CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As we approach retirement and living life throughout our golden years, we are faced with the challenges brought about by financial concerns, physical and mental limitations, and the obstacles that prevail in the health-care system.
The common denominator to meeting these challenges seems to be one of keeping our minds open to possibilities that we might not have otherwise considered.
And even though the age number continues to march on, what keeps pace with it is our persistence, determination and willingness to embrace and live a full and exciting life, rich with a somewhat healthy bank account, a daily walk, a game of Scrabble and finding the right doctor to attend to our seemingly growing list of health concerns.
While we are ever mindful of these key components of aging, we also continue to search for that one key that unlocks and makes possible embracing all the other challenges — love.
Whether we have never been married, have divorced after many years of marriage, or have lost a spouse just as we were about to enter the golden years, finding, keeping and sharing love still ranks as one of the most healthy choices we can make.
Ruth Sutherland, CEO of Relate, an organization in the United Kingdom which helps people of all ages improve their relationships, states that 83 percent of people surveyed over 50 years of age agree that “strong personal relationships were the most important factor to a happy later life.”
So the boundaries are far-reaching, not only here in our own hometowns, but across the oceans.
Most of us can still recall with vivid detail our first crush, first date, first kiss — first everything.
And nothing seems to taint it — not even divorce or death. Instead, it propels us forward — we still believe in love. It’s part of who we are. It simply can’t be denied.
After the sudden and unexpected death of her husband in 2004, Carolyn Young, of Elkview — for the first time in 37 years — found herself single. While she continued to enjoy time with her children, grandchildren and her successful career as an administrative assistant and office manager, she missed the fullness and richness that she enjoyed with her husband, Roger.
“It never occurred to me that, at 56, I’d be single again. Dating was the farthest thing from my mind, and yet my life with Roger had been so rich that I knew at some point I would date again — perhaps and probably not remarry, but certainly date. After all, isn’t that the greatest compliment that I could give not only to Roger but to my children and grandchildren as well?”
“How do I ask a girl out for a date,” is still one of the most Googled questions.
And the anticipation of meeting that special someone brings flutters to our hearts — thankfully. It is one of those emotions that time and experience cannot change.
Regardless of the reason why we find ourselves re-entering the dating scene as seniors, we still look forward to meeting someone who shares our interests, as we shop for something new to wear, get the car washed and check the clock and driveway for the arrival of our date.
The anticipation is actually not much different from what we experienced at 16, except that we didn’t have a past to talk about at 16, one of the top subjects on which advice is doled out to seniors re-entering the dating scene: The focus is on having fun, not reliving every moment of your life with your late or former spouse and your six grandchildren.
Relax. Get to know each other, and save the history for later, after you’ve had a chance to get to know each other better. And remember that it’s just as important as we age and date to respect ourselves — actually, it was my mother’s mantra with every date that I went on as a teenager.
Her other mantra as I entered college and continued to date was to always have a way home, whether it was my own car or enough money in my purse to hire a cab.
Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and a member of the anthropology department at Rutgers University points out that if we stay at home and “do the same old things,” we close ourselves off to meeting others and enjoying life.
By attending our grandchildren’s school events, sporting events or taking a ballroom dance class, we open ourselves up to meeting potential dating partners.
Even something as simple as shopping at a different grocery store might present an interesting chance meeting.
Volunteering efforts are also great opportunities for meeting other single seniors, as well as church functions.
AARP offers a wealth of information on great vacation ideas on both a small and not-so-small budget as well as interesting date ideas. The important thing to remember is to get out there and meet people.
While senior online dating services are seeing a huge increase in clients, be aware of the scams that are certainly a part of that selection.
Other pitfalls of senior dating are those ever-present “gold diggers,” who are primarily interested in draining your bank account of years of hard-earned money and a secure financial future.
Remember too to keep your personal information private. And while sexual activity may or may not be part of your plans, keep in mind that — surprisingly or not — the number of cases of HIV/AIDS is growing in U.S. adults over 50, so use protection. It can’t be stressed enough.
While we might find ourselves — for whatever reason — not only embracing the myriad challenges that the golden years will most assuredly present, one thing is certain: to face those challenges without opening our hearts to love will certainly pose even greater challenges.
And embracing the Guatemalan proverb, “Everyone is the age of their heart,” just might be your new best friend.
Kathy Jacobs is a former Catholic high school teacher and college educator whose written work has appeared in regional publications as well as in Writer’s Digest and on the op-ed pages of The Charleston Gazette. She holds a master of arts degree in humanistic studies, and writes about topics of interest to senior citizens and their families. Kathy can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.