, but even then, McNeil told me, dating online later in life, and as a black woman, has been terrible. “There aren’t that many black men in my age group that are available,” she explained. “And men who aren’t people of color are not that attracted to black women.” She recently stopped using one dating site for this reason. “They were sending me all white men,” she said.
Bill Gross, a program manager at SAGE—an organization for older LGBTQ adults—told me that the spaces that used to serve the gay community as meeting places for potential partners, such as gay bars, now don’t always feel welcoming to older adults. In fact, many gay bars have become something else entirely—more of a general social space, as younger gay people have turned to Grindr and other apps for hookups and dates.
Dating apps can be overwhelming for some older adults—or just exhausting. Al Rosen, a 67-year-old computer engineer living in Long Island, described sending out so many dating-app messages that he had to start keeping notecards with details about each person (likes concerts, enjoys going to wineries) so that he didn’t mix them up on phone calls. He and others I talked with were tired of the whole process—of putting themselves out there again and again, just to find that most people are not a match. (For what it’s worth, according to survey data, people of all ages seem to agree that online dating leaves a lot to be desired.)
But apps, for all their frustrations, can also be hugely helpful: They provide a way for seniors to meet fellow singles even when their peers are all coupled up. “Social circles used to be constrained to your partner’s circles, your work, your family, and maybe neighbors,” Sue Malta, a sociologist at the University of Melbourne who studies aging, told me. “And once you became widowed or divorced, your circles shrank. If someone in your circle was also widowed, you wouldn’t know whether they were interested in dating unless you asked.” Dating apps make it clear whether someone’s interested or not.
Even with that assistance, though, many older Baby Boomers aren’t going on many dates. A 2017 study led by Michael Rosenfeld, a social demographer at Stanford University, found that the percentage of single, straight women who met at least one new person for dating or sex in the previous 12 months was about 50 percent for women at age 20, 20 percent at age 40, and only 5 percent at age 65. (The date-finding rates were more consistent over time for the men surveyed.)