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Rules for online dating in your 50s

Rules for online dating in your 50s

By Cherie Burbach

If you’re single and over 50, where do you meet that special someone? Online dating may seem like an obvious route for younger generations, but a single guy friend of mine who’s in his 50s recently voiced his objection to this popular, powerful dating tool. “I always thought I’d meet someone naturally,” he said.

Granted, this man’s views aren’t due to his age, but more his comfort level with online dating. But I ask anyone who agrees with his views to consider this question: If you want to buy a new car, you’d naturally go out and find one — you wouldn’t wait until the right car happened to drive right past you. Well, the same is true for finding love! Whether you’ve always been curious about online dating or you’ve done it before and were overwhelmed, here are some tips and techniques to help you master this new dating domain. Incidentally, even my 60-year-old mom, Karen, was skeptical of online dating... until I found my husband that way. Now she’s online and loving it — and you can be, too.

Get some help with the technology
These days, most 50-somethings surf the Web and zip off emails just as easily as their younger counterparts, so the transition to the world of online dating is easy. Sure, you may hit a snag or two, such as not owning a digital camera, having trouble uploading your photo into your profile, or just feeling weird about “selling” yourself in 200 words or less. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to go for help. Many large online sites offer technical support via email or an FAQ section. Or, if you have computer-savvy kids or friends, don’t be afraid to take advantage of their expertise. I, for one, helped my mother scan her photos so she could post them online; and Jeff, a 57-year-old from Milwaukee, leaned on his son with great results. “I had no idea how to use a digital camera, so I asked my son to take some pictures of me for my profile,” he says. “He also helped me pick the best shots. Your kids always give you honest opinions (even when you don’t want to hear them!), so I was glad he gave his two cents. I have a better profile because of it.”
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Try broadening your idea of a great date
The beauty of online dating is that it lets you search for any type of person you wish — it’s the perfect opportunity to find that person who’s a vegetarian or enjoys traveling as much as you do. But don’t get too caught up in your ideal, since you may be shutting out a slew of great potential mates. Case in point: My mother Karen first began searching for men her age or a little older. “Quite frankly, I just didn’t get that many responses,” she told me. “Then I took the age in my search down by a few years and got more matches — and one is the guy I’m dating now!”

Avoid getting overwhelmed
At first, the sheer number of profiles and suitors emailing can be mind-boggling. And while it might seem impolite to just ignore anyone who emails “hello,” it’s commonplace to do so in today’s online world — and a must if you ever want to tear yourself away from your computer. Jeff learned this the hard way. “I answered everyone when I began,” he admits. “I didn’t want to seem rude by not responding, and it was kinda neat at first. Then it just became exhausting.” To avoid getting totally bogged down, pick just three or so people you’re interested in knowing better and communicate with them. To avoid confusing one with the other (an embarrassing but common faux pas), create a file on each, including a printout of each person’s profile, email messages, and any other notes you want to jot down.

Don’t assume it’s serious too soon
You’ve done it: You’ve shared some pretty personal thoughts via email, gotten into some long, laugh-out-loud conversations on the phone and miraculously found this person just as charming during your first face-to-face date. At this point, many singles over 50 might assume they’re in deliciously deep. While I’m not saying that doesn’t happen, many singles — including 68-year-old Charlene from Las Vegas — have learned that in the world of online dating, it’s often too soon to tell. “I hit it off with one guy through email and we talked that way for quite a while before we met eventually for coffee,” she recalls. Having not dated since her teens, she assumed they were going steady — that is, until he informed her that he was meeting other women as well. “He wasn’t being dishonest; it’s just that I hadn’t dated since my teens, and it took me a while to realize that one date didn’t mean we were ‘going steady’ as it did before,” Charlene says. “Now, I’m more aware of that and don’t take it for granted.”

Take the reins and initiate contact
Here’s some advice that’s especially important for women to take to heart: While you may be used to hanging back and letting men initiate contact, the sheer number of singles online means, competition-wise, that you must — and I mean must — step up to the plate. For a long time my mother Karen balked. “This was a new concept for me because the last time I was single, it was more acceptable to wait for a man to ask me out,” she says. “The first email I sent was really hard to write because I just didn’t know what to say.” If you’re unsure how to phrase your greeting, start with something simple, like: “Your profile sounds very interesting, especially the part about [something that caught your eye]. I think we’d have a lot in common and look forward to hearing back from you if you’re interested.” To stave off feelings of rejection if this person doesn’t write back, try emailing a few people at once. Statistically, one in every three people will write you back, so by putting three to five emails out there, you’ll keep your odds up.

If you’re a guy, you may not be used to women approaching you. As Jeff told me, “At first when I got an email from a lady, I was surprised. Then pleasantly surprised. Then downright ecstatic! No one had ever asked me out before. It was a real ego boost! If this is the way dating is done now, I’m all for it.”

Cherie Burbach is a freelance writer, a poet and the author of At the Coffee Shop: If You Thought E-dating Was for Freaks and Weirdos, Read This Book! and Internet Dating is not Like Ordering a Pizza.