A lot of men can’t look after themselves so they jump into relationships to get looked after, while many women are not looking for another partner to look after, it’s just too much work.
These attitudes highlight international research findings that married men or those in relationships are mentally healthier than single men, but married women and those in a sexual relationship are less mentally healthy than their single sisters.
The discrepancy is just one of the many pitfalls awaiting those who, through design or accident, find themselves over 55 and unpartnered, often after long relationships which began in their 20s.
Research reveals that 40 per cent of people now in their 20s will never marry. It is a stark contrast to those now 55 plus who grew up in an era when sleeping together before marriage was taboo, despite which one in four brides was pregnant!
Courtship was formal and often chaperoned. If women worked it was largely viewed as stop-gap until the real business of marriage and children took over.
A potent combination of parental pressure and sexual frustration resulted in the majority of people marrying and at much younger ages than today, when in fact many were still far from independent or mature enough for the job.
Thirty or more years on those now in their late 50s, or older, are looking for a new partner at a very different stage of their lives, as very different people in a confusing post-sexual liberation world where all ground rules have changed.
Some men and women are perfectly happy leading rewarding single lives. Singles often turn to their single friends for a boost to their confidence and self-esteem. This seems to be particularly true of single women, who are more inclined to form very supportive networks.
However, in a sense this can be a two-edged sword. Paradoxically, the more independent a person becomes, the more difficult it is for them to partner.
That said, a degree of independence in both partners is essential for a strong, balanced and grown-up relationship. This can be likened to the letter H: two people standing together on their own feet but joined by love and shared goals.
Quite different is the weak, co-dependant relationship which resembles the letter A: symbolising two people leaning on each other, unable to stand alone.
Among many groups and courses and courses run by Relationships Australia, the one older, single people seeking new relationships seem to find particularly relevant is a mixed group for men and women who want to share and discuss particular problems. A psychologist guides the group as facilitator and each meeting has a theme decided on by the group itself.
For those whose problem is not so much adapting to a new relationship, as meeting potential partners, dating agencies and online dating sites can help older age groups to successfully find partners: they’re not just for the young.
Despite the widespread myth that all older men want younger women as partners, some are quite open to women older than themselves. More women than men actively seek a younger partner.
Dating for many people is a rewarding adventure with a happy ending but for some it can be fraught with daunting dilemmas. The practicalities of where to begin looking for a partner, how to meet people safely, how to guard privacy and finances sensibly without being paranoid, and what, if anything, to tell family and friends, are not always easy.
Emotionally it can also be a roller-coaster ride. The newly single may feel awkward and foolish reliving adolescent feelings and going through the ups and downs of meeting, courting and dating again. Some people remain emotionally fixed in their 20s and may never change. Living with romantic illusions is not necessarily a bad thing, provided there is no conflict between how they are living and how they would like to live.
After many years in a comfortably familiar long-term relationship, some older people find they are anxious about coping with sexual relations with a new partner. Men, as well as women, are self-conscious about bodies which are no longer perfect and they are intimidated by the emphasis on being sexually knowing and adept.
Men traditionally keep their prostate and impotence problems to themselves, being reluctant to even consult a doctor in many cases. Since impotence can increasingly affect a man from his 40s on, this is an area which can be an issue. It is important to be open in a relationship. If both parties are willing to be patient, show kindness and use a little more stimulation than usual – such issues can often be overcome and the bonus is a longer period of foreplay, making sex more enjoyable.
Getting into a new relationship also means you will need to be prepared to courageously take emotional risks when confronting vulnerabilities. This is not only true of sexual matters. After many years of unchallenged assumptions, it can be unsettling to be jolted by new world views, expectations, attitudes and lifestyles which demand compromises, adjustments and mental, and sometimes physical, agility. You could be made to feel rusty.
Many of these situations, questions and choices are too complex to address alone. This is why there is now a wealth of specifically targeted counselling services and practitioners. Also, there is a wide range of bodies marketing ethical introduction services and other meeting options, around Australia, which can help born-again singles in their search for a new partnership.
For more information, contact Relationships Australia.