ABC’s ‘Golden Bachelor’ Gerry Turner gives senior dating moment in spotlight

The new Bachelor is everything we usually see in the lead of America’s most popular dating show. He’s tall, active, outgoing — and most importantly, single.

ABC is diverging from its usual cast of 20- and 30-somethings in “The Bachelor” with its new unscripted spinoff series, “The Golden Bachelor.” Gerry Turner, a retired restaurateur from Indiana who was widowed in 2017, according to ABC, is “ready to put himself out there and find a love that will stand the test of time in his golden years.” Vying for his final rose? Women over the age of 65.

This will go a long way toward showing what it’s like to date later in life, as seniors’ love stories are rarely in the pop culture spotlight, fans and experts say.

“Shows like this are so important for breaking the social barriers around senior dating,” said Kate Taylor, a dating coach for “Ourtime,” a dating app for those over 50. “There is without a doubt a lack of representation … when it comes to older people dating. In reality, people over 50 are finding love every day.”

Younger people will be watching — and not just for whether these seniors are here for the right reasons.

“I hope that this show will help normalize the idea that even as we age, we’re still just ourselves,” said show fan Kate Kaput, 38, from Cleveland. “I’ve long been trying to convince my own mom, a widow in her late 60s, to get out there and meet someone new!”

Kaput hopes the show will combat ageism and challenge common misconceptions that “when you get old, you lose your value, your vibrancy, your excitement about life.” Adding that she is curious to see seniors “reflected in the absurdity and drama of reality TV.”

As people live longer, marriage rates have been declining and divorce rates even in later life increasing. This is what some experts refer to as the “gray divorce” revolution in the last three decades.

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But dating as a 60-, 70- or 80-year-old is different from dating as a 20-year-old. Options are more limited, especially for women, who still outlive men by nearly six years on average in the United States. Children and grandchildren are in the mix. Some people have chronic health problems.

The “Golden Bachelor” knows what it’s like.

In an interview with “Good Morning America,” Turner described losing his wife of 43 years, Toni, to an illness in 2017, six weeks after she retired. “She got robbed. Every day that goes by, that’s the thought that I have,” he said.

Turner, who has two daughters and two granddaughters, said he initially “was having a hard time figuring out” if Toni would have been okay with him going on the show. “But we always told each other, when one of us goes, we want the other one to be happy. She’s up there rooting. She’s saying, ‘yeah Gerry, do this,’” he said.

Many seniors — or people who are returning to the dating pool in middle age — may be able to relate.

One of them, Nicky Wake, was 32 when she married her husband Andy, then 40, after meeting him on a dating site in the United Kingdom. A writer and musician, Andy was Wake’s “soul mate.” The pair had a son in 2007. “We were planning to grow old disgracefully and have a fabulous time,” she said.

But life had other plans. In 2017, Andy had a heart attack, followed by another one, which left him with a catastrophic brain injury. He went into full-time care, and died in 2020 of covid-19. Wake became a widow at the age of 49. She felt “broken” and “vulnerable.”

Wake, now 52, says she plans to watch “The Golden Bachelor,” and hopes the show will portray the difficulties of dating after losing a spouse, and of dating as an older person. After Andy died, she signed up for Tinder and Bumble, but was overwhelmed with choices and the inappropriate behavior of some people on the apps. Meeting someone in real life proved difficult. “Dating as an older woman, your days and nights clubbing in bars are pretty much over. And also, as a solo parent, I don’t get a lot of nights out,” she said.

She then launched her own app, Chapter 2, a community for widows and widowers that promotes dating but also friendship. While she hasn’t found a long-term partner yet, Wake says she feels more “ready” now if the right person comes along.

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An increasing number of older people who have ever married are widowed or divorced. A 2016 survey released by the U.S. Census Bureau showed that, among people aged 75 or older who had ever been married, 58 percent of women and 28 percent of men had experienced the death of a spouse in their lifetime.

And a 2017 study published in the journal “Innovation in Aging” found the share of U.S. women who were divorced in 2015 stood at 18.1 percent, up from 10.1 percent in 1990. It increased from 8.1 to 14.3 for men in that time.

This kind of “life experience will play a part” in dating for older people, says Anna Machin, an evolutionary anthropologist and author of “Why We Love: The New Science Behind our Closest Relationships.”

Representations in pop culture “of love outside the ‘norm’ help us understand that love is a very varied phenomenon,” Machin said.

But will fans tune into the new show?

Dave Neal, host of the daily podcast “Bachelor Rush Hour” said he is “very excited for the new iteration” and will absolutely be watching, noting that the show’s “formula has gotten stale” after more than a decade.

“Clearly contestants in their 50s, 60s and 70s will have way more of a backstory to share than those in their early 20s,” he said. “There is very little representation of senior love in Hollywood and I think it will feel super heartwarming if done right.” He added that younger viewers will have a lot to learn, too, “about old-fashion charm.”

“The Golden Bachelor” was announced in 2020 but delayed due to the pandemic. ABC plans to air Season 28 of “The Bachelor” — lead still TBD. Bachelorette Charity Lawson’s season is currently airing.

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Dating coach Taylor’s tips for those seeking love over 50? Join a dating app, step outside your comfort zone, put yourself in scenarios where you’ll meet new people and remain optimistic.

“Finding love is possible at any age.”

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