The complexities of dating, relationships during a pandemic

Alicia Colombo

By Jay Nachman


Dating for older adults amid a pandemic can be especially difficult but doable, say local relationship experts.

During a pandemic there are fewer avenues for meeting people and a greater reliance on technology, but it all boils down to trust, said Sara Kasey Mairs, a licensed social worker at the Philadelphia Institute for Individual, Relational & Sex Therapy (phiirst.com, 267-519-0241).

“Trust specifically pertains to your individual COVID risk profile,” Kasey Mairs said. “Some folks prefer to quarantine before a date, some prefer to stay in state or in their germ ‘bubble’ and others don’t have a strong preference. You need to be able to trust that your date is within your risk profile or agreeing to the parameters you set beforehand.”

Two people may meet for a date in the park or for coffee. But the implications of such a meeting go beyond each person’s health risks. If there is exposure to COVID-19, a person may not be able to visit a grandchild or go to work.

For those unwilling to meet in person, there are local meetup groups that specifically cater to older adults who are dating and only host virtual gatherings.

Eman Almusawi, a licensed marriage and family therapist with A Better Life Therapy in Center City, said she has seen a spike in use of dating apps among older adults. Many of them are isolated because they are at a higher risk of severe illness or death from the coronavirus.

The top-rated dating websites and apps for seniors, according to U.S. News and World Report, include Senior Friends Date, Silver Singles, Singles50, MatureDating and OurTime.

We are capable of giving and receiving affection at any age. “If you want to date, go ahead and date,” said Almusawi. “If you need that connection, go ahead and look for it. If you’re ready, just go for it. (Your age) doesn’t matter. That person is there somewhere. There’s a person for anyone.”

Older adults who date should do what feels comfortable to them when it comes to safety measures, which can include wearing a face mask in person. “Be clear and set boundaries,” Almusawi said. This can involve anything from talking on a video call before meeting in person to deciding if you want to bring condoms with you. It’s about your comfort level.
Once in a relationship, whether new or longer-lasting, therapists agree that communication is key for sustaining it.

Kasey Mairs has seen couples, some who have been married for more than 50 years, complain that the spark has gone from the relationship or that things just aren’t the same anymore. The emotional connection – or the lack of a connection – between partners is a symptom of trouble in a relationship, she said.

“The reason people come in (for counseling) is they often feel disconnected from their partners,” Kasey Mairs said. “They don’t know how to communicate. And it becomes extremely frustrating. Resentment builds. Sometimes one will say, ‘I don’t understand. We had such a great relationship and all of a sudden everything is bad. Why did this happen?’”

The reason is often that “one partner feels underappreciated by the other partner and/or they don’t feel heard by their partner, which then decreases intimacy.”

Find out what’s most important to your partner and continue to carry that out throughout the relationship.

After a while, or even after 20 years, they feel like they know everything about the other person. But that’s just not so.

“There’s always something to know,” she said. “We grow every single day. It doesn’t matter if you’re 50, 60 or 80. If the person that (you’ve) chosen to spend your life with is not interested in (you), then there’s no relationship.”

The good news is that everyone is capable of sustaining relationships, Almusawi said. “You can grow. You can change. You can have passion every single day.”


Tips to protect yourself while online dating

People who are looking for love online are seeking companionship and an emotional connection. That need can be preyed upon and makes them susceptible to online fraud, said Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) officer Tracy Lewis.

Lewis, who works in the PPD’s Victim Services Unit, offers these tips to keep yourself safe while online dating.

Vet the dating apps or sites you plan on using. Only use the ones that are legitimate and have a good reputation. Ask friends about their experiences with sites they’ve used. Do research before joining a site.

Scammers tell people what they want to hear. For example, if you have a family member in the military, a scammer may claim to be a veteran or use the information to manipulate you. “If it sounds too good to be true, it is,” Lewis said. “Nothing is as good as it sounds. There’s always a catch somewhere.”

Don’t share personal information, such as your income, your financial institution or where you live, even if you feel comfortable talking to the person online. “When they start to ask for personal information, that should be a red flag for you,” Lewis said. “You still don’t know who they really are.”

If you do decide to meet with someone, do it in a public place. There is safety in numbers, Lewis said, and people are less likely to be aggressive when there are other people around.

If you are the victim of a scam, especially if there is money involved, report it to the police by calling 911 or visiting your district headquarters. Pennsylvania’s Victims Compensation Assistance Program (215-685-1158) provides cash grants to help victims offset costs associated with a crime, including medical expenses, counseling, lost earnings, stolen cash and travel expenses.

The Federal Trade Commission also has resources dedicated to older consumers. To learn more about scams, go to consumer.ftc.gov/features/scam-alerts. To report a suspected scam, fraud or a bad business practice, go to ReportFraud.ftc.gov or call FTC’s Consumer Response Center at 1-877-382-4357.


Jay Nachman is a freelance writer in Philadelphia who tells stories for a variety of clients.

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