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Seniors find online dating the perfect match
By Cynthia Marone

Clarissa* knows what she wants. After all, she has had 74 years to perfect her approach to life, love and friendship. What has changed is the way she goes about getting it.

“I’m not a person to go to a bar or a casino to meet people. Online dating is easier – safer, too. There’s nothing I don’t like about it,” says the North Cape May resident.

Clarissa has been dipping in the online dating pool for a few months, and has emerged with much attention from the opposite sex, as well as a few dates.

“It’s been fun, but on one I found the fella boring. He talked about his life and when he was a football star,” she says. After a beat, she adds, “I had a lovely lunch.”

Dating, at any age, is chock-full of emotion and expectation. The hardest part may be the first meeting or simply meeting at all. Those 65 and older, finding themselves retired and lacking life partners for a host of reasons, are maneuvering to that first meeting through online channels. The senior set is discovering, just as their younger counterparts are, great benefits to online dating, as well as dangerous pitfalls.

Like Clarissa, women do the majority of online dating, making up more than half of all over-50 online daters, according to the AARP. Almost ten percent of those senior are over age 70. According to the same 2012 study, almost half of senior daters were looking for a serious relationship; 26 percent sought friendship and companionship; and 14 percent were interested in casual dating only.

Clarissa was married 30 years before she lost her husband to heart disease in 2006. Over the last seven years, solace and company came in the form of family and friends. But lately, she has wanted more.

“I started to feel lonely just this year. I might miss a little affection. It’s not really sex, but to feel this is someone special,” she says. “It’s holding hands, not being ready to jump into bed.”

Rutgers professor Charlotte Markey, PhD, studies relationships and, in her experience, what Clarissa is seeking is more common than the AARP’s data suggests.

“Seniors are looking for companionship in a different way, adding an extra level of friendship. It’s not necessarily romance with sexual intimacy, like a 20-year-old. They may have had that in their life,” says Markey, chairwoman of Rutgers-Camden’s psychology department. “That’s not to say because they are older it ends wanting to get married.”

Markey says seniors turn to online dating because when “they don’t have other avenues to meet people, like clubs or bars, or they tried those avenues and found they were much less desirable.”

The AARP survey found the top reason to try online dating for those older than 50 was to meet more people. Markey believes the widened pool of suitors could limit a commitment to one, but other, more hazardous issues exist for men and women who may have been out of the dating world for decades.

“When they meet people on these sites, they are more accepting of what is in a profile,” says Terrie Ginsberg, DO, of the Rowan University New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging. “They accept what they read. You can’t trust everything you read in a profile. It’s healthy skepticism.”

Ginsberg routinely preaches to her patients that being realistic about what they claim online about themselves, as well as who they pursue, can lead to a more rewarding experience.

“One woman was dating men 20 years younger, with not a lot of success. They wouldn’t meet her or they wanted money from her,” says Ginsberg, who specializes in geriatric medicine. “Picking an age-appropriate site is number one. When you go to the correct site, create an honest profile.”

It takes just as much care to find a proper site as it does to craft an eye-catching profile. Countless pages cater to older users, such as the howaboutwe.com – powered AARP Dating and ourtime.com, but many times a youthful nudge is what piques a dater’s interest.

“Online dating is for everyone. Young people are encouraging their parents or older siblings,” says Markey. “The last five years or so it’s trickled up.”

Clarissa’s daughter was the one who vetted the dating site, signed her mother up for a three-month membership and crafted her profile. She called her mother after the fact to tell her what she had done.

“She said, ‘You’ve got to get out and meet someone,’ which I wasn’t doing. I was content to stay home and watch the Phillies,” says Clarissa. “I liked everything she did with my profile. The only thing, you can put a quote after the name. She put ‘loves to cook.’ I want to get taken out.”

Clarissa’s three adult children have been supportive, but Ginsberg has seen the other side of a child’s reaction to their parents’ online activities. It’s usually a cocktail of horror, embarrassment and shock.

“When they hear about their mothers doing this, they think, ‘But you should help me with things.’ They look at it like she shouldn’t be doing this,” says Ginsberg. “The younger generation may poo-poo the idea of entering the dating world, let alone an online site, but it’s an easy way to meet someone. It fills a vacuum.”

Fostering connections begins by joining a site. From that point on, all is done at the user’s pace. A person can date many people or just one. They can check their page every hour or when the mood strikes. The control can be appealing to people long absent from the dating scene, says Markey. That safety net may be a great way to ease a user’s worries, but it can do little for their loved ones. Markey learned this firsthand when her mother, Ar Monica Pribuss, began online dating several years ago.

“My sisters and I had some concerns for her safety in meeting strangers and had her check in with us. We bugged her to go on dates in public places,” says Markey, whose 62-year-old mother met a man online and married him last year. “It was strange to feel like the parent in the situation, but also sort of fun.”

Surely, the increasing number of seniors who date online debunks the myth that the older population is in the throes of tech-terror. Someone may be gently pushing them to go online and helping them with their profiles, as in Clarissa’s case, but most of the over-65 set have embraced wireless ways.

“We are in a technological society. Many of my patients are computer savvy and they have no problem using these sites,” says Ginsberg. “My patients use iPhones and the Internet. They are up-to-date.”

Clarissa doesn’t own a computer. Her daughter keeps her posted on her prospects and shows her the profiles of the men who have come calling. After that, it is up to Clarissa to contact them and accept their invitations – if she likes what she hears.

“Know what a killer is? When a man says he’s frugal,” she says. “I had one lunch date who told me he was frugal. I was out of there. Lunch was $60. That may have been the only day he splurged.”

 

*Clarissa’s name has been changed at her request.

October 2013
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