“I’m trying to get the stories that aren’t told and the feelings that aren’t exposed. Would you be open to being interviewed?”
The “I” is Steven Loring, a 40-something-year-old fledgling filmmaker who is making his first full-length documentary film. The “You” is a succession of seniors in the Rochester area whom Loring is contacting in the hope they will become subjects in his film. They’ve all signed up for a senior speed dating event that Loring has picked as the locus for his exploration of love and how it changes – or doesn’t – as we age.
Many interviews and hours of filming later, when “The Age of Love” premiered in April 2014 at the Newport Beach Film Festival in California, one audience member called it “the best reality show I have ever seen.” That might be because the film is an immensely honest look at ordinary people who find themselves unexpectedly looking for love later in life. It tells a story of ageless yearnings amid oxygen tanks and creaky joints. And, like any good reality show, it involves raw emotional drama and comedic touches – the stuff of speed dating.
Not sure what speed dating is? Try thinking back to high school dances – then add steroids. Speed dating is a structured event that gathers singles in a central location – the Rochester event was held at a local restaurant – and pairs them with one another in quick, five minute mini-dates, until everyone has had a chance to chat. Participants keep notes on one another, which they later submit to the organizer. No contact information is exchanged on the spot, but if there is chemistry, both people are notified by mail and take it from there.
According to Loring, senior speed dating is on the rise; he first came across an event in Florida, where it’s a popular activity among retirees. The site Pre-Dating.com lists senior speed dating events by state – and there’s no shortage of them.
Stories of Love, Loss and What Comes Next
“The Age of Love” follows eight of the 70- to 90-year old speed daters whom Loring contacted as they prepare for their event with all the nervousness of a high schooler on a first date – some of them incredulous that they are participating in such a thing at their stage in life.
“These are people who thought they would be married to one person for the rest of their lives,” Loring says in reference to the generation of seniors that “The Age of Love” features. “They didn’t expect to end up speed dating.”
And that’s what interests him. For Loring, these eight women and men – most of them widows and widowers – are his guides as he considers the trajectory of love in older age.
The idea for a senior speed dating film came to Loring after two events hit close to home: One was the unexpected death of his father and the intense loss that his 70-year-old mother felt after the loss of her soulmate. The other was the head-over-heels first love that his bachelor uncle found when, at almost 80, he moved into an independent living community and fell head over heels for a woman even older than he was.
In response, Loring set out to find the answers to the questions “Do our hearts and desires change over a lifetime?” and “What changes about love as we age?”
As he searched for answers, the seniors in “The Age of Love” opened up to Loring in ways he never expected, even at their first meetings. He says one woman told him, “‘My own children don’t ask me what’s in my heart, what I’m feeling. They ask me what I need, they take care of me, they love me. But they never ask me about what I’m feeling emotionally. And I have so much to tell you..'”
Through these encounters, Loring says he learned that nothing does really change. “I think there’s a huge demand for people to have opportunities to still be seen, to be loved, to be understood by somebody else. It doesn’t matter what your age is… So I don’t think love changes, it just gets stripped down to what’s essential.”
And what’s essential, he says, is companionship. “It’s not what’s left of love – it’s what love is all about. The idea, the construct, that there’s something more intense…. We add a lot of things – status, money, family, love and romance; we lose track of the fact that at any age the essence of love is the defeat of isolation.”
Meet the Senior Speed Daters
Except during the odd moments when the filmmaker momentarily becomes a character in the film – it’s easy to forget that the “Age of Love” speed daters have a camera trailing them. Their honesty is remarkable. They chat about a range of topics during their first face-to-face exchanges with Loring – hobbies, interests, illnesses, families, traveling – but all of them are wondering how it will feel to meet someone new now, when their bodies aren’t what they used to be. Yet in the face of doubt, they’re determined not to give up. “You realize you can recover,” one of the speed daters says. “Life goes on, and the ones who don’t let life go on are the ones who shortchange themselves.”
As much as this film is about love, it’s also about resilience.
“I’m virile – I’m ready,” says Matt, who trails his oxygen tank through his speed dating experience.
“You have to have this spirit,” Addie says. “You just have to say when my time’s up it’s up and go for it. I see women who’ve lost their husbands and they’re all looking around for some baggy-assed man to share their life with. I don’t believe that’s how it should be. So I travel, I dance, I flirt, and I’m out there in everybody’s face.”
“My arms are wrinkled and flabby. Do I want them to be? No,” Linda, a former beauty queen, says. “But this is who I am, and I think it’s better just to be me. I’m disappointed that I cant see the person that I feel inside. I don’t feel 70 inside.”
“I’m still that young girl, that teenager, that eight-year-old. I do want to experience love,” says Jan, whose first marriage didn’t turn out “like a movie” but who still wants to find her soulmate. “You can open your heart up even more than before because your life isn’t so complicated. Fewer distractions.”
“Some people just give up on life. The object is not to give up on life,” Lou, an 82-year-old body builder says. His resolve is tested at the moment of reckoning when he receives the envelope containing the letter that informs him of how many takers he has – and whom. You see the sting when he reads his results: “To be perfectly honest with you, I thought, out of 15, I’d probably be able to at least hook up with at least three or four of them, instead of one.” And then he recovers.
First the Movie, Then the Movement
In early screenings, “The Age of Love” has proved popular among younger as well as older audiences, and Loring is hopeful that the movie will help break down generational barriers, as well as address ageism.
Ultimately, Loring hopes to build a national senior speed dating movement. Early next year the film will be screened in 25 communities in conjunction with speed dating events. “Everywhere we go, people are excited and say, ‘How do you find somebody at this age?’” Loring says. “Senior centers aren’t exactly the place to look for romance. This is a perfect opportunity to meet a person face-to-face.”
“I believe that our hearts go on just as humanly and intensely as they always did,” he adds. “It’s helped me look at age less fearfully and at love as more universal.”
Have you tried speed dating? How did it go?