Jim Hanson peruses a sea of online profiles, hoping to find his match. What sets this self-professed Renaissance man apart from thousands of other men doing the same exact thing? His age: 65. At a time in life when most people his age are thinking of retirement and mutual funds, he is looking for love.
After being happily married for 33 years, Hanson, a widower, found himself in a position understood by many of his generation: He was alone. Never one to give up, he has tirelessly searched for the right person for the last seven years. “I have met a lot of neat people in that time,” he says. “The main thing I noticed that’s different dating now than then [in his 20s] is people have twice the baggage.” He explains that there are two groups of people he has encountered on his quest: widows and divorcees. “The thing about baggage is you gotta find someone to help you unpack it.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people 65 and over make up 13.9 percent of Nebraska’s population. Many local seniors are experiencing being single again after the death or divorce of a spouse. Plenty are turning to online dating sites to meet other people.
This was the case for Linda Knapp. “It is really difficult to meet people,” she admits. Despite the fact that she owns her own business and interacts with countless people both socially and professionally, the 66-year-old has not dated much in the last year and a half. “I don’t like going to bars. It’s difficult to find a venue to meet people of my generation.” Like many, she turned to online dating. After a couple of bad experiences, she decided it wasn’t for her.
“The thing about baggage is you gotta find someone to help you unpack it.” – Jim Hanson
Karen Larson doesn’t look at seniors dating as any different from the younger generations. “No matter what age, it’s difficult to meet people.” Which is why the local 56-year-old started organizing meetup groups on Plenty of Fish, an online dating forum, to help people get out there and meet new people. “I like to host in small venues so people can actually get a chance to talk,” she says adding, “It’s a safe environment where people can meet.” According to her, a safe environment is what women want. “Many women from my generation have never walked into a bar by themselves.” She will meet up with people and help ease their anxiety, acting as a modern-day matchmaker.
“I have success stories,” she says. One woman who was nervous about attending a meet-and-greet that Karen organized found her special someone after attending the gatherings for a few months.
“Everyone has baggage,” Larson says, echoing Hanson. “I don’t even like to look at it as baggage. I think of it as experiences that shape who you are. It can be positive or negative. Just like your past experiences, dating can be the same way, depending on how you look at it. It’s a scary adventure. People don’t want to be taken. There are those who play games and want to play with your heart. You have to discern the difference. One sign? Can the person describe their past without extreme emotion? Without anger or sadness? If not, they aren’t ready to date again.”
“The way I see it, it’s a numbers game,” Hanson says with the zeal of a pep squad cheerleader. “You have to love without fear. It takes honesty, integrity, and a sense of humor. Yesterday is gone forever. Learn from it and move on. I lost my beautiful wife of 33 years in an instant. Nothing is a given. Embrace today. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.”
After many years of dating and many more being married, he will tell you the importance of communication and making compromises. At the end of the day, he says he is looking for the same thing everyone looks for: that person who is the last person you think of at night and the first thing you think of in the morning.
“It’s like that famous quote,” Hanson explains, “‘Love is like a butterfly.’ If you chase after it, it will fly away. But if you are patient and wait long enough, it will land in your hands.”