A few Saturdays ago, a charming teacher asked Katherine Palmer, 64, on a date at a local tavern. After a year of staying six feet apart from others, meeting up outside and wearing face masks, spending time with someone in person made her nervous at first. However, as she she started to relax into the date, she began to realize something else: they were hitting it off. Now that she’s fully vaccinated, she says, she’s ready to put her worries aside and put herself out there.
Palmer says the pandemic made her recognize that, when it comes to finding love again, there’s no time to waste. “When your husband dies, you realize life is short,” she says. “That part was definitely missing: to have somebody by your side during a pandemic that you could talk to and, you know, tell them, ‘I’m afraid about what happened today,’ and they would console you. I missed all that with my husband not being here…So maybe I want another one.”
Pandemic-era dating has been hard for pretty much everyone, but it’s been a particular challenge for older people, who are at higher risk of severe COVID-19. Many older people have changed their lifestyles accordingly over the past year—people over 60 were the most likely to practice measures that limit the spread of the virus, including physical distancing, avoiding crowds and canceling social activities, according to an Oct. 2020 survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When vaccines became available in the U.S. starting late last year, older residents were among the first allowed to join the line, and, broadly speaking, they jumped at the opportunity. They’re now more likely than younger people to have at least partial protection; as of April 26, more than 80% of U.S. residents over 65 were at least partially vaccinated, compared to just 32.5% of people between 18 to 29. And vaccination has enabled many older people who have spent the year in relative isolation for fear of contracting the virus to throw themselves back into a fulfilling social life—including dating.
Palmer, who received her second vaccine in early April, says her social calendar is already full again. However, she may not be playing the field for as long as she expected: the teacher impressed her with his bluntness, fun-loving spirit, and respect for her caution towards COVID-19. As their first date was going well, he turned to her and said, “Full disclosure: I had COVID in July.”
“Oh, really?” she responded.
“And I was vaccinated. And you are vaccinated,” he continued. “So, can I kiss you tonight?”
“Okay, I see where this is going now. Yes, you can,” she said. (They did). Even then, she admits, it all felt strange. During the pandemic, she says, “you don’t kiss people, you don’t touch people. You know, it’s just so weird to have the shot and now have that freedom.”
For some older singles, like Marianne Mohr, who’s in her 60s, the pandemic has become a useful way to gauge whether a prospective date is a good match. If someone she connects with online suggests they haven’t taken COVID-19 seriously, Mohr doesn’t bother meeting up with them regardless of their vaccination status, because it’s a sign that they don’t share her values. The pandemic “made me be more discerning,” says Mohr.
Todd Omohundro, 60, says that as a very outgoing person, things in life used to “fall into [his] lap.” During the pandemic, however—and after a difficult shoulder surgery in November—he found himself getting increasingly lonely and depressed. As he recovered, he decided to take dating more seriously, even hiring a matchmaker. He says that he’s found even more confidence now that he’s vaccinated.
“Honestly, it was part loneliness, part desperation,” says Omohundro. “We’ve all heard those amazing stories of people passing on all over the world, isolated from any loved ones at all. And wow, you know, that iconic image we have of being at the very end of our life and being surrounded by loved ones, and you know, the family dog. I don’t want to die from COVID by myself.”
Ann Maas, 63, says that since mass vaccination began, she’s seen a growing interest in dating through her business taking people’s photos for their online dating profiles. It’s nice, she says, to see people get themselves cleaned up to get back out there. “The COVID beard and COVID extra weight does not help these men,” says Maas. “And so many women have these huge chunks of gray and colored hair. And so so many people need to get fixed up and be able to go back to their hairdressers before they go dating again. You know, so it’s not just the dating, it’s the prep for dating.”
Many older single people, including 82-year-old Jim Byrne of Connecticut, are optimistic that it will be easier to meet people now that people are getting vaccinated and the gloom of the pandemic is starting to lift. Byrne says he’s happy to see that people are going out more, and as an actor, he’s looking forward to meeting new people once the local community theater scene gets going again. He says he’d love to meet a woman who likes to have fun—and maybe take a ride with him around Connecticut on his scooter.
“At my age, et cetera, I’m not looking for anything serious-serious, you know, like proposing to a woman and getting married. I’m not interested in that at all. Most people my age are not looking for a long-term mate. They’re just hoping to stay alive long enough to have a little enjoyment,” says Byrne. “But you know, a good friend that you can go out and enjoy life with and have fun and, you know, be a little romantic. I’m a sentimental slob.”