FEATURE: US NEWS & WORLD REPORT — Seniors Try Their Hand at Speed Dating at UW-La Crosse

by Kyle Ferris, La Crosse Tribune (AP) — 12.1.2018
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(Part of national coverage of Dawn Norris’s sociology class at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where students screened The Age of Love, then organized a community-wide senior speed dating event as their semester project.)

ELVIS AND SINATRA SANG SONGS ABOUT LOVE.

Couples played with their coffee cups, exchanging shy smiles.

And, for a moment, the third floor of UW-La Crosse’s Student Union resembled some forgotten cafe, a picture cut out of the past, hung up in the present.

“Most places that people go to meet each other are designed for young or middle-aged people,” said sociology professor Dawn Norris, who with the help of her students organized a speed dating event for the area’s senior citizens.

“It’s really sweet to see them connect,” sociology major Angela Steffens told the La Crosse Tribune . “Not necessarily for love, but for friendship, too.”

More than two dozen seniors rolled up to the university in their Sunday best on Wednesday — the women with lipstick and made-up hair, the men in jackets and sweaters, a boyish twinkle in their eyes.

“I heard about it this morning and came on a whim,” said a man who asked to be called Pete King, a fake name. King said he was single and ready to find his queen.

“It does get harder to meet people as you age,” he said. “I’ve been looking, tried dating sites and all that. The trouble is, when you’re older, you’re just so set in your ways.”

Couples were given five minutes to talk with each other, to discuss the weather, or current events, or how the Beatles wrote songs far, far better than the ones on the radio.

At the end of the five minutes, a bell would ring. The couples would fill out a scorecard, grading the date, and decide if they’re open to spending more time together. Then the women in the room would move on to the next table, the next date.  

Mary Lee, 71, came in search of friends, of a good time, she said. Lee, who used to work in a nursing home, is a widow.

“I really didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I’m not looking for anything serious. Just a friend, maybe.”

Justin Odulana, 70-something, was nervous as he waited for the dates to begin — but not with the butterflies that usually accompany romance.

“You look around, and you’re the only black person,” said Odulana, who’s originally from Nigeria but lives in La Crosse. “I like going on walks, reading, volunteering. I’m looking for someone with the same traits, someone who likes to give back.”

Norris, who was inspired by “The Age of Love,” a documentary on senior speed dating, said it’s common for people in their golden years to develop [problems] from social isolation.

Over the years, they lose siblings and friends — possibly spouses — and it becomes harder and harder to meet new people, to make meaningful connections.

“This will be a success if even a few people find a new friend, a new companion,” said Norris, adding that she would like to do this again.

A few dates under their belts, the group opened up. The chatter built, like a wave, as the daters dusted off their old moves. Then the bell rang, dissolving it all.

King, alone at his table, watched his next date walk up. He smiled as she sat down, eager to make a good impression.

“It’s nice to meet you …” he said, leaning forward and peering through his glasses, “… Rhonda.”

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