MADISON, Wis. - Patti Hemming is not one for waiting. Comfortably situated at table seven with a condensation-covered copper cup in hand, she was already well into her mindset for her happy hour engagement.
"It's an adventure," Hemming said.
John F. Kennedy was president when Hemming met her husband. That was the last date she ever went on.
"March 19, 1963," Hemming said.
She lost her one-and-only years ago, and knowing he would want her to be happy, Hemming found herself at a series of events hosted by the Madison Senior Center centered on helping people make a match in their later years.
Hemming managed to convince a few friends to come with her to the Madison Concourse Hotel. They had six minutes to meet and greet their fellow seniors, all at least 65 years old, in the first senior speed dating event of its kind.
Richard Rathmann has missed the days of face-to-face interactions, so much so that he has even turned to the internet to meet up with single women in his age group.
"I find it's really hard to meet people. I've been trying for ages," Rathmann said.
Rathmann and Hemming were two of 16 people who came out to the speed dating event, a sign that a more mature crowd is looking for ways to make a connection.
John DeLamater, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has studied the subject of senior relationships, notes that the age group is "rapidly growing" and is expected to double over the next 15 years or so.
DeLamater said not only can women expect to live nearly 10 years longer than men, they often marry older men. Between the possibility of a partner passing away and the odds of a divorce, DeLamater said it's becoming more and more common for people to be left behind later in life.
Just as the number of available singles decreases and the opportunities to meet people go online, DeLamater said the physical and emotional benefits of a relationship only grow stronger.
"Being in a relationship like that could make you healthier, could help solve some of the health care issues as well," DeLamater said.
While there are advantages to finding a special someone as a senior, DeLamater recognizes there are a number of deterrents that could keep people from getting back out there. Perhaps, he said, there's still a strong connection to a former spouse and a romantic ideal that everyone should have only one partner in their life. There can also be financial barriers or family issues preventing people from getting back out there. DeLamater said while senior living facilities provide opportunities to socialize, a number of the residents don't take advantage.
DeLamater also noted while not everyone at events like speed dating will make a match, getting out and conversing with others can be just as important.
"Just that experience of interacting with a person that you don't know very well can be kind of liberating, particularly if they haven't done it for a while," DeLamater said.
While Hemming and Rathmann went out on a date as a result of the speed dating event, neither began a relationship. Hemming told her perspective partners she didn't need a romantic connection anyway. She was just happy to meet new people.
"We have to make the rest of our lives the best of our lives," Hemming told one of the other participants.
The Madison Senior Center plans to hold another speed dating event in the future. Staff also screened a documentary on the subject of dating in our older years.
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