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Over 50s dating: Tradition meets tech

After facing divorce, or loss, making a re-entry to the dating scene is a different ball game in your 50s.
Tue, Nov 28, 2023

Photo by Getty Images

In the 90s, shows like Sex and the City explored the experiences of women in their mid-30s and how they dealt with sex and relationships. Now And Just Like That … does something similar for women in the 50s. The Bachelor franchise has even launched a new spinoff show The Golden Bachelor, described as “the search for a partner with whom to share the sunset years of life”.

Meanwhile, back in real life, navigating dating in your 50s has become a blend of traditional values and modern technology heralded by the arrival of social media and dating apps. While it offers exciting opportunities for new beginnings and meaningful connections, it also brings challenges. Many in this age group are re-entering the dating scene after the end of a long-term relationship, grappling with the emotional aftermath of divorce, or coping with the profound loss of a partner. These experiences add layers of complexity, as individuals reconcile past lives and relationships, and manage expectations rooted in earlier life stages, all within the digital realm of swipes and matches.

We spoke to a few South African men and women in their 50s about their experiences.

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Susan*, 54, administrative assistant

For Susan, the biggest challenge is putting herself out there after being out of the game for so long. She got married in her early 20s and was part of a couple for most of her life. Now, after getting divorced, she has had to learn to navigate the world without her husband and deal with a new type of dating.

“Nowadays there is a reliance on online dating. Before, it felt like it was easier to meet other single people, now you have to download things. I met my ex-husband at a house party and it felt so much simpler back then,” says Susan.

While 50 is considered middle-aged by many, it’s also an opportunity to start again, which is what Susan hopes to do. But she has yet to embrace technology with regard to dating, preferring to meet men through friends or catch up with old acquaintances who are also single. This takes a lot of pressure out of having to figure out whether someone is single and she says she feels safer in situations where the person she’s dating is not a stranger.

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Laura*, 51, artist

Laura has never been married and only dated men for most of her life. Like Miranda in AJLT, Laura came out as bisexual later in life and has since been using dating apps to meet both men and women.

“I was 44 years old when I first came out. In my 20s and 30s, I had felt attracted to both men and women but I didn’t truly accept that part of me until I dated my first girlfriend when I was 44. I have a diverse friend group, so they were very easygoing when I came out,” says Laura.

She says she’s had varying degrees of success, and her age does not hinder her, even if she has had to adjust her preferences and boundaries. The difference between dating now and when she was younger is that now Laura is looking for a life partner, a companion, someone to spend her last few decades with. She also said that she has adjusted her preferences so that her ideal dates are people who are open-minded and who live a slower life so that it is compatible with hers and her friends.

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Lerato*, 57, teacher 

Lerato, a widow, says that she needed a few years before she was comfortable entertaining the thought of dating again. For now, she is taking things slowly and has reached out to men that she already knew on Facebook and began chatting there.

When asked what a standout experience was, Lerato answered that it was reconnecting with her high school boyfriend.

“We’ve both changed a lot,” says Lerato, “But although it has been many years since school, we still have a lot in common. He also lost his spouse and has grown-up children. We have an easy conversation over Facebook, I hope that will continue once we eventually meet in person again.”

However, she notes that her biggest worry is what her children will think about her dating again after their father’s death.

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Peter*, 54, entrepreneur

Peter described his dating experience as “interesting”. Despite being divorced and having two children, he says it has not been a dealbreaker in the romances he has entered into.

“I think there is less pressure this time around,” says Peter. “I’m not in a rush to become successful, or have kids; it feels like I’m looking for someone that I just want to be around all the time.”

Since his divorce, he says the women he looks for when he dates are usually about 10 years younger than him, but he has come into contact with more single women in their 30s and 40s than ones his age.

Psychologist Helen Malgas says many of her clients tend to be women in their 50s who often feel like they are in a rush to find a partner and settle down.

“Women seem to become quite desperate, which often results in them alienating potential partners. Women are also not eager to have relationships that are not meaningful. There’s an urgency in your 50s to not muck about but to want to move to settling down. Or on the other side, some women enjoy the freedom that comes with knowing yourself and what you want and relish the idea that they can play the field especially if they do not have children.”

Malgas adds that apps have been a huge factor when it comes to dating later in life as it means people don’t have to do the legwork and go talk to different people, they can just swipe.

“I also think that people are realising the value of social connectedness. After the pandemic, many people have a heightened need for social connection.”

*Names changed