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Tom Ketchum of Chehalis, Washington signed onto an online singles chat room more than 20 years ago. He had been recently widowed after 38 years, and missed having conversation and companionship with another person.
That was where he met Sheryl, who lived a distance away in Everett, Washington. She was divorced and had moved back to Washington to be nearer her family.
"At that time, I was fed up with men!" she laughs. " But I got an email message from Tom. He seemed so nice. We talked for a while and then he said he wanted to come and see me."
Kindred Spirits Find Connection
The pair went to dinner that evening, and started chatting every night from 9 to 11. Soon, it was apparent that they enjoyed each other's company. Tom hadn’t dated in a while, so he wasn’t sure what to expect.
" It's like you're a teenager and you go out on your first date in high school," says Tom. "I wasn't looking for romance. I just wanted someone to talk to. She [seemed to be] the kind of person that I thought would be good to have as a friend. That's how it started out."
Their friendship blossomed into long-lasting love. Tom, 82, and Sheryl, 71, married in July 2021 at Capital Place in Olympia, Washington, after more than 20 years of living together as a couple. "We didn't rush into anything!" laughs Sheryl.
Start with Friendship
Friendships of any type can be healthy and beneficial to older adults. Meeting new people and developing new relationships can have the same impact on your brain as learning a new card game or a dance step.
Many residents of senior living communities create strong friendships with each other, finding common interests or backgrounds by participating in activities. But sometimes, simply reaching out in kindness to one another in a retirement home can spark even more.
Joan Laughrige had only planned to help Pastor Richard Harbstreit find his way around Sterling Court in Deltona, Florida after he moved in. They sat together for dinner at the Holiday Retirement community, sometimes accompanying each other to a restaurant for a meal. "We just became friends, but as I got to know him, I did think that he was very special," says Joan.
Pastor Harbstreit (affectionately known as Pastor Harbie) enjoyed Joan's company at dinner for more than a year when he realized that his and Joan's friendship had grown into something he truly hadn't expected. The relationship had grown into something more. "This past July, I woke up and said to myself, 'I'm in love with her!'"
He immediately professed his love to Joan. She admitted that her feelings for Pastor Harbie had grown as well.
A few days later, they consulted with their community management team to help them plan their marriage.
Dating and Love in Retirement Communities
"The older we get, the more we cherish love," says Francine Russo, author of LOVE AFTER 50: How to Find It, Enjoy It, and Keep It. "Sure, we can be content if we have lots of friends and family. But an intimate relationship gives us something special. Even if we just hold hands, kiss and hug, that arouses our body's feel-good hormones. We not only feel great, but people who are partnered have better health and live longer."
Research has found that as you get older, you're more emotionally stable and more focused on the positive. Seniors go into a new relationship with compassion, experience and a desire to complement their lives instead of expecting to complete it with another person. "You know what's important and what doesn't matter at all," says Russo. "You argue over very little because you know there's not much worth arguing about."
Your senior years might be the best time to pursue a relationship. There are approximately 35 million single seniors in the United States, and many eventually decide to pursue monogamous, committed relationships. "Whether you marry or not, live together or not, you'll have a partner who will adore you, want to hear about your day, tell you how great you are when you feel down on yourself, hold you close when life deals you a blow, and makes you laugh," says Russo. "Isn't that worth a little risk?"
Senior Living and Dating
Whether you are considering dating someone you have met in your senior living community, or you are venturing out of your comfort zone with online dating, here are a few tips to get you started.
1. Be comfortable with who you are. Don’t be afraid to spend time doing things that are necessary, and say no to the ones you are not willing to do. You can share time with a date by participating in senior housing activities, or have a meal together in your retirement home dining room.
Sheryl Ketchum says that when Tom asked to meet with her, she already had plans to put gravel in her driveway. She told him that if he came to visit, he had better plan to help.
"We were both dressed in crappy clothes and I had my sunbonnet on," says Sheryl. "There was nothing hidden. He helped me all day long."
2. Feel good about your appearance. You have years of wisdom and experience in that body of yours! Be proud of who you are. "Remember that you don't have to be young or gorgeous," says Russo.
"Pay attention to what you're wearing and make sure you feel good in it. Older people are looking for an emotional connection, someone they can really talk to, who understands."
3. Expect to have a good time. Make a point to discover things about the person you are dating – where they lived and worked, what they enjoy doing, or what is important in their current lives.
You may discover things about someone who has lived in your retirement home community for some time -– but you didn’t ask the right questions! "Go on the date with a hopeful but realistic attitude. It may lead to a second date or a relationship. Or not," says Russo. Make eye contact, smile and even be a little flirty!
4. Be clear about your expectations. Tell the other person how you would like to see the connection grow. If you simply want a friendship or a dinner partner to begin with, establish a few ground rules on when to revisit the relationship.
Focus on doing things that are fun if you continue to date. “If you want to be exclusive with the person, ask for that,” Russo says. “Don't assume you are."
How Do I Find a Date in Senior Living Near Me?
More seniors are dipping their toes into the online dating pool. Although Joan Laughrige and Pastor Harbie met in person in their retirement home community, Tom and Sheryl Ketchum first connected online when internet dating was still relatively new. Today, there are several online sites that focus on singles over the age of 50, offering those in retirement homes an opportunity to connect with like-minded potential dates or future partners. Most offer members an option to request matches within a certain age range.
Most sites limit messaging options if you are using a free account. If you truly want to meet and converse with someone, consider choosing one or two sites and paying for a subscription. You can cancel the renewal option immediately on most sites, and continue using the site until your subscription expires.
Plan to add photos to your profile for best results, as some sites require several photos before your profile is approved. Ask someone in your senior living community to take a few well-posed pictures and offer ideas for your profile.
EHarmony is open to mate-seekers of all ages, but has been touted as one of the best dating sites for seniors. The site's mission is to establish long-term, meaningful connections by having members complete personality quizzes that are used to seek compatible matches. You can join for free, but to message or try out the Beta video-date option, you must be a paid subscriber.
Silver Singles is a select dating site for older people who have most likely had past experiences with long-term commitment. The site also has a personality profile for members who want to match themselves to like-minded partners. Like eHarmony, you can join for free. But to have real conversations, you need to subscribe.
Hinge is an app, not a dating site, and its mission, according to the information website, is to eventually "be deleted." Although it is not a site that focuses primarily on seniors, It is meant to connect those who want more than just a casual date, and are searching for a loving relationship.
The app is free and easy to download, but you must upgrade to have unlimited access to matches. You can "like" the information of potential dates, but the free account limits the number of times you are able to do so in one day.
Use Your Dating Smarts
Dating does bring an element of risk as well as reward, whether or not you live in senior housing. Safe dating practices should be a priority, but you can still have fun and enjoy the process. You may find that you enjoy spending time with more than one person at first, before you decide to become exclusive.
"As you get to know someone you like, be prepared to really open up and let the other person know who you are, what you feel," says Russo. "That may feel risky because you don't know whether he or she will judge you.
But remember, you've been through a great deal in your life: divorce or being widowed, losing people you've loved. You've survived all that and are stronger than you realize. If a relationship doesn't turn to love, that may sting a little, but you'll be fine and even try again."
Romance can be as close as the person dining at the next table in your senior apartments, or might be a swipe away on your phone. "Find someone that you can share things with – someone who has a life similar to yours,” says Tom Ketchum. "It is never too late to fall in love."