Happy daters are all alike, but every disappointed dater thinks he or she is failing in a unique way. So perhaps it’s not surprising that doubt radiated from the crowd of 50-odd senior citizens who braved a monsoon one night last week to attend a seminar on dating for the AARP set at the Jewish Community Center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. One woman near the back sat with her arms crossed and confided that she was simply looking for a platonic dance partner to supplant her previous one, who had grown too frail to waltz. “I don’t want any more heartbreak,” she said.
Howard Eisenberg and Shirley Friedenthal, authors of It’s Never Too Late to Date, a manual offering prescriptions on everything from registering for online dating services to the manifold benefits of Viagra and Astroglide, settled themselves on stools at the front of the room, ready to convince the skeptics. Both widowed after decades of marriage (Eisenberg’s wife, Arlene, was the author of the enduringly popular What to Expect When You’re Expecting series), they met in 2004 via J-Date and, after a few false starts, have been “one-and-onlys” since—a poster couple for the possibilities of finding love late in life.
Eisenberg, 82 and dapper in a fitted black polo and white trousers, started with a cheerful little ditty:
You can fall in love at 40, 50, or 60
Methuselah had girlfriends when he was eight hundred and two
It’s no fun to sleep alone, or dine alone in a diner
So find a man who’s perfect—or almost perfect for you
Find yourself a soulmate, and kiss loneliness adieu.
The crowd tittered. Eisenberg explained that he had been on CBS’s Early Show that morning with Alec Greven, the 10-year-old author of How to Talk to Girls, and concluded that while some people might be too young to date older daters should be as optimistic as anyone else about love, whatever their individual tales of woeful divorce or tragic widowhood,. “You can have four, five, 10 great years that you’ll never forget,” he said. (“Unless you get Alzheimer’s,” someone retorted, sotto voce.)
Friedenthal, a 76-year-old with a frosted blond coif and a striking plum-colored French manicure, explained that she convinced Eisenberg to help her write the book after telling him the story of her mother, Minnie, whom years earlier she rescued from a lonely dotage in Florida with a makeover. At 63, Minnie moved back to New York, where she got her hair done, her dentures replaced, her chin hairs plucked—electrolysis was too expensive—and her wardrobe replaced before placing a personal ad in the Forward. The effort netted her three dates and, in short order, a second marriage. “Women can just give up,” Friedenthal said. “But men, you know, they’re very needy.” Eisenberg concurred, with a wink: “Men are always susceptible.”
But once seniors dive into the dating pool, the game is the same as it ever was. “I’ve been dating since I’m 13, and it’s the same rules, except that when I was young it was a kiss goodnight, and now it’s more than that,” Friedenthal laughed. So their prescriptions for people over 50—be friends before you’re lovers, give each other space, raise your tolerance threshold—aren’t so different from the rules offered for thirtysomethings in the recently released book How to Shop for a Husband, by Janice Lieberman, the Today show’s consumer reporter.
“Do whatever you need to do to become a real shopper and truly enter the dating marketplace,” Lieberman said. Or, in Eisenberg’s phrase, “You have to flap your wings in order to fly.”
But not everyone at the JCC was satisfied with the pair’s exhortations to “persist, persist, persist.” “This is all so superficial,” griped one woman to no one in particular. “Well, there’s nothing really new you can tell people,” Eisenberg shrugged after the session. “It’s all been said a hundred times before, but you can make it fun.”