In 2006, 40 percent of Americans over the age of 45 were single, something that many of them would clearly prefer not to be. For example, an international study by Oxford University in found that 30 percent of those studied had visited an online dating website as of 2009, and those most likely to have done so were middle-aged men and women between the ages of 40 and 69. Dating sometimes seems like the only road out of the land of singles, and for the middle-aged, it's a road filled with potholes.
Many people in midlife have family obligations that limit the time they can devote to dating. They may spend their days rushing from work to afterschool activities and then home to help with homework. The difficulties multiply if they have children with special needs, such as developmental disabilities or chronic illnesses. Many middle-aged people are responsible for the care of their aging parents. Those caught in "the sandwich generation" -- squeezed between the needs of young children and those of aging parents – sometimes despair of ever having a social life again.
By the time they reach middle age, many people have experienced emotionally wrenching events such as divorce, job loss, financial setbacks, illness or the death of a spouse. Those experiences can leave emotional scars that make it difficult to form new intimate relationships. That's especially true for those who have been in physically, emotionally, or verbally abusive relationships.
Modern advertising tends to portray dating as something for the young and lovely, and many middle-aged people feel they don't measure up. They may have neglected their physical appearance while devoting time to family and career. They may interpret wrinkles, thinning hair, and other signs of aging as proof that they'll never attract a partner, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Sometimes people who begin dating again after the end of a long-term relationship expect to pick up where they left off. They want to experience the excitement of a young-adult romance again, and they're disappointed when they don't find it. They may think that people their age look too old for them. Some refuse to date anyone with what they see as liabilities -- including children, aging parents, disabilities, or health problems.
Success at Last
Despite the many difficulties involved, millions of middle-aged people manage not only to enjoy dating but to achieve their goal of finding a long-term committed relationship. Some meet a new partner by following the tried-and-true advice to get involved in volunteer activities, college classes, or religious groups. For others, the road to success begins with an exercise program or a new hairstyle to improve their self-image. The adventurous give online dating a try, and the courageous turn to therapy to help them heal. Maybe they're not all successful, but the only ones guaranteed to fail are the ones who never try.
Melanie Scheller has been writing about health for more than 20 years. Her work has been published in "American Baby," "Medical Self-Care" and "Current Health." Scheller holds a Master of Public Health and a Master of Education.
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