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It's a Date! The excitement - and angst - of getting back in circulation

When Sonni Siegel attends a singles dance, she has just

one expectation: to dance.

"Instead of expecting to meet Mr. Wonderful, I go to dances to dance, so

I'm never disappointed," said the size 2, 50-something Baldwin resident. "If

nothing else, I get a great aerobic workout."

The mother of two grown sons, 29 and 24, Siegel has been single since her

17-year marriage ended 12 years ago. Through the years, she has had long-term

romances, including a three-year relationship that ended more than a year ago

and spurred her return to the dance scene - as well as to online dating sites.

Her efforts have produced mixed results. Last spring, for example, her

posting on Jdate.com, a Jewish singles site, drew a response from a man who

seemed interesting enough for Siegel to pursue an online conversation with him.

But when she asked for his picture, she was taken aback by what he sent her:

his baby photo.

Nevertheless, their relationship moved from the computer to the phone and

she agreed to meet him one evening at a Queens restaurant. While he was not

particularly pleasant to look at, Siegel recalled, it was his volatile

personality that really put her off. "He was very adamant about nobody ever

understanding him," she said. "That made me nervous, so I got up and left."

Since October, she has been seeing another man she met at a dance.

"If you're single, you have to be out there, which means going to your

computer [logging on to the Internet] or attending a lecture, because no one is

going to find you if you're just sitting in the house," said Siegel, a high

school art teacher. "But, at my age, it does get tiring. You'd like to have

someone special and breathe that sigh of relief."

Throughout the metropolitan area, thousands of older singles such as Siegel

are navigating the dating scene again. After years of being out of

circulation, they find themselves, often after a divorce, a failed relationship

or the death of a spouse, still active and involved in life - and

contemplating Cupid's arrow.

But the dating scene is a far different place from what they once knew. The

social networks of their earlier lives are gone, although there is a growing

number of venues emerging to catch up with the shifting demographics. Churches,

synagogues and community centers, as well as cruises, sports and social clubs,

are offering more activities focused on singles 50 and older. Web sites (for

example, 50PlusPersonals.com, Seniors Match.com and SeniorSinglesFinder.com)

and newspaper personals ads are targeting the 50-plus market. And aside from

the singles scene at bars, a new event called "speed-dating" has emerged, where

singles show up at a restaurant or bar and receive a list of several "dates"

for the night. People spend a few minutes with each date and jot down on a

sheet whom they'd like to see again. Then, they typically log onto the

organizer's Web site and submit their preferences. The organizer, in turn,

sends participants a list of others who said the same about them.

For women, especially, the prospects may be more difficult, partly because

men often seek younger women, but also because of sheer numbers: Women

generally live longer than men, so there are fewer age cohorts available later

in life.

"When I first started dating, men treated you with more respect," noted

Joan Joffe, 51, of Manhattan, who has been divorced for 10 years. Now "there

are so many women out there that men have so much to choose from."

At the same time, the priorities of later-life daters have changed, too,

social experts and singles themselves say. In many instances, they're not

seeking matrimony; they simply want an honest relationship or at least a good

companion for dinner, the movies and trips.

Older singles have the advantage of being able to pursue interests to meet

a person, rather than feel the pressure of "it must be a mate," said Peter

Kanaris, a Smithtown psychologist and the director of public education for the

Suffolk County Psychological Association.

Charley Wininger, a Park Slope psychotherapist and dating coach, suggests

that singles "divide the world into a) people capable of seeking a long-term

relationship and b) people capable of seeking a good time."

If people are just into having fun, they want to be with "people who have

the same purpose," Wininger said. "And if they want something serious, then

they need to find someone in the same category. Otherwise, they're wasting

their time and everyone else's."

Older singles still search for physical chemistry, but "it's not as

important as it was 10 to 20 years ago," Wininger said. They're looking for

people "who have interests in common and share their core values."

Ed Bates, 57, a Brooklyn resident who has been divorced 10 years, agrees.

"When you have been through the marriages, the sordid divorces and the

battles, you learn to appreciate someone who comes into your life who shares

your values and interests and brings a level of peace to both of your lives,"

said Bates, a retired New York City employee who is now in a serious

relationship.

For some older singles, convenience is also important. Bill O'Brien, a

divorced Long Beach resident in his 60s, said that besides steering clear of

smokers, he favors dates who live in his neck of the woods - or close to it.

"Years ago, I would drive to Jersey, but as you get up in years, you don't

feel like driving in traffic," said O'Brien, who generally prefers to connect

with people through the Internet.

Last September, Cindy Kaye, 56, added to the mass of meeting options for

singles by launching Starting Over Singles, known as SOS, a social organization

that hosts events for singles to expand their social circle, if not find

romance. The firm, which is headquartered in Kaye's Plainview home, charges

anywhere from $7 for a bowling night with refreshments to $45 for a dinner

gathering at a restaurant.

Kaye says she launched SOS in response to her own frustration with the

singles market. After her 22-year, on-again, off-again engagement ended for

good last April, Kaye, who is divorced and has a 29-year-old son, hit the

singles scene. But much to her chagrin, attendees at singles events were either

her parents' ages or her son's peers, she said. Other times, organizers

canceled gatherings without prior notice. With SOS, said Kaye, "I got my

mountain to come to me."

Blind dates are the preferred method of meeting people for Manhattanite

Joffe. She is skeptical of online dating services ("I find people misrepresent

themselves") and doesn't enjoy singles bars. Plus, the Hamptons - a veritable

magnet for many Manhattan singles - are not her style, she said.

"If it happens that I meet someone, that would be great," said Joffe, who

worked for Calvin Klein until recently. "I just feel that when you try so hard,

it doesn't happen."

Dorothy Messner, 76, shares Joffe's view. A widow with four grown children,

Messner is president of Widows & Widowers at the Knights of Columbus in

Lindenhurst. She unexpectedly met her late boyfriend seven years ago in a

bowling alley.

After his death two years ago, one of Messner's daughters tried to convince

her to take out a personal ad to meet new men. But the Deer Park resident said

she would have none of that. Instead, Messner prefers to continue meeting

potential partners while doing what she enjoys, dancing and bowling.

In September, Mary Harris by chance met James Storey while waiting in line

at an Atlantic City restaurant. Realizing that they had come to the casino

town on the same bus, Harris, 68, a twice-widowed St. Albans resident, casually

struck up a conversation with Storey. Before long, the couple was sharing a

table and discussing Storey's planned trip to the Caribbean - a cruise they are

now planning to take together in August.

"When I met him, I was very excited and kind of giddy," said Harris, a

retired mental hygiene therapist aide. "We still say to each other that we

can't believe this happened to us."

But while dating after 50 can be a life-enriching experience, it also can

trigger long-suppressed insecurities while igniting new self-doubts, experts

say.

"Suddenly, when you're dating again, there is a fear of rejection,

uncertainty about not knowing what to say and lots of anxiety," Kanaris said.

What's more, after being in a previous long- term relationship, people may

have angst about the prospect of having sexual relations with a new partner.

"Sex changes everything," said Wininger, who teaches a course called The

RelationShop for his single clients. "It increases the level of vulnerability,

so it's more prudent to wait until you feel a comfort level with this person."

Along with concerns about their muscle tone, some singles worry about other

physical imperfections. Shortly before her second divorce two years ago, Ellen

Jacobs, 57, had a mastectomy - a development that made her re-entry to the

dating scene even more stressful. "I was very nervous about how I would tell

someone," said Jacobs, a Manhattan resident who works for a live music venue.

But as it turned out, Jacobs wound up dating two men who had no concerns

whatsoever about her mastectomy, she said. "One was a urologist and the other a

surgeon who said he did that operation all the time," Jacobs said.

Since then, she has found comfort in the realization that nobody's perfect.

A while ago, she had a date with a man who confided that he had had prostate

cancer and was impotent.

Besides being open about physical issues, older singles need to address

dating issues with their children, experts say. While some offspring - whether

living at home or on their own - support their parents' new social life, going

as far as playing matchmaker, others, unconsciously or consciously, try to

subvert it. Their tactics may range from being overly protective of their

parents to finding fault with their parents' choice of companions.

"They may say that they want to see Dad happy, but they don't want to let

go of their parents," said Smithtown psychologist Kanaris. "It's painful to

move forward, even if it's a good thing."

Children, he said, need reassurance that parents still cherish their family

ties and, in instances where parents are widowed, that they still treasure the

deceased's memory.

She may be reached via e-mail at caratrager@aol.com.

Knowing the Score in the Dating Game

Getting back into the swing of dating after 50 can be angst-filled. Here are

some guidelines offered by human relations experts and singles interviewed for

this story that may ease the transition.

1. Participate in activities you truly enjoy, so if they don't generate dates,

you'll still have had a good time.

2. Let friends and relatives know you have returned to the dating scene and are

interested in meeting new people.

3. Go by yourself to a museum or a lecture. Another single is more likely to

approach you if you're alone.

4. On the first date, don't talk about your ex-spouse - and if you do, only in

positive terms, because no one wants to hear you complain, even if the ex was a

louse, said Charley Wininger, a Park Slope psychotherapist and dating coach.

Also, be careful not to talk just about yourself, he said, noting that his

clients often complain that their dates "never asked anything about me."

5. A first date needn't be more than a brief get-together over coffee or a

drink. Singles often say they don't want to waste time with someone they may

not want to see again.

6. If you develop a relationship with someone online, speak with the person on

the phone several times before agreeing to meet in person at a public place.

Until you are certain of your date's character, block your home phone number on

caller identification or use a cell phone - and don't reveal your last name or

give out your home address.

7. After several in-person dates with people you've met on the Internet, be

wary of those who still refuse to give you their home phone number and address.

One single who frequently meets dates through the Web, Bill O'Brien, a

divorced Long Beach resident, said he suspects such recalcitrants are married

or involved in another relationship.

8. Wait a minimum of three to four months before introducing steady companions

to your family, said Wininger. If you do so earlier, you "are involving your

family emotionally, and you don't know if it's going to work out," he said.

9. Allow your family to discuss its emotional reaction to the new person in

your life, said Peter Kanaris, a Smithtown psychologist. Assure them that over

time, they will get to know the person and understand your feelings.

10. On the day that you plan to start a sexual relationship with a new partner

discuss any major scars or blemishes on your body that may concern you,

Wininger said. But do not "speak about them in a self-deprecating way," since

the way you talk about your imperfection may influence the way the other person

perceives it.

- Cara S. Trager

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