These 'golden' daters in Chattanooga show that it’s never too late to find love

Staff photos by Olivia Ross / Steve Hicks poses for a photo outside of the Black Creek clubhouse.
Staff photos by Olivia Ross / Steve Hicks poses for a photo outside of the Black Creek clubhouse.

This past fall, the "Bachelor" franchise took a stab at something new, introducing 72-year-old Gerry Turner as the first "Golden Bachelor." Typically, it's a show that follows around 25 or so conventionally attractive 20-somethings vying for the love of that season's "bachelor" or "bachelorette" (all leading to an inevitably doomed marriage), but viewers were presented with a change of pace this season.

The success of "The Golden Bachelor" — evidenced by the 6.1 million viewers that tuned into the finale on November 30 — brought to light an underrepresented demographic: those over the age of 60 who are exploring the dating scene.

There's no camera crew involved, but golden dating certainly persists in Chattanooga, and it involves a lot more swiping than golden roses.

"You can't really meet single women at my age in bars or even in church or social gatherings like you do in college or post-college," says Steve Hicks, a 68-year-old Chattanooga single man. Instead, he relies on a men's group he's a part of, "The Super Senior Studs," as well as dating apps like eHarmony and Match to meet women.

According to a Pew Research study, 1 in 6 people over the age of 50 have used a dating app, so Hicks is far from alone. He's also had no issue finding dates. By his own estimate, Hicks has been on around 15 to 20 dates with women he's met using eHarmony and Match in the Chattanooga area, all in the past 14 and a half years since he joined following a divorce from his ex-wife.

In addition to crafting his own dating profiles, Hicks has helped others around his age in Chattanooga get back into the dating scene, and he has a sort of mantra to follow. "You're looking for what I call the 3 C's: good chemistry, common interests and a common belief system," he says. "I learned right away that I'm not very good with women who don't have those three things or are missing one."

Hicks has been in two serious relationships that started with a swipe: one that lasted almost three years and another that went for around four. He had high hopes of marriage for the latter, but it didn't work out. "I really thought that was gonna go the distance, and we had a great time," he says. "But in the end, we just had a little bit too much difference in our belief systems."

  photo  Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Steve Hicks checks his phone outside of the Black Creek clubhouse.

 Hicks believes that at his age, one has to be specific when presenting themselves on dating apps. "Do you want a life partner? Do you want a companion for travel? Or do you just want to meet for fine dining?" he says. "You have to be very direct in your needs and desires, your position in life and your background."

As for himself, Hicks is taking a break from dating apps at the moment. "I've got the world in front of me," he says. "I want to travel internationally; I want a companion; I want a partner in life. I thought I found that person, but it just didn't work out. So you could say I'm on hold right now."

While Hicks is reassessing his own wants, another 68-year-old Chattanooga resident, Tish Olinger, is in the early stages of a blossoming relationship with a man she met on eHarmony.

Like Hicks, Olinger has been exploring the dating scene for the past decade and a half and was formerly married twice. While she briefly toyed with Tinder, her go-to dating apps are Match and eHarmony.

Olinger first talked to the man she's currently dating over the phone after matching with him on eHarmony in late October. Since then, she's been able to see him several times at his home near Nashville, making a pit stop on her frequent trips to and from Memphis to visit her mother.

While some may see the distance as a hurdle, Olinger welcomes it and has plenty of experience with long-distance dating. Before she moved to Chattanooga in 2007, she lived in Memphis and dated someone in Seattle on and off for 19 years.

"At the time, I thought I hated doing long-distance, but now I look back on it and think it was perfect," Olinger says. "I was able to focus more of my attention on raising my kids and working as a nurse."

  photo  Staff photo by Matt Hamilton/ Tish Olinger checks her dating apps on her phone in Coolidge Park.

 She has two children from her first marriage, and each of them has a different reaction toward Olinger's online dating life. But that creates a balance that she appreciates. "My daughter is all over it," Olinger says. "She wants me to have somebody because she's in a really great marriage, and he adores her."

Olinger spoke of her daughter how one would speak of a best friend, someone she's able to vent to and share her feelings with. Olinger sees that her daughter is in a loving and healthy relationship, and that's what she wants for herself. "I want the whole enchilada," she says. "I don't want someone I'm just going to see here and there."

Meanwhile, Olinger's son takes on a more protective role in his mother's dating life. "My son is a little more standoffish about it all," she says. "He sees me as Mom." When Olinger got married for the second time, her son made a point of letting her now ex-husband know to take good care of her.

While that marriage dissolved in 2013, Olinger is excited about the recent relationship she's struck up. "You don't really feel a connection like that every day," she says. "I'm the happiest I've ever been!"

  photo  Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Tish Olinger in Coolidge Park

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