Never Too Late To Date

Aug 25, 2017

Gretta Jenkins, afternoon receptionist at the Portage Senior Center, rings the bell at the center's July 17 speed dating event to signal it's time to switch partners. The initiative is to combat social isolation for those over 50.
Credit Earlene McMichael | WMUK

Tammy, a 65-year-old Kalamazoo-area woman, got divorced 18 years ago. She says her dates since have been few and gone nowhere, even after trying a matchmaking service. 

Gordon, 78, of Portage, has been widowed for three years. He’s been to lunch with a couple of women but finds it hard to call it dating. He and his wife were married for over half a century.

For a variety of reasons, older adults can find it tougher to find a partner, even friends, at a time in their lives when social isolation can start to creep in, says Kim Phillips, manager of the Portage Senior Center

What’s an older adult to do? 


Since July 17, the Portage Senior Center has been experimenting with speed dating events. There’s ones for people aged 50 to 65; and another for those 65 and up.

"You don’t have an expiration date,” says Phillips, noting that staying connected to others has a positive effect on senior citizens' health.

“People still want to be social, to make connections and have relationships.” 

According to the U.S. Census, 14 percent of Kalamazoo County’s residents were over age 65 in 2015. That’s more than 35,000 people. The local Area on Aging expects this figure to grow significantly. Phillips says the agency projects 80 percent more people over age 60 in Kalamazoo County by the year 2030. And that could leave even more seniors vulnerable to social isolation.

A 2011 survey of 350 seniors living in Kalamazoo County showed 29 percent of them reported feeling lonely or isolated. Thirty-three percent said they were depressed. The results were part of the Kalamazoo County Senior Growth Needs Assessment.

On a sunny Monday in July, the Portage Senior Center put on its inaugural speed dating event in a private dining-room at Jac’s Cekola’s Pizza restaurant in Portage. It paired 12 men with 12 women for rotating conversations.

Both Tammy and Gordon attended. Tammy says she met four strong candidates, and two maybes.

“At 65, it’s hard to meet people. You go to church and you see the same people. I thought that it was fabulous that the senior center did this for us.”

Gordon marked “Yes” for all 12 women.

He says he was ready to find a companion, but, at the very least some new friends.

“It was enjoyable,” he says. “Something new, and I haven’t done anything like that before.”

Since that first speed dating event last month, the Portage Senior Center has heard of relationships being formed.

"We got a call from a gentleman who was at the first speed dating event on (July) 17th, who said he has made a connection with a woman that night," Phillips says. "They have been seeing each other practically every day, and they're happy. He said he almost didn't show up to the event. He was so nervous in the parking lot."

The center now plans to offer speed dating several times a year. It’ll either be every other month or quarterly, officials say.

Note: This story airs on Arts & More on Friday, Aug. 25 at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m. and 4:20 p.m. on WMUK 102.1 FM. It is a shorter version of a story that aired this month on WestSouthwest.