En español | Like it or not, dating has gone digital.
As the stigma associated with online dating fades — and smartphone use rises — millions have turned to apps and sites such as Match, eharmony, Bumble and Tinder to find romance. Now, smartphones often play the role of matchmaker, and a relationship can launch with a simple swipe right on another user’s profile.
For an older demographic used to classified ads, blind dates and singles bars, the cyber dating world can feel like an alternate universe. Yet, those 50-plus are increasingly joining the scene.
One in five internet users ages 55 to 64 said they’ve used a dating app or service, according to a January 2018 poll from technology and research company Morning Consult. That figure is 1 in 10 for those 65 and older. And the overall number of 55- to 64-year-olds who have dabbled in dating sites or mobile dating apps doubled to 12 percent in 2016 from 6 percent in 2013, according to the Pew Research Center.
This is a natural evolution, says dating coach Julie Spira, an expert for the 50-plus focused dating site OurTime. Most people are already texting and checking social media on their phones, so “there’s no reason not to use an app to find love,” she says.
An alternative to the bar scene
With some dedication, it’s possible to become an in-demand dater.
“Many of my clients who are over 50 are going on two to three dates a week,” says dating coach and Dates & Mates podcast host Damona Hoffman.
But there are challenges as well. For those who have been on the sidelines, much has changed since the 1995 launch of Match.com. There are scores of dating apps and sites to appraise — all with varying capabilities. Liars and scammers remain, as well as those who post misleading photos and fudge their age.
However, there are also those who are genuine, honest and looking for love. And there are countless success stories.
Online dating “is a job, and is not easy,” says Brianne Porcelli, 56, who met now-husband Joe Porcelli, 66 on eharmony. “I never would have met Joe if it weren't for this site,” she says. “It wouldn't have been possible. I didn't go to bars, clubs, etc. I went to work and home.” Eharmony “took much of the legwork out of meeting someone,” she says.
Peak dating season
It’ll likely take dedication, and patience, to meet your ideal match.
“Anything big in life is going to require a plan and strategy, education and a lot of work,” says Bela Gandhi, founder of the Smart Dating Academy coaching service. Yet, “when you learn how to online date the right way, it’s like a superpower.”
And now’s an ideal time to start.
It’s “peak season” in the online dating world, with an increase in overall activity, says Spira. The reason: A combination of pre- and post-holiday breakups, New Year’s resolutions to find love and the countdown to Valentine’s Day.
“Peak season is the perfect time for naysayers and first-timers to join an online dating site,” she says.
Here's how to be savvy and safe, as well as sane, in the cyber search for love.
Bone up on tech
If you’re not comfortable with technology, learn the basics before trying online dating, says Tina Williams, a White Oak Library District outreach services manager who leads a monthly program called Dating Over 50 and teaches online dating classes for adults in her Illinois area. “You don’t want to come across as not responding well if it’s just a technology issue,” she says.
There’s an abundance of books, blogs, webinars and podcasts that can help you better understand online dating. Also ask friends about their experiences, suggests Spira.
In her classes, Williams reviews the differences among dating sites, such as explaining that some use swipes for matches, while others use quizzes. (While there is no one-size-fits-all site or app, the seniors she works with tend to use OurTime if they are paying, and Bumble, OkCupid or PlentyofFish if they want to use a free site.)
Sticking with one to three sites is best, as any more can feel overwhelming to manage, said the experts AARP interviewed. And while niche sites that cater to specific religions, interests and even food preferences can be enticing (like vegetarian-focused VeggieDate.com), experts say to always pair searching on those platforms with one that has broader appeal. “The pool on those niche sites is always smaller,” says Hoffman.
Learn the lingo
Acronyms and abbreviations are common. Terms such as “poly” (for polyamory or consensual non-monogamy) or “fwb” (for friend with benefits) can indicate the type of relationships people seek. Confused by something? “Google it,” Williams says.
Make safety a priority
Don’t disclose personal information, such as your home address, when first getting to know someone, and never share banking information or transfer money.
Carla VandeWeerd, a University of South Florida professor and coauthor of a report that explored the online dating experiences of women 50 and older, recommends doing a video chat before meeting someone in person. If that leads to an in-person get-together, “meet at a public place and let trusted friends and family know where you are going to be and who you are going to be with,” she advises. “And check in after the date is over.”
Some dating sites list safety tips on their platforms. AARP also provides advice on how to avoid romance scams.
But, notes Gandhi: “Love exists. You have to seed yourself with that long-term optimism. You might meet someone in 10 days or it might take 500 … There is no better time in the history of humanity to meet [one of] the 8 billion people on this planet because of technology."