Laura Cohen dated into her 50s and survived to talk about it.
The Monroeville attorney, who married for the second time in October, spent 24 years as a singleton after her first marriage broke up.
"I think you look at things in a different perspective," says Cohen, 54, owner of the Family Legal Center in Monroeville. "At least for me in my 50s, I'm pretty well established with a business and a retirement account and grown kids. It's just a lot different when you're younger. I think your focus shifts, that maybe now it's time for me."
Cohen took a take-it-or-leave it approach to dating. Her goal wasn't necessarily marriage so much as male companionship, she says. Some dates were "one and done," while she dated other men for months. Her husband turned out to be a guy she'd been friends with for at least five years.
"Having someone there all the time isn't a necessity," Cohen says. "(But) I've come to learn that's a very nice thing to have. I never felt desperate, like I needed to have someone."
Cohen knows that other divorced people around her age aren't so fortunate when it comes to venturing back out into the singles market. Her community-based law firm deals with divorces, custody matters and other family issues.
"Some of our clients in that age category, it's really difficult for them," she says. "They're used to having the spouse there. I think a lot of people in that age category feel kind of lost. I've been doing this for 16 years. In the last few years, I've seen many more divorces in that age category."
The dating scene is getting grayer. Last month, the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University reported that the divorce rate for people 50 and older has doubled in the past 20 years. By contrast, the overall divorce rate has declined slightly during that same period, says Susan Brown, professor of sociology and co-director of the Center.
"We tend to think divorce for older adults is not that common," Brown says. "But the evidence suggests we need to be mindful of divorce among older adults. We know very little about which older adults experience divorce and what the consequences of divorce are for individual well-being."
The over-50 population is part of the Baby Boomer generation, who tend to be more accepting of divorce than their parents, Brown says.
"They were part of that divorce revolution in the 1970s," she says. "More of them are in remarriages today. Remarriages are less stable."
This divorce deluge has minted an unprecedented number of singles over 50. On the dating website OurTime.com, which caters to older singles, members ages 50 to 60 are joining in record numbers. They constitute more than 50 percent of the site's 1 million members.
Members can read the advice of OurTime relationship expert Terri L. Orbuch, a marriage and family therapist, psychologist and a researcher at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.
"If somebody has been married for a long time and is now recently divorced or has experienced the death of a loved one, they have particular challenges and issues" Orbuch says. "If you're divorced, you may have some baggage form your previous marriage or relationship that you need to let go of."
Sherri Langburt, founder and spokeswoman for SingleEdition.com, provides advice on the site about single life.
"Definitely in the past eight or so months, we noticed more and more queries from people who are boomers," Langburt says."A lot of them come from women saying, 'After 40 years, my husband left me,' or men saying, 'My wife decided to leave me.' "
In addition to overcoming the emotional and financial distress of divorce, newly single Baby Boomers might have to deal with objections from their children, Langburt says. Safe sex is another issue. Many of those over 50 associate condoms primarily as a means to prevent pregnancy, she says. Some might not consider the danger of sexually transmitted diseases.
The Modern Matchmaker in Squirrel Hill has been matching singles for nearly 20 years. Clients age 50 and older want romance, but might not necessarily want to get hitched again, president Susan Dunhoff says.
She advises singles who are emerging into the dating scene after decades of marriage to consider updating their appearance.
"A big thing is the hairstyle," she says. "That can really age a person. ... Weight is always an issue. If your divorce or separation caused you to gain 50 pounds, I'd lose. it. You don't have to be a model by any means. The inside needs to be as good as the outside. But the first thing you see is the outside."
First dates for non-first-timers
Susan Dunhoff, founder and president of the Modern Matchmaker in Squirrel Hill, knows that dating at any age can be daunting. But older folks who are starting over after the dissolution of a long marriage or death of a spouse may feel completely at sea. She offers these tips:
-- Have a positive confident attitude.
-- Set realistic goals and expectations.
-- Do not look for a nurse or a purse.
-- The inside should be as good as the outside.
-- Do not try to be something you're not.
-- Everyone looks better in person. Photographs are stagnate. He or she has a personality.
-- Consider updating your look. A trendy haircut/color; new makeup; contemporary clothes can greatly enhance your image. If you need to lose weight, do it.
-- Look at each date as a new beginning.
-- Do not discuss politics, sex or religion on a first date.
-- Keep it light. Do not turn the first date into a job interview.
-- Be sure to ask about the other person. It's not all about you.
-- Everyone is more relaxed and fun on a second date. Give it a chance.
-- Everyone has a past. Your date does not need to know the intricate details.
-- A date is not the time to discuss your ex-spouse or significant other, how much you hate your job or how bad your children are.
Actor and humorist Alan Thicke writes the weekly "Boomerology" column for The Huffington Post. Should a couple of dates progress to a potential relationship, Thicke, 64, says it's time to put your cards on the table. Indulge your romantic impulses, but be practical and forthcoming with your partner. After all, he says, the two of you only have so much time left.
"Full disclosure," he says, "meaning, 'Here's what I have. Here's what I need, here's what I can give you. ... And are we on the same page, and are we cool with that? I don't want to have any more kids. I need to leave my money to a bunch of exes and dogs and cats in my menagerie.' "