We seniors grew up in a revolutionary time when culture, expectations and technology went through unimaginable upheavals. Now, as life expectancy gives us an extra decade or two at the end of our lives, our more experimental nature will serve us well. Whether due to divorce, loss of a spouse or being too busy to marry, the number of unattached seniors is huge.
By now, most social interaction has moved to our electronic devices. That means dating, too. First, online dating appealed to the young, and some of us were horrified, but soon seniors were saying, “Why not me?” While we were baffled when our first (then our second and third) friend married an online contact, it has now become the norm. Maybe it’s time to try a little ‘virtual flirting’ ourselves.
Your age no longer matters. Whether you are over 50, 60 or 70, the online world has a way to connect you with future friends, companions and lovers. As online dating has taken the rest of the population by storm, websites geared specifically to our age group have popped up one after another, with some approaching a half-million members.
General (non-niche) online dating sites, some with over 25 million members, will have enough members in your age group to be worthwhile joining. It’s just a matter of deciding if you prefer a site that’s all about you and your cohorts, or one filled with young male and female eye-candy, too. Senior sites also conveniently weed out girls looking for Daddy Warbucks, and men looking for women half their age.
Online dating sites have personalities, just the same as Saturday night hangouts had personalities when we were growing up. Finding the right one takes a little online research, maybe also checking with friends whose taste you know to be like yours. The man-to-woman ratio is important; most sites are close to 50/50, but some are skewed as far as 40/60. (That’s great if you are a man.)
The best part is that virtually all online dating sites offer basic membership for free. This lets you register, create your profile and use a few basic features. While your free membership will be very limiting, if you join several online dating websites and poke around them all, you will start feeling where you are more comfortable. That is where you might want to upgrade to a paid membership, with all the features, especially being able to communicate with other members.
It doesn’t matter why we are single. Dozens of reasons explain how we find ourselves not in a relationship with someone in our senior years. For some, it’s a comfortable place to be – whether just for now or for the long term. For others, it’s a situation they would prefer to change.
In the past, “doing something about it” meant reaching out to friends and family, asking to be introduced if they knew someone appropriate. It also meant joining organizations or activities in hopes of meeting someone with similar interests.
But for the past 15 years, technology has been bridging the gap between people in a far more convenient way that allows you to be much more proactive: through online dating. Even more recently, ‘niche’ websites are increasing in number, including those that focus on different demographics, such as seniors.
Finding the right online dating website (one that aligns with your personality) means:
- Having access to countless potential partners;
- Employing search tools to filter for potential partners who more closely match what you are seeking;
- Benefiting from a verification service to confirm a member is who he or she claims to be;
- Providing a safe way to initiate contact with someone;
- Creating a digital venue in which a conversation can develop, or not; and
- Opening our world to people you would never be able to meet otherwise, possibly finding that partner who will fill your desire for close human contact.
If you use common sense and follow the suggested steps to ensure your safety, online dating can help you meet an important goal of your senior years: to love and be loved.
Getting involved with an online dating service is like any other service: you start by gathering information on cost and ease. The cost will usually be a monthly fee. As for ease, you want to know about any warranty offered, how easy it is to use the service, how you can cancel and what customer support the company provides.
In addition, you want to know whether a free subscription is available so you can test the waters. For convenience, you want to know about mobile apps and, if you are part of the LGBT community, you want to know if the website serves your community.
Your first decision will be whether you would like to explore all online dating websites or only those that focus on seniors. (You may decide to look at a combination of the two.) Next, you will start differentiating between the services based on various factors.
Matching: One major factor is how the website matches people. Some use simple criteria such as age, gender and geographic area. Others allow you to establish a personal set of criteria that can feed into everything from a simple search to a far more detailed ‘advanced’ search that then suggests candidates. And still other websites will have members fill out extensive questionnaires that are said to use an algorithm that finds the most compatible candidates for you.
Going from the simplest to the most complex matching system is supposed to correlate with how serious a relationship you are seeking, from a casual exchange to a lifelong relationship. However, that is not always the case: lifelong relationships can grow out of casual exchanges.
Niche: A website that focuses on seniors is considered a ‘niche’ site, ‘age-based’ in this case. Other niches can be based on other demographics, such as a specific religion, race or income level. Niches can also be based on lifestyle preferences, such as occupation, same-sex relationships or shared medical conditions. Once you have considered the different options, you will have whittled down the possible online dating services that could be of interest.
Your next step is to take the short list of online dating websites and sign up for free accounts. While the activities you can perform in the free version of sites is limited, what you can do should give you a feel for how comfortable you feel on the site.
Features: Look to be sure the website, in its paid version, offers keyword searches, proximity searches, ability to ‘favorite’ profiles, chat rooms and any other tools you think would be helpful. Are mobile apps available? How many ways can you communicate with someone? Most sites will offer email, ‘flirts’ (or some other means of initiating contact), IM chat, video chat and group chat rooms.
Ratio: While you are visiting sites, one detail you will want to check is the male/female ratio. While that can run from ‘evenly matched’ to ‘somewhat skewed’ (always in the direction of more women than men), you want to see if this affects the search. It may not. Checking some third-party review sites will tell you if reviewers think this is a problem.
Safeguards: You also want to look at privacy safeguards. Does the site allow you to limit the amount of your personal profile that can be seen until you indicate some level of interest? While that would be an extra feature, it can be achieved another way: abide by the rule of only sharing information you are comfortable revealing to a stranger.
Safety: During the member set-up process, some sites provide extra protection by requiring social verification (linking to Facebook, for example) and photo verification by the site’s staff, in addition to having their staffs trained to identify problematic members. Check to see what each website provides: is safety addressed openly on the site? Also look to see if the website has updated encryption in place (the web address will begin with ‘https’ instead of ‘http’’ for use with SSL or TLS protocols). If you are going to enter payment information, such when you go from free to a paid membership, you don’t want hackers to have access to it.
Simplicity: The online dating experience is supposed to be fun. That means it should also be stress-free. One way to lower stress is to make the website intuitive and easy to navigate. It should not take you long to get a basic profile in place and start exploring an online dating site.
Two areas differentiate what seniors prioritize from what others do when going onto online dating websites: age-friendliness and health-related value.
Age friendliness: As you age, and continue active on a dating website, it is most advantageous if the members’ age range is broad enough that you continue to be comfortable and successful on that site. If you are on a general all-ages site, you might feel you are ‘aging out’ of the demographic and would have to move to a new one and start the learning curve all over again.
Health-related value: To fully benefit from online dating websites, you must be healthy enough to take the next step: leaving your house and meeting up with a person. However, a senior online dating website may also open the possibility of developing friendships and relationships that never go beyond online chats, emails and telephone calls. Just because our health declines, it doesn’t mean we don’t still have a need for warm, human contact.
Most online dating websites can start you out with a free membership. However, once you know this is a site that interests you, you will likely want to upgrade to a paid subscription, so you can access all the tools and services. It is said that the average spent by a dating site customer is under $250 per year; monthly rates generally range from $15-60 per month.
These websites need sophisticated technology to be effective in their goal of engaging and matching people. That sophistication carries over to the payment process, as you set up your subscription on your credit card through the site, through SMS mobile payment or by mail with a check or money order. The monthly subscription rate will vary from site to site and may offer different levels of membership. Check to see what each level affords you.
What you pay will also vary by how many months in advance you want to pay: a 1-month subscription will cost much more per month than a 6-month subscription.
However, one word of caution. A careful read of the site’s Terms and Conditions will likely explain that you can cancel your subscription at any time, but none of the money paid in will be refunded. Also, subscriptions will automatically renew until you formally cancel. Unless you cancel your subscription on time, a new subscription (identical in length and monthly rate) will be triggered. You might want to pay for one month or two at the higher 1-month subscription rate before committing to anything longer, just to be sure you selected the right online dating website.
Some websites will offer a ‘cooling off period,’ which is usually three days long. If available, you can withdraw your paid subscription anytime within the first three days from making your initial payment. That gives you time to explore the paid version of the site and to cancel if it is not what you expected.
The initial evaluation criteria in selecting an online dating service start with the cost, then extend to ‘ease’ factors: any warranty, ease of use, ease of cancellation and extent of customer support.
Cost: Beyond the standard free memberships offered by most dating sites, to access all services you will want to move to a paid subscription that tends to run from $15-60 per month. Costs within a website can vary by the level of services you subscribe to, as well as by how many months in advance you purchase.
Warranty: Online dating websites will not give you a warranty per se, but most offer a free version of its membership as a form of trial period. However, you will probably not have access to all services. Some websites offer a 3-day ‘cooling off period’ which could be considered a form of warranty by giving you time to explore the site completely, even if only for three days.
Ease of use: Most online dating sites are extremely easy to use. The goal of the website is to get you involved as fast as possible, so they will make it easy to become a member, set up a profile and start using the site.
Cancellation: Because very few sites will refund the remainder of a prepaid subscription, you will want to keep the initial subscription periods very short. You might want to subscribe for one month at a time, realizing that even that subscription will renew automatically if you do not cancel it, but it will only be for another month. Then, if you like the website, you can decide to go for a longer period at a lower per-month rate. However, if the website is not producing any viable connections, you do not want to continue paying as you run out the rest of a prepaid year, for example.
Customer support: Because online dating websites are active 24/7, their customer support should ideally be available during the same hours in case you encounter any problems. The idea access would be available online, via chat, by email and by phone.
Because our life expectancy has been extended by an extra decade or so, and because we are more active than our parents were at the same age, the demand for ways to meet new people – and new partners – has increased dramatically.
One solution is dating agencies. These businesses offer matchmaking services, much as they did in earlier times, and sponsor dating events. Because today’s pace is so hectic for people of all ages, these agencies have had an upsurge in the level of popularity for all age groups.
However, the solution that has truly exploded has been online dating services; today this is a $2 billion business. The stigma that existed when it first appeared has faded, and online dating has become mainstream. We all know couples who met online.
Online dating gives people access to more partners than they could ever meet at work or in the neighborhood. As seniors retire and withdraw from some outside activities, this alternative becomes even more important. That may explain why, according to Pew Research, the number of seniors in their late 50s and 60s who use online dating websites has doubled from 6 percent to 12 percent just from 2013 to 2016.
Seniors do not lose their basic human needs as they age and those include the need for love, relationships and sex. The power of online dating to match people whose paths would never have crossed otherwise is one of the great outcomes of technology.
However, finding a partner is more than an algorithm. ‘Chemistry’ cannot be put into a formula. So, while online dating greatly expands the field of possibilities, it still requires a touch of realism, the willingness to go on many coffee dates and the perseverance to continue meeting people.