On our first—and last—dinner together, my date unknowingly spit morsels of lobster sandwich across the table while explaining the circumstances of the first of his two divorces. He’d dressed for the occasion in khaki shorts, black socks, sandals, and a fanny pack, and appeared to be in his mid-70s—even though his profile on Elite Singles claimed he was 62.
Let’s just say he wasn’t my type.
Welcome to the world of dating after 50, where this kind of misfire is entirely normal, especially for those of us who start the search for love online.
If you’re single—and don’t want to be—you can expect to spend one to two years making an active effort and dating multiple prospects to find the one long-term relationship that can turn into forever love, says Pepper Schwartz, University of Washington sociology professor, an expert on aging and sexuality.
In some respects, Schwartz says, it’s like planning your next career move. “You can’t say, ‘I would like a job,’ and wait for someone to knock on your door and offer you one,” she notes.
Successful online dating, similarly, requires you put in the effort for the hunt.
One thing’s for sure: More and more older people are searching for love online these days. According to Pew Research, the percentage of 55- to 64-year-olds who use dating sites or mobile apps doubled over a recent three-year period, from 6% to 12%. And the number of dating sites specifically catering to singles 50 and over have proliferated as well.
How can you ensure you don’t go looking for love online in all the wrong places and boost your chances of meeting someone you can truly connect with? Herewith, a real-world guide to making online dating work for you.
Prepare to kiss some frogs
When I first began using dating sites, I went about it all wrong: talking to one person for several weeks online and by phone until I felt “comfortable” meeting, and then having a dinner date with the expectation that it would be marvelous.
A better approach: Talk to several people online simultaneously, meet for coffee early on, and move swiftly to the next candidate if the first one’s not a good match.
“For anybody who dates at any age, some people are creepy and some people are great,” says Schwartz, the author of of 25 books, including Prime: Adventures and Advice on Sex, Love, and the Sensual Years, an account of her dating experiences from ages 55 to 60, after a divorce ended 23 years of marriage.
Rather than put too much pressure on each encounter and feeling bummed if it doesn’t lead to more, Schwartz suggests trying to enjoy the search. “Just because it’s not ‘the one,’ doesn’t mean you didn’t have fun,” says Schwartz, who two years ago married a man she met on Match.com 13 years earlier.
Dating coach Bela Gandhi, founder and president of the Smart Dating Academy, agrees that a more expansive search is the best way to start. “Date multiple people so if one flakes or ghosts, you won’t be hurt,” she says. “There is no one site where all the good people are hiding. They are everywhere.”
Make like-mindedness a priority
Make sure you honestly establish what you’re looking for in your profile and in answering the essay options or quizzes. See if the questions or the sample profiles on the site align with your dating goals.
“It’s Still On: Dating After 50,” a 2017 survey from the online dating site Our Time, (which recently merged with Senior People Meet), reports that 72% of over-50 singles say they are open to finding love in the future. Nearly half, or 45% of singles over 50, say they are open to a “friends with benefits” situation, with 27% saying one-night stands are okay.
Some sites proclaim upfront they are only about people honestly looking for commitment.
Among those targeting older people, for example, Lumen is a new app for those 50-plus, professing “verified photos” and “quality conversations” and is free on Android and IOS. Meanwhile, Silver Singles says it is about people looking for a “serious relationship.”
Prefer a service that welcomes daters of all ages?
The League, an app that launched in 2015, promises vetting of members and has annual membership dues in pricing tiers from guest to member to owner, varying in the number of profiles delivered daily.
Zoosk has free sign-up and search, while OK Cupid promises “meaningful connections” through algorithms. The free site, Plenty of Fish, boasts “The Relationship Chemistry Predictor” with 73 personal statements you can agree or disagree with.
EHarmony claims it is all about compatibility—and marriage. Coffee Meets Bagel is out “to rewrite the narrative of online dating” and says it has made 50 million matches and “thousands of lasting relationships globally.”
Elite Singles says 82% of its members are college graduates and every eight minutes “a new couple finds love” on its site. Match is possibly the grandma of all dating sites launched in 1995 with members in 24 countries swapping profiles in 15 languages.
No matter which services you choose to try, you’re likely to find dating at this age to be a difference experience, marked by different expectations, than dating when you were younger.
“You’re not looking for a mother or father for your children, or a potential earner for your household,” says Carolyn, 59, a university professor in Chicago who is now moving in with a man she met on a dating site last year. “You are looking to be a couple.”
Understand that love may not be cheap
A free site does not mean the dating prospects you find are any less promising. Still, most of them charge—and the costs can add up quickly.
Monthly membership costs range from approximately $15 for the first month at Senior Match and $30 for the first month at Match and OurTime. It costs about $58 for the first month on EHarmony, Elite Singles and Silver Singles, if you sign up for three months. Monthly costs go down considerably if you sign up for six months or a year.
You can go it alone online, have friends help you create profiles or you can hire a coach. But paying someone to help you find the right person can be expensive.
Gandhi’s Smart Dating Academy, for example, offers free downloads of “The 4 Commandments of Online Dating Success” that includes advice on photos, profiles, emails and first dates, and affordable $35 webinars.
But that’s where the cheap help ends. Gandi’s three levels of dating coaching packages for three months run from the bronze level at $6,500, the silver level at $10,000 to the gold package at $15,000.
What do you get for that kind of money? According to the website, services include lessons on how to flirt, salvage bad dates, set up good dating karma, and set up a Marriage Map, along with more dating survival tips.
Watch your back
Beyond the ordinary cautionary tales inherent in dating—the mismatches, disappointments, and rejections—you need to be wary of fraudsters who prey on people looking for love online.
In fact, the Federal Trade Commission says there were more “romance scams” than any other kind of fraud in 2108, with scammers taking away a whopping $143 million. Victims suffered median individual losses of $2,600, more than any other consumer fraud reported to the FTC.
That number has been growing, the number of victims doubling between 2015 and 2018, from 8,500 to 21,000. The people most affected are those ages 40 to 69, who often wire money to new “sweethearts” who quickly come up with crises that need fast cash.
Since catfishing stories of fraud and heartache abound, you are not paranoid or unreasonable to research the person before you meet.
Experts suggest specific strategies to protect yourself. Among them: Use Google Voice, a free Internet phone, so you don’t use your real number; meet somewhere public and safe; never lend anyone money; and do due diligence on LinkedIn, Facebook, whitepages.com and any of several background checking sites to see if this person is who they say are.
In other words, when it comes to looking for love online, you need to protect not just your heart but your pocketbook too.