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Find Your Match on a Senior-Friendly Dating Site

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by Marie Fricker

Kiki S., 55, of Sacramento, California had been a widow for several years and was lonely. During a happy hour in a local restaurant one night with her friends, she half-heartedly agreed to try online dating. “While we were sipping Margaritas, the girls took my picture and wrote a profile for me on Match.com,” said Kiki. “It was kind of funny and I planned to delete it when I got home, but I was too tired to do it that night. The next morning when I opened my email there were a bunch of notifications from all these different men who had messaged me. I couldn’t believe it. My daughter said, ‘Don’t delete them, Mom, you might get some lunch dates.’”

One of the more interesting inquiries was from a man named John.“We exchanged phone numbers and talked every day for a week before deciding to meet for lunch,” said Kiki. “I arrived at the restaurant 15 minutes early because I wanted to see what he actually looked like in person. There was an instant attraction.

We had lunch and our conversation flowed like old friends for more than two hours. At one point, the waiter came over and asked how long we had been married. We laughed and told him it was our first date.”

The couple very quickly realized they shared similar values and the same sense of humor. “I couldn’t believe that a stranger I had just met online was so much fun to be around and so appealing in every way,” said Kiki. “I told him he was my Cracker Jack prize, because I knew I was going to get a prize on that date, but just didn’t know what it would be.”

Three months after their Internet courtship had begun, John got down on one knee at a charity event and proposed to Kiki. “As soon as he asked me to marry him, a photographer appeared and took our picture. He had already gotten permission from my daughters and his own children, who all agreed that we were a match made in heaven. Actually, we were a match made online and I’m proud of it.”

Neil Wood, 65, author of the bestselling book, Dating Success after 40, urges people to try online dating if they’re looking for a new soulmate or even just a companion to socialize with. “I met up with so many women through Match.com and other dating apps that I felt I had to share what I learned – both the perks and the pitfalls.”

Wood began his internet dating in his late fifties after going through a divorce and living alone for several years. “I wanted to meet a woman, and I wasn’t a barroom kind of guy,” he said. “So, I joined a couple of different online match sites. I described myself as ‘an optimist looking for someone between the ages of 45 and 60, who enjoys Yoga, hiking, walking the beach, traveling and looking at the brighter side of life.’”

Increasing numbers of baby boomers are divorced or widowed every year, and loneliness has become an epidemic among seniors. Studies suggest that being alone most of the time can lead to depression and a shorter lifespan. Psychologists stress that it’s important to connect with other people in social settings, and that healthy relationships – even virtual ones – are therapeutic.

If you are thinking of dipping your toe into the pool of online dating, the process is pretty similar on most of the dating sites, according to the seasoned pros.

“The first thing you do is to create a profile that lets people know what your interests and goals are,” said Wood. “Then post pictures of yourself doing things you like to do. Putting your photo out there can be intimidating, especially for some older women and men who are too critical of themselves. But it’s important if you want to make connections. I never took anyone out unless I saw a photo first, and, for the most part, I met wonderful people, even when the romance wasn’t there.”

Wood offers some first-hand tips for cyber daters, based on his own experience:

• Meet for the first time in a public place – not in your home or a secluded spot.

  • Don’t talk about your exes or discuss how lonely you are. Be positive.
  • List specific characteristics about the type of man or woman you’re looking for – hair col- or (if it matters), age range, ethnicity, fitness level, and, other factors.
  • Try to skype, facetime or talk on the phone with your prospective match before the meet- up. You may decide to cancel the date if you don’t like what you see or hear.
  • Do a little pre-meetup digging. Check out your match on Facebook, Linked in or Goo- gle before you set up a date.
  • Tell a friend where you’re meeting a match for the first time.

“Online dating is not all hearts and flowers. Even I have been scammed by con artists from time to time,” said Wood. “You must be vigilant about who is genuinely looking for a partner and who is ‘catfishing’ for personal gain. Scammers will schmooze women – ‘You are so beautiful. I want to come and see you but I live in South Dakota. Could I borrow $5,000 to help an ill relative?’ Don’t fall for it. Thirty-five people have used my personal photos for their dating profiles. They posed as me, romanced women and then asked for money. If you’re at all wary of someone, Zoom or Facetime them as quickly as possible to see what they look like. If they don’t want to do that, block them and report them to the website.”

Ellen E., 63, of Scituate thought she had found her perfect mate in a man she met on Match.com after her divorce. He was a widower and they enjoyed a fun and romantic relationship for three years. But unbeknownst to Ellen, Ed was searching for other matches on the site the entire time they were together. He abruptly broke up with her to marry one of them after a 3-year relationship. “I just didn’t see it coming, but there were red flags I probably should have noticed,” said Ellen. “I was never invited to his house on Christmas or other holidays. He didn’t seem to want me to get close with his family, and always made excuses. The end came on one summer night when he was supposed to come to my place for supper. He walked into the house and told me to sit down because he had something to tell me. ‘I think we should cool it for a while,’ he said. ‘I’ve met someone else.’ He then drove away in his car, and I never saw him again. “I was devastated. ”

Ellen had another unfortunate experience with a premium 50+ dating service, which charged an upfront fee of $1,200 to look at photos and profiles of “pre-screened” single men. “Every time I asked about one of the matches, I was told ‘Oh, sorry, this one is not available.’After a few months, I canceled my membership and they wouldn’t refund my money. So, I took them to small claims court and won the case. You really have to watch out for scammers on these websites.” (Ellen’s story had a happy ending when she met a new soulmate at a community event in 2012. They have been together for almost 10 years.)

According to Wood, there are dating sites, such as OkCupid and others, that are free of charge, but he believes, as the old saying goes, “You get what you pay for,” even in the world of cyber romance. “It’s up to you to decide how much you’re willing to spend and if you think a premium plan is worth it,” said Wood, who remarried in May of this year. “However, as a general rule, opting for a paid plan will accelerate the process and allow you to meet more people, so you have a better chance of finding the perfect match for you.”

Susanne S., 57, of North Carolina, had been divorced twice and was single for seven years before deciding to try online dating. She started with the free site, OKCupid.

“I went out with one match I made pretty quickly there,” said Susanne. “Unfortunately, it took me about two weeks to realize this guy was a narcissist. From my experience, I didn’t feel the candidates on the free sites were very good quality. But with paid memberships, like Match.com, the sheer number of people on the platform gives you a better shot of finding the right person.”

While she had a number of “one-date” matches and some longer relationships that didn’t last, Susanne admits to meeting some dear friends through online meetups, including her current “friend with benefits,” Kenny, a widower whose wife had died of breast cancer.

“I told Kenny on our very first date that I had just been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, and that if he wanted to bail out, I would totally understand it,” said Susanne. “I really thought he would run for the hills, but he didn’t budge, and we are traveling, hiking, and living each day to the hilt. I am 61 years old, I have metastatic breast cancer, and I am living my best life ever.”

Susanne urges people who are just entering the arena of online dating to take certain safe- guards, as she did. “I never gave my address or last name,” she said. “I called myself Susan instead of Susanne, and I got a Google voice number because I didn’t want to give out my cell phone. But I never felt threatened in any way, and I had a lot of fun online searching for Mr. Right.”

Even though they didn’t meet online, Wood and his new wife Ellen Hildebrand, 56, have many common interests, including fitness, biking, hiking, cooking, and writing. They each have three grown children of the same ages and, both are optimists. In fact, Ellen has written her own bestselling book – Single Again – about starting life over after a divorce.

While many senior singles turn to dating apps like Match.com and eHarmony to find new partners, some use their Facebook pages and other forms of social media to reignite old flames.

U.S. Army Vet Chuck Engler, 64, had been divorced for 10 years and was living in Phoenix, Arizona in 2014 when a “friend request” popped up on his Facebook page. He was amazed to see that it was from his high school sweetheart and former fiancée, Roberta Minichiello of Marshfield, whom he hadn’t seen in almost 40 years. He accepted her friendship request and they followed up with texts, phone calls and a plan for him to fly to Boston.

“I was so nervous about meeting Chuck at the Logan Express when he arrived,” said Roberta, a retired dance school owner, who had been divorced for 14 years. “I didn’t even know what he would look like now. I saw him from behind. He was bald, which was a bit of shock, but I recognized his body and his stance. I never expected to react this way, but I jumped into his arms, wrapped my legs around his waist, and gave him a huge kiss. It was like those four decades apart had never happened, and we were head-over-heels again. We got married in 2016, and all because I couldn’t sleep one night and found the love of my life on Facebook.

About the Author: Marie Fricker is the editor of the South Shore Senior News, a member of the Scituate Council on Aging, and a Realtor special- izing in serving the real estate needs of seniors. She can be reached at 781-258-0657. ∞