A Chance For Romance – Annie’s Story

September 5, 2009

by Ellen Brandt, Ph.D.

The Good News: More than half of all Baby Boomers are single. The Bad News: Hey! there isn’t any! If you’re a Baby Boomer, and you want to find new love or companionship, you can do it. And the current sea change in our national and personal value systems makes it easier.

“Even I am surprised at the statistics – and I’m a professional,” exclaims Ann “Annie” Robbins, the glamorous Boomer who heads LifeWorks, a matchmaking service with most clients over 40, in Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, Florida.

She’s referring to the most recent data from the US Census Bureau, which confirms that more than half of all Baby Boomers, who turn 46-63 in 2009, are now single. The stats are somewhat affected by the fact that gay people, who may account for 8-10 percent of the Boomer population, are generally grouped with the “never married,” while the big spurt in “widowed” among Boomer women over 55 reflects the fact that some of them were married to older men.

Nevertheless, over 40 million of the 80 million or so Boomers in the US – the proportion is similar in Canada – are now officially absent from the ranks of the married. That is fabulous news, of course, for someone like Annie Robbins, who makes her living counseling and aiding those looking for “significant others.”

But it’s also terrific news for Boomers themselves. “If you’re open to new love, you can find it,” says Annie. “And increasingly, we Boomers do.”

She’s living proof. Engaged a few months ago to former adman, current salesman, and sexy widower Steve Gordon, Annie is getting married a few weeks from now, about ten years to the day she suffered the tragedy of her life, becoming a widow at age 47. Husband Richard, an athlete and avid runner, who jogged 30 miles a week, was stricken, seemingly out of the blue, with asbestos-related cancer, possibly linked to his job in the hotel business, where he often supervised new construction. He died less than three months after his diagnosis, entering the hospital on daughter Angela’s 17th birthday. Younger daughter Jessica was only 12.

Annie was too much in shock to think of dating for about three years. A consultant in the human resources industry, where she specialized in executive coaching, career transitions, and sales and leadership training, she finally decided to seek out romance when she turned 50 – and promptly made every mistake in the book!

“I was scammed by fly-by-night dating services. I had terrible experiences with amateur on-line sites. I attended all the wrong mixers and singles groups, where I had nothing in common with anyone there.”

You Don’t Have To Kiss Frogs – Unless You Want To

She recalls one particularly unappetizing encounter with a man a supposedly reputable dating service hand-picked for her. “We arranged to meet in a wine bar in Orlando,” Annie relates. “My date was almost a half-hour late, so I was just about to leave in disgust, when the door swept open, and this strange individual walked towards me. I remember inwardly praying like a small child, ‘Please, please, don’t let it be him.’ ”

The dating service’s perfect match was a very large man in khaki shorts, a soiled tee-shirt, and rubber flip flops, with a bushy beard down to his waist and two teeth missing. His tardiness provided the perfect excuse for Annie’s claiming another pressing appointment and leaving posthaste. When she told me this story, I wondered aloud if Mr. Flip Flop might have been a quirky zillionaire computer guru – possibly Paul Allen – but she pooh-poohed the suggestion.

After several years of dismaying dating experiences, Annie started dabbling in the matchmaking trade, which she decided should be based on similar principles to the useful and compassionate counseling she gave executives switching careers. She left her day job to become a full-time matchmaker two years ago.

“If you truly wish to connect, you should approach it seriously and honestly,” she observes. “Do some heavy soul-searching before you start out. What mistakes have you made in past relationships or marriages? How are going to avoid them going forward? What are the the non-negotiables – values and characteristics your compatible match must have? And which things are less important?”

While Annie met Steve through mutual friends, there are many other ways to meet your match. But you have to decide to do it. “You’re not going to meet anybody living in a cave,” cautions Annie. “Get out in the world and shake up your usual routine.”

Even small variations in daily activities can place you in the path of Ms. or Mr. Interesting. “If you tend to patronize a certain coffee shop, make a conscious decision to go to another. Instead of walking in the same park every lunch hour, try a different park – or bowling alley or restaurant or grocery store – tomorrow.”

Doing what you’re really passionate about – even if you haven’t done it lately – is a tried and true formula for connecting with like-minded people. One 50-something woman Annie knows was a superb ballroom dancer, but dropped dance completely after a bitter divorce. Last year, she took some inexpensive tango lessons at a community center, met a charming man who also loved to dance, and the two have been tripping the light fantastically ever since.

A successful but shy attorney in Annie’s neighborhood, who’s a passionate runner, wanted to meet a wholesome and physically fit woman. But he had trouble finding one through his running clubs, because – well, you’re moving too fast. He decided to join Habitat for Humanity, on the theory it would attract those who were both fit and spiritually-minded. Sure enough, he found a lovely, athletic high school teacher, with whom he’s building a relationship, as well as houses.

Can following the shared-interest route ever backfire? “Yes,” says Annie, “I have a friend who had always had an interest in hunting. She bit the bullet, as it were, joining a rifle club, only to discover that she was too scared to pull the trigger. Terrified, actually.”

Tough Times, Tender Boomers?

I have to ask: What does Annie think of the mesmerizing, horrifying hit show, The Millionaire Matchmaker, on Bravo TV? Personally, I quite like the Matchmaker herself, Patti Stanger, because she’s both funny and media-savvy. Her average client, though, combines the sterling ethics of Gordon Gekko with the tender conscience of Cruella de Vil and the pleasing personality of Hannibal Lecter.

“There are firms down here in Florida which actually brag about matching ‘millionaire men’ with ‘supermodel women,’ ” Annie says. “It’s not only pretty silly, it’s a major turn off for most clients. I’ve had many clients who said they visited one of these firms, were dismayed at their shallowness, and then came to me.”

Does that mean men and women, particularly Boomers, are returning to sensible – and healthy – standards for choosing the Loves of Their Lives? “We may be experiencing a sea change in this nation’s – and our generation’s – value systems,” says Annie – and many agree with her. The cumulative effect of the dishonesty, greed, corporate scandals, and political inertia of the past several years may have finally taken their toll. In these suddenly hard times, the vast majority of Boomers seem to be concentrating on the things in life that are truly important – security, family, relationships, achievement, and spiritual values.

In terms of romance, we’re turning away from an emphasis on the superficial and transitory, and seeking partners who are intellectually and ethically compatible and share our long-term goals.

“Steve and I are good examples of that,” says Annie. Widowed after a happy marriage, Steve was not interested in meeting much younger women. “I wanted – and needed – someone at the same stage of life, who had gone through similar experiences,” he says.

Annie, meanwhile, realized she had no real interest in great wealth or in dating captains of industry. She chose Steve, because he’s “kind and caring, with a terrific sense of humor.” Soon after they’d first met, she kept canceling date after date because of a series of business and family crises. “Many other men would have dropped me then and there,” she says. “Steve’s first thought was, ‘How can I help her get through some difficult days?’ He was unbelievably considerate and thoughtful.”

(For Annie and Steve’s engagement photo, click here: http://wp.me/pxD3J-W )

Annie believes the characteristics that have distinguished Baby Boomers through the years will serve us well if we choose to pursue later-in-life romance. “Boomers are organized, energetic, well-educated, and entrepreneurial,” she says. “If we apply those traits to the pursuit of lasting relationships, we have a good chance of getting what we want.”

Add in the shift to kinder, gentler values and demographics that suddenly favor the mature dater. In our love lives, at least, the Boomer outlook may be downright rosy.

What Do You Think?

Are you surprised so many Baby Boomers are single? If you are currently single, does it change your outlook on whether to seek new love and companionship going forward?

Is dating easier or more difficult now than when you were younger? What advantages do you think you have as a Boomer seeking a mate? What obstacles do you think you face?

Do you agree with Annie’s contention that Boomers’ strengths as business people and entrepreneurs can translate into romantic success?

Is the United States embracing traditional values again, finally eschewing the glorification of greed and superficiality? Will this have a major impact on Boomers, particularly in the realm of relationships and romance?

For the Intro to Baby Boomers-The Angriest Generation, please see: http://wp.me/pxD3J-3

For a story on a Baby Boomer couple who suffered a million dollar loss when “Pariah Corporation” imploded, see: http://wp.me/pxD3J-N

A Chance For Romance also serves as an Introduction to a new series called Love After 50, jointly written by Matchmaker-to-Boomers Annie Robbins and Baby Boomers-The Angriest Generation publisher Ellen Brandt, Ph.D. For more, please see: http://wp.me/pxD3J-Y

5 Responses to “A Chance For Romance – Annie’s Story”

  1. Alan Mendelsohn Says:

    When you are young, you are building a life together, friends and a family.

    In your fifties you both have past lives, kids and friends and you have to merge these two separate lives without a shared history together. That means you both gotta be fine with the other person’s kids and friends because if not that could spell trouble.

    The problem with Internet dating is it is like a shopping mall. You look at a product, take it off the shelf, look at the label, then put it back until you find the perfect thing to buy.

    When you meet someone at college or through friends, you see if there is a connection, and then the romance just might blossom. But you know they will have some flaws.

    On the Internet, people think they can get a spouse to order, who is interested in the same things , has all the physical characteristics you want , has a fine mind and an amazing character. So you seek perfection. And if it isn’t exactly what you are looking for, well there are hundreds more to choose from.

    The important thing is this generation does not want just companionship – they want romance, which is great.

    But you also don’t want a relationship that lasts a few years. In your twenties, thirties, and early forties, that is OK, but you don’t want to be 55 and be with somebody till you’re 59 and start looking again.

    So you want to be more sure than ever that the person you are falling in love with won’t turn out to be completely different once the wedding bells ring. You gotta be really sure that she or he is “it”.

  2. Scott Adams Says:

    Baby Booming is all about change. We change, our world changes, but expectations sometime don’t.

    We accept change best, when we accept our own imperfections, which allows us to accept others.

    At age 59, I and my wife realized we were not changing and separated. Today as friends, we still care about about each other but live fulfilling lives apart.

    The lesson I have learned is be yourself and live your life the way you want to, and you will find love and the perfect relationship.

    I was also surprised 50% are not married and perhaps a large number are uncommitted also.

    The idea of communal living may be alive, well and living in our hearts. If you think no one is thinking about it, look around. It is all about relationships.

  3. Jonathan Sibley Says:

    The Internet can be a great way to expand the number of people we have access to, as long as it is used effectively. There is often a learning curve, with the need to tweak and re-tweak one’s profile and what one is looking for.

    On-line dating sites are only a start, and are not for everyone, but (as long as people are honest) can be a way to find potential matches whom one must then meet to see if there is any chemistry.

    Once there has been a face-to-face meeting, I think the rest of the process is pretty familiar, although potentially stressful, with ups and downs.

    In addition to my work as a psychotherapist with individuals and couples, I am also a dating coach and have seen how much it can help when clients get feedback on how they present themselves, on what they are looking for, and on how to manage the stress of dating.

    I also have my own personal success story. I am engaged to be married in 1 month to a wonderful woman I met on-line almost 3 years ago.

  4. Jerry Evans Says:

    Great article but two things:

    It isn’t “superficial” for a man to date a younger woman, if they connect well. And it doesn’t show any kind of “traditional conservative values” not to do so either. Dating your own age certainly isn’t in the Republican playbook anywhere.

    Great advice for those over 30 is to be impulsive and not play by that book The Rules , the author of which is now divorced and who was responsible for keeping a lot of Baby Boomers single in the first place.

    If a guy asks you out on a Friday for Saturday, it is probably because he has a demanding career. So say Yes if you are interested and maybe invite him over for a home-cooked meal that very night.

    Don’t test his interest or do other things that show low self confidence. If those in a younger generation win in the self-confidence department, the battle is over.

    • ellenbrandtphd Says:

      A lot of women – and men – would disagree with you.

      But your opinions are certainly interesting and welcome.

      Annie Robbins and I are going to rely on a panel of over-50 daters for anonymous anedcotes when the series starts.

      So if you or anyone you know is interested in being on such a panel – everything probably done via E-mail, not telephone – let us know.

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