The difficulty of dating after 50: ‘The fear of losing an erection serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy’

Finding a partner as a mature adult is not easy, as there are many impediments, from biological factors to the burden of experience, making us more intransigent and less spontaneous

Anticipatory anxiety is no longer a thing for men, women are also beginning to feel that they are not up to the task.
Anticipatory anxiety is no longer a thing for men, women are also beginning to feel that they are not up to the task.Halfpoint Images (Getty Images)

There is a whole generation of early retirees in their fifties who have been rendered jobless and have a slim hope of finding work. These may have been fine professionals once, but the companies opted for fresh meat, temporary contracts and lower salaries. Now that retirement age is getting pushed back, these fifty-somethings dwell between the vertigo of their immediate future, the desire to continue doing things, and the guilt for not having resisted the centripetal force that cast them into long-term unemployment. A similar scenario holds true in the sphere of sexuality, because falling off the partner or relationship wagon at a later age makes reincorporation much more challenging. After a few attempts, many throw in the towel and settle for a life of solitude. Others gradually fall into clichés and hard truths, as their attempts to find a partner end in failure.

Having already lived through youth, biology does not necessarily help, as we enter the age of excuses, obstacles to achieve what society has defined as a fulfilling sexual life. In their 50s, most women will be struggling with the seven-headed monster known as menopause, while they will begin to experience the power of gravity.

“Sexually, the mature man is highly vulnerable because it is quite common for him to suffer from anticipatory anxiety,” explains Antoni Bolinches, sexologist and professor of the master’s degree in clinical sexology and sexual health at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Barcelona ― and the author of several books on sexuality. “With age, the penis loses firmness and erectile dysfunction may occur. This is experienced as a loss of personal confidence, and the fear of losing an erection serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Women, at mature ages, may suffer from vaginal dryness, but if there is desire, adequate stimulation and a good lubricant is used, the problem has an easier solution. Opening the legs is a function of the voluntary nervous system, but the erection runs through the autonomic nervous system,” Bolinches says.

In this world where there are now only first chances and where mature women may be seen looking for a date on the program First Dates, men can feel a little intimidated on the first encounter, which often means there is no second opportunity. 58-year-old Sergio, divorced and looking for companionship, often resorts to Viagra to break the ice. “I recognize that it’s a bit like cheating, but if I’m not confident and the person is worth it, I turn to the pill. Nerves can get the better of you, although there are always other resources or things to do, now there is talk of fleeing from intercourse, but ultimately, if you don’t perform, they won’t call you back.”

Another issue is that anticipatory anxiety is no longer just a male thing, as women are starting to feel that they are not up to the task. “This anxiety is still more frequently encountered in men, but it also affects women, because we still identify sexual relations with sexual intercourse. Some women who experience vaginal dryness or discomfort during penetration may avoid sexual encounters if they worry excessively or feel that they will be unable to successfully perform in intercourse,” explains health psychologist and clinical sexologist Ana Yáñez, director of the Clinical Institute of Sexology of Extremadura and member of the Advisory Committee of the Word Association for Sexual Health (WAS) and of the Board of Directors of the FESS (Spanish Federation of Sexology Societies).

An insecure and faltering sexuality becomes the first stumbling block when it comes to finding a partner after the age of 50.
An insecure and faltering sexuality becomes the first stumbling block when it comes to finding a partner after the age of 50.LWA-Dann Tardif (Getty Images)

In women, this fear of failure is linked to a higher social rejection due to the loss of beauty and youth. Because although things are changing, women are resorting much more to cosmetic surgery than men are, although they are also becoming more willing to undergo it. “A successful mature man can be interesting, but a woman of the same age and in the same conditions, who has a hard time finding a partner at the same stature, is less so,” points out Bolinches.

This insecure sexuality that starts to misfire at the worst time becomes the first hurdle to finding companionship over the age of 50. “The sexual aspect should not come first when looking for a partner at an older age,” explains Bolinches. “Sex should be left to flow and flourish, as a consequence of trust, and not become the ultimate test to choose or discard anyone, because a mature person could be at the maximum possible performance level for his or her age and potency,” he adds.

It is not just sexual struggles that complicate the search for a partner. There is also the question of where and how to look for a companion, with dating apps and websites becoming the new nightclubs or cocktail bars. “We think that older people are not very adept with these tools, but this is not always the case,” points out Yáñez, “there is a wide range of personalities and there are people in their 60s who cope quite well with the digital world or social media. In the same way, not everyone is looking for a steady partner, but perhaps a lover or a fling, because they do not always have the time, dedication, or space to take on an emotional responsibility.” For the health psychologist and sexologist, the worst thing for the most mature people is that “the fleeting nature of relationships, already assumed by young people, who normalize that, in most cases, these are ephemeral, shallow and that it takes time to unearth hidden treasures.”

There is a wide range of personalities and there are people in their 60s who cope quite well with the digital world or social media.
There is a wide range of personalities and there are people in their 60s who cope quite well with the digital world or social media.AzmanJaka (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Successive disappointments, failures and endings, even before there was a beginning, cause many to become even more demanding, intolerant and unadventurous. Of course, it is difficult to find interesting things with such mental assumptions.

SamSara is a matchmaking agency that was established in Barcelona in 1995 and which many people turn to in search of a satisfactory solution. “People of all ages come here, but they want to find a steady partner,” says María del Carme Banús, founder and director of the company, who adds that her oldest client is a 79-year-old man. “New retirees have a lot of time to share and energy to enjoy many experiences, while those in their 70s and above are looking for companionship to mitigate loneliness.” Women think long and hard before turning to an agency of this type because, according to Banús, “they find this way of meeting someone unromantic.” However, at the agency, they describe a more practical approach. “Most of our clients are people who cannot start a new relationship because they still have not ended the previous one, or they have ended it poorly. Our team of psychologists helps them in this matter. It is also very common to think that happiness involves having a partner, and that is not true. We have to be comfortable alone, with ourselves. In fact, those who find the right person first are in this group, since we should ask ourselves what lies behind this desire to look for someone to fill that huge void,” says the founder of SamSara.

Notwithstanding the dating websites and apps, this agency still operates under the name that was formerly used to designate this business. “When Match.com opened in Spain, it was the first website of its kind, and it did so in the year 2000, when there were 12 or 13 matchmaking agencies in Barcelona like us,” says Banús, “today there are only two or three of us left.” However, she believes that the sites that initially challenged them fiercely are now giving them work, as many customers who are disenchanted with digital dating are flocking to them. “We have stuck around for those who are looking for confidentiality, who can’t afford to waste time or who lack certain skills,” she explains.

For those of us who like literature, we know that the best stories don’t always occur when we’re looking gorgeous, dressed up, and carrying a spare change of underwear. “You can find someone interesting at any age, you just have to use constructive intelligence, something that makes the receiver feel good and is also good for the transmitter. We must become kind people in other words, worthy of being loved,” points out Bolinches, “because, as Antonio Gala used to say, our society enables us to make love, but makes it difficult for us to fall in love.”

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