Senior Dating Online
When I was a teenager, boys were a preoccupation and a mystery. But my mother, bless her heart, would always say, “Don’t fret, there are plenty of fish in the sea.” That advice got me through some rocky times in high school, but as I grew out of braces and blossomed a bit, by golly, she was right. I found an abundance of “fish” and enjoyed an active and healthy dating life, along with a thriving career, until well into my 30s.
Then I found “the one”! We met in Grand Central Station (talk about romantic), married soon after, and had a blissful 30-year marriage. Then he died. All our happy plans for spending the golden years together were gone, in the flash of a fish’s tail.
For several years, I had no desire to troll for anyone new. I was contented enough. I was economically stable and lived in a great house by the sea that he and I had built together. I had my dog and my sailboat for company, plenty to do, and lots of supportive friends. But after a while, some of those friends began nagging me to reach out—and try one of those relatively new online dating sites.
Moi? I don’t think so. I still don’t even do FaceBook. How was I going to navigate some silly dating app, and which one to choose? There were so many. Friends persisted. I kept putting it off. Finally, I struggled to put together a “personal profile.” Who am I? What have I done for the past 65-plus years? What do I like and not like? One key answer was to give a strict parameter as to how far, geographically, I was willing to search. I instructed only 50–75 miles tops, meaning really just Maine and no further. Then the Q&A goes on. Height? 5’7.” Weight? Average. Kids? Three. Eyes? Hazel. Political leanings? (Believe it; that question is important.) Liberal. To say this profile was painful to compose would be an understatement. It’s like writing your own obit and trying to keep a sense of humor.
Finally, I filled out all the questions, joined Match.com, which seemed to have a good reputation, and shelled out over $60 to put myself out into cyberspace. It was only for 3 months. Why not give it a shot?
At first, I got plenty of “matches” and quite a few responses. It was sort of entertaining for a while to check out photos and profiles of those guys. Then the same guys started to pop up again and again. The pool of available men was clearly shrinking. Most were clearly not my type. And some were outrageously inappropriate and definitely not within my stated age preferences, such as the 28-year-old dude from Portland, “seekingmaturefox.” His profile was sketchy, and his grammar was horrid, but his intent was very clear: “I am literally looking to have some fun with someone that knows how to have said fun; oh by the way, I am epic!”
I did agree to meet up with some of my potential matches—always in public places. I call it my “50 bad coffee dates” phase. Some had weird allergies. Others had even weirder political inclinations. Some were so unkempt that I could barely sit through a 10-minute conversation with them. One was still so distraught about the death of his first wife, whom I clearly resembled, that he could barely get through our dinner date before he bolted.
Many of them had lied about their age or education or both. And worse, after a while, many of my so-called matches came from places way beyond my geography search rules. Towns like Sopchoppy, Florida, or Caneyville, Kentucky, with profile photos straight out of central casting for the movie Deliverance. No kidding.
According to statistics, one in four people are on some dating site. Millions around the world, in fact, but there’s no confirmed data about how many seniors are on dating sites. There are success stories of older couples actually hooking up. I can vouch for that. I know at least a half dozen, including Will and Tori in Bath, who married in their late 60s after a long on-line courtship, and Winslow and Patty in Bristol, who’ve been together for over six years.
But these happy endings are the exception, not the rule. In fact, there are lots of scammers lurking out there on the internet. When you think about it, anyone can create an on-line false identity, by pulling some photo off the internet of some good-looking man or woman and adding his or her own fake spin to a profile. The sites don’t offer fact checks on their “members,” unless they are getting complaints. Not too long ago the FTC alleged that as many as 30 percent of Match’s member profiles were fake.
A word about scams and safety: Some online dating users are out there not to win your heart but to steal your money. Seniors are especially vulnerable. We are probably less tech savvy, for one. And comparatively speaking, we are often fairly well-off or at least comfortable. AARP reports that Americans over the age of 50 own two-thirds of bank deposits in the country and control 70 percent of the nation’s assets. And a majority of those are women.
This practice is called “catfishing”—a catch-all term for setting up fake online dating profiles to scam unsuspecting people out of their money. Here are some of the warning signs: bad grammar (many are from overseas, with English not their native language, so they use a computerized translator); never being able to meet up in person (again, they don’t live where they claim); professing true love almost from the get-go (which should be an obvious red flag); and then, the ultimate sign, they ask for money using some phony excuse. If you suspect any of this, run, don’t walk, for the nearest exit, and report the questionable sender to the dating site directly.
Similarly, scam artists quickly urge their victims to communicate off the site, by asking for personal emails or phone text numbers, to get around whatever privacy restrictions the dating site has in place.
Women tend to get suckered in by scammers who masquerade as “older, distinguished gentlemen,” while men tend to be taken in by those pretending to be younger women. Lonely widows and widowers are among the most vulnerable victims.
To stay safe using any online dating site, there are some good, if obvious, tips. First, stay somewhat mysterious, at least until you meet up face-to-face and have a better sense of the person. Avoid giving out personal details like home addresses and work information. Always meet online “dates” in person for the first time in a public space where there are other people around. During COVID, this public meet-up might be more difficult, but stick to that rule! And let your friends know when and where you are going. Needless to say, we are not in the genteel era of your grandparents’ courtship, where a person meets and dates the friend of a friend or a fellow church member.
All that being said, online dating is here to stay. It is now the most widespread way that people are meeting their match. And I myself have met several nice men online who have become friends.
One of them is a good guy who had some candid advice for all of us: “I’ll start by being very generic. Get a tough skin. It can be brutal sometimes. Someone may be writing to you and then just vanish. That happens more often than not. Most guys and gals forget that there is a real live feeling person at the other end of the internet. Or they just got too busy and are now involved with someone else. Another tip is to be proactive. It is appropriate IMHO [in my humble opinion] for the woman to throw the first flirt. This opinion may be partly due to the demographics. There are more good women on these sites than there are good men. I almost always reply to flirts, and I get quite a few. Ninety percent of them don’t, or can’t, go anywhere. You may have to kiss a hundred frogs. The good thing about this online dating is you might be able to actually meet 100 frogs.”
So, you never know. Not for me, it seems. But maybe one of those frogs will turn into a prince.