You’ve probably seen the ads for online dating or heard a friend talk about how they found a partner through the internet. If that has sparked your curiosity or you’ve been thinking about trying it out yourself – know that you’re not alone. More and more people are finding their spouses and long-term partners through online dating websites – including older Americans. The dating site users between the ages of 55 and 64 doubled between 2013 and 2015, according to the Pew Research Center, making the age group the industry’s fastest-growing demographic. However, whether you’re single, divorced or widowed, it can be intimidating to dip your toe back in the dating pool – especially when that pool exists online and has different rules and expectations. Here are the basics for online dating so that taking step toward finding love will be hopefully a little less daunting.

How they work

To start, you should know that the online dating scene has evolved in the years since it first entered the market – and this is largely due to its popularity. There are now sites for seniors, sites that designate religious affiliation, sites for people only looking for friendship, etc. While many sites allow you to specify what you’re looking for in terms of age-range, it can be helpful to decide what matters most to you in a partner. Sites such as eHarmony and are for all ages but are both popular with seniors. Some other popular sites whose members are all over a certain age include Silver Singles, OurTime, and Senior Match.

Essentially, online dating websites work by allowing users to become members by creating an online profile that includes personal information such as age, gender, sexual orientation, and location. Many websites allow users to upload photos and even videos of themselves. For safety’s sake, when you’re putting in your information, don’t include your address, phone number, employer, or social security number.

Once you’ve created a profile, the dating site will then match you with other users based on similar attributes or interests. Some sites are more complex in this process, asking their users to complete an extensive questionnaire that has users to rank the importance of various qualities and attributes. For example, if it’s important to you that your partner has a college degree or that they have red hair, you can indicate that. You’re then shown other users who have a high match percentage based on your mutual similarities and indicated desires for a partner.

Tips for how to use dating sites

Be clear in your profile about what you like and what you’re looking for in a partner. For example, if you own an RV and plan to spend several months of the year traveling the country with your partner, it’d be best to put that information up front. That way, you’re not wasting your time or someone else’s by meeting homebodies who are afraid of leaving the state. If you love to dance, go to the theater, go birding, or you’re the biggest foodie you’ve ever met – highlight that information in your profile. There’s no point in trying to hide who you are or what you’re after in a companion. You’re saving yourself and others a lot of time by pointing these things out. If the dating site you’re using allows photos, choose one of yourself that is high quality (if it’s pixilated, it’s no good) and where you’re smiling. The best rule of thumb here is to choose a photo of yourself that you like. If you have a photo that shows a bit of your personality, perhaps one that shows you doing one of the activities you describe loving in your profile, that’s also a great option.

First date ideas

After you’ve matched with someone, you can then begin a conversation to get to know each other. Keep in mind these are low-stakes conversations, so you can set the tone and pace based on your comfort level. Typically, these interactions start out as typed messages then move to phone conversations or in-person dates. First dates don’t have to be the starlit dinner-and-a-movie that Hollywood has led us to believe is necessary to fall in love. That’s especially now during a pandemic. In fact, even pre-pandemic many users preferred to meet up during the day in a public space. This can be a meet-up for coffee or a walk through a park. These activities have less pressure associated with them and there’s not much for either party to lose if you don’t hit it off. Even if you don’t meet someone special right away, having a few first dates under your belt will help you get familiar with the process and help you see that your initial hesitations are likely unfounded. And in the end, won’t it be worth it to find someone who makes you smile?

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