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THE SPECIAL YEARS : 50 AND BEYOND: THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE : Friendly Fun : At Any Age, Being Single Can Be Exciting, Lonely

May 04, 1989|KATHLEEN DOHENY | Doheny is a free-lance writer.

David Rebal of Mission Viejo slaves over elaborate French dinners and invites half a dozen friends over to join him. He doesn't fret much about calories, trusting his 6-mile-a-day walk to burn off excess indulgence.

Wilma TeMaat of Long Beach sometimes escapes to Las Vegas with relatives, lured more by fun and companionship than visions of jackpots.

Gordy Morgan of Chatsworth fires up the barbecue regularly and invites friends in--when he's not too busy sharpening his golf game.

The social lives and tastes of this Southern California trio are disparate, but they share some common demographics: They're all over 50. They're all single. And not one mentioned bingo or rocking chairs when asked about leisure-time diversions.

Nearly 11 million Americans, age 55-74, are single, according to Arlene Saluter, demographics statistician at the Marriage and Family Branch of the U.S. Bureau of the Census. The gender breakdown of singles over 55--including those who never married, are divorced or widowed--will come as no surprise to mid-life females in search of male companionship: there are nearly 3 million single men, 55-74, and 8 million women in the same age bracket. (In comparison, 28 million Americans, 55-74, are married; 15 million of them men and 13 million women.)

At any age, being single can be exciting--and lonely. Since there's no partner-in-residence, establishing a social life is usually a one-person proposition. So how do over-50 singles--some of them suddenly alone due to death or a spouse or divorce--stay in the social swim?

Some do it single-handedly--or with a little help from their friends. For instance, after she was widowed 12 years ago, Florence Reynolds of Claremont, a 68-year-old office manager, sometimes relied on friends to introduce her to other single people and to arrange dates. "Somebody always has someone for you to meet," she says.

Others join the growing number of social groups aimed specifically at those over 50. Stephen Wise Temple, for instance, offers social discussion groups, dances and outings for singles 50 and over.

Senior centers offer another route to increasing one's circle of friends. To some, the centers may still conjure up visions of slow-paced board games, but that stereotype is out of sync, says Jerry Beigel, editor and publisher of Southern California Senior Life, a monthly newspaper that includes news and features of interest to older adults. "People going to the senior centers are younger in outlook than what may be assumed," he observes. "People who go to the senior nutrition centers, for instance, go just as much for socialization as good nutrition."

The scope of senior centers has changed as well. Consider the centers called OASIS--Older Adult Service and Information Systems. Sponsored by the May Department Stores Co., there are 21 such centers nationwide, according to Karen Kessler, director of the OASIS center in Robinson's Horton Plaza store in San Diego, which is also supported by Robinson's, Mercy Hospital and Medical Center, and the Area Agency on Aging. Since its opening a little more than a year ago, it has attracted 4,000 members--without any advertising. A typical week's schedule, according to Kessler, includes exercise class, political science courses, health classes, creative writing instruction and calligraphy. The center is designed for those over age 60 "to renew past interests and learn new ones, " Kessler says.

For shyer singles in search of friends, it's often the personal columns to the rescue. One monthly publication geared to older readers, Senior World of Los Angeles County, introduced a special classified section a year ago called "Solo Seniors." In this month's issue, a 56-year-old woman seeks a well-mannered gentleman to accompany her to dinner and the theater, and a 60-year old music-loving man wants a female companion who drinks only socially. "It's one of our most popular features," says Laura Impastato, executive editor, who thinks the ads offer a low-profile, low-pressure approach to meeting new people.

Other groups and events designed for people 50 and over--such as senior road races or senior peace groups--aren't necessarily meant as social meeting groups but often prove to be. And for some singles, having a social life doesn't necessarily mean dating. Lois Broughton of Altadena, a 55-year-old divorcee, says she doesn't feel socially correct going out at night unescorted. So like her friend and co-worker, Henny Wigchert also 55, she gives barbecues at home, goes to church-sponsored functions and is happy with a small circle of friends.

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