Opinion by Deborah Carr

(CNN) — As a sociologist who has spent more than two decades studying older adults’ romantic relationships, I eagerly awaited “The Golden Bachelor” debut. What would 72-year-old Gerry Turner and his potential dates look for in a partner?

The Bachelor” — love it or hate it — has been “must-see TV” for over two decades and I have been a regular viewer. The most zealous fans, dubbed Bachelor Nation, continue to tune in to discover whether a tanned and toned bachelor (or bachelorette) will find love, savoring the escapist fantasy of finding one’s soulmate over private serenades from Grammy-winning crooners, dinners prepared by top French chefs and sunbathing at luxury resorts.

Yet haters have long noted that the show historically has privileged a very narrow form of romantic worthiness — young, White, straight, cisgender, slender and bold enough to slip into a barely-there swimsuit for champagne-fueled hot tub parties.

The franchise has responded, somewhat and belatedly, by featuring more racially and ethnically diverse casts since 2020; in 2023 for the first time, “The Bachelorette” featured a Black couple’s engagement. The show has now reached another major milestone: The newest bachelor (and the women he will woo) are older adults.

Turner, “The Golden Bachelor,” is a widower, father and grandfather who hails from the Midwest. For fun, according to his bio for the show, the retired restaurateur cheers on Chicago sports teams, flips burgers at backyard family barbecues and (like many of his potential dates) plays pickleballPromotional ads for Turner’s debut tout him as a handsome and refined gentleman, who — like a classic car, aged Camembert or a fine wine, brings a touch of class to the historically low-brow franchise.

As I waited for the premiere, questions mounted about Turner and the contestants vying for his favor. Would they be there for the right reasons — to find love rather than, say, attract followers for their fledgling social influencer careers? Would their heart-to-heart conversations on Fantasy Suite night dig into the real challenges of growing old together, like health problems, stretching Social Security dollars, caregiving and blending families?

Will the final rose ceremony end with a marriage proposal, or another form of “happily ever after?” And, perhaps most importantly, would this iteration of the show demonstrate the vibrancy, intelligence and complexity of older adults’ real lives or rely on cheap ageist jokes about erectile dysfunction and an inability to operate an iPhone?

Based on interviews and video clips I’ve seen so far, I’m heartened that “The Golden Bachelor” offers a touching and sensitive portrayal of older adults’ search for love the second (or third) time around. The contestants’ early conversations show genuine emotion, revealing the devastation of divorce and widowhood after decades-long marriages and the loneliness that follows. And the (remarkably fit and preternaturally youthful looking, this is television after all) contestants exude intelligence, self-confidence, good humor and a sense of camaraderie rather than simply competition with one another.

With this promising start, I have some thoughts about what this show might teach us about finding love in one’s “golden years” as the season continues.

Having something in common matters.

The 22 contestants range from ages 60 to 75. At age 72, Turner is older than all but three — but this age gap pales in comparison to the loves of other older men in the public eye. (Think 83-year-old actor Al Pacino, who recently welcomed a baby boy with his 29-year-old girlfriend Noor Alfallah.)

Turner can thank the show’s producers for lining up contestants who are his peers. Research shows that the larger the age gap between partners, the more likely they are to have relationship troubles and ultimately break up.

Of course, many couples with a large age gap share decades of happiness together, but experts emphasize that similarities can help couples to weather the inevitable ups and downs of life. Couples who share personal values, cultural touchstones (like a fondness for The Beatles), attitudes about everything from money management to politics to religion to grandparenting and who have similar energy levels and sex drives have a leg up as they navigate their new relationships.

Talking about health problems can be an instant bond — not a turnoff.

One of the most touching moments of the series opener was when Turner and a contestant confided that they were each wearing hearing aids. About one in three older adults have some hearing loss, although just a fraction uses hearing aids — partly due to embarrassment.

Even higher proportions have other health issues. For instance, more than half of women aged 65 and older have diagnosed arthritis, while a similar share of men over 50 have an enlarged prostate. Caring for one another and managing health problems are an inevitable part of older adults’ lives, so it’s important to talk about. Nobody wants to hear an elaborate tale of gastrointestinal woes on a first date, but providing glimpses into one’s health is essential to forming an honest and secure relationship.

Heartbreak hurts, but older women can take it in stride.

There’s an old saying, “gray hair, don’t care.” This may be overly glib, but psychologists have documented that, with old age, our emotional reactivity diminishes. That means that our emotions — both the highs and lows — don’t reach the same extreme levels as in our younger years.

Older adults can often take things in stride because they’ve seen enough in life to know that they will get through it. “The Golden Bachelor” contestants have run their own businesses, raised children, buried their husbands, earned multiple Master’s degrees and even swum with sharks. So, we can likely expect fewer scenes of contestants sobbing or throwing wine in a romantic rival’s face, and more clips of women using humor, recognizing their inner strengths, putting things into perspective or turning to their new friends as they navigate heartbreak.

New relationships can be a family affair.

Turner, and nearly every contestant, emphasized how important family was in their life. His daughters, like other adult children of the newly single, helped their dad to learn the ropes of dating in the 21st century.

For most older partners, a committed romantic relationship often involves merging two families. That means the contestants may seek their children’s blessing (or at least their support). If Turner and his new love spend their golden years together, they will need to make complex decisions as an extended family, about long-term care, inheritance, end-of-life medical decisions and more. These decisions are much smoother when all family members are on board.

The final rose ceremony doesn’t require a Neil Lane ring.

For the younger bachelors and bachelorettes, a successful season ends with a marriage proposal (and a multi-carat engagement ring). But for older adults, marriage may not be the endgame.

As contestant Sylvia, a 64-year-old public relations consultant, noted in her interview, “I’m looking for a lifetime partner.” Turner also said he looks forward to finding “a charming, intelligent, gorgeous woman to spend the rest of my life with.”

Neither of them said anything about “marriage.” More and more older adults are cohabiting with their long-time love or “living apart together” — which means going steady, but each keeping their own place to live. Many older adults want the love and companionship that an intimate partner provides, but they want to keep their home, simplify finances and inheritance for their children, maintain their independence and avoid the strain of round-the-clock caregiving.

Will viewers be as up for it as I am watching Gerry Turner in his quest for love? And might there be a “The Golden Bachelorette” on the horizon? The ratings will answer those questions, but my money is on Turner being the first, but certainly not the last, retiree to seek love on this long-running franchise. Older adults — and especially older women — are a demographic force to be reckoned with. In 2022, adults ages 60 and older accounted for 23% of the US population, numbering about 77 million (more than half of whom are women).

And, older adults watch network television. While many Millennials and Gen Zers have abandoned the major networks for Netflix and other streaming services, Baby Boomers are sitting in front of their TVs, watching prime-time programming.

Older women also are powerful consumers, making decisions about how families spend their time and money. I hope that one of the savvy and self-assured women of “The Golden Bachelor” is soon in the driver’s seat, screening 22 bachelors of her own. And I suspect America’s 20 million single women ages 60 and older would agree.

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