Diving Into the Online Dating Pool
Ready to meet someone new? Here are some tips from the experts.
Editor's Note: In April, we asked Next Avenue readers to submit their questions about dating and relationships after 50. We received many thoughtful inquiries that touched on a wide range of topics. This story is another in our six-part series called "Dating After 50" and we will be featuring more pieces on subjects relative to dating and relationships throughout the summer.
After six months of coffee dates with women he met through an online dating site, Dave Prochniak was ready to give up.
"I met too many angry goofballs. I thought, the hell with it, I'll just be single and work on my garden," said Prochniak, 55.
But then he spotted a profile that intrigued him. "I found her mysterious," he said.
Barbara Allen had been on the site for two years, an experience that had prompted her to pare down her profile. "I'd been a stay-at-home mom and I saw how that freaked guys out so I disappeared for a while, then turned my profile back on to try again," said Allen, 55.
The two, who live in a suburb outside St. Paul, Minn., texted, then talked, and then Prochniak invited Allen to meet him at a coffee shop where he was hanging canvases for a show of his paintings.
The chemistry between the pair, both of whom had been divorced, was immediate. "I walked her to her mom-minivan and gave her a hug," Prochniak recalled.
Within two weeks, he said, they were in love.
"At this age, life is complicated. Everyone has some baggage. But dating is simpler."
Stories like that are not unusual, but for every midlife encounter that hits, there are a near-infinite number of disappointing, unfulfilling or just plain weird dates that miss.
There are, however, strategies from those who study online dating that can help even the odds of finding a match, whether for a night on the town or a lifelong relationship.
Try Before You Buy
The online dating industry recognizes that people of all ages want to pair up, whether they're longtime singles with experience connecting over the internet or the divorced or widowed who are returning to dating.
There's a proliferation of sites and apps specifically targeting over-50 daters, both same-sex and straight; that's in addition to all-ages sites that boast significant numbers of older members.
"It's a societal misnomer that people stop wanting to find love and give up having sex at a certain age," said Amie Clark, founder of The Senior List, a consumer site that regularly publishes stories about online dating for its midlife readers.
A recent post ranked the best apps and sites for older daters. Clark said most of the top finishers allow prospects to test them out.
"Our advice is: try before you buy. Sign up for a free limited trial and browse before making a financial commitment," Clark said. "Our research found many dating sites are owned by the same companies. They seem to work about the same, but cater to niches."
Clark said there's no secret to success, but advises daters to "take the time and energy to put out there what you want back."
‘Treat This Like a Business’
The U.S. Census Bureau calculates almost half of American adults are unmarried, and dating sites and apps foster interactions for those singles.
Online options are preferred by busy older people who don't have the time, patience or interest in meeting a companionable prospect in the hunting grounds of their youth. Dating in the workplace is fraught with peril as people move along in their careers and the bar scene has lost its appeal.
"My favorite people to work with are 50 and over," said Denys Crea, 62, vice president of the Pairings Group, a relationship and matchmaking agency. Crea specializes in dating re-entry and coaching online daters, male and female. "By the time I meet them, they're exhausted and frustrated (from online dating). I tell them, if you know how to cast a wide net, you will have fun and get results."
Crea, who charges $1,295 for her services, advises clients on their photos and assists them in crafting a profile that makes the right first impression. She helps them select a site that suits their personality, guides them in evaluating dating candidates and then offers post-date analysis.
"You have to treat this like a business," Crea insists. "Commit the time, set goals. Don't mess around. Think about the qualities you're looking for and really read the profiles to see if they have them."
Crea says the one consistent deal-breaker for everyone looking for love (or some facsimile of it) should be dishonesty from a potential match. She tells her clients to lead with their own authenticity.
"At this age, life is complicated. Everyone has some baggage. But dating is simpler. They're not looking for someone to have kids with; they're often not looking for marriage. They're looking for a romantic partner," Crea said. "They're adults and they can look over someone's accomplishments and choices and see what they've done with their lives."
Done Being Single
Navigating midlife dating, relationships and romance is the subject of the Done Being Single podcast and internet radio show. Hosts and spouses Treva and Robby Scharf, who were in their fifties when they married (the first time for each), bring decades of experience in the search for love to their listeners. Both have used apps and sites and see online dating as a crucial but imperfect resource for midlife singles.
"People would not be dating without [online dating]; it's not easy to meet eligible people. But it has its drawbacks," said Treva. "There's so much selection that it can paralyze you or leave you dissatisfied, feeling like no matter who you choose, there might be someone better out there that you're missing."
The Scharfs advise daters to switch up their game to make successful cyber connections.
"They have to learn how to flirt in a two-dimensional medium, using the way they write instead of eye contact," Robby said. "Coming out of a long-term marriage, they might feel they've lost their touch. It's ego-flattering when they see who contacted or swiped them. But they have to resist getting lazy and spending their time with superficial back-and-forth messaging instead of getting out there."
That's why the couple urges daters who click in an online connection to waste no time setting up a face-to-face meeting. "Get out there. Meet quickly and find out if there's real life chemistry," Robby added. "Don't confuse online interactions with dating."
While Treva bemoans the fact that online dating can be "cruel, soulless and depressing," she also finds it magical.
"It's one part effort and one part faith. You must put in the effort; go onto different sites, get nice pictures, work on your profile," she said. "Then let it go and let faith take over; believe that the universe will do its part in bringing you to who you are supposed to meet."
A Meeting, A Marriage
Last spring, Barbara Allen and Dave Prochniak bought a marriage license. They are talking about staging a "pop-up wedding" this summer, gathering her three daughters, his son and their close friends to witness a low-key ceremony where they will speak their vows.
"We're a good fit; we get along and communicate so well," said Allen. "We have a lot to look forward to."
"We feel really lucky," added Prochniak. "Lucky and thankful."
Five Things to Know About Online Dating
1. Three-quarters of online daters never update their original profile. But if you switch up the text and add new pictures, site algorithms will likely reward you by sharing your profile to new and different eyes.
2. Sunday is the busiest day for online dating. Make time after brunch to get on your app and browse. This is also an excellent time to post your freshened profile.
3. Safety first. Arrange a public get-together, tell a friend the details of whom you're meeting and don't overshare on first or even second dates. When you use your real name, a quick Google search can reveal your address, property you own, professional information and more.
4. There's someone for everyone. In addition to mainstream sites, there are dating platforms for people of different religious and professional backgrounds and also some oddly specific narrow niches, including sites for the gluten intolerant, cannabis fans, and people with STDs.
5. Practice saying this: "I don't think you're a match for me." Only you know what you're looking for. When you don't feel a connection, be frank and don't waste your time — or theirs.