One man wrings his hands. The woman seated across from him twists her wedding band.
Wanda Moore looks around a dark-wood-walled reception room in McCrite Plaza at Briarcliff, a retirement community in Kansas City, North.
“Do I look too eager?” she asks.
Moore, a former flight attendant, was among 18 seniors mingling in six-minute sessions last month at Shepherd’s Center Central’s first speed dating event.
The event, for those 55 and older, comes amid a nationwide dating trend meant to empower older adults to find love and companionship.
Sandra Aust, director of the Coming of Age initiative for Shepherd’s Center Central, said it’s prime time for opportunities like this in Kansas City.
The metro’s population of adults aged 65 and older, according to Mid-America Regional Council, is expected to nearly double over the next 20 years.
Local numbers echo national estimates: In 2030, more than 20 percent of U.S. residents are projected to be 65 and older. And by 2050, baby boomers, who are largely responsible for the growth in the older population, will be over the age of 85.
“These are the generations who grew up getting together and socializing in church, at school, at work,” Aust said. “Now their opportunities are limited, but the need for friendship, companionship and connection, that doesn’t change.”
That’s the message of director Steven Loring’s 2014 film, “The Age of Love,” which follows 30 speed-dating seniors in Rochester, N.Y. The film has been screened across the country and has inspired a conversation about love in later life.
Loring began work on the film in 2011 shortly after his father died. That left Loring’s mother a widow at 70.
“My mom was thrown into this single life,” Loring said in a telephone interview. “She was without an emotionally intimate partner and wondering who she would be in the future.”
In the same year, his 78-year-old uncle, who had never been on a date, took up with a woman two years older. Loring said that’s when his uncle started locking the bedroom door.
Loring was struck by his uncle’s new romance, but more so by media treatment of an aging generation.
“Everything I saw forwarded the stereotype,” he said. “That everyone over 60 has lost the opportunity for love, that they’re somehow beyond that or embarrassed about it.”
But through filming, Loring found just the opposite. The men and women he followed — ranging in age from 70 to 90 — were open to sharing their experiences.
Many had spent their lives in loving, intimate relationships with a partner who had passed away.
Carol Green, who attended the Kansas City event, said speed dating wasn’t about finding another spouse, but someone to connect with, to share a meal with, to talk to about loss.
Pam Finley, who traveled to the event from Edgerton in Johnson County, has never been married. Still, she said her expectations for a relationship have changed with age.
“As I get older, I know myself better,” Finley said. “I know where home is. I probably won’t pick up and follow someone like I might have done in my 20s.”
But at 60, Finley feels young. And a sense of humor is high on her list.
Across the room, Dan Maclean, 82, obliges.
Laughing and leaning close, he calls the room “a geriatric meat market.”
Maclean jokes that he’s in high demand. There was a waiting list of women for this event.
“Men at that age have depended on social connections through their partners,” Loring said. “They need to be reassured that it’s fun to do something so emotionally revealing.”
Charlie Burton, who points to a staff member at Shepherd’s Center as his reason for coming, said he’s glad he came.
Aust is already working on a way to draw more men to the next speed dating event: Every woman who registers will have to recruit a male friend or relative.
She doesn’t think attendance will be an issue.
“No one has said anything other than ‘I had so much fun,’” Aust said.
Shepherd’s Center Central will host another speed dating event and two screenings of “The Age of Love” in the fall. For updates, go to SCCentral.org.