SHORTLY AFTER CELEBRATING HIS 50TH WEDDING ANNIVERSARY, Steven Loring’s father died. As Loring helped his mother sort through financial documents and condolences, she turned to him and asked, “Is that it? No one is ever going to hug me or hold me or touch me for the rest of my life?”
Loring was taken aback by his mom’s question. “It never even occurred to me once that would be what’s on her mind,” he told Insider.
Loring’s 2014 documentary, The Age of Love, which explores speed dating for older people, was inspired by that conversation.
While it’s been years since its release, the film still brings up many conversations among those who watch it about older folks, love, and lust. It also has inspired more speed-dating events for people 70 and older, including one this fall designed by a college class at the University of Wisconsin.
You never outgrow the desire to talk about your love life
Soon after Loring had the conversation with his mother that sparked his idea for the documentary, he noticed that his 78-year-old uncle, a lifelong bachelor, had much less interest in spending time with family than he previously had. The explanation? Loring says the uncle had struck up a “full-on love affair” with a woman in his retirement community and, like most people in a new relationship, they were intensely focused on each other.
It was a development that piqued Loring’s curiosity.
“You’ve been on this earth for eight decades alone, and you still have the desire and interest to throw yourself into a relationship with another person?” he thought.
Loring had already been thinking about the potential for romantic relationships to blossom between older people after talking to his mother, and his uncle’s new romance furthered his idea of creating a documentary on the topic.
With that in mind, he reached out to a community center in upstate New York that would soon be hosting a speed-dating event for people ages 70 to 90 and asked to film it. It gave him the OK — as long as he got consent from the 30 people who would be participating. While Loring thought that would be challenging, everyone was eager to talk with him.
“They said, ‘Nobody, not even my own children, asks me what’s in my heart anymore,'” he said.
He interviewed the participants in the lead-up to the event, at the gathering, and after it.
People of all ages feel nervous about dating
Janice Ledtke was 77 when she attended the speed-dating event. She had been divorced for a long time and said she felt apprehensive walking in that night.
This was a common theme Loring found. Many of the people he talked to before the event expressed the same anticipation and nerves that younger daters might have. One woman even asked Loring for his opinion on which dress she should wear.
During the five-minute dates that night, Ledtke found herself across the table from people with hearing aids, walkers, and other common items among the 70-to-90 age group. But what shined through was each person’s personality.
“In one case, a fellow was on oxygen. You couldn’t ignore that,” she told Insider. “But he was fun to talk to and whatnot, so you saw it, but that wasn’t the primary thing with him.”
Ledtke left the event with plans for three follow-up dates. She told Insider she went on several dates with one participant, and while it didn’t work out, they still exchange emails and cards regularly.
“He’s a very nice guy,” she said.
It’s important to confront our biases about age
When Dawn Norris, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, saw the film in 2017, she said she felt it was a perfect way to help students in a course she taught, Sociology of Age and Generations, confront their biases about older folks.
“The film really humanized the aging process,” she said. “It showcases how older adults have all the facets of younger adults,” including a desire for sexuality and love, she added.
Norris gave her class a unique assignment: Design speed-dating events for older people. Her classes held four events before taking a hiatus because of the pandemic. Now, students are planning their first speed-dating event since the pandemic for November.
“We’ve heard of four couples that are still together,” Norris said of the events held by her previous classes.
We all have a desire for connection, and that alone can connect us
Working on the film and seeing how much it resonated with audiences of all ages made Loring realize that older people had active sex and love lives — and they wanted to be asked about them, he said.
“People are excited to talk about it,” he said. “With a bit of encouragement, they find it liberating to be asked.”
He once did a joint screening of the film with a home for older people and a high school. In a discussion session afterward, he found that the groups related to each other quite well.
“They understood each other through the desire for connection and a desire to be seen, understood, appreciated,” he said. In the movie, the audience sees the hearing aids, oxygen tanks and walkers, but they also see the daters looking past that, hoping to discover what’s in the heart of the person across from them, Loring said.