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Friends with Benefits, Ghosting and More: Today's Language of Online Dating

Here are some tips and takeaways from experts, and wisdom from people who have found new partners

By Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell

When Mary Potter Kenyon was widowed at age 52 in 2012, she didn't have any intention of dating. It wasn't until 2018 that she decided she might want to be a part of a couple again.

"I had this fantasy of being in a bookstore and reaching for the same book as this perfect man," says Kenyon. "But I knew that wasn't happening."

A couple posing for their wedding photo. Next Avenue, online dating
Nick Portzen and Mary Potter Kenyon met online and married in August 2021  |  Credit: Mary Potter Kenyon

Kenyon went onto a dating app for Christian singles. "I thought it would be safer," she says, recalling some of her possible "matches."

"There was this guy who had never been married, had no children and there was a photo of him holding an Elmo toy. There was another guy pictured in a leprechaun suit," Kenyon adds. "I lasted less than a week [on the app], there just seemed to be too many weirdos out there."

Kenyon isn't the only one in mid-life and older who has found the world of online dating strange and even intimidating.

Older Adults Less Likely to Use Dating Apps

"The biggest thing that's changed since many people over fifty have been looking is technology, and how that plays into dating these days. It's less likely you're going to meet organically as you might have met your last partner," says Blaine Anderson, a dating coach for men and owner of Dating by Blaine in Austin, Texas.

"Many people over fifty are looking for a non-committed companion or someone to travel with."

Online dating currently seems to be the norm for younger generations. A Pew Research Center study conducted in 2020 revealed about four in ten adults under 49 had used a dating app, and 17% of adults under 30 and 16% of those ages 30 to 49 entered into a committed relationship with a person they met on an app.

Although it's estimated 64% of people over 50 are single, only 16% of adults 50+ had used a dating app, and only 7% of adults 50-64 and 5% of those 65+ reported having been in a committed relationship with someone they met online.

A Guide to Today's Online Dating Language

Not only do people have to learn how to market themselves, says Anderson, they also must learn acronyms and slang associated with online dating.

Here are just a few of the current buzz words:

Catfishing: When someone isn't who they say they are; they may be using an old photo when in reality they are now 10 years older. Or the person they are pretending to be doesn't exist at all. Another more sinister term used for this is a "scammer." Scammers may try to get money or something else from you.

DTR: Define The Relationship

IRL: In Real Life (as in meeting in person)

Slide into DMs, or PM: Taking your conversation into direct or private messaging

Booty call, hook-up: Meeting up for a sexual encounter only

LTR: Long Term Relationship, as in seeking a committed, long-term partner

LDR: Long Distance Relationship is a committed relationship carried on long-distance

86 Out of Dating: The person is no longer available or ending their search for a partner

FWB: Friends with Benefits is a "no strings attached" friendship, plus an intimate relationship

Ghosting: When someone establishes communication but disappears without explanation

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Adding Context to the New Online Dating Language

Erika Kaplan, a senior matchmaker and vice president of Three Day Rule Matchmaking in Philadelphia, addresses the concept of ghosting: "Unfortunately, this is very relevant to online dating because people forget they're dealing with another human being. I don't recommend doing that (ghosting). I recommend treating the other person as you'd want to be treated."

Two older adults smiling and standing arm-in-arm. Next Avenue, online dating
Dawn Burnett and Paul Des-Jardins  |  Credit: Dawn Burnett

She adds that, in addition to learning to market yourself online and recognizing the new language of dating, people must also know what they are seeking and be honest.

"For example, a 'friends with benefits' relationship may not necessarily be a bad thing if you're just trying to get back into romance," says Kaplan. "It's just important both of you are on the same page. Many people over fifty are looking for a non-committed companion or someone to travel with."

Dawn Burnett, a divorce lifestyle consultant in Orlando, Fla., says it's important to make a list of the qualities you're seeking in a partner, but to keep an open mind.

"When I met my partner, I had an idea of what he should look like, but he surprised me," she says. "He was attractive but wasn't what I had in my mind."

Back in the Dating Game

Burnett says she was ready to "86 out of dating," as she had been at it for 12½ years and gone out with well over 100 men when her partner, Paul Des-Jardins, whom she'd been coaching on his dating prospects, asked her out.

"I was so focused on finding a 'soul mate' and it's more about finding the person you click with," she explains.

Burnett cautions people to never deviate from the list of their own deal breakers; these might include a potential partner being honest, a good listener or someone who validates your feelings. However, she says, you shouldn't have unrealistic expectations.

"We met for two hours and our next date lasted nine hours. It was like we had known each other forever."

"Everyone at this age typically has baggage, but it's the way they handle it and if they've got their life together," says Burnett.

As Burnett's own example illustrates, it's important to also develop patience in finding the right match.

Kaplan says be prepared to invest about 12 hours per week in looking at profiles and answering messages. "It's a lot of work, almost like a part-time job," she says.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Kenyon, who works from home as a creativity coach and grief counselor, decided it might be time to try dating again.

"I met my son's girlfriend, whom he met online, and thought I'd give [online dating] another try," she explains.

Kenyon went to a site specific to her religious denomination. She was about to give up again and 24 hours from quitting when she met Nick Portzen, 68, a widower of 3½ years.

"He was visiting family in Arizona and on his way home to Wisconsin, he wanted to come and meet me," says Kenyon. "We met for two hours and our next date lasted nine hours. It was like we had known each other forever."

They married in August 2021, two months after they connected, and settled in Dubuque, Iowa.

6 Final Dating Tips

Anderson says the three most important things to do when you are ready to start dating are to build a great profile, invest the time and commit yourself once you choose a dating site.

"Some of the men I work with say they feel they've already had their love and it won't happen again," says Anderson. "My advice is that it's not always easy, but there's always time to find another love."

The experts weighed in with these final suggestions:

  • Only work one app at a time. There’s no need to be signed up for many. Paid apps may give you more people committed to the process but aren't necessary to find someone.
  • Don’t text or PM for over a week. Take it to phone or video chat to make sure there’s some chemistry before meeting in person.
  • Investigate them online. Google their name, look at their social media, and if they’re widowed, even google their late spouse’s obituary to make sure they are who they say they are.
  • If you feel uncomfortable with the process, pay a monthly fee, and do full background checks. If your gut says something is wrong, trust that.  
  • Always meet the person in a high-traffic public place for the first few meetings. Never give them your address or agree to meet at their home.
  • Red flags include not being able to locate any information about the person online (most everyone has something about them on the web); a reluctance to take the conversation to phone or video chat; and asking for money.

Photograph of Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell
Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell is a full time freelance writer and author living in the Ozark Mountains. She is the founder and administrator for the public Facebook page, Years of Light: Living Large in Widowhood and a private Facebook group, Finding Myself After Losing My Spouse, dedicated to helping widows/widowers move forward. Read More
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