Think you are too old, too skeptical, too busy or even too broke for online dating? Think again. More than 40 million Americans -- that's 40 percent of the adult single population -- use online dating services. And two Bowling Green State University professors of gerontology, Dr. Wendy K. Watson and Dr. Charlie Stelle, found that people older than 60 represent the fasting-growing demographic of online daters.
Though it can be difficult to muster the courage to put yourself back out there -- especially after the dissolution of an extended marriage or decades of caring for children -- these numbers prove you're not alone.
"Online dating has become much more culturally accepted in recent years. Americans are now much more likely to count an online dater among their friends and family, and a majority view online dating as a good way to meet potential partners -- one that in some ways is superior to traditional ways of meeting people," says Aaron Smith, the main author of a recent Pew Research Center report.
According to the same report, 66 percent of people using online dating sites have gone on a date with someone they met through the services. And 23 percent of online daters have married or started a long-term relationship from the services.
However, before you jump into the dating pool, "take the time to get over your divorce baggage, figure out who you are again," says divorce coach Debbie Burgin. "In a way, you have to rewind the clock to looking at who you were before you were married. Only then are you somewhat ready to play nice with others."
Once you have done some soul-searching and have a deeper understanding of what you want from the dating scene, you can begin your search. Move at your own pace, and keep some basic safety tips in mind, as well. For instance, never reveal personal data -- such as your full name, address and financial information -- especially with someone you have not met in person. And never send money to or accept it from people whom you've met online. Dating websites have learned to watch for scammers just as much as they have learned to diversify for the growing population of Web daters.
The most successful dating sites for long-term commitments are Match.com and eHarmony. Match.com boasts the greatest volume of seniors, 2.5 million, so the odds are in your favor. The website is also very user-friendly and offers guidance if you need a little extra help. It costs $19.99 a month for six months, but that membership includes access to Matchtalk, a tool for screening your matches with keywords, and Stir events, group gatherings for locals to mingle with other singles.
EHarmony, according to research, accounts for one-quarter of online marriages. The website offers matches based on its patented 29 dimensions of compatibility, discovered by answering 258 multiple-choice questions. The questionnaire may seem intimidating; however, you don't have to sift through matches once the questions are answered. EHarmony controls your dating choices and only shows you members deemed compatible. This relinquishing of control can either ease your mind or drive you crazy, and it will cost you about $23.95 a month for the first six months.
OurTime.com is one of the most popular dating sites catering exclusively to people 50 or older. According to the website, OurTime.com gears its questionnaire to "honor the freedom, wisdom and appreciation for life that only comes with time." Something seems to be working for the easy-to-use site, as 1.4 million mature adults are visiting each month. It costs $12.99 a month for six months.
Pairing with AARP to target the 50-plus crowd, HowAboutWe lets you propose dating ideas and peruse dates that others have set up. Options range from meeting for coffee to seeing an exhibit at a local museum to going bike riding on the pier. By emphasizing making plans, this site forces you to step out from behind the keyboard. AARP members get a free seven-day trial and 50 percent off the regular membership fee of $12 a month for six months.
For those who are not looking to spend money on a dating site, there are still options. PlentyOfFish is a free website with almost 50,000 people online every day. A chemistry predictor measures self-confidence, family orientation, self-control, openness and easygoingness. You have the choice of explaining that you're looking for casual dating, an activities partner, a friend, something long-term or even a spouse. The Web chat and communities functions keep the site engaging. You also have the option to upgrade your membership for a fee.
OkCupid uses math to calculate a love match. By having you answer a series of questions, OkCupid looks at your responses, how you'd like someone else to answer and how important that question is to you. For seniors who might be more set in their ways -- e.g., they need a mate who loves dogs and can't stand clutter -- having this match percentage can help narrow things down. Though it does cater to a younger, more Web-savvy demographic, there are plenty of older and wiser visitors among the 3.5 million active users of the free site.
Niche dating markets are also available. ChristianMingle.com offers a place for Christians to share their faith. JDate.com is the leading online Jewish dating community. RepublicanPeopleMeet.com and DemocraticPeopleMeet.com are places for like-minded politicos. And VeggieDate is for vegetarians to fall in love over fava beans.