Illustration by Stefano Morri
When Lewes resident Linda Woellmer said good night last July to the man she’d been dating, she didn’t know he actually meant goodbye. The pair had been dating for a couple of months, and was attending a summertime party when Woellmer’s date said he wasn’t feeling well and wanted to go home. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until he failed to return her calls over the next few days. There was no “it’s not you, it’s me” speech. No uncomfortable meeting to exchange personal belongings. No tacky breakup text or email. (Yes, technology has even made breaking up easier.) When Woellmer was finally able to confront her former love interest on what happened, he blamed his disappearance on his ongoing struggle with depression—but somehow while he was feeling down in the dumps, he’d managed to come up with the energy to update his online dating profile and photos. He had moved on. And so has she.
At 60, Woellmer is not waiting for love to find her. She’s back out on the singles market, still optimistic that one day she’ll find a love connection. Last month, she updated her online dating profile, joining thousands of other older Delaware singles who are looking for love later in life. Dating can be problematic at any age, but navigating the singles scene when one is older brings its own challenges. So, Delaware singles in their 40s, 50s and 60s have gotten creative. Many still use online dating sites, but they’ve increased their odds for finding love by forming singles groups through Meetup.com and attending out-of-state singles functions. “My perfect world would be to meet someone where we have something in common…somebody that’s relatively close [to Lewes] within 30 minutes or so…that they are comfortable, they have their own place…somebody who would like to golf, likes the beach, likes to explore and do different things…to have a monogamous relationship that doesn’t require [us] to live together in the same residence,” Woellmer says. “I want someone who is full of life . . . and can handle my independence and my type A personality.”
Woellmer’s list is long, but not unusual. The problem is finding such a match in Delaware, which isn’t exactly known for its rich nightlife or social scene. After having little success with online dating, Lin Pleiman, 60, of Newark started the Delaware Single Boomers group on Meetup.com six years ago. The group has more than 600 members, with about 100 who regularly attend events, ranging from happy hours and dances to fitness walks and cultural affairs. “Delaware Single Boomers isn’t a dating club, but rather a group for singles to socialize together,” Pleiman explains. “On average, [we] have two to three activities scheduled each week. The social, non-dating environment allows people to get to know each other in a laidback, nonthreatening way. As a result, several people have dated within the group. One couple married, one is engaged and a few couples live together.”
Wilmington resident Dave White, 66, is currently dating a woman whom he met through Delaware Single Boomers. After divorcing in 2007, White left Naples, Fla.—one of the most popular retirement communities in the Sunshine State and a good spot to meet single, older women—and moved back to Delaware to be closer to his grown daughters. He admits it wasn’t the best decision for his dating life. “I had a boat. I was right on the coast and stuff. The lifestyle was a lot better,” he says. Upon moving to Delaware, he signed up for two online dating sites. “That was a nightmare,” he says. “Everyone I met on those sites didn’t tell the truth… Their pictures are 20 years old.” He joined a couple of local Meetup.com groups as a way of meeting new people. He’s now a co-organizer for Delaware Single Boomers and regularly hosts small gatherings for singles at his house.
“There’s not much to do in Delaware for single people, and that’s why they have the Meetup group,” he says. “The Meetup groups are a good way for people our age to, at least, get together and socialize. Just going out to a bar to hit on women doesn’t work when you’re 66.”Older Delaware singles often travel to Pennsylvania and New Jersey to find more singles-friendly venues. One favorite is the Professional and Business Singles Network. PBSN was founded in 1981 by Ralph Israel, a single parent who was struggling to meet fellow singles. Israel began hosting backyard barbecues and wine-and-cheese parties for singles at his home, and then expanded to offer restaurant dinner parties and other activities, all aimed at older singles in the tri-state area. PBSN is now mainly known for its weekend dance parties, held at different venues on Friday and Saturday nights in the Philadelphia Main Line area and in north and central New Jersey. PBSN used to hold events in Delaware, but “it’s a challenge to find and maintain a location,” says Bob Israel, PBSN event planner and Ralph Israel’s son. Since its founding, PBSN events have led to more than 3,000 marriages. Israel credits that success to PBSN’s niche of catering to older singles. “We offer a venue that is more conducive to those 40 and older to meet,” he says. “The music we offer, the venues, just meet their needs. We’re giving them the ability to walk into a room and know that the majority of people there are single. There’s no asking that question. It’s just a given.” But as any long-single person knows, one can go to all the right parties and still end up alone.
Finding love at any age is hard. In Delaware, it’s easy to get a date, says Pleiman, but “if you like well-educated, classy men [or women], they are pretty challenging to find.” At many singles events, women usually outnumber men, making the search for love particularly challenging for females. “The majority of people want to have a lifetime companion,” says Brenda Kriegel, a licensed clinical social worker with a solo counseling practice in Rehoboth Beach. “The more extroverted one is, the greater the need to be with others and, perhaps, the less contented with being alone… Those who are looking for a companion match, no matter what age, must come to accept that it is a discerning and often a long search process based on wisdom and insight versus fleeting chemistry.”