Joe Keller and Harold "Hal" Spielman are at different stages of life many miles from each other, but they have shared a common dilemma. Each found himself alone after years of being part of a couple.
Each also sought but found little guidance when he wanted help to figure out what comes next.
Spielman is a hale octogenarian from Sands Pt., N.Y., who was widowed five years ago after decades of marriage. His children were grown and he'd retired from the market research business he'd co-founded, McCollum Spielman Worldwide. He wasn't ready, he said, to be "suddenly solo."
It's a phrase that resonates with him; he eventually co-wrote a book by that title that was recently published and also started a website to help men who find themselves alone navigate their new lives.
Keller, from Auburn Hills, Mich., is a divorced father of two who wasn't sure what to do next after his 13-year marriage ended three years ago. Though he's just half Spielman's age, he, too, was surprised by how much different even dating was.
The world has changed for couples in just a generation, according to demographers. The trends are well documented: Fewer couples are marrying; cohabitation is up. While divorces themselves are down, in part because fewer couples marry, the Census Bureau says the number of currently divorced adults quadrupled from 1970. More men are alone for at least some period of their adult lives than in the past.
Writing for ABC's "20/20," Bill Ritter recently noted ways in which reality bucks stereotypes about divorce. For instance, modern divorce is initiated by women two-thirds of the time, he said. "And while men usually fare better financially than women in a divorce, experts say it's the men who are much more likely to come unglued emotionally — seriously unglued."
Men are statistically less likely to be widowed than women, but face many of the same issues divorce brings, from loneliness to logistics, dating to personal finance.
They may find fewer resources directed to help them, according to Spielman and Keller.
The discoveries the two men made in their separate realms are remarkably similar. Both men talk about the importance of having male buddies and activities, but note that married pals sometimes got what Keller calls "push-back from their wife who was apprehensive about letting their husband go out and hang with a single guy. That was a real issue."
Issues like who pays for what if you're dating were also a surprise.
Keller realized that he had "never been alone." He dated in high school and planned to marry the girl. When they broke up, he immediately started dating the girl he did eventually marry. When they broke up, he hadn't been a single person for half his life — and virtually all of his adult life.
His first impulse was to run out and find someone to date so he still wouldn't be alone, but he said he resisted that. He didn't want a rebound romance. "It was difficult at first. I forced myself to stay home and deal with loneliness for a while. Over time, I got over the feeling of being alone."
Both men said you have to be comfortable with yourself, no matter what your future aspirations are.
"If you're alone when you didn't expect to be, take heart in that," said Keller, who kept a journal at the time of his divorce and in its aftermath. Although that wasn't his goal at the time, those journals are the basis for a just-released book, "Single Effort: How to Live Smarter, Date Better and Be Awesomely Happy."
"I think for me and for other guys — probably for women, too — it's easy to date on the rebound. You get lonely and want to get right into another relationship. You may not realize you need to step back and reflect on the past relationship, give it time to sink in, figure out what works, what you liked, what you didn't. Then, when you form a new relationship, you apply things you've learned."
Spielman, who has three grown sons, had been married for decades when his wife died. When he didn't find resources to help him figure out what to do next, he approached it like he'd always tackled a problem: He used his market research savvy to study what was out there and what wasn't. To help him along, he interviewed more than 1,000 men who had been widowed in their 60s, 70s and beyond. Ultimately, he turned it into both a website and a book, co-written with Marc Silbert.
"It's a serious topic, written with a light touch," he said. They found older men may face a variety of challenges, from not being familiar with family finances to not being used to cooking and cleaning. Dating, he's convinced, is a mystery at most ages.
His findings bucked a lot of myths, he said, like the idea that older men all want younger, trophy dates. "The arm candy concept is not truth. Mature men want to be with mature women," he said. At any age, having someone to share things with matters, "someone to come home to, to talk to."
Spielman found people drifted away after the immediacy of his loss had passed. "Men tend to get a little more isolated" is one of the topics Suddenlysolo.com tackles. He tells guys if someone asks what you're doing on the weekend, for example, don't lie to mask that you're alone.
"Give an honest answer," he said. "If you have nothing planned, say so. You may get an invitation." It's OK to be the one throwing the holiday party or summer barbecue, too, if no one invites you to one.
Who am I
One of the challenges for retired older men is defining themselves for others. If you can give a job title, you're somewhat defined. Retired and widowed, Spielman had to seek a new self-definition, he said, if he didn't want to tell people, "I used to be …."
At a time when finding dates online is big and so many of the rules have changed, like who pays for what and when, "chivalry in its truest form has come more into its own — really treating a date with chivalrous intent and being the gentleman you're supposed to be," Keller said. The Internet is a source of opportunity to meet new people and also a place to learn some of the rules. "More guys are aware of things they should and shouldn't do on a date, from a gentleman's perspective, because of the Internet."
Ultimately, the best advice may be simply to get back into whatever world you choose to tackle. "Get out there," said Spielman. "Do things that are great for your community, for people. Go to church or synagogue. Use your abilities, organize, talk to people in constructive ways that will enhance your life and theirs."
Spielman, at 85, reminds his peers that age is a number. "I only retired four years ago. I met a friend the other day for lunch; he's 52 and has been CEO of one of the largest publishing companies in the world and thinks of me as his contemporary. We talk about business and activities. You must keep active … avoid the couch potato syndrome.
"Do not sit and watch TV," said Spielman. "We are social beings; we have to be attentive to moving ourselves into situations where we can interact with other people. So get out there. Make an effort to find women and other men to develop a group to do things and enjoy life with."
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