OPINION: Over 65 and looking for love? Some are finding it’s not too late

A few weeks ago, Jennifer Wheaton sat by the fireplace in her southeast Atlanta home mulling over an important decision: Hinge or Bumble?

The septuagenarian was flanked by her daughter and two 20-somethings who could explain the subtle differences between each online dating platform.

It’s Wheaton’s first foray into online dating, an avenue she never expected to be venturing down. In many ways, her journey is a brave one.

“I have a few girlfriends who have gone on and used the apps, and they have been pretty successful with getting dates and having short-term relationships,” said Wheaton, a recent transplant from Los Angeles. “I’m not a short-term relationship kind of person, so I don’t know how this is gonna work out for me.”

Wheaton, dressed in cream-colored sweater and black leather pants, could have been among the beautiful and stylish women who recently vied for a chance at love on ABC’s The Golden Bachelor, but that’s not her jam. She’s too low-key (and way too cool) to look for love on a reality show.

Still, she was among the many intrigued by this latest iteration of the dating show and faithfully followed the journey of 22 women trying to earn the affection of a 72-year-old widower.

Popular culture has taken a while to come around to the idea of late-life love affairs. Hollywood hasn’t been clamoring for those stories. Society, it seems, is more comfortable seeing older women as grandmothers supporting future generations rather than as someone’s love interest. But maybe a reality television show that offered a charming instead of cringe-worthy view of dating at 65-plus is a signal that we’ve turned a corner.

The Golden Bachelor had the franchise’s highest ratings in years. But, honestly, I’m a little upset that the first advanced-age version of the show focused on a bachelor.

Gerry Turner, the Golden Bachelor, probably would have had little problem finding a mate if he had just strolled over to his local community center or grocery store. He didn’t need a reality show to give him a boost in the dating game because, later in life, there are a lot more eligible women than there are eligible men.

Fortunately, he was mostly a background player to the dynamic suitresses who gave us some insight into how women of a certain age are navigating the wacky world of dating.

There were lessons for sure: Love is transformative, no matter our age. We all want to be seen, no matter our age. Heartbreak hurts, no matter our age. You get the idea.

“I think what it shows is that people of all ages are looking for love and willing to get out of their comfort zone in order to be able to find that and experience that,” said Wheaton.

What the show didn’t teach us, because it’s far less entertaining than watching women over 60 dancing the hora in a pool, is that about 25% of older singles are socially isolated. Some data suggests that older women are even more likely to find themselves in that situation because they are more likely to be widowed and live alone.

Wheaton is among the 57% of women age 65 and older who are single in Atlanta. Compare that to 31% of men in the same age group, and it’s clear why the old way of finding dates may not be working out for local women in their golden years.

Though I haven’t reached my golden years, I am well versed in dating during late adulthood. My experiences debunked the idea that age brings wisdom or ease.

Older people come with pasts, and pasts come with baggage. Some of that baggage can get really heavy. I’m sure that dating at an advanced age isn’t all ATV rides and pickleball matches as portrayed on The Golden Bachelor.

Wheaton was struck by how awkward some of the interactions were between Turner and the women on the reality show. In fact, at the top of her list of qualities she wants in a mate is being a good travel companion who wants to try new things. She’s looking for someone who’s both comforting and comfortable.

That doesn’t seem like a lot to ask. I hope the dating apps can deliver.

I also hope this new appreciation of golden-era dating is here to stay, and that it continues to change outdated thinking that leaves many older women feeling as if their love story has ended.

We, as women, don’t come with best-by dates.

The more that mature single women get out there, the more they can significantly and positively alter the way we view dating and aging in America.

The rest of us should swipe right on their efforts and let them get to it.

Read more on the Real Life blog (www.ajc.com/opinion/real-life-blog/) and find Nedra on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AJCRealLifeColumn) and Twitter (@nrhoneajc) or email her at nedra.rhone@ajc.com.

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