Humans are living longer, healthier lives than ever before – the current average life expectancy for men is 79 and for women is 82. By 2029, around the time that many of today’s younger daters will be starting to enter their mature years, we expect to see a sharp jump in life expectancy, to 82 for men and 86 for women thanks to medical and scientific improvements. And as the Future Foundation trend Ageless Society explores, this change is not just about living for longer – it is about working for longer, feeling (and, thanks to science, looking) younger, being in better health and more active as a result, having higher expectations, rejecting being regarded as elderly and so much more.
50+ single people looking for second or third meaningful relationships
It also means that the traditional idea that we’re past the need for any romantic attachment beyond 50 is simply inconceivable. Whether it’s the break-up of a long-term relationship (especially one where a couple has stayed together for the sake of now-grown children), a bereavement or simply a long-term single lifestyle, being single in later years is no longer a rarity.
But crucially, social taboos are slowly being broken down, meaning that it is no longer unacceptable or unheard of for a 50+ single person to look for a second or third meaningful relationship.
As Mary Clegg, a relationship specialist who works for Relate and Saga explains:
“Whether you’re 16 or 60, or 17 or 70, when you fall in love, or you’re looking for love and you’re looking for companionship, you’re doing exactly the same thing.”
In other words, there is no cut-off point at which a single person should seen as too old to seek a new relationship, no age at which a person should accept a single life because that is what is deemed to be ‘normal’. Love is the same, at whatever age or lifestage it is sought.
And etiquette expert Fleur Britten highlights M.A.D.D.S. – Middle-Aged Divorced Daters. As attitudes to age change and middle-age is perceived to happen in our 50s or 60s, rather than 30s or 40s, these M.A.D.D.S are bringing their own rules to the dating scene:
“What do you do when you’re faced with that reality again when you’ve been married for 20 years? That’s the kind of thing that a middle aged dater is dealing with…It’s much more of a minefield for that generation because they’re not… digital natives and the whole idea of communicating online in this very immediate short term way is a bit of a shock to the system.” 30
Encouragingly, the LoveGeist research reflects a strong desire for happiness and also a genuine optimism among older daters:
80% of older daters aspire to a long-term relationship
80% of daters over the age of 50 aspire to a long-term relationship in the future
At 25%, the proportion of 50+ daters who don’t want to get married is higher than the sample average – and yet, this still only represents a quarter of older daters. The rest are open to suggestion
Older daters want exactly the same things from a relationship as their younger counterparts – their number one priority is still someone they feel secure with and second is sexual compatibility (although women tend to prioritise common values above sexual compatibility above the age of 56)
There is no sense of taking second best or being ‘on the shelf’ – more than 70% of 50+ say they are fussy about who they date, significantly higher than 18-24 year olds
They are modern in their views – while 35% think getting married is the biggest symbol of commitment, 33% say the same about moving in together (vs. 21% of the total sample)
They rank their love lives third in a list of life priorities
Older daters – and in particular women – tend to have learned life’s lessons and understand the core elements of a successful relationship – 72% aged 50+ for example, think being on the same wavelength is crucial, compared to just 45% of women aged 18-24. Similarly, 78% believe common values are important, compared to 48% of 18-24s.
However, as Mary Clegg , relationship expert explains, there are some key differences and considerations that are unique to older daters:
“ [Older people] are a bit more cautious. They don’t make love on first dates…they tend to try and find common ground, to use their experience…. Some of them have children and have to try and consider how their children might feel. They might just have lost a partner, so sometimes worry how will people perceive them if they’re actively looking. But I’ve had many recently bereaved people saying… ‘my wife has just died, and now I’m expected to carry on as usual and I not only miss her, but I miss the intimacy’.”
Chivalry still has its place
It would also seem that traditional values such as chivalry still have their place among the older generation – 85% of men aged 65 and over say it is important for men to be chivalrous towards their date, 87% would offer to pay for a first date, 92% would open doors for a date, and 97% would give up their seat for a date.
Younger daters can learn lessons from older counterparts
Relationship expert Mary Clegg expert thinks that younger daters can learn some lessons from their older counterparts:
“I use a phrase from the old Green Cross Code when I talk about communication and improving relationships – Stop, Look, and Listen. So when somebody’s talking…you owe it to them to listen. You look at them…and you listen to what they say. And before you reply, stop, think then speak….I think the younger generation needs to learn that.”
Online dating over 50
Turning to technology, the advent and exponential growth of personal computing, electronic communication and of course online dating have had a huge impact on society, and in particular on the older generation. Future Foundation forecasts predict that by 2015, 53% of 55+ consumers will be active on social networks for example- older people are becoming more adept, comfortable and confident in technology. Looking to the LoveGeist data, 85% say they have regularly used online dating tools to meet a potential partner.
Relationship experts Mary Clegg says:
“With the advent of [online dating tools]… people feel so comfortable with using a computer and the Internet, social networking and that sort of thing, they find it just another extension of their communication network… And that doesn’t just apply to the 20s and 30s. I see some very articulate people on the Internet, way into their 70s.”
There is no doubt that the older generation is moving towards a more technologically enhanced future – this, combined with changing demographics and fast-evolving social mores, will, we predict, impact heavily on the older dating market, with mature daters more ready, willing and able than ever before to venture into love later in life.
The LoveGeist Report was commissioed by Match.com