Suddenly the trophy catch in the dating market is the newly single older guy

ANNE KINGSTON December 3 2007


Suddenly the trophy catch in the dating market is the newly single older guy

ANNE KINGSTON December 3 2007



Suddenly the trophy catch in the dating market is the newly single older guy


Behold the hot new property in the dating market: decades older than George Clooney, craggier than Brad Pitt, infinitely more seasoned than Orlando Bloom. We’re talking the freshly single senior man who, if popular culture is an indicator, is hunted down with the kind of predatory precision typically reserved for wildlife.

The chase for the septuagenarian bachelor is increasingly a theme in film and theatre-driven by an aging Viagra-stoked baby boom eager to reframe 70 as the new 16. Director Susan Seidelman, who tapped into ’80s new-wave Zeitgeist with her 1985 movie Suddenly Seeking Susan starring Madonna, most recently turned her lens on geriatric romance in The Boynton Beach Club, a comedy released earlier this year set in a Florida retirement community and starring a scarily collagened Dyan Cannon.

The term “casserole brigade,” a quaint coinage used to describe the parade of older women who descend on the newly single male brandishing nourishment as a way to enter his house and heart, is the title of playwright Robert John Ford’s acclaimed comedy about four widows’ creative strategies to meet men—including trolling obituaries looking for names of bereft widowers. An off-Broadway production is in the works.

Then there’s Amy Cohen’s witty 2007 memoir The Late Bloomer’s Revolution, in which she parallels her fallow dating life as a single thirtysomething woman in New York City with the plenteous supply of women available to her newly widowed 71-year-old father, Murray. “Nobody could have predicted the amount of attention he got,” Cohen says. “He got lists and lists of names—written on Postits, flowered stationery, scraps of paper.” He received so much home cooking, she writes, that one of her friends observed: “It’s like he has groupies, except instead of waiting in his hotel suite naked they bake him Bundt cakes.”

HBO has just bought the rights to the movie, which is set to star Sarah Jessica Parker.

Equally ripe for cinematic dramatization are the male-centric mating rituals that play out in retirement complexes across the country. At Hazelton Place residence in downtown Toronto, where the average age is 85, male residents who so desire can live a tamped-down facsimile of Hef’s existence at the Playboy mansion. Hazelton marketing manager Leslie Westlake recalls one male resident who juggled three women simultaneously before deciding to move in with another woman who lives in Ottawa. Another man took up with the daughter of a fellow resident. A woman who used to live there recalls the ripple of excitement when a “hale and hearty” retired judge moved in. “He was absolutely surrounded by women in the dining room,” she says. “Just swarmed.”

The popularity of the post-60 single man is traceable to the same fundamentals that underlie all markets: supply and demand. Given the stats, he’s a newly listed property in a parched real estate market. In Canada, unattached women over the age of 65 outnumber unattached men by at least 1.5 to 1, on average, with the ratio rising to as much as 5 to 1 for

widows to widowers. This gap is narrowing, as men are living longer, yet a significant imbalance remains: in 2001, there were 75 men aged 65 or older for every 100 women in the same age group, compared to 72 per 100 women in 1991. The fact women have an average life expectancy of 83 versus 78 for men widens the differential farther. At Hazelton Place, the 30 per cent male population (many of the men are in couples) is something of a marketing tool. “It’s pretty unheard of,” says Westlake.

Statistics alone fail to convey the more subtle calibrations underlying late-in-life romanceforemost the fact that men who’ve been widowed or divorced tend to form new intimate relationships far more quickly and frequently than women. The University of Chicago’s “National Social Life, Health and Aging Project,” published in the New England Journal of Medicine in August 2007, regarded as the most comprehensive study of elder sexuality, revealed 78 per cent of men aged 75 to 85 had a spouse or an intimate partner, compared with just 40 per cent of women in the same age group. Theories about why men re-couple so rapidly abound—most of which entail sweeping generalizations: men get more out of being married than women do; men lack the social networks that women tend to cultivate; men fear solitude more than women.

Strip away the theories, however, and older men re-partner for a simple reason: because they can. Sociologist Deborah van den Hoonaard, a professor in the gerontology department at St. Thomas University in Fredericton and author of The Widowed Self: The Older Woman’s Journey through Widowhood, is currently writing a book about widowers. As she sees it, “finding a new woman is an intrinsic part of widowhood for men,” contrary to the experience of widows. Even factoring in the large number of women who say they don’t want to remarry, a supply-demand imbalance exists, van den Hoonaard points out: “Over

‘It’s like he has groupies, except instead of waiting in his hotel suite naked they bake him Bundt cakes’

age 65, there are six widows for every widower.1 so if only one-third want to remarry, it’s still two to one. Then there’s another five-year gap in life expectancy. Women tend to marry men who are at least two years older, that’s seven years, and when men remarry after widowhood or divorce they tend to remarry women younger than their wives were. That’s how it happens.”

Late-in-life romance betrays other cruel arithmetic, namely that the pool of potential partners tends to evaporate for women as they age, whereas it expands for men. Van den Hoonaard recalls interviewing a 70-year■' old man who told her he wasn’t interested in women his age. “My wife was 70,” he told her. “But she was really young.” Van den Hoonaard says that age isn’t an issue when couples grow old together but is when they re-enter the dating market. “When women get to a certain age, they begin to remind men of their mothers,” she says. (Many men who remain single usually say it’s because the women they desire are too young to consider them, she notes.)

Double standards abound. For one, a 60plus man will be set up more actively than a single woman of the same vintage. Cohen says people were eager to matchmake for her father, even while her mother was dying of cancer. “I was like a hellcat, saying, ‘Back off.’ ” Older single men report being deluged with prospects from helpful friends. “Everybody tries to fix me up,” says Alan Richman, 63, a New Yorkbased food writer who has been separated for over a year after a 12-year marriage. “I could go out with two women a week for as long as I wanted.” His ex-wife, he says, complains to him that no one is doing the same for her.

Observers report market imbalances can result in women trimming earlier expectations, much like the would-be real estate buyer looking for a Victorian with pristine original detail eventually broadening the search to any available fixer-upper. A Toronto lawyer speaks of seeing divorced men about to remarry who have snagged women of far higher calibre and income than them. “I get a description of how well-off these women are and I think, ‘Okay, these guys are not a prize at first blush, but at second blush it doesn’t seem to matter.’ ” Cohen notes that her father, who now has a partner, is very open about the fact he was going out with women who would never have considered him 30 years before. “A lot of these women were used to looking for more successful, more driven men, but when their husbands died and there is an attractive older Jewish man with an apartment on the Upper East Side, the floodgates open,” she says.

Word of a newly available man spreads as if by jungle telegraph. A wealthy Toronto

widower now in his late 70s whose wife died 12 years ago says that after a newspaper article revealed his eligibility, he was besieged with letters from available women; some even included photographs. He agreed to be interviewed by Maclean’s only on condition his name not be used; he was concerned he’d be targeted again. Mike Boone, the 59-year-old city columnist for the Montreal Gazette who says he has been “gloriously available” for three years, advertised his single status in a lighthearted column that ran on Valentine’s Day, 2006. “I am separated, Jewish and prone to bouts of loneliness when my daughter isn’t home and I’m listening to country music,” he wrote. More than a dozen women contacted him within a week, he says, eager to meet him. He ended up going out with one of them for over a year. More recently, his contribution to the paper’s food section about his substandard cooking habits resulted in emails from women wanting to feed him. (He accepted one woman’s invitation, had a nice meal, he says, but never called her again.) Van den Hoonaard believes such attention can be well-meaning and without strings. “I think there are women who are very lonely and predatory but [other times] the information is misinterpreted [by the newly eligible man],” she says, noting that the female predator on the hunt motif played out in popular culture might be overstated.

Yet her own academic research is filled with examples of aggressive female tactics. One man she interviewed was so perturbed by the attention he put caller ID on his phone. Indeed,

the private-school boy-catching machinations of Gossip Girl appear amateurish next to some of the ploys used by their senior counterparts. “A lot of these older women are like a boozy girl on prom night,” says Cohen. One woman recalls her newly widowed father being tracked down by a neighbour so eager for a relationship that when he moved into a retirement community she packed an overnight bag and followed him. A widower in his late 60s who has since remarried had so many eager women tracking him down, he came to jokingly refer to them as “back-warmers.” Ford says the scene in his play in which his characters read the obits was based on a true story.

The status catch is the widower. “He’s a trophy,” says van den Hoonaard. Faithfulness can be a heady aphrodisiac. “People would talk about how devoted my father was to my mother when she was sick,” Cohen says. “One woman said, ‘That’s just going to make him even more attractive when she’s gone.’ And I went ‘Oh, my God. I’m going to be nauseous.’ ” The alpha widower in this regard is John Bayley, the former English professor married to the novelist Iris Murdoch for 43 years. In two memoirs, Bayley movingly chronicled nursing his beloved wife during her descent into Alzheimer’s. His third, Widower’s House, published in 2001, is an account of the inevitable interest he received from women after his wife’s death, many of them Murdoch’s friends, students and fans. Two women in particular vied like gladiators to make their way into the 74-yearold’s squalid house—and bed. Reeling with

As if the market wasn’t overheated enough, younger women are increasingly pursuing much older men, a phenomenon playfully dubbed ’looking north’

grief, he fended off their helpfulness and advances. Within a year and a half of Murdoch’s death, however, Bayley remarried one of the couple’s friends.

Underlying the urgency at this life stage is the knowledge that time is fleeting. One widow van den Hoonaard interviewed in Florida told her that bringing a casserole during the weeklong Jewish mourning period of shiva is premature, then added: “But, if you wait until shiva is over, you will be too late—some other woman will have gotten the man.” Being first in the front door can guarantee results, though not longer-term success. Look only to the calamitous remarriage of Paul McCartney to Heather Mills, who met the former Beatle less than a year after the death of his wife, Linda. They were married within the year. A window of vulnerability exists after the death of a spouse, says a man who was widowed after 25 years, which can blur judgment. “I came very close to making a lot of mistakes,” he says of the first year after his wife’s death. “I don’t care how experienced you are in life; when someone that close dies you want to replicate that kind of relationship as quickly as possible. I don’t think anyone gets accustomed to living alone.”

For all of the ribald joking about some men scoring more conquests post-60 than they could have imagined in high school, however, after a certain age dating can be anathema. Men who re-enter the dating scene after age 60 speak less of libidinous antics than frustrations. “You’re not at a dating age when you’re over 60,” says a 76-year-old widower who is constantly given names of women to meet. “It’s an awkward silly situation. I allowed myself to be fixed up twice and it becomes like an interview.” He says his marriage spoiled him and he’s holding out. “I’m not prepared to settle for a roll in the hay. I’ve had my rolls in the hay. I want something more meaningful.” Richman says he could date with the best of

them in his youth, but found re-entering the dating scene tough. “People said, ‘Dating is going to be hard when you’re older.’ And I said, ‘Never. It’s not going to be hard for me.’ And you know what? It’s hard.” He has gone out with more than 20 women since his marriage ended, he says, but has yet to connect with someone. “I’m zero on the year,” he laments.

Richman is the exception. More common is the experience of Robert Heffelfinger, an 82-year-old retired doctor in Port Coquitlam, B.C., whose former patients included Terry Fox. Heffelfinger was widowed in 2006 after 56 years of marriage. A few months after his wife died, he moved into a local retirement complex where he was immediately the object of much female attention. Within weeks, he found a companion in Myrtle Halsfall, who is 10 years older. Heffelfinger says he both wanted and expected to meet a new partner.

Late-in-life love, inevitably, is tinged with poignancy—and often an active sense of loss. Halsfall says Heffelfinger wants to marry but she is resistant, regretfully, due to his Alzheimer’s. “I’m 10 years older than him and if I wasn’t, I probably would marry him,” she says. “I don’t know if I have that kind of patience anymore.”

For many women, the line is drawn over poor health, which can marginalize men the way age does women. Women who speak of the desire for companionship often bristle at the idea of becoming a caregiver again—the “I diapered my children, why should I diaper a man?” line of reasoning expressed by one 75-year-old widow. A former resident of a retirement community tells the story of a woman known as a “predator,” known to go from man to man. She began a relationship with one man who doted on her, buying her gifts until he became sick. “He had to be wheeled in. A caregiver was brought in to take care of him, and she wasn’t as nice to him anymore. The end of the story is she dropped him like a hot potato and he ended up in a nursing home.”

While the place of sex in these relationships varies, the patina of male potency is elemental to his desirability. One man in his 80s who remained fairly sexually active is known to have to fight off women decades younger. “A lot of women are looking for that kind of companionship,” he says. “If you can manage to be healthy enough, women will read you as

sexually active and do all of the work.”

And it appears this workload is increasing. As if the market wasn’t overheated enough, anecdotal evidence suggests that younger women are increasingly pursuing much older men, a phenomenon dubbed “looking north.” Cohen says a number of her friends in their 40s are involved in relationships with men well into their 60s, all of whom are affluent and vital. “It’s the Fred Thompson syndrome, but not with the smoking hottie wife,” she jokes, alluding to the 64-year-old Republican presidential candidate whose wife, Jeri, is 24 years younger. “There’s a sense these guys are easy,” she explains. “They’re not filled with all of the crap that you find with men—I don’t like to make generalizations, but there’s definitely a group of men left in their late 30s, early 40s, who have so many issues. And what my friends say is that they don’t play those games. They’re happy to have you, and they think you’re just delightfully youthful.” A 74year-old widower who lives in Toronto says his 48-year-old daughter expresses concern he’ll end up with someone younger than she is. Recently, he says, a friend of his daughter told her she was looking for an older widower who’s generous and still young for his age. His daughter immediately thought of her eligible father. “Hello, mommy!” she joked.

“The fact I am of a certain age doesn’t make any difference,” says a 60-year-old divorced Toronto-based lawyer who’s in a relationship, yet is often hit on by much younger women. “My intuitive sense is that an older man might be advantageous for reasons both economic and sexual. My guess is that, and this is anecdotal, women will be better taken care of sexually by a man who’s older. Viagra makes that a non-issue. Remember guys in their 40s are much more likely to spend exhaustive time on their career. Providing the guy is well-preserved—and the well-preserved aspect heightens the sexual allure—you get experience, you get sexual vigour, you get everything else that comes with the package, including economic security.”

The New York-based Cohen, now 41 and still single, says she’s amenable to “looking north.” “I would like to find an older attractive man who wouldn’t have considered me in his prime” but would appreciate her now, she says. How far north would she look? She laughs. “I guess I’m looking to Canada.” M