Abstract: Truth Telling: Dating Behaviors of Older Single and Widowed Black Women (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Truth Telling: Dating Behaviors of Older Single and Widowed Black Women

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Margaret Salisu, Phd, Adjunct Professor, Hunter College, Bayshore, NY
Background and Purpose: A literature review revealed a paucity of older, racially diverse women in sexuality studies. The few available studies focus on older White women’s sexuality. Invariably, Black people’s perceptions about sexuality have always been based on a White model of sexuality. Although feminist scholars have long appreciated the constructed nature of sexuality, they have not fully explored the interaction between the constructed nature of sexuality and the sexuality of older, single, and widowed heterosexual Black women. To address this gap, this study focused on older, widowed, and single Black women aged 65 to 75 years to determine how they understood their sexuality and how this understanding shaped their dating experiences.

Methods: Interviews were used to explore the dating experiences of 14 older, widowed, and single black women. The sample comprised women who had been widowed or separated for three to 50 years and those who were single. Five of the women were in steady relationships, three were in “on-and-off” relationships, two were no longer interested in dating, and four were not in sexual relationships at the time of the interviews but were actively seeking relationships. The interviews were audio recorded and transcribed. NVivo® was used to organize the data and analyze their lived narratives about their dating experiences.

Results: Sexuality pertained to whether the women were dating and the factors that influenced their decision to date. Most women were approached by younger men but preferred dating men their age or older. Readiness to commit to a relationship was the most compelling reason for dating older men although they were concerned about the physical and sexual capabilities of these men. They believed that older men were generally more financially stable than younger men and perceived younger men to be primarily interested in a transactional relationship (i.e., for money rather than love). The women spurned online dating, preferring to reconnect with men they had known previously or who were in their friendship network. They favored meeting potential suitors face to face. Although they had standards and dating preferences, they expressed dismay at not being able to find single men to date and ascribed the high rate of incarceration of available, older Black men to the lack of availability of these men. They believed their incarceration impacted them negatively as older, single Black women seeking companionship. When recalling their dating experiences, they were concerned that older Black men did not regard them with interest and felt undervalued because of widespread depictions that beauty is defined by whiteness. These experiences fostered a psychological legacy of inferiority and racism with which they continued to struggle.

Conclusion and Implications: The intersection of race, class, ageism, and sexism influenced the dating decisions of older, single, and widowed heterosexual Black women in this study. Social workers need to address the dating challenges facing these women by being able to discuss sexuality in a humorous and affirming manner and defending and acknowledging the right of older black women to self-determination with regard to sexual expression and relationships