Note: This story originally appeared Sunday, January 22, 2006
Waah! It's hard to find a date at age 23.
Whine! I'm jaded at 26.
Just wait, say singles in their 40s and 50s.
"What happens in this age group," says Tom Blake, a California-based author who writes a syndicated column about dating in your prime, "is people are married, let's say for 30, 35 years, and the last thing on their mind is being single. All of a sudden you're out there, so you just have no idea what to do."
Blake wrote the book Finding Love After 50 to help people like him, confounded by their single status. The big problem: "How in the heck do you meet somebody in the first place?" he asks.
"Don't ask me what bars in downtown Kansas City you can go to," Blake says. "Tell me what your interests are. Then you go and join a club or two that have your interests."
Once singles find someone to date, they shouldn't let them go too quickly. With experience comes wisdom - and sometimes too critical and quick a judgment.
"It's a whole new changing of the way we think you've got to be - open-minded and not so judgmental of people," Blake says.
"When we were younger, looks were really important. As we get older, we're all going to get wrinkles, we're all going to be lacking in the energy we once had, and I try to convince these people, `Don't just blow somebody off if they're not gorgeous.' "
Once you find the date, where do you find the time? It's enough to make anyone give up.
But a group of single 40- and 50-somethings from the Kansas City area hasn't. Six men and women sat down recently with The Star to talk about dating after 35. They shared horror stories and success stories and discussed exes and kids.
THE STAR: What's different about dating now versus when you first started?
KAREN HARTLEY: Numbers. There are so many more younger people socializing. The hot single spots are obviously going to be geared for 20-, 25-, 30-year-old people. And there's no way to change that.
DICK SUMMERS: I didn't get married until I was 32, so I thought there were a lot of places to go and a lot of things to do. I used to go to the Plaza and Westport in my 20s. Getting back out when I got divorced, I went to Village Singles, which I found so large it was difficult getting into it. I'm a small-group kind of a person. I play golf, and I heard in 2000, on my way home one night, that there was a singles golf club getting started. ... I'm just finishing up the year being president.
TERRY SPRICK: One of the challenges I see is we go to things, and we think everybody else knows each other. It's such a big small town, we all gather around the people we've seen before in a group of three or a group of four. Whether we go to the ski club, the Catholic singles, the (Church of the Resurrection) singles group, we see some of the same people and tend to huddle up. It's hard to break in for a first-timer.
JUDY MADERE: The online dating thing I've tried, too, and it's not trustworthy. I think I gave it like 30 days and had a lot of one-date wonders. ... It's the comments I got. This guy with a big gut telling me I needed to lose 10 pounds.
DENETA SMASHEY: They're married, also, a lot (of them.) Or they're separated, but they all live in the same house. She has her own bedroom; he has his. ...Or they have too young of kids. I don't want to start over again. My son's 22. Me being 42, most people my age have young kids, and I won't date them. I don't want to raise somebody else's kids.
MADERE: That's been an issue for me. I had my kids very young, and I'm at a point if I meet somebody with a very young kid, I'm thinking, "Oh gosh. Do I really want this?"...I just don't want to get in the situation where I take such a big step backward when I'm ready to go on with my life.
SUMMERS: I love my kids. I love being around kids. Logistically thinking, I understand that. If there are young kids around, I wouldn't be interested. Even teenagers.
MADERE: Now what do you feel about their relationship with their ex-spouses? I've met so many people who hate their ex-spouses so badly that it just consumes their energy.
NOEL BETOW: I think that depends on how long it's been since the divorce. I think you lose that after awhile.
HARTLEY: Certainly I had some animosity toward my ex. I didn't have children, so basically when we split, there was no need to maintain contact. I still remained optimistic that not all men were going to be like my ex-husband. In fact, I tried to be overly conscious when I went out on dates to say, "Yes, I'm divorced; let's move on to another subject." Because I have been out on a date or two with a guy who, on the first date, would not stop talking about his ex. It was obviously a painful relationship. But you walk away going, "He's just too wounded to date."
BETOW: It was probably too soon. You were there to help him heal.
HARTLEY: Let the professionals do that!
SUMMERS: One of my basic rules is, you don't talk about your ex for the first two dates. When I go out, I want to have fun. If there's any animosity over whatever, then I'm not having fun and I won't see you again.
If you like somebody - if you're going to be dating long enough - you've got to tell your story, she's got to tell hers. Then we figure out whether we can live with each other's baggage. If somebody starts bashing their ex, I want to find out a.) are you divorced, b.) how long has it been and c.) how many dates have you been on since the divorce?
MADERE: Two years. They have to be divorced for at least two years or I will not go out with them. ... And then it goes to the other extreme where these guys have been divorced for 10 years and it's "me, me, me, me." They're very self-centered.
THE STAR: What about age ranges? What's acceptable and what's not?
HARTLEY: I'd think the guys would have a different perspective. Because they can date younger.
BETOW: You can date younger now, too - Demi Moore.
SMASHEY: I did a lot of online dating, well, talking mostly. I got a lot of young guys e-mailing me. I won't date anybody younger than 32. Ten years younger and 10 years older. I don't want to be their mom. My first question is, "Why do you want to go out with an older woman?" They answer, "You're more experienced." More experienced in what? Please tell me. So then they just laugh. I'm 42, I pay my own bills, I don't need a man in my life. I want a man in my life. There's a difference.
SUMMERS: Women, when they get over 45 or 50, especially if they're financially secure ... they'd like a guy for a companion, but they really don't have to have a guy, so they have fun with their girlfriends. My girlfriend used to live in Phoenix. She and her friends, if a guy was really wanting a date, they'd say he's in need of a nurse or a purse.
SPRICK: Thirty-five to 50 is probably the hardest window. The majority of those people are married, still with kids, family stuff, children stuff. Have kids at home and can't go out on a whim.
BETOW: You're either married with kids or divorced with kids.
SPRICK: And then there are people like me who are 49 with no kids and never been married, and they look at you and say, "Well, you live on the Plaza. You're either gay or there's something wrong with you because you've never been married, so you're not a good prospect, anyway." All these years I was a 30-something dating a 20-something, and people would ask why I would do that, and I'd say because I can. The stupid thing about that, all of a sudden you move outside of that age and you can't. It's a timing thing. Right place, right time.
HARTLEY: I'm 48. It seems like men who are 48 can still attract and have the option of dating a 38-year-old female. I guess the pool is bigger. As far as meeting single women, there are just a lot more single women give or take 10 years to date. For me, I can't imagine why a 38-year-old man would be interested in me. I'd be flattered, but ...
BETOW: I think that's a stereotype because I know lots of women who are dating younger.
MADERE: I dated a guy who was 52, and I'm only 40. But he didn't look his age; he didn't act his age. But I don't think I'd go any higher than that. And younger, I find the guys too immature.
A guy my age, I find they're not established, they're still kind of out there. The older guys are more established in their lives. They know what they want, and that makes it easier.
THE STAR: So how the heck do you meet people? Clubs?
BETOW: I've brought some of my friends to ski club events, and they will say how cliquey it is. I've gone to other clubs. You get the same perception. Other groups, the Chamber, wine-tasting clubs, events such as the art openings, there's more mixing. A lot of the church organizations, the ski club, there doesn't tend to be a lot of integration.
HARTLEY: Even with the Chamber, the Kansas City Business After Hours are huge. You have 300 people, and even in that situation, you can tell people who know each other go off into smaller groups. I force myself to cross the room if I see someone standing by themselves.
BETOW: When we were younger, in high school or college, there was a natural word of mouth: This is happening, that is happening. Once you get to our age group, there could be some great events going on around town and nobody knows about them.
MADERE: Not only that, I think we have a lot more responsibilities. You can't always get out.
BETOW: Right. If there's an event on Thursday night, I can't go. I have to stay home with the kids.
SUMMERS: I've been single for 16 years after a divorce, and one of the things after an initial period of not doing any dating at all, I thought, "I'm not going to meet anybody sitting around. I might as well go out and do things I enjoy doing, whether I do them by myself or with someone else." To me, that's the best way to do it.
Andrea Lorenz can be reached at email@example.com.
BY THE NUMBERS
54 Percentage of single people ages 40-69 who have had a kiss or a hug in the last six months.
37 Percentage who had sex
39 Percentage who use protection all the time (numbers are higher for women in their 40s who might still have a pregnancy risk.)
SOURCE: Singles Lifestyles Study conducted for AARP The Magazine in June 2003 of 3,501 single men and women ages 40-69. http://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/general/singles.pdf
Total single people in KC metro area (either never married, divorced or widowed)
35 to 44 years: 46,096 men; 46,230 women
45 to 54 years: 29,491 men; 37,451 women
55 to 59 years: 8,073 men; 13,440 women
60 to 64 years: 5,853 men; 11,522 women
65-74 years: 9,592 men; 26,234 women
75-84 years: 6,793 men; 28,205 women
85 years and older: 2,754 men; 15,102 women
60.9 percent of single people in the KC area are older than 35
41 percent are over 45
27 percent are over 55
19 percent are over 65
21.1 percent of people in the KC area over the age of 35 are single
14.1 percent of those over the age of 45 are single
Out of single people over the age of 45,
43.4 percent are divorced
40.8 are widowed
15.8 have never been married
Out of single people between the ages of 35 and 44,
51.8 are divorced
45.5 percent have never been married
2.8 percent were widowed
- Source: 2000 Census
Noel Betow, 49, has an engineering degree from KU, lives in Prairie Village and has three teenagers living at home. He has tried many avenues to meet the right woman but has not found her.
Karen Hartley, 48, is a graphic artist in Kansas City. She is divorced, a cancer survivor and has no children. She refuses to be bitter about dating and is optimistic about the future.
Judy Madere, 40, is a legal assistant, lives in Shawnee and belongs to a Catholic social group. Her 17-year-old triplets (yes, triplets!) are graduating soon, and she's ready to do a cannonball into the dating pool.
Deneta Smashey, 42, has a 22-year-old son in college. She works as an administrative assistant and hopes to move to Florida in a couple of years - where she says the dating environment is less stressful with more approachable single men who also approach women.
Terry Sprick, 49, is a never-married Plaza resident who works in sales marketing. He also compiles a calendar of Kansas City events. E-mail Terry at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive the calendar.
Dick Summers, 56, is a computer consultant and the outgoing president of the KC Singles Golf Club. He lives in Overland Park, has two kids and has been dating someone for 11 months. Sorry, ladies!