With the obsession that today’s media has with youth and appearance, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s only the young who are looking for companionship and that dating is a young person’s game.
Go on, be honest. Which of the following images do you think the media is more likely to use to accompany an article on online dating?
Well, it’s time things changed. We are all living decades longer than we once did, and are staying fitter, healthier (and in some cases, friskier) further into our wisdom years than ever before. At the same time, more older adults over 55 find themselves single and looking, either through divorce or the tragic loss of a husband or wife they loved for many years.
This means that there are more seniors and baby boomers than ever before looking for some companionship to fill the void of their prior partner.
Because no matter how old you get, one thing about human nature never changes: nobody likes feeling lonely.
Older adults, however, look for companionship in a way that’s very different from their younger counterparts. Once you’re into the wisdom years, your needs, desires and expectations are very different from what they were in your 20s.
Let’s take a look at nine things you (probably) didn’t know about dating for older adults:
1. Age doesn’t matter so much
It seems counter-intuitive to say that people characterized by one attribute — how old they are — don’t care as much about age when looking for a companion, but it’s true. Young people are incredibly age-prejudiced, to such an extent that age is one of the most important filter criteria used to find a match on online dating sites.
Just check out the image above from Match.com. Age is the second-most important attribute used to help users determine if they’re interested in a potential match, after the photo. This scenario is not just on Match.com, but on E-harmony, Ourtime, Plenty of Fish, OK Cupid, and the rest of the dating websites.
The filtering mechanisms on these dating sites similarly emphasize the importance age takes in the minds of young match-seekers, with all users asked to specify the age range they are seeking, and many choosing ridiculously narrow ranges (e.g. “man aged 32 seeking woman aged 26-29“!)
Far more important is what shape you are in, how healthy you are, and what activities you can do.
Adults over 55 are far more flexible in their approach to companionship. Part of this is probably the wisdom that comes with age, but even more significant is an essential truth about how age works. Once you get into your 50s and beyond, the actual number of your age becomes less and less significant. Far more important is what shape you are in, how healthy you are, what activities you can do.
70 year-old woman looking for a man? If you’re active and like going for long walks and playing golf, you’re going to be much more interested in the fit and energetic 82-year-old who can share your activities than the 65-year-old waiting on a hip replacement who can no longer walk long distances. On the other hand, the 75-year old woman who has had past back problems and likes to stay in with wine and movies might be a great match for that 65-year-old man.
Age is secondary. What you do with our age is what really matters.
2. Neither do looks
The other stunning aspect of dating for young people is how much looks matter. The hottest online dating app for young people today is Tinder, which proudly claims to be matching over 450 million love-seekers daily.
Take a quick look at the Tinder user interface above. What stands out as the most important aspect of a person when determining if you may be a potential match?
It’s the photo.
With Tinder (and pretty much every other online dating system on the market today) the photo is all-important. This reinforces a message that young people get hammered with on a daily basis: nothing matters more than how you look.
We’d be lying if we said that appearance wasn’t important at all to the over-55 demographic, but it turns out to be a much lower priority.
Maybe this is because older adults are wise enough to know that looks have very little to do with whether someone is going to be a kind, loving and caring companion. Maybe it’s because the physical nature of attractiveness changes when you get older, or maybe they know that being “hot and sexy” is more a function of your personality than how you look.
Whatever the reason, most older adults will tell you that how someone looks is doesn’t matter much in their search to find a companion.
3. It’s not drinks, it’s dinner
One thing we have been struck with has been the important role that dinner plays in the social (or not-so-social) lives of most older adults. Nobody likes the idea of spending years cooking for themselves and eating alone. And always being the lone single person when your married friends want to catch up for dinner starts to become a little tiresome. More than any other activity, dinner is where older adults feel the isolation of being alone most strongly.
This is why, for most older adults, a dinner date is the most important first step towards finding companionship.
This makes quite a comparison to how many young people organize their first dates, which usually involve meeting up in a bar. Several of today’s dating services are built specifically around this concept: Grouper, for example, hooks up groups of young people in bars and offers them a free first drink as part of the package.
For older adults, it’s not drinks, it’s dinner.
4. Not everybody is looking for love & marriage
The fundamental premise behind most dating services for young people is that the ultimate goal is to find love and marriage. While this is true for some older adults, it is far from universal.
Many seniors really are looking for companionship and nothing more. Some are seeking someone to have dinner with, some are looking for someone to travel with them, others are looking for someone to share their favorite activities.
It’s always fun to have attraction, romance, and flirting. For many people at this stage, that is enough. For others, it’s more. There is an entire spectrum of dating that goes far beyond the marriage-oriented online dating services available today.
Which goes a long way to explaining the next point …
5. It’s not just about one companion
Many older adults have multiple needs for companionship. Sure, some are focused only on finding that single life partner who will give them a loving relationship for the next few decades. But just as many are actually seeking multiple companions to fit in with their varied social needs.
A dinner-date companion. A travel companion. A hiking companion. A gardening buddy. A couples bridge partner.
This isn’t infidelity, it’s just common sense. A recognition that most older adults are prepared for the fact that no single person may be the solution to all their social needs, that they may be just as well served by multiple companions.
6. The real world counts
Far more than their younger counterparts, older adults feel much more comfortable evaluating a potential match in the real world instead of online. That’s right, instead of texting and messaging, they actually prefer to talk to someone on the phone to find out if they like them.
Can you believe that?
All the millennials out there are shaking their heads, wondering why on earth anyone would like to talk on the phone when they can instant message instead. And that sums up the generation gap in a nutshell … recent studies show that young adults are three times as likely to prefer to text than talk via the phone, the complete opposite of their older counterparts.
One of our favorite lines comes from a Huffington Post article on this very subject:
Kids, you’ve heard of phone calls, right? Did you know that there’s an app on your smartphone that lets you talk out loud to family and friends? Ask your grandparents about it.
It won’t surprise you, of course, to discover that most of today’s online dating services are designed around chatting with potential matches online before things get serious enough for a phone call.
Kids these days!
7. Trust is hyper-important
Yes, trust is important to everyone, no matter how old they are. But for a retiree on a fixed income, who has heard countless stories of peers being taken advantage of, both online and in the real world, trust takes on a special significance.
Is this person who they say they are?
Are they authentically interested in me, or are they after something more?
Or, as we have been often asked by older women considering prospective male companions: are they truly looking for companionship, or someone to nurse them through their later years?
8. Filters, not so much
One thing that many dating services have in common is using fancy algorithms to help you find a partner based on a dazzling array of filters you provide them. Younger people can be zealous about the rules they impose on potential partners.
Even eye color!
The profile selection page from Match.com paints a clear picture: young people dating have a well-defined set of filters, which they use to help them find that “perfect” match.
We’ve found older adults to be far more refreshingly open-minded.
Whether it was the Jewish 82-year-old, who admitted in her youth she would have only accepted “a handsome Jewish boy” but now “doesn’t mind about their background as long as they are kind” or the 59-year-old devout Catholic who had never considered dating Protestants when she was younger, we found an incredible willingness to judge potential partners on their personality and shared interests rather than any preconceived notions of who the “right” partner might be.
9. Online dating stinks
In case you hadn’t figured it out by now, all the differences we’ve described above lead most older adults to conclude that, well, online dating is not a positive experience at all. It’s built around the needs of younger generations, who care a lot about age, about appearances, about filtering out potential matches based on arbitrary criteria, who are happy to spend inordinate amounts of time online, browsing and scrutinizing potential matches.
The online dating sites which market themselves as being for 55 and older are simply re-branded versions of dating sites for younger adults. None of them recognize that there are fundamental differences in what matters to older adults and what they’re looking for.