Fast-growing trend: Seniors seeking companions online

Calvin and Karen Hubbard were in their 60s when they met in 2012 on ChristianMingle.com. Two months later, they married.
Calvin and Karen Hubbard were in their 60s when they met in 2012 on ChristianMingle.com. Two months later, they married.
Posted: January 23, 2014

When Karen Balentine suddenly lost her husband to a heart attack in 2010 after 47 years of marriage, she was devastated. About a year later, though, she decided it was time to move on - and went online to do it.

About the same time, Calvin Hubbard, 64, was grieving the loss of his wife, who died in November 2011. He had met her on the Internet, "and for 13 years it was a terrific marriage," he said. So, feeling lonely and hoping to make new connections, he turned to the Web again, though he wasn't looking to get married just yet.

Balentine, now 71, and Hubbard were matched in 2012 on ChristianMingle.com, both agreeing they would be friends at first and go on "doctor dates" - he would drive her to medical appointments.

But when an illness landed her in the emergency room a month later, "he held my hand for three hours, and that's when I started to see him in a completely different light. The next day, he kissed me, and let me tell you, I might be an old lady, but it was like an electric shock went through my whole body!"

The couple were married two months later.

It's an Internet dating story you've heard countless times among young marrieds - her Match.com account was just about to expire when she spotted his profile. Yet, senior couples like the Hubbards are part of a fast-growing trend of mature adults - defined as people older than 55 - searching for companionship online.

According to AARP's "love and relationship ambassador," Pepper Schwartz, about half of this population has tried online dating, up from about 10 percent 10 years ago.

With names like ourtime.com, seniorfriendfinder.com, youngatheart.com, and silversingles.com, many companies are targeting mature adults. Other sites are reaping the benefits as well.

Between 2010 and 2013, ChristianMingle saw a 500 percent increase in registrations from 55-plus singles, while JDate.com saw a nearly 70 percent rise in mature adults registering during the same period, according to Arielle Schechtman, a spokeswoman for Spark Network, which operates 20 dating sites including ChristianMingle and JDate.

Schwartz attributes the growth to this generation's perception about online dating (they have witnessed their kids' experiences with the process) and their continued desire to meet people.

"Baby boomers grew up on a heavy dose of love, sex, and romance," she said. "It's in their DNA, and it's not something they are willing to give up, particularly if they lose their beloved partner. Another generation might have said, 'That part of my life is gone.' "

There's also a bigger pool of mates from which to choose. As more people older than 50 divorce - one in four today, compared with one in 10 in 1990 - it's likely you can still find what you're looking for a second time around. The increase, dubbed "the gray divorce revolution," combined with people living longer and leading more active lifestyles, extends the dating scene as well.

"Sooner or later, most people have exhausted the groups that they feel comfortable in," Schwartz said, citing the religious groups and community center standbys. "So people who never thought they would go online, ultimately find themselves doing so."

Of course, not every older person who tries online dating is a fan.

"Most of it has not panned out," said Paula Phillips, 62. "You get a contact from a fellow who seems interested, and then you don't hear from him."

Separated for about a year, Phillips would like to get married again, but her requirements are different this time around. "I'm not looking for Mr. Handsome," said the Northeast Philadelphia resident. "I know that some of these guys may be a little overweight. I want someone I can get along with, talk to, and do things with. It's more important to be able to enjoy someone's company. I do still want a physical relationship, but friendship is important, too."

For the connections that do turn into dates, Phillips is always careful to maintain her privacy, a top concern of mature online daters.

"They don't have my phone number or know where I live," she said. "I meet them at a public place and wouldn't get in a car with anyone."

Another concern is actually using the technology. Because that can be a hurdle for older seniors in their 70s and 80s, sites are being proactive about offering training modules and help desks, said Terri Orbuch, relationship expert for ourtime.com.

In December, AARP teamed up with Howaboutwe.com with the goal of making the online-dating process more user-friendly.

"The site was designed to get people offline to discover chemistry face-to-face on fun, engaging dates, rather than filling out exhaustive questionnaires or messaging endlessly online," said Ariana Anthony, the site's media strategist. Members start with the words "How about we . . ." and then describe their ideal date (i.e. "How about we . . . swap travel stories over drinks, then go for a leisurely stroll"). Since the joint venture was launched, 55-plus subscribers have more than doubled, she said.

Attitudes about meeting people online are evolving as well, according to a recent Pew Research Center study. A May 2013 survey, which followed up on questions asked in September 2005, showed that people older than 65 were now twice as likely to think online dating was a good way to meet people. They also were much less likely to assign a stigma to online daters: A quarter of seniors who use the Internet agree that "people who use online-dating sites are desperate," down from 36 percent who agreed with that statement in 2005.

It's anything but, said Schwartz.

"The human animal at every age wants love and companionship, and anything that helps them do that is a great thing."

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|