They say love makes the world go ’round but, the older we get, the harder it can be to find someone to connect with.
It’s not that singles don’t want to meet. Far from it. But between family obligations, work duties, and social commitments, who has the time for awkward singles bars or superficial speed dating events?
That’s why many adults are choosing to log on to online dating sites and mobile apps. In fact, according to recent data released by the Pew Research Center, the number of 55- to 64-year-olds scrolling and swiping for dates doubled in 2015 compared to 2013. Even though the number of online singles is growing, there are still unexpected problems to face, especially for those who’ve taken a break from wading in the dating pool.
Before You Can Pick a Date, You Have to Pick a Dating Site
Most people are familiar with the major dating sites like Match and eHarmony, but you can also find sites that cater to any number of personal preferences. Ethnicity, religion, and subculture (e.g., sites for vegetarians, cyclists, even cinephiles) are just a few.
With so many options, how do you choose? And how will you know if the site is reputable?
Justin Lavelle, chief communications officer at the online background check provider PeopleLooker, suggests sticking to the paid sites. “People who pay for a membership are more likely to be invested in meeting someone in real life,” he says.
If you choose a niche site, “it’s important not to have a false sense of security just because the site aligns with your values or current status in life,” he adds. “Most online dating sites do not verify their member’s identities, so all necessary precautions should be taken, no matter which dating platforms you utilize.”
Still, paying to play isn’t the only way to ensure a site is reputable. Carol, a 55-year-old two-time divorcee who shared her story pseudonymously, likes the free versions of the apps Tinder and Bumble. “Tinder started out as an app for kids … . Now it’s enormously popular for people over 50,” she says. “… It’s surprising how many are genuinely looking for a long-term relationship.”
There’s also a greater level of transparency that comes with using Tinder, which may be why it’s garnered such a following.
“Tinder pulls your personal information from Facebook,” Carol explains, adding that it could be unnerving to see you have friends in common–and that potential dates can ask around for details about you. At the same time, that level of transparency increases the odds that you’re chatting with an actual potential love interest, and not an online scam artist.
Speaking of which…
Not Everyone Online Is Who They Say They Are
Although many people touch up their photos (or post a photo of their younger self), that’s far from the biggest form of fraud you can encounter online.
“Unfortunately, people with ill intentions sign up for online dating sites and one of the more common scams is to swindle money from the unsuspecting victim,” Lavelle says. If a new online flame needs money to help a sick relative or asks for a small loan, beware.
Also, “be careful if your love interest always has an excuse not to meet in person, like being out of the country, work, sick relatives, and so forth,” Lavelle adds. Scammers have no interest in meeting up face-to-face. Take a series of excuses as a major red flag.
And be sure to watch out for identity thieves. “They look to take advantage of someone in a vulnerable state, as is someone looking for love,” warns Amber Turner, Colorado Springs-based matchmaker and founder of Deluxe Matchmaking. “Keep things as superficial as possible when corresponding online. Don’t give your social security number, your address, or any other personal information,” she suggests.
What if you are victimized by an identity thief? “Go to the police, immediately,” she warns.
In addition to protecting your identity, you also need to ensure your physical safety. While vetting a potential date, Carol discovered he’d been arrested, although not convicted, for assaulting his ex-wife. “I confronted him and he said it was a trumped up charge,” she says. “I’ll never know the truth, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt and went out with him, in public, as you should always do.” The pair didn’t form a love connection, but they did forge a friendship.
Before going out with anyone you’ve met online, Turner suggests conducting a thorough background check. Furthermore, you also want to “verify divorce and look at their social media accounts.” No one wants to find out their divorcee date is actually still wed, but it’s better to find out before becoming emotionally attached or meeting in person.
She also echoes Carol’s advice. “Never go to someone’s house. Always meet in a public place,” Turner cautions. “Don’t give them your address, and don’t let them send a driver to pick you up.”
Looking for Love as an Older Adult Feels … Different
Safety is paramount but it’s far from the only gap to bridge when screening dates online. For many older daters, life itself is more complicated than it was the last time you put yourself out there. “It’s likely you and your potential partner have kids, homes, assets, debt, problems with aging parents,” Carol says. “It’s not as simple as when you were in your 20s and moving in together wasn’t a big deal.”
Then there’s the question of what you want out of a relationship, which for many people, is vastly different at age 50 or 60 than it was decades before.
Carol’s relationship with her current partner—who she met on Tinder, by the way—is “harder to define,” she says. “It’s not the ‘I love you and want to be with you forever and marry you and have your children’ variety of love. We don’t really have a need to know where it’s going. It’s not like we’re in our 30s and the biological and career clocks are ticking,” she added.
For some late-life dating rebounders, this mindset shift can be a hard adjustment.
Some people might have the expectation that every date should lead to a relationship or long-term commitment, Lavelle says. But when it doesn’t work out that way, the disconnect between fantasy and reality can lead to a great deal of frustration. Instead, “go on dates with an open mind and have fun with it. Even if some of the dates don’t lead to anything serious, they could potentially lead to new friendships and companionship.”
Perusing Profiles Can Take (Much) Longer Than Expected
It can be tedious to plow through profiles, searching for someone to form a real connection with.
Assessing profiles from home is convenient, but online dating still requires a serious time commitment. “Reading profiles, answering questions, and texting endlessly: if you spend your day on a computer, it’s exhausting to spend all evening staring at blurry profile pictures on the screen,” Carol says.
Scroll and swipe apps, such as Bumble and Tinder, can be more efficient. “I stood in line at the grocery store, swiping left and right, and followed up later if I matched with someone,” she recalls.
Even so, you can still wind up investing a lot of time, some of it fruitless. Lengthy text transactions can turn into radio silence when it’s time to actually meet. Face-to-face dates may not have the same chemistry as they did online. “That wasted time can be more frustrated than being betrayed,” Turner explains. “You have to do it all over again. It can be so cyclical.”
Some sites are just plain unwieldy to navigate. eHarmony, the site where Carol met her second husband, requires a lengthy profile form and an in-depth match process. “Ultimately, I don’t think there’s any science behind it, as they claim,” she says.
Then there are the sites where newcomers are bombarded with a barrage of new messages. “I signed up for OK Cupid and immediately got 50 emails that say, ‘Hey beautiful!’” Carol says. “I didn’t have the patience to weed through the responses, trying to find someone of substance. So, I disconnected it.”
The lesson? It can take a while to find a site that’s the right fit, and it can take even longer to find a person you actually want to meet. Still, that shouldn’t keep you from diving in. Almost three in every five people view online dating as a good way to meet people, according to Pew.
That means that, whether or not you find love, you may very well meet someone you connect with on a profound level. Just be sure to manage your expectations and keep yourself safe in the process.