Published July 20, 2011
Move over mah-jongg! Seniors at a Florida senior center are out to prove that just because you live in an old-age home, it doesn’t mean you’ve given up on the invigorating sparks of a new relationship.
These seniors are ditching mashed potatoes for something a little more spicy. They have a simple message: We may be old, but we ain't dead yet!
In response to the lively group's desire to reenter the dating world, the Delray Beach, Fla., senior center developed a unique dating service for seniors.
“I had heard of speed-dating, I just never heard of speed-dating seniors,” said Risa Demato, site director for the Weisman Delray Community Center, who launched the weekly series of senior singles events in March. “When I first started working here people asked me about singles groups and I realized people wanted to meet each other and that this was a big issue – a lot of single women especially.”
With the help of Sherry Bernstein, a volunteer instructor for the center, Demato created a bi-weekly, noon-time speed-dating event for seniors. The rules are simple. Clients sign up in advance for the chance to meet a significant other and each session must consist of at least ten men and up to twenty women -- an unfortunate nod to the fact that men tend to die at younger ages.
The cost is virtually free -- just $1 to defray the costs of refreshments -- and seniors are able to enjoy each others' company in the comfort of the center’s card room for 5 minutes at a time. The chatter fills the room as soon as the bell goes off, and by the end of each session a few phone numbers invariably are exchanged.
An unforeseen issue arose as Demato realized the seniors needed a brush-up on the facts of life in the 21st Century.
“When they were young they weren’t taught about STDs and ways to protect against them,” said Demato. The center brought in a social worker to teach the seniors the importance of safe sex, no matter what age.
“In the 1980s and '90s there was a huge increase in STDs in the senior population,” explained Dianne Matthew, director of clinical services at the Ruth Rales Jewish Family Service. She was asked to teach her class, “Sexy Over Sixty,” to the seniors at the Weisman center. “These people got married at a very young age and most likely only had one or maybe two sexual partners. They came from an era where they weren’t taught about condoms or any sort of protection against STDs. Just because you can’t get pregnant doesn’t mean you don’t need to know how to practice safe sex -- at any age.”
Matthew says her sex-education course is by far the most popular class she teaches with any audience, with more than 100 attendees per session at the center.
“People are lonely at any age, and with the invention of Viagra they want to have sex now," Matthew explained. “My class covers all the questions people may have who want to have sex but are older and may have inhibitions that they don’t want to talk about. I make sure to answer the questions they don’t ask as well as let them know you don’t have to look like Jennifer Aniston to feel and be sexy.”
One speed-dater alum insists she does not need a brushup on her sex-ed. A few months ago, Gertrude Bial was volunteering at the front desk when she was called in as a replacement after one woman dropped out at the last minute. After much convincing, Gertrude agreed to sit in, unaware that one of the men with whom she would share a quick five minutes would become her boyfriend of two months.
“He’s a nice gentlemen and he understands no hanky-panky with me,” Gertrude said. “I was married a long long time and I wasn’t dating or anything like that. I was volunteering at the center and it was a freak thing that we met.”
“He says it was meant to be, because he would never go to speed dating either, but someone insisted,” continued Gertrude. “A couple of the men took my phone number and he was one of them. We went out to eat and now we are together two months. That was the first time I had a date from the time I was a teenager because I was married since I was 22.”
Gertrude’s is just one of the many success stories to come from the speed-dating program. With longer life spans, single American seniors certainly deserve to find companionship to make their later years more golden. But, just in case they miss the point, educator Matthew drives it home at the end of each session. She has the attendees repeat three times their mantra: “I feel sexy.”
Site Director Demato gave no comment on the need to think about chaperones.