Note: this is the first of a two-part series.
Dear Neil: I am fifty-five, and find myself single all over again. Trying to find a relationship is radically different than it was when I was in my twenties. I want to remarry, but it’s harder to date at this age, and it is very difficult to evaluate whether someone would be compatible with me. I know I’m not as “hot” as I used to be, and the people I’m meeting aren’t likely to win “sexiest man alive” contests anytime soon as well. Is there anything that could help me evaluate whether someone is a good potential intimate partner for me?
- Haven’t Given Up in California
Dear California: I’ll try. Part of the dilemma is that adults in midlife and older are far more self-defined than they were when they were younger. Presumably you know who you are, what you want, what you’re unwilling to accept or tolerate, what attracts you and what your deal-breakers are. There are also important lifestyle differences to consider: living in the city vs. the country; food and diet choices; someone’s overall health and well-being; personality styles you don’t want to deal with; moody individuals . And of course there are those people that have their hearts walled off, so it’s just about impossible to get really close to them. And who hasn’t encountered people who are wedded to their work, children/grandchildren, sports or anything other than you?
Here are my suggestions for how to evaluate and choose a potential intimate partner for people fifty and over:
• How personal is the relationship? That is, do the two of you confide personal feelings about your hopes, dreams, fears, traumatic experiences, challenges, disappointments and goals for the future? Would you describe the relationship as having depth, or is it more superficial?
• How compassionate and empathetic is this person? Toward you and others? How self-centered is s/he? Does your partner talk most of the time, or is s/he interested in knowing you, also?
• Are you attracted to him/her? Don’t get fooled. You still want to feel that romantic spark, don’t you?
• Do you have influence over major decisions? Are decisions made together or separately?
• How is anger expressed and handled in the relationship?
• Are you satisfied with the amount of quality time s/he makes available for you?
• When you identify things that are important to you, how responsive and accommodating is s/he to your needs, desires, wishes and requests?
• How well are your goals aligned? If one of you wants to live together and/or marry and the other doesn’t, you’re going to have trouble down the road.
• What is your partner’s attitude and comfort level regarding your children, grandchildren, extended family, friends and co-workers? Is s/he willing to join the relationships that comprise your world, or do you get resistance?
• What is your potential partner’s financial situation? Is s/he financially stable? Able to eventually retire without being too strapped? Are you likely to be his/her major form of financial support in the future? Are you OK with that?
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the Denver and Boulder, CO, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303.758.8777, or e-mail him from his website www.heartrelationships.com.