By Elicia Brown
It doesn’t seem fair. No matter how big a man’s paunch, or how tired his anecdotes, no matter if he’s an aging boomer or an octogenarian, bachelors seem to glide effortlessly through the dating world, enjoying dinner or drinks with an array of beautiful, intelligent women—often a decade or more younger than themselves.
But for the mature female dater, the woman re-entering the singles’ scene after widowhood or divorce? After scavenging among a shrinking pool of eligible men, women may simply drop out of the dating game, reserving their energy for other passions.
But don’t tell that to Shirley Friedenthal, the 79-year-old co-author of It’s Never Too Late to Date. Friedenthal, who wrote this self-help manual for would-be lovers, along with her 85-year-old boyfriend, Howard Eisenberg, basked in the attention of several suitors after her husband died eight years ago, until she met Eisenberg through JDate.
Jewish Woman magazine recently consulted with Friedenthal as well as two other experts, Rachel Greenwald, a dating coach and matchmaker, and Nancy Dallek, a psychologist, in search of advice for women of a certain age yearning for romance.
Here are five of their top tips:
Extreme Makeover? Look your best, the experts urge. You might ask stylish friends to honestly assess your clothing, hair and makeup. Greenwald, who is also the best-selling author of two books on this topic, Find a Husband After 35: Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School, and Have Him at Hello, says many of her mature female clients resent it when she tells them to rethink their wardrobes. She tells them, “It may not be fair, but it’s the reality,” and that they need to closely attend to their appearance.
Friedenthal recalls a 72-year-old woman who approached her after reading It’s Never Too Late. The woman clearly didn’t think about the visual impression she made, says Friedenthal, who accompanied the woman to a makeup artist and advised her to change her hairstyle. Within three weeks, the woman happily reported having her first date in years.
And Dallek reminds women that “being attractive is not just about appearance”; a certain type of embittered humor she finds in some accomplished, professional women backfires in the dating world.
Sites for Sore Eyes: Your profile on dating websites may also need a facelift. If you’ve posted a candid shot of yourself, replace it with a posed, professional one, preferably taken after a trip to the hair salon. Also, seek feedback from a few smart, web-savvy friends to sharpen your profile’s prose.
Chutzpah Helps: Never stop networking, says Friedenthal, who thinks nothing of approaching an attractive middle-aged or older man in a restaurant if he happens to be dining alone. Smiling encouragingly, cocking her carefully coiffed head to the side, she might inquire how he stays so thin, given the large portions of food. And if—as sometimes happens after several minutes of chatting—the man asks whether she might be available for dinner, Friedenthal will let him know she’s taken, but that she does have a friend. Friedenthal advises single women to adhere to these same tactics, approaching men in museums, movies and markets.
A Time to Be Direct, a Time to be Discreet: Eisenberg, a trim man with a wry sense of humor, reminds women that senior men may not be so confident of their desirability. “Some men are shy, and if they haven’t dated in a long time, they may wonder if they’re so attractive,” he said. You can eliminate the gentleman’s insecurities if you take the initiative. For example, Friedenthal recalls linking arms on a first evening with a date, telling him, “I love to be close.”
On the other hand, when it comes to broaching difficult issues—anything from past illnesses to addictions—keep that baggage tucked away in the closet until you’ve allowed your suitor “to see the issue in the context of your other great qualities,” says Greenwald.
She also advises women to be less straightforward in the initial getting-to-know-you conversations. For example, if a date asks about your career, you might supply a hint or two, and playfully suggest that he guess the answer.
Make Me a Match: Dallek, a psychotherapist who met her husband in her 40s, and whose New York practice includes many older singles who yearn to be in relationships, offers a final tip: There’s no such thing as perfect. Her formula for a good match? “One-third of his qualities you love. One-third you like well enough. One-third you really don’t like, but can live with them.”
Elicia Brown is a freelance writer who lives in Manhattan.