In the 1997 film “As Good as It Gets,” Melvin Udall (played by Jack Nicholson) gave every woman thinking about dating senior men pause to reconsider. Melvin embodied every unfortunate stereotype about older men: He was a cranky, opinionated, sexist, “my way or the highway,” alpha male kind of guy—who somehow stumbled into a romantic relationship with the waitress at his favorite Manhattan diner.
Granted, Melvin was an extreme specimen, since he had also been diagnosed with obsessive/compulsive disorder. Still, his idea of a compliment was to tell his date she made him want to take his meds.
Of course, to every rule there are plenty of exceptions, but we might as well admit it: dating senior men can require an extra measure of patience, insight, and even firmness where your own boundaries are concerned.
Here are three important things you need to know when dating senior men.
Culture Shock. In many ways, senior men really do come from another planet—from an entirely different earth. When dating senior men it is essential to keep in mind how much the world has changed since they first learned how romance works from their fathers and mothers—and from a long-gone popular culture that gave them John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, and Gregory Peck. Their expectations of women—and of themselves, for that matter—are often rooted in a relationship model that, for better or worse, has changed dramatically. A previous marriage may have acted as a kind of time capsule for many senior men, insulating them from social changes. Now, widowed or divorced, they must play catch up.
That doesn’t mean you are stuck with no option but to put on June Cleaver’s apron. But taking the time to understand what makes a senior man tick will help you know where the landmines are buried in your potential relationship—and how to avoid them.
Identity Loss. For many older men, the words “husband” and “provider” don’t simply describe what a man does in life, they express who he is. For years, maybe even decades, he measured his identity by the roles he played in his previous marriage. When that relationship ended, he lost more than a partner—he lost his means of knowing himself. In dating senior men, you need to know that your partner may be subconsciously looking for you to become his mirror by stepping into a familiar (to him) relationship routine. Recognizing this emotional dynamic at work, you can help him find new ways to define his identity, while maintaining your own.
Strong and Silent. Of all the stereotypes applied to senior men, the one most commonly true is this: they aren’t a very communicative bunch. Sure, some older men are open and emotive talkers, but most don’t want to get into all of that “touchy-feely stuff.” This is not a character flaw, but rather a matter of careful conditioning. As young men they learned—in school, at work, at the bowling alley, at church—that too much talk, especially about their feelings, was a sign of weakness and only the strong get the girl. If you plan on dating senior men, accept that the burden of communication may well fall unevenly on you.
Dating a “vintage” man is as promising a path to lasting romance as any other—so long as you know where he’s coming from and where you’d like to end up.