Dating After Gray Divorce: Must-Knows for Thinking Women
We’ve followed our gut instinct, embraced the chaos, and gotten the divorce after decades of marriage. We’ve upended everything we knew and encountered many things we didn’t. Now, we’ve run smack into what many think might be the worst of the what-next: dating after gray divorce.
Challenging the Notions of “Gray Dating” & Exploring the Potential of Dating After Divorce
Let’s dive into the term “gray dating” before we talk about what that’s actually like, because I am certain I am not the only person who objects to this one.
When is the word “gray” ever used to depict something happy?
Gray days, gray moods, gray areas, dating after a GRAY divorce: these descriptors embody no connotation of adventure, advantage, sparkle, curiosity, or the confidence earned through hard-won self-knowledge. They suggest none of the honed edges of discernment, savvy, and courage that come with coming through.
The implication of the phrase “gray dating” is that it’s just one big, dry, desolate landscape of blah blah blah. It sounds like smog on a schedule. And it isn’t. We’ve got more than a little consensus that while it has challenges, dating at this time of life also has potential for great conversations, a lot more fun, expanded empowerment within an interpersonal dynamic and, by more than one description, “far better, far more interesting sex.”
Embracing a New Vocabulary: Reimagining “Dating after Gray Divorce” as Patina Playtime
“Dating after a gray divorce” is different from dating in our 20s and 30s, sure, but in many ways, it’s richer and a damn good time. We’ll get into why, but first, dear members of this 40-plus divorce tribe, we’re changing the agreed-upon vocabulary. We are creating a new term for this liminally potent, interpersonal mystery tour.
In fact, we could call it “Liminal Love”, because liminal space and time refers to that which bridges the Before and After. It holds the gate open for all the magic and beauty still afoot after 40-something. It’s the white space between the portraits on the wall; it’s sunset and sunrise; it’s the crepuscular hunting ground of wolves and cats, a hint, a wink, a suggestive tilt, and the bounce in a step that keeps dancing. But for the sake of clarity, I propose we call “dating after gray divorce” Patina Playtime. Patina Playtime suggests play and discovery, without the emphasis on love (which might set the bar too high. You’ll see what I mean.)
Diving Deeper into Patina Playtime (formerly known as Dating after Gray Divorce)
(Kindly note that all the women featured below are SAS clients who volunteered to share with you their personal bits and pieces. How we love their moxie!)
59-year old Cheryl, lives in California and has a Master’s degree in education. With two grown children, she is now managing her own business. As she put it, “I can see how much my earlier life was distracted by men, or the next man, or fantasizing about men! Was it hormones and youth? Because I sure am getting a whole lot more done with my life without a man around. I am not NOT interested in dating. But I am not actively pursuing it either. I trawl. I have my two online dating profiles and I wait and watch. I’ll look at my likes or like others a bit before going to sleep.” What’s more, Cheryl adds,
“I will only go out with a guy if I think the experience will be interesting — because I have limited time. And I’d rather be guaranteed a good time, which I will ALWAYS get with my girlfriends. Mostly, I’m interested in making my business go gang busters, and in traveling, meeting new people and having adventures,” she said. “Romance can factor into adventures, though,” she added. “And when it does, it’s delicious.”
This is a perfect example of one of the things that makes Patina Playtime dating wonderful: we’re old enough to be more interested in all of life, not just the slice of it that is the intimate partnership. This in turn makes us more interesting.
Looking for big and small steps to your adventure?
Check out “100 Must Do’s for the Newly Divorced, Independent Woman.”
Cheryl talked about the sex in her marriage, which she said was good once she reconciled herself to accepting that he wasn’t her soulmate. But she noted that sex after divorce is “much more interesting.” Still, she expressed the worry that many of us have – aging out of being found attractive. And in the next breath was quick to emphasize she’d found male partners she liked very much despite that concern.
“I don’t yearn for a life partner, so that brings the fears down a lot about dating. I suppose it saddens me to witness my pool of potential partners diminish as I reach a certain age and openly acknowledge it online. At 59, I often go unnoticed and overlooked because many men lie about their age and seek much younger companions. They have set their filters that way,” she said.
If you wonder what is normal, and what is not when it comes to challenges, get anchored by reading “How to Overcome the 6 Hardest Things About Life After Divorce.”
“But the guys who do find me online and who I find attractive are even more interesting, because they are honest and appreciate a woman my age. I suppose there’s a part of me that indulges in body shaming with myself, and I may take pause at the idea of getting naked. But I can get over that. I do get over that if I really like someone… I did not have sex for five years, post-divorce, and then, I suddenly had three men who overlapped. And they were lovely men! So, the universe does strange, marvelous things.”
When it comes to body shaming, I had a male acquaintance recently express his complaint about his partner needing to shed a few pounds. He mentioned one of the main ways, among others like dyeing, bleaching, injecting, and surgically enhancing, through which even young women receive “instructions” on how to alter their appearance.
“For her health,” he quickly added.
I restrained myself, but I wanted to say, “That is the pot calling the kettle black, my friend. You are operating under the outdated, patriarchal double-standard in which some of you still think you get to dictate that women are the only ones who have to maintain a particular appearance in order to be ‘dateable.’ Frankly, you could stand to lose a few, too, and your gut is hindering the progress of your erection a hell of a lot more than her thighs are hindering your ability to hang onto her like you should.”
I have another male friend, a 70-year-old who is as droopy, stooped, and ear-tufted as they come, but he insists on dating a woman 15-20 years younger than he is, and behaves as if this is entirely normal.
He behaves as if it’s his due.
Gentlemen? If any of you are reading this, do correct your cerebral-rectal inversions. I have news: Women, in addition to being communication-oriented, are visual, too. We’re also smart enough to realize that most of us spend more than half our lives in middle age. Hence the term. And most of us, male or female, look fairly different from what your unrealistic, fossilized entitlement dictates. It is also fairly different from the youth-glossed mass illusion perpetrated every nanosecond in our culture, with constant inundations of imagery and every filter you can slap on a selfie. If you don’t recognize that, then it is you who are lacking. Not us.
Interested in hearing more from wise women like you?
Read our “Starting Over After Divorce at 50: Five Stories on Finding Yourself.”
A divorced woman facing Patina Playtime may experience one of the major fear factors: betrayal through infidelity. The act of being cheated on, especially over an extended period, and subsequently entering the dating scene without the advantages of youth, can profoundly impact our emotional well-being.
Remember, you own the power to go, or not to go, into the dating arena. Or, to consider it if you wish down the road. You also don’t have to know. You get to call it.
Because, let’s confront the reality, one must engage in healing after a divorce. Betrayal makes us question not only our whole value, but our judgement, especially about our bodies.
That can lead us to either second-guess ourselves out of a good thing, or lead us into a questionable one.
“I just want to have fun” says 52-year-old Kerry Anne, in Austin. “Yes, I do want sex. I want to be loved and found attractive and interesting. My esteem has taken a hit. I thought all was fine in my marriage and I discovered my spouse was having a long-term affair. I saw the credit card bill for three dozen roses on Valentine’s Day. They sure weren’t for me,” Kerry Anne is a former stay-at-home-mom with a Bachelor’s degree in communications and three children, ages 21, 18 and 14. She now works for a non-profit organization.
“The sex was so-so in my marriage. I was willing to overlook it because I thought he was a good guy, and he was the father of my children. I’ve been able to give myself far better orgasms. And with others? Already I’ve had far better sex with others than I ever had with him. I’ve got a lot of healing to do, but at the same time I feel deprived of male attention, and I am looking for action. I hate to say it. I guess I am trying to find out if I am really lovable.”
And on that note of action, “I’m 74,” said Louise of Santa Fe, New Mexico, “and I neeeeever thought I’d say this … who knew sex at this age could be so much fun?”
You can do whatever you want. Including reading this or not, “Reinventing After Divorce: How NOT to Date a Married Man.”
What About Women Emerging from a Gray Divorce, and Who Don’t Want to Date?
Of the women we spoke to, many were emphatically clear. They were not interested in Patina Playtime or whatever it might be called. Susan, in Upstate New York, who is 73 said, “It’s not time for me to date yet. I will probably be interested sometime in the future in finding companionship with a warm, mature, and emotionally safe adult male who is looking for a relationship based on equality, care, kindness, and nurturance. And fun.”
“These days,” Susan continued, “I’m working on reconnecting with myself, and coming to a good enough understanding of how I came to inhabit my marriage that I can leave thinking about it behind and move on. I’m getting there. I’m interested in exploring what my life means now that all the rules of the game have changed.”
For help self-connecting and moving onward, consider reading “46 Steps to Ensure Your Divorce Recovery: A Definition and Guide.”
Connie, a 52-year old resident of Tennessee said, “Date? I don’t even know if I like men. Or, if I like women. I’ve got a whole journey in front of me about me.”
“Oh, no thank you,” said 54 year-old Millie of Little Rock, Arkansas. “I’ve been through so much in my marriage, I just want to throw myself into my favorite hobby now …birding! I am weary of attending to the needs of others. While I understand that dating is meant to be enjoyable and lighthearted, I would rather channel that energy into venturing into the wilderness and observing birds as they engage in the captivating dance of the Call of the Wild.”
What Do Other Women Dating After a Gray Divorce Say?
“Initially I thought I wanted a relationship,” says Sally of New York City, a 65-year-old who holds a graduate degree. “Lately I don’t feel ready to settle down. I’m more interested in meeting new people and having fun. If it develops into something more, that’s icing on the cake.” She adds that there is a relief at this age. “There’s ‘no biological clock ticking’, so much less pressure to find ‘the one’. Religion is no longer important either, since I won’t be raising a family with a partner.”
Joan from Portland, Oregon, laughed when asked about dating at her age of 69. “I have a really nice, casual relationship with a friend. There’s no pressure from either of us. It’s just calm and peaceful. He’s a gentleman. He treats me with respect. The antithesis of my marriage experience.”
A Bigger Picture to Dating after Gray Divorce
Divorce after 50 is the fastest-growing demographic of those divorcing, and the number of people in this age group who are ending their marriages has doubled since 1990. So, it would behoove us to develop some sense about this vis a vis that “gray area”: looks fade, but the personality doesn’t change much. Fun and sexy have just as much (if not more) to do with the mind and spirit as they do with the body and face. How great the sex is depends as much on a person’s focus, intent, character, confidence, intelligence and the things they’ve got to say as it does on their physical attributes.
Back when life spans were still short for both genders and antibiotics didn’t exist, it made some biological sense, taking a younger female mate. No longer. The life span has lengthened but make no mistake, we are aware that your male accouterments may not lengthen with the same readiness as they used to. Do not get it twisted: women are visual, too. But there are work-arounds. Many of us are willing to make allowances but those allowances go both ways.
And gentlemen? I have another headline: Women that are much younger than you truly want to have sex with very few of you.
The game has changed. When we won the vote, became recognized as human beings, and then became bread-winners (even big ones), you lost the advantage of being able to cash in on being providers and snagging twenty-somethings at 50-plus, simply because you thought you could get away with it, when women had almost no survival options other than marriage.
Now, many of you men don’t need anyone to tell you this. Many of you have outgrown the cliché that portrays men as solely fixated on the visual aspect or implies that men’s visual appeal has an age limitation. Many of you find equal motivation in what lies behind a woman’s eyes as in what she wears.
I am 51-years-old; like many women, I have never had Botox, lasers, whitening, tightening, surgery, injections or corrections of any kind and I stopped dying my salt-and-pepper hair 12 years ago. I have marionette lines, brow furrows, a tummy and other parts not as perky as they once were. My longest-term mate was 10 years younger than I, and he is no slouch in any area.
My next boyfriend was 12 years younger; he’s a gorgeous kickboxing god and multiple, next-levels up in the bedroom, and I have the basis for comparison in that regard: I have had the good fortune to have great lovers, including my 13-year partner. Several men who have wanted to date me since those break-ups are 20 years younger than me. As I am not a mother and have never wanted to be, I do not believe that any of this is due to any of them looking for a Mommy substitute. Unless you have fur and four legs, I just don’t exude maternal.
The point, sisters, is this: I think we need to rid ourselves of the fear and the stereotypical expectation that most men only look for women who are their age or younger than they are. Many do and unfortunately, dating sites rely on pictures, and lean into the photogenic first. But many men are interested in older women, find us attractive, want the whole package, and are far more evolved than the stereotype implies, or than women give them credit for.
“I just don’t have time for women my age,” said my 30-year-old male neighbor. “I work a lot; I have dogs; I own a home. I want to come home and be at peace. I don’t have time for games. Older women are attractive. They’re just more relaxed and they know who they are.”
And when we do know who we are, silver crepe and all, this is part of what it looks like:
“I’ve seen a lot but can also go into a relationship with wonder, openness. I appreciate the fact that I have experienced falling in love twice since my divorce. I can GO THERE,” said Cheryl.
“I also like that I can intellectually handle myself around any man. They don’t always like it, it scares some away, but that’s a wonderful filter to have.”
Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer and print journalist living in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Connect with Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org
*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”
Change the course of your life — AFTER DIVORCE.
Join us for Paloma’s Group
Our Unusual Divorce Recovery Group for thoughtful women. Read more here.