The Missing Generation
Navigating the dating world after age 40.
Though there are inherent challenges in dating between the ages of 40 and 60, not to mention dating Jewish, some of the benefits from when we were young linger.
“I still get butterflies,” says Denise Goodwin, 53, of West Bloomfield, a divorced mother of two. “I like the excitement of the unknown and all its inherent possibilities when going on a date.”
Gary Schwartz, 50, of West Bloomfield, who is single, says, “I enjoy having a good meal, and you can never have enough friends. If the conversation flows and we laugh until our tummies hurt during the date, I find myself leaving the date with a smile from ear to ear.”
There were 99.6 million unmarried people older than age 18 in the United States as of 2010, according to the United State Census Bureau; 61 percent had never been married, 23.8 percent (23.7 million) were divorced and 14.4 percent (14.3 million) were widowed.
If you are looking for love, you’re in good company.
After much research in the Jewish community in the Detroit Metro area, however, it became clear there is a gap in social programming that would help singles ages 40-60 meet one another.
Social programming through religious schools, synagogues, the Jewish Community Centers and the Jewish Federation does exist for children, teens, younger adults and seniors, but not for that middle generation.
“In the past, the JCC would have three major social events a year, but they don’t have them anymore,” says Paul Bensman, 52, of Farmington Hills. He’s been single for 12 years and has a son, Ian, 22. “We need more social opportunities and places for singles in this age range to meet. People are searching for it, and there is a real void in the marketplace.”
Adam Gottlieb, 50, of Farmington Hills, is single and trying to fill the void. He’s president of the Jewish Event Network (JEN). “There are no other programs for the over-40 crowd,” he says, referring to JEN. “Most of the social groups in Detroit are focused on a younger demographic.”
So why did the programming stop for this generation?
“It’s just too difficult” was the most frequent response given when representatives of local Jewish institutions were asked.
Temple Israel in West Bloomfield did hold a focus group of an equal number of men and women to brainstorm ideas that the group thought would make for good social activities to draw singles in this age bracket.
“We had many events over the past few years, including those ideas that came from our focus group, and the turnout was consistently unbalanced with far more women than men,” says Rabbi Marla Hornsten of Temple Israel.
The synagogue planned several events, including a wine tasting, bowling, a picnic, a Chanukah party, speed dating and square dancing, and had similar turnouts with the female ratio greatly outweighing the male ratio. “After the wine tasting, the women commented that it was a great event, but that it was more like a girl’s night out,” Hornsten says.
Temple Israel had to cancel many programs because of lack of involvement of men, so they began focusing instead on subject-specific events that both couples and singles could attend, such as volunteer opportunities and wine making with the rabbis before Passover. At these events, opportunities existed to not only meet singles, but also to potentially be fixed up by a couple.
“We would love to be able to provide the programming for this generation if we knew what would work or if somebody in the community would be interested in creating a plan,” Hornsten adds.
How To Connect?
With little social programming, how do singles meet?
Single Gary Schwartz recommends meeting people through friends, dating websites or at a gym, although he does meet people when he is just out and about.
When Margo Grossman found herself newly single, she and her friends used to brainstorm ideas where to meet people. She ended up meeting people at yoga, Pilates, online, through friends and at different social occasions, but ultimately found love after being fixed up.
Margo, 47, and David Grossman, 50, of Franklin, have been blissfully married for three years. She was previously married for 14 years and has two daughters, Jessica, 19, and Amanda, 16. He was married for 12 years and has a daughter, Sari, 15. The couple owns Pegasus Entertainment.
“Never turn down a fix up because you never know when you will meet the one that is the right person for you,” Margo recommends. “If you really want to find someone, you have to be willing to put yourself out there, and never turn down a social opportunity.”
She had been dating someone for seven months and was in the midst of a breakup. While talking to a co-worker in the hallway about her breakup, her boss at that time overheard her and said, “I have a great guy for you.”
Margo and David feel very fortunate to have found each other, so much so that they hosted a singles party at their home as a way to pay it forward.
“The point of a partnership is to make each other better and to support each other,” David said.
“A lot of the couples that I marry have met by being fixed up,” Hornsten says. “It’s important that the people who are fixing you up know you well as well as the person they are fixing you up with.”
JEN has been hosting social events for the past four years and is a social group of age 40+ singles and couples that get together for various events.
Jewish Mingles, which is exclusively single people, tends to be more intimate small groups. Both groups host events such as dinners, parties, comedy shows, movies and other happenings around town. JEN is in the process of planning a whole calendar of events for 2013, including an opportunity to cook a meal with a chef and 23 others, and then subsequently enjoy the meal together.
Nosh and Network, a division of JEN, is a networking opportunity with a social twist. The group will shmooze for an hour, then each person introduces themselves (similar to a business networking group), and then there’s more shmoozing afterwards. (Find all three at www.jewishonline.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
In an attempt to bridge the gap, Paul Bensman started a Facebook event on Sunday evenings called Sunday Night Singles. It starts at 9 p.m., and anybody who wishes to participate in the discussion can simply “friend” Paul Bensman and join into the conversation.
On Dec. 9, the third week of the event, 240 comments were made by both singles and married people. Topics have included kissing on the first date, will women reach out to a man after a nice date, how long do you wait to introduce your children, and how many dates does it take to know if he or she is the right one?
“It started as a kibitz, but people seemed genuinely interested, so I decided to keep it going,” Bensman says. “Facebook really is an amazing place to make connections both personally and in business. There is a lot of opportunity there.”
Bensman hopes to turn Sunday Night Singles into a live Internet radio show where singles would attend the show and participate in it. “I think it would be therapeutic for people as well as a social opportunity for them to put themselves out there,” he says.
According to a poll from the Pew Research Center, 40 million people in the United States have tried online dating. In addition, 20 percent of committed relationships began online.
Rabbi Hornsten noticed recently that several weddings she officiated occurred because one of the two decided to give it one more date before giving up on online dating altogether — and that’s when they met “the one.”
“Coming to Shul is a great way to meet like-minded individuals, and with less pressure than a singles event,” says Rabbi Arnie Sleutelberg of Congregation Shir Tikvah in Troy. “The most effective way he has found that people meet their beshert (true love) is online. “Roughly 60 percent of couples I marry these days have met online.
“Our generation tends to be uncomfortable with online dating,” Sleutelberg says. “The younger generation has grown up with technology; it’s their world, and they are very comfortable dating online. We, however, are immigrants of that world, and anytime you are an immigrant, it’s uncomfortable.”
Still, more than 1,000 dating websites are out there, and that number changes frequently. A significant number of websites are dedicated solely to Jewish dating and others to dating after age 40.
Jewish dating websites to consider are JDate.com, JWed.com, Singlejew.com (a division of Match.com), Jewishcafe.com and TheJMom.com (where the parents get to weigh in).
Ben Rabizadeh of New York, CEO of JWed.com, just announced the merging of its two dating websites, Frumster.com and JWed.com. “Frumster was our dating website for the more religious Jewish population and JWed was for everybody else,” he says.
Now known solely as JWed.com, the site focuses on singles looking specifically for marriage. The site includes all sects of Judaism and all ages; however, the site has filters that allow for a more customized environment with respect to religious backgrounds and age.
“To date, we have matched 2,146 couples that have resulted in marriage,” says Rabizadeh, who just got married this March.
He says a photo is very important because it helps people connect by seeing another person’s face and eyes. He also recommends not communicating online for long because it decreases your chances for success. Exchange a few emails, a phone call or two and then set a date.
Artur Melentin and Luba Tolkachyov, both of New York, are co-founders of Yenta, a free location-based mobile phone application found on iTunes that allows members to immediately see who is Jewish and single near them.
The app was designed to be playful and easygoing with the profile consisting of three questions: What’s your shtick? What will impress your mother? How Jewish are you?
“We created Yenta to enable Jewish singles to connect with each other instantaneously no matter where they may be,” says Tolkachyov. Users can “check-in” at any given location and immediately see who else is in the area. If somebody interests them, they can start a chat and potentially meet for coffee right then and there.
The site doesn’t tell other users exactly where you are, just the general vicinity for safety purposes.
But what are people looking for in a beshert?
What tends to be most important on a first date? A good personality (30 percent), smile and looks (23 percent), a sense of humor (14 percent), and career and education (10 percent), according to the Pew Research Center poll.
Local single Denise Goodwin places “chemistry, good physical and emotional health, a positive attitude and available time” on the top of her list of traits she looks for in men. On the contrary, what she finds less than appealing on a date are “presumptive behavior, a lack of chivalry and no sense of humor.”
Bensman’s “must haves” in a relationship are trust, communication and compromise.
The top traits Schwartz finds important when dating include honesty, sense of humor and staying healthy.
In a close-knit community like Detroit’s, there is a tendency to believe we already know everyone. But with nearly 67,000 Jewish people here, is it possible to know them all?
“The challenge of dating at this age is that it is more of a merger than a marriage; blending families, incomes, history, with timing issues and space issues,” Bensman says. “It’s a process.”
Goodwin finds competing schedules to be one of the more challenging sides of dating.
Schwartz’ best advice is to “just be yourself,” noting that many people misrepresent who they are when they are getting to know one another, even though the truth is clear once they meet.
Statistically, men tend to lie most about age, height and income on an online profile, while women tend to lie more about their weight, physical build and their age, according to the Pew poll.
Margo Grossman liked being married the first time around and made a conscious choice to find love again. “It’s important to have a positive attitude and to have fun because you never know who you are going to meet,” she says.
Goodwin says a good rule of thumb for men is to “treat your date the way you would want your sister or daughter to be treated by her date.”
Bensman says, “Be open. Be out there and market yourself. Let people know you are available.”
Rabbi Hornsten suggests letting your friends know that you are looking. “Don’t assume your friends are thinking about it if you haven’t asked,” she says. “Don’t give up. Keep dating, and be open-minded. People have set ideas about who they want to meet, but you never know who you are going to meet and how you will feel about them unless you meet them.”
Are You Ready For Love?
Experts say that divorce or the loss of a spouse requires a certain amount of care before rushing into the next relationship. “Take your time,” suggests Ron Rice, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in Farmington Hills. “Don’t rush into dating if you don’t feel ready. When you are ready, there will be stress associated with dating, but it becomes easier and easier.”
Billie Tobin, a board-certified alternative psychology practitioner in Southfield, says, “Before getting involved in another relationship, we need to get to know ourselves and be clear on what we really want in a relationship. We also need to look at our past relationships and ourselves to discover our part in the relationship.
“Once we are ready to love again, it is imperative to choose a partner that has a similar spiritual belief system as ours so there is room to grow together with tolerance and with true love.”
Rice agrees. “I recommend dating a variety of people. It gets us in touch with what we want, to narrow down our options and eventually work our way back into a long-term, committed relationship.
“If we are happy,” he says, “it is because we have created it. We are the choreographers of our lives.”
By Karen Schultz Tarnopol, Special to the Jewish News