Seniors go speed dating in ‘Age of Love’ film

Austin retirement community Atria will hold its own speed dating event.

In Steven Loring’s documentary, “The Age of Love,” you watch as men and women in their 70s and 80s worry about what to wear, fret about body parts they don’t particularly like, consider what they will say and wonder who they will meet. They are getting ready for a speed dating event in Rochester, N.Y., that is specifically for people 70 and older.

Loring, who was a screenwriter, began this documentary as his master’s thesis in film. He had heard about speed dating events for seniors and found one in Rochester, where he grew up. He got permission from all 30 participants to film their stories before the event as well at the event and the results after.

He worried that no one would want to participate in telling their stories of their search for love. What he found was a generation hungry to have someone listen.

Halfway through calling the first participant to get her permission, she told him: “Steve, let me tell you something. Even my own children, they love me, they take care of me, they do everything they should do, but they never ask me what’s in my heart anymore. … As far as the world is concerned, I’m invisible. Why wouldn’t I want to talk about it?”

The University of Texas School of Social Work is showing the film on Tuesday at the Alamo Village to a sold-out crowd, while Atria at the Arboretum — a retirement community — is hosting a speed dating event for the 70 and older crowd next month.

Sarah Swords, who coordinates the Gerontology Resources and the Aging Community in Education Program at UT, says aging and sexuality is a complex issue that often isn’t talked about. “It’s hard to talk about our parents as intimate beings,” she says. She’ll lead a discussion about the film after the screening.

Younger people are uncomfortable talking about senior issues because they have to confront their fear of getting older and worries about their own human frailty, she says. When she asks young women about women in their 70s having sex, she’ll get raised eyebrows; but when she turns it around and asks if they expect to be having sex when they are 70, she’ll get a, “well, of course.”

She is hoping that the screening will help fellow social workers be aware of the people around them and to help them recognize how we all might have prejudices about aging. She remembers watching the film for the first time and thinking subconsciously, “Isn’t he adorable, isn’t he so sweet,” rather than seeing these seniors as real people no different than her own generation.

“All of us do have the need to feel affection, to love,” she says.

Loring’s interest in doing a film about this generation came after his father died, when his mother was suddenly alone and struggling with emotional issues of being alone at age 70. Around the same time, his 78-year-old uncle who had never dated met someone and “they were like teenagers again. I wanted to understand what was going on.”

Instead of having three generations alive at once, he says, we now have a fourth generation that is alive and active in their 70s, 80s and 90s — and they want to grow.

He found the speed dating participants were looking for social outlets and they were so excited to that someone cared to listen about what they were going through.

On screen, you see men and women talking about their spouses who died, their soulmates or the ones who got away, or bad marriages. They tell stories of how they first met or what dating was like when they were teenagers.

They talk about their life adventures and their yearning to find connection with someone again. You watch them at the speed dating event and you get nervous for them. You are rooting for all of them to find a match.

“It was like they were walking into their high school prom again,” Loring says. “Nothing had really changed.”

Then we watch as they get the envelopes holding the results from the event. Each person had a card where they could mark if they were interested in further communication with someone. If both people said they were interested, the letter would give them contact information.

You watch as some are crushed by the results while others are elated. Loring even followed three couples on future dates. “Underneath it all everybody has the same hopes, the same insecurities as they did when they were young,” Loring says.

Since Loring filmed the event three years ago and released the film a year and a half ago, he has screened it around the world, for an AARP conference and for the participants and their friends and family. He’s also shown it for middle- and high-schoolers.

“If I can reach 13-year-old boys and make them think that, ‘Maybe my grandma is thinking about more than I thought,’ if I can start those thoughts now, maybe they can embrace the experience of aging,” Loring says.

At one screening, teenage girls asked him if he could make a documentary about them. “Nobody understands us or wants to listen to us,” they told him. “Everybody thinks they are overlooked,” he says.

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