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People 50 and older in the U.S. are living longer and divorcing at higher rates than previous generations. That means single baby boomers are navigating the dating world too.
From the WAMU Pod Shop, Dating While Gray, host Laura Stassi shares her own dating stories and talks with single people 50 and older about online dating, sex after divorce, coupling up and what it means to find love again.
Dating While Gray launches Thursday, Feb. 13.
Produced by Ashley Lisenby
- Laura Stassi Host of Dating While Gray:The grown-up's guide to love, sex and relationships.
KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. Baby boomers are living longer and divorcing more frequently than in previous years, meaning single people 50 and older are navigating the dating world, too. The Pew Research Center found in 2017 the divorce rates doubled over the past 25 years among adults 50 and older in the U.S., known as the so-called gray divorce trend. Dating again over 50 comes with a unique set of challenges for some, including connecting online with strangers and sex with new partners.
KOJO NNAMDISo, joining me now is Laura Stassi. She is the creator and host of the new podcast, “Dating While Gray.” Did I mention she's also the writer of it? It calls itself “the dating guide to love, sex and relationships.” Laura, good to see you. Thank you for joining us.
LAURA STASSIIt's nice to be here. Thank you so much.
NNAMDIYou were part of WAMU's podcast incubator, the Pod Shop, back in December, 2018. And that is when you produced the pilot for “Dating While Gray.” Now that you've been developing the podcast for more than a year, what topics, what issues can listeners expect to hear this season?
STASSIWell, we're covering the gamut. So, yes, I'm a product of gray divorce. I was married for almost 30 years, but we're also talking with people who have been widowed, people who have never been married, people who have been divorced for just a short amount of time. So, we're going to be talking about ways to couple up. Online dating is big, but it's not the only way people are meeting.
STASSIAnd we're also talking about considerations once you do couple up, sex, money, kids, where you live. I mean, there's all kinds of ways people are not only recoupling, but how they're organizing their lives these days.
NNAMDILaura, in the pilot, you talk with Jim, a man you met online and who you went out on a date with. Here you are talking with Jim about his approach to online dating.
STASSIYou would update your searches fairly regularly, right? I mean...
JIMYeah, yeah, I would go through and I'd run the search, and I'd, you know, look who was there and see if I was interested. And that's one of the things I liked about Match, is it had the most flexible and user-friendly ability to sort and look at things the way you wanted. I'm a numbers guy, and you could sort numbers in Excel. I wanted to be able to sort and look at things in ways that I wanted to, and Match allowed me to do that.
STASSII guess I wanted to believe there was something more mysterious or magical about online dating.
JIMWell, I think it's both. And, to me, you really look at it as both. I mean, every date is a potential magical opportunity.
NNAMDIWhat's this magical opportunity stuff? Looking for a relationship, you're also looking for magic?
STASSIWell, you know, so, I grew up with people meet you, you know. They fall out of the sky, you know. (laugh) You're walking down the hallway of a classroom -- because I got married, you know, when I was very young -- and boom, someone's there. So, I would like to think that the possibility for that still exists.
STASSIAnd, as Jim pointed out, there is some magic involved with online dating, but you really do have to be intentional, I'm learning, if you do want to couple up. Especially if you are online dating, because it's just a tsunami of information out there, pictures and profiles and ways people can connect with you, and where. You can speak with someone, you know, across the world. There's something called International Cupid. So, you can talk to people in your own neighborhood. You can talk to people across the country, if you want to.
NNAMDIWell, I'll tell you what I found fascinating in your first episode, and that is, you and your ex went to the same high school at the same time, but you didn't meet there.
STASSIYes. We knew each other, yeah. Yes, that's true. We got to know each other in college. We started dating in college. So, yeah.
NNAMDIOkay. Now you've explained that. That was my question. (laugh) There are all kinds of dating apps, Match, Bumble, Tinder and so on. How else are people 50 and older meeting one another these days?
STASSIWell, because a lot of us have lived full lives and we've had careers, we sometimes have more disposable income. And we are doing things like hiring dating coaches, hiring matchmakers, hiring people to help us find that special someone. And if you don't want to spend the money doing that, there's also meet-up groups. So, if you have an interest in running or drinking wine or mountain climbing, you can join these free meet-up groups and find people with like-minded interests.
NNAMDIThere are intentional ways, Laura, that people meet one another, and then there are chance meetings. In the podcast, you share a story about a couple, Whitney and Blair. How did they meet each other?
STASSIIt's a beautiful story. (laugh) They just happened to be on the same shuttle bus. They lived in the same apartment building, and this shuttle bus was taking people to and from, like, the nearby grocery store. And Blair was a widower, and he was on this shuttle bus, and then Whitney got on. Her parents were in town. And it was just -- for Blair, it was, like, an instant spark.
STASSIExactly. Exactly, yeah.
NNAMDIIt was an instant spark, and...
STASSIIt was an instant spark, but their path was a little slow, because Whitney had a long-distance boyfriend. So, things -- you'll have to listen to the story. It's really beautiful.
NNAMDII guess that's a prompt for you to listen to the podcast.
NNAMDIYou started dating again after more than 30 years of marriage. What were some of the challenges of dating again for you, and what did you hear from the people you interviewed about the challenges they faced?
STASSIIt was almost 30 years, so not quite 30 years. But I think it's just the matter of thinking of yourself as a single person. I mean, I got married right before I was 23. I spent all of my adult life as part of a couple. In fact, I took back my maiden name, and even that felt weird, because I had been my husband's last name longer than I was my own maiden name.
STASSISo, it was just a matter of figuring out who you are, what you want. And once you're settled, you know, you know you can be on your own, that you don't need to have somebody to complete you, it's, like, okay, where is he? Where is the perfect partner for me? And I think that's where a lot of people struggle. We're confident and able to be on our own, but it would be really nice to share our lives with someone. But how do you find that person?
NNAMDIWell, there was an experiment, of sorts. You went just outside the WAMU studios to try to make a connection with a perfect stranger on the street.
STASSISomebody told you that, huh?
NNAMDIHow did that go?
STASSIWell, I hope he's not listening. So... (laugh)
NNAMDIYou picked up a guy on the street outside, but go ahead.
STASSI(laugh) So, I interviewed Leslie Morgan, who has a memoir called "The Naked Truth." And the thing I was really impressed with about Leslie is she's not afraid to go up to anybody. Her thing is, you know, when we say is everybody, she's, like, people are all around you. You just need to notice them.
STASSIAnd so, we did an experiment where we went outside and we started looking around. And I met a man. He was not available, but he said he had a friend who was available. So, I said, okay. You know, I'm doing Leslie's thing. Let me go see what I can do. So, I emailed him, and I was trying to be very -- I didn't want him to think I was being opportunistic. So, I said, you know, I'm doing this podcast, but we can meet for coffee. We can meet for wine, and we can meet with my recording equipment, or without my recording equipment. You know, I wanted to give him the gamut, so he wasn't thinking I was putting him on the spot.
STASSIAnd he said, oh, intriguing. I'll get back to you after the holidays. I'm traveling. This was right before the holidays. I said, okay. So, didn't hear from him. So, then I tugged him again, you know, tapped him again. I said, hey just, you know, following up. And he replied back, oh, I forgot about this. I'm still traveling. I'll get back in touch with you.
STASSIOkay, the dude is still traveling. (laugh)
NNAMDIAround the world in 80 days. (laugh) That's what he's doing right now. Let's hear from Malika in Waldorf, Maryland. Malika, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MALIKAHey, Kojo. How are you?
MALIKAI was just making the comment in regards to your online dating. And I was telling your producer that I didn't find it very easy. And I found that more people online are looking for sexual relationships, as opposed to developing natural relationships to see kind of where it's going to go. It was really a hookup scene, and I was surprised, for our age group, that that's what I was falling into.
STASSIThat's interesting. I have a theory on that, Malika. So, first of all, I want to say, I interviewed a professor, a Stanford professor who did a study on how online couples meet, or how couples meet of all ages. And he said, couples of all ages, even in same-sex or opposite-sex relationships, they meet online, which really surprised me. Because my theory is that sometimes when people have been coupled for a long time and they then become uncoupled, they sort of want to just see what's out there and have experiences that maybe they didn't have when they were younger. But maybe they get to a point, after a few years or whatever, that they are then ready to look for a partner.
STASSIThat's just my personal theory. I don't know. How long were you online?
MALIKASo, I was online probably -- I've been divorced, after 20 years, for about a year now. I guess I was online, realistically, six months. But I was just really taken back by some of the comments, some of the questions. You know, I didn't find anybody, essentially, that I felt had the same like-minded goals as I did.
STASSIYeah, yeah. Well, I hear you. (laugh)
NNAMDIYou got the impression that people were just looking for hookups, Malika?
MALIKAYeah, I mean, the first question essentially was, you know, not necessarily as direct as, hey, let's have sex. But, you know, not, let's get to know each other by talking, but, hey, do you want to meet? And when I finally got the nerve to say, why are people asking -- why are men asking, you know, do you want to meet so quickly, as opposed to talking, you know, on the phone or talking through text, I was told, essentially, they have to make sure that there's a physical attraction there. And people are trying to just get through that really quick.
MALIKAAnd I went through all of them. I went through Match. I went through eHarmony. I tried Plenty O' Fish. Like, I tried it all, so that I wouldn't be close-minded as I sometimes can be and come to a decision real quickly. I try to give everybody a fair shake, and I found that across the board, for the most part.
NNAMDIOkay, Malika. Thank you very much for sharing your story with us.
MALIKAAll right. Thank you. Have a great day.
NNAMDILaura, the podcast also goes beyond just meeting someone. You have a conversation with occupational therapist Kathryn Ellis about how older people should approach the topic of sex with a new partner. Let's listen to a bit of the advice that she shared.
KATHRYN ELLISWe have a fairly large surface area to experience pleasure. So, I would first have a very detailed dialogue around how orgasms commonly occur, how pleasure is commonly experienced. And then sort of build on top of that the activities that you guys are going to do together.
NNAMDILaura, for many older adults who find themselves on the dating scene again after a divorce or the loss of a partner, the issue of sexual intimacy can be difficult. What is important for people to remember when they're considering being intimate with someone new? What Kathryn just said?
STASSIWell, so, first of all, I love that expression surface area, because she was talking about how we need to start thinking about sex and intimacy as our entire bodies, and not just sexual organs. But her thing, too, which everyone says is communication, you need to be able to communicate with a person before you actually are intimate with that person.
STASSIWhat do you like? What don't you like? Are you free of disease? If you're not, are we going to be using protection? And are you looking for a long-term relationship, or are you looking just to have sex. Which there's nothing wrong with either one. You just need to be able to communicate with the person ahead of time before you get involved with them sexually as to what you're looking for, so that the other person knows what to expect.
NNAMDIWell, in addition to sex, when you talk with author and USA Today columnist Steven Petrow about other issues that can come up when you're ending a marriage and entering the dating world, Steven talks about how he and his husband decided he would take full custody of their dog after a divorce. Here he is.
STEVEN PETROWNow, I think that for many gay people, you know, we're sort of in this first wave of getting married and then getting divorced, and did not give a lot of thought to, you know, the divorce part. And even though I write about -- I've written a lot about LGBTQ issues and the importance of prenups, I actually now know the importance of what's called a petnup.
NNAMDIA petnup? What's a petnup?
STASSI(laugh) That's such a sweet and sad story to me. Steven is in episode three, I believe. So, Steven had a dog. He met a man who had a dog. And, from the beginning, they were having issues, because his husband's dog was vicious. His husband's dog attacked Steven, and he attacked Steven's dog. However, then Steven's dog died, but not because of... (laugh)
STASSIExactly. But then Steven really grew to love this other dog. And so when they were splitting up, Steven was, like, hey, let's have joint custody of this dog. And his estranged husband refused. He said, it was my dog. I brought him into the marriage, and I'm taking him with me. And so that was heartbreaking to Steven. There's a twist to that story. I don't know whether I should tell you.
STASSIYeah, wait. But so there's things that you need to consider. And, actually, for any couple who are getting together at a certain age, there are so many issues related to not only things you own, but if you have children from previous relationships. Where you live is an issue. Where you're going to live is an issue.
NNAMDIExes. (laugh) Your exes can be an issue, also. Yeah, they can complicate matters. Here now is Kim on Capitol Hill. Kim, your turn.
KIMI am 60 years old, have lived in D.C. since 1995, and have had exactly three dates. I find guys to be very strange. There was one guy who said to me, oh, I want you to come and meet me. And I said, okay, well, let's meet at, you know, a Starbucks or a coffee place. And he says, no, no, come to my place. Here's my address. Here's my apartment number. And the man would not meet me in public. And I'm just thinking, you know, am I from a different planet, or are things just very strange? I have no idea.
STASSISo, my opinion -- first of all, I'm sorry for your experiences, because, you know, any kind of -- it's awkward putting ourselves out there. And it's awkward getting rejected. And it's kind of depressing, sometimes. And sometimes it's difficult to keep going. You think, you know what? I'm fine on my own. Let me just stay on my own.
STASSIBut I will say, I speak with a relationship coach, and she talks about being very intentional about dating, whether you're doing it online or any other way. And that there are steps that we should take to do this. Like, you know, you don't meet someone -- you were exactly right. You don't meet them at their house. You do meet them in a public space. And so for anybody who doesn't want to play by the same rules that you're playing by, forget it, you know. It's not that life is strange. They may be strange, or they may be looking for something other than what you're looking for. So, you just need to be sure in what you're doing and not worry about those other people out there.
NNAMDIKim, thank you for your call. When adults are by themselves after years of being married or being in a long-term relationship, how does being single again affect their sense of identity, their sense of self?
STASSISo, I can only speak for myself. That's a great question. So, my split with my then-husband occurred about the same time that our two children were leaving the house. And I, at the time, had been working part-time and freelancing. So, all of a sudden, I had to take on, you know, a completely different identity, whereas I had been wife, mother and, you know...
STASSIRight. I'm now on my own. The kids are launched. It was really a trying time, emotionally. But I do think that all of us, whether we lose a partner or there's something about turning 50 sometimes that causes us to just sort of take stock in where we are and who we are and who we want to be. It's almost, not like writing a new chapter. It's like kind of starting a whole new book.
NNAMDIWe got a Tweet from Patty, who says: to be fair, the do you want to meet question is also generally good internet protocol. You want to know that the other person is not an internet scammer. And I found it's easier to suss someone in person. That from Patty. Here is Adrian in Denver, Colorado. Adrian, your turn.
ADRIANHi, how are you?
ADRIANThis is a very fascinating topic, because the poll that came out that said men's worst fear is that women are going to be fatter than their picture. And women's worst fear is that we're going to be murdered. (laugh) So, there really isn't an application out there that satisfies the needs of women for safety, security and certainty. So, I'm actually building one.
ADRIANI'm a woman. I'm over 50, and I was single for nine years, celibate for seven, swiped thousands of times on Tinder, and my profile is ridiculous. It starts off with, I'm a rocking good time with a 1,000-watt smile, and I've got photos to back it up. (laugh) And I really am. I'm cute as a button. I'm 51, I look 30. So, my profile's great, and it always gets swiped yes. And in seven years now, I have met five people in real life, and I swear to God, one of them has bodies buried in the basement.
STASSIOh, my God.
ADRIANAnd the previous caller was talking about the guy who wanted her to go to his house. I have another fun one. He was being really cagey about where we're going to meet, and I'm, like, it is public, right? I want to meet in a public place. He goes, yeah, yeah, it's public. Of course. So, he gives me the address. It turns out it's a gas station. I'm, like, it's a gas station?
ADRIANAnd he goes, follow me. So, I follow him around a bend, around the twisty, through the back of it, to the parking lot of, you know, this parking lot. And I'm thinking, well, is this like some speakeasy that you got to know how to get to? Like, I'm very unclear. And he jumps in my car, and I start to take off. He goes, where you going? He goes, this is our place, and I'm, like, it's a parking lot. I said public. He goes, it's the post office. That's a public building.
ADRIANAnd I was, like, you need to get out of my car.
NNAMDII hear you.
ADRIANNow, eventually, I got hyper-focused, you know, like in “The Matrix” or any of those movies where, all of a sudden, like, the visuals go to show you that everything is super crystal-clear and hyper-focused, and you were, like, laser intense. That's what it looked like. I was, like, you need to get out of my car.
NNAMDII hear you. And I'm afraid that's all the time we have. “Dating While Gray” is the newest podcast from WAMU. The first episode dropped today, and you can find a new episode every Thursday wherever you get your podcasts. Laura Stassi, thank you so much for joining us.
STASSIThank you for having me.
NNAMDIThis segment on dating while gray was produced by Ashley Lisenby. And our conversation on military families' lawsuit over housing at Fort Meade was produced by Victoria Chamberlin. Get ready for the next Kojo in Your Community conversation about changing immigration policies and their impact on local students and families February 25th at the Columbia Heights educational campus. Learn how to get tickets and more at kojoshow.org.
NNAMDIComing up tomorrow on The Politics Hour, Susan Swecker, the head of Virginia's Democratic Party, plus Montgomery County School Board President Shebra Evans. We'll talk about redistricting, a new contract for the superintendent and more. That all starts tomorrow, at noon, on The Politics Hour. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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