'Gray Divorce': Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

John Elliott | May 16, 2019

'Gray Divorce': Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

The Pew Research Center reports that “gray divorce” is on the rise. Among U.S. adults 50 and older, the divorce rate has almost doubled over the past thirty years.The marital instability of the baby boomers earlier in life is likely contributing to this trend, note the researchers at Pew. Second marriages, which many boomers entered after divorce, tend to be less stable than first marriages.   At the same time, many other baby boomers are calling it quits after decades of first marriages:

“While the rate of divorce is lower among adults ages 50 and older who have been in longer-term marriages, a significant share of gray divorces do occur among couples who have been married for 30 years or more. Among all adults 50 and older who divorced in the past year, about a third (34%) had been in their prior marriage for at least 30 years, including about one-in-ten (12%) who had been married for 40 years or more. Research indicates that many later-life divorcees have grown unsatisfied with their marriages over the years and are seeking opportunities to pursue their own interests and independence for the remaining years of their lives.”

Dating is one part of “seeking opportunities to pursue their own interests.”

The Hollywood flick “I’ll See You in My Dreams” takes a light-hearted view of this. Blythe Danner stars as a 60-something woman who decides to start dating after a long period of singleness. The farcical speed dating scene is worth the cost of the whole movie. 




But baby boomer dating is not all laughs. Julia Hubbel writes in Medium about her plunge into the dating scene at the age of 64. She calls it “daunting.”

“First, many of us have had some negative experiences (life will do that) and second, some of us may also have supremely unreasonable expectations. We may be totally and completely out of touch with how we look, how we come across and our attractiveness. All too often we have a self image steeped in fantasy, and are deeply disappointed in others’ rather frank reactions to our photos or the shape we’re in. That’s a perfect setup for disappointment.”

Hubbel repeatedly encountered men on the dating sites who were filled with bitterness about their ex-wives: 

“I can’t recall how this came up, but about seven minutes into this call this man, about whom I knew nothing, who wanted me to go out with him, laid into his previous relationship with such fury and viciousness that I was taken aback. In fact, he did this three times.”

Many divorcees need to sort themselves out before attempting to start another relationship.

“[I]f we’re still embroiled in legal situations, are fresh right off a breakup, or in some way stunted in our ability to engage someone new, then the real work is internal. Nobody can fix us, make us better. Counseling can help. Grabbing a new body doesn’t. It can be distracting, but we will destroy that new connection quickly if we haven’t sorted out what we did wrong the last time (and every time, if this is a recurring theme.)”

Divorces tend to leave a big mess behind. And as Hubbel makes clear, this makes finding the right person very difficult.

Such is not the case, however, for widows seeking a second marriage. Interestingly, a study of U.S. nurses found that among those regularly attending religious services, widows who attend church are much more likely to get remarried than divorcees: 

“Among widowed nurses, those who attended services more than once per week had a 49% higher likelihood of remarriage, compared to those who never attended services. However, for divorced or separated -nurses, religious service attendance was not significantly associated with the likelihood of remarriage.”

I think there’s an explanation for this. Divorce destroys family and social relationships. Starting over is doubly difficult when you have estranged a large number of people who would be the natural network to help you meet a new spouse.

Widowhood, however, does not. The social bonds remain intact to be used for remarriage.

I am a baby boomer who has watched several friends divorce after 50. I still shake my head at what they have done. I find it hard to believe that a couple who has been together for 30+ years cannot resolve to just hang in there. But I guess that’s the difference between the Greatest Generation — who stayed together for 50 years — and the baby boomers.

Will the millennials take note and learn from their parents’ mistakes? 


[Image Credit: FlickrCC BY 2.0]


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