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Dating for Grownups: The Invisible Older Woman

byline: June Marshall 

Adults and Dating

Most magazines, books, and discussions about dating center on the younger age groups in our population. But everyone in this nation is not between the ages of 16 and 21. We all know women, including ourselves, who have been divorced or widowed after many years of marriage. We also know busy women who bypassed the dating scene as they built their careers. Now these women are out in the dating marketplace. What are they finding? They are finding that they have to be careful about whom they take into their lives. The fantasy and the reality of dating are two different issues. 

Relationship Books

Most books and magazines on dating and relationships deal with the subject of attracting, understanding, or keeping a man. Cosmo with its articles about turning on and attracting Mr. Right, Glamour with its numerous articles on fascinating him in bed, Venus and Mars trying to understand each other in and out of the bedroom, The Surrendered Single, are just a few examples of the many. But what if the man is not worth attracting, understanding, or keeping? The books and magazines do not treat the subject of standards and selectivity because it is too real and sounds depressing. Fantasy sells more products than reality. So we only see the beginning of the fairy tale, not the day-to-day truth of living with another human being. We do not see the stabilized middle of the story, nor do we see the ending, which is often unpleasant.

Movies and TV

The visual media are no different, with superficial TV shows that have total strangers marrying each other based on appearance and the hope of financial gain. Shows like "Who wants to Marry a Millionaire," "Joe Millionaire," "Married by America," "The Bachelor," and "The Bachelorette" do not focus on the actuality of living with someone's character and personality traits on a daily basis. Movies like "Serendipity" show a couple falling madly in love based on a few moments of chitchat at a glove counter. Now their destiny is eternally intertwined. All of these shows and movies display the courtship dances of the twenty-something set but they fuel the dreams of people of all ages. It is "Miss America" meets "The Dating Game" and the nation is entranced by the illusion.

The Invisible Older Woman

Books, magazines, and movies find little glamour in a woman who is past 30, 40, or 50. Thus, we do not see or have a chance to comprehend the true dating experiences of the older woman in mass- market presentations. If we do, that too is romanticized, as in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," where once again we see the elaborate ceremony and what leads up to it, but not the happily- or unhappily-ever-after. The heroine is a whole 30 years old (!) and definitely behind schedule in her culture's marriage expectations. But what about the millions of women who are over 60 and 70, even over 80 and are actively seeking male companionship? The media ignores them. There is something slightly distasteful about thinking of sex and the older woman. 

Landmine Dating

The general population does not know that the incidence of AIDS in people 50 and older is growing at a rate twice as fast as for people younger than 50, according to statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (apparently thanks to Viagra). The elderly man cavorts with an infected partner and brings it back to his senior girlfriend. They do not use condoms because they are past the age of pregnancy. AIDS is just one of the landmines waiting to explode in an older woman's face if she enters the dating game equipped with fairy tale dreams of romance instead of an understanding of the realities. 

"There are a lot of men who are over 70, have a lot of money and are out dating a lot of younger women and not using condoms," says Anita Finley, a gerontologist and radio talk-show host in South Florida, where she also publishes the magazine Boomer Times. "They don't get it. They were married and didn't have to use protection for so long. It's so obvious, but they're playing Russian roulette." 

Condo Casanovas

Such behavior, conscious or not, puts senior citizens at risk, say health educators who participate in the statewide Senior HIV Intervention Project in Florida. They cite a widespread use of prostitutes by senior citizens and the presence in retirement communities of so-called "Condo Casanovas," or men who take advantage of an environment in which women outnumber men by 7 to 1. With that level of competition for a man's affection, typically after decades of marriage and a healthy sex life, many women are reluctant to demand that their partner use a condom, experts say. 

Expensive Guys

In The Dirty Seven: Ladies Beware! I describe the seven types of dead-end mates that women of any age would do well to avoid. But one type in particular costs the older woman more financially and socially than any other: He is a related species to the Condo Cassanova, known as OLMan (Old Loser Man). OLMan calculatingly offers his lonely prey flattery and attention, compliments, flowers, and romance. He expects financial gains as his reward but does not explicitly state it. It's just that his wardrobe can use some renewal and he comes up short on money when he takes her out to dinner so she pays. His teeth need fixing and she loves him so much, she'll fork over the thousands to get them capped. He costs the woman socially because her friends feel alienated and awkward when they try to warn her that he is taking advantage. One of his traits is that he wants to isolate the woman from family and friends so he can be the sole influence on her activities and expenses. The family is dismayed when every time they visit Mom, he is there too.

Far-away Mom

Sometimes the woman's family does not live near enough for frequent visits. The family finds out after it is too late that Mom has fallen prey to one of these parasites. After her death they find family heirlooms missing and discover evidence of large expenditures on him. He has been known to sue the woman's estate for breach of promise because Mom promised him money on her death and the heirs have withheld it. Something similar happened to my friend Rachel's mother. In Rachel's own words, "The healing process after my mother's death took on dire aspects. She had been 'dating' or seeing a male suitor, or so she thought. Turns out he was no suitor but a crook, of the worst kind, those who prey on elderly, single women. Once my father died, this guy moved in on her. Trouble is, he turned out to be an extortionist, and cost me an additional 2 1/2 million dollars in estate tax fees. It's a long story, but it had to do with him taking her dancing and telling her she was beautiful and her believing every word he said."

OLMan Example

Robert is another good example of an OLMan. He met Estelle at church. He was looking for a rich widow to take care of him and Florida was full of them. He portrayed himself as a humble man, devoted to God and religion. Estelle was ecstatic. Finally she met a man who would read the scriptures with her and discuss the world of the spirit. She saw the lonely widows sitting in the church with no male companionship, keeping themselves busy with tales of their grandkids and past lives. "I don't want to be like that. I want a guy I can take walks with and share life with. This man is a gift from God and I am going to accept it."

It wasn't long before he asked her to marry him. Nobody else had come around with marriage offers. She said, "Yes." He moved in with her, since she had an upscale condominium on the beach and he lived in what he called his "motor home" in a trailer park.

But after she married him, Estelle found out that he knew nothing about the religion he professed and did not study the scriptures the way he said he did. He could barely read, no less discuss ideas. Now she understood why she had to read the menus for him in restaurants. She thought it was because he couldn't see them. No, instead of sharing life with her, he lay around the house watching reruns of Seinfeld and Mary Tyler Moore, and ordering her to bring him cold drinks. The rest of the time he spent napping and spending her money.  

She felt trapped. She was upset with herself that she had been taken in by his act. He, however, was pleased. He had gotten his quarry and he knew it would be expensive to get rid of him. He outlived her. When Estelle died, her children were aghast at how much he cost the family. In two days, he had already moved on to another woman, in his words, "The prettiest one in the Condo!"

Prevention: Awareness

As with all complex problems, there is no easy solution to the challenges the 50+-year old woman faces in the dating environment. Many factors, including: fear of loneliness, love of fantasy and romance, wanting to feel loved, needed and wanted by a man, and wanting to feel sexually attractive, drive the woman into the arms of the Condo Casanova or OLMan. These powerful feelings are not easily wished away. The only answer is awareness: Firstly, awareness of the health risks involved in this particular age group. Regardless of how distasteful the subject to the youth-glutted media market, people need to be aware of this matter of life or death. Secondly, women must also be aware of the scam artistry of predatory segments of the male population. They must be aware of how many women are victims to their formulaic come-ons. Most women involved with OLMen or Condo Casanovas, in hindsight, prefer a little loneliness now and then to the unhappiness of being duped by a con artist or ending up with a fatal disease. 

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