A Survival Guide to Online Dating in your 50’s.
Online dating is advertised as the way to meet “interesting people” and boy some of them are really interesting.
There are 54,000,00 single men and women in the US. Of those 250,000 have tried online dating. This is a $1,700,000,000 industry. People spend $250 a year trying to find that special someone. There are slightly more men online dating than woman (52.4% male/47.6% female). And how many find their soul mate? Only 20%. In Canada those numbers are about a third.
With society cocooning in their homes, the ability to meet new people becomes more and more limited and disconnected. Online dating isn’t the ideal but right now it is the only way to meet new people.
It is fraught with room for error. Men say they don’t understand women and women don’t understand men and when you add the typing and texting component, there is even more room for misunderstandings and missteps, well, it’s not surprising that it is only 20% find sucess. How can we make online dating easier and a more attractive option?
In an effort to get some answers, I interviewed three women and four men, ages 45 to 60, all active or recently active online daters.
At the end of the interviews, I have some online dating survival techniques and some alternate ways you might be able to meet new people in Surrey.
Shara: Thank you for being willing to talk to me about so sensitive a subject as your love life. What is the biggest challenge you find with online dating?
Annie thinks “The biggest challenge for online dating is that there are so many no’s for so little yes’s, so very quickly we get focused on the negative part of things and we get very discouraged easily.”
“I found the whole thing disappointing. The people that I was meeting weren’t anything like their profile.” Jo agreed.
For Rob, he found that there are two types of women and there are challenges to dealing with each type.
“One wants to chat for a while on line and then talk on the phone (up to a month sometimes) while others are very straight forward. You exchange a few messages and they want to meet. You have to be able to figure out which one is which and respond accordingly.”
Susan thinks maybe men and women want different things at this stage in the game.
“Men have told me that they want a committed relationship but I am just looking for some fun. How the roles have changed. I have been looking after people my whole life and at this stage of the game I am not interested in going back into the nurturing role. I want to learn to ride a motorcycle.”
Michael wants to find someone to marry but most of the women he talks to just want a travel companion or a fling. He finds it all very frustrating. I asked him why he wanted to get married.
“I want to be a part of a family again. I miss that. I think my kids miss that. What is wrong with being a wife?”
Half_Full_Cup thinks women want Fun, Security and Companionship/Intimacy.
“1. Fun. Many women in this bracket are emerging from long quasi-dysfunctional “holding pattern” relationships, often for the sake of raising children, or they are breaking free from the “golden cage” of marriages gone dead. 2. Security: as we age, we become insecure about growing old alone. Many of us have not dealt with our own issues about independence and solitude. 3. Companionship and Intimacy. This is simply the human side of being human: having someone to appreciate life’s adventures with, quality time and conversation, being heard and understood, enjoying physical and sexual intimacy.”
V had a different take on the challenges. He felt that the majority of online dating was too time consuming.
“There are too many fake profiles, too many people who misrepresent themselves or have no idea what they are looking for. And that is just waste of time, especially for professional people like myself who can’t afford to waste our time.”
My experience seems to indicate that women by and large, don’t know what they want and as such they don’t find it. It is hard to find what you want if you don’t know what you are looking for.
Annie says that women can get better at defining what they want from the experience and then write a profile that expresses that.
“I became discouraged and disappointed. I stopped and then went back and stopped again. I finally improved my profile, changed my strategy and read a lot of books to try and understand what I could improve and at some point I became good at it and started getting what I wanted.”
Jo: “I think I have been impatient. It is very discouraging to put time and effort into someone and then have them just disappear.”
Which led to my next question: Should people respond every time, even to express that they are not interested, when they receive a message on an online dating site?
Is it considered poor etiquette to not respond to messages that a guy obviously put some thought into, if I am not interested in meeting him? Or should I just ignore?
It’s fine. Really, it’s fine. Your time is not unlimited, and you have no obligation to respond to every single message you get, just like you don’t have to accept a drink from every guy who offers you one in a bar.
If the message is really great but you just don’t see it working, there’s no reason NOT to respond with a “hey thanks for this great message but I’m not interested” – I do this sometimes – but it’s 100% ok to not respond.
In real life, the results were mixed. Some thought you should respond while others thought it was a waste of time.
Rob says “Initially I think when I first started online dating, I tried to respond to every message but then I realized that most women don’t even read the messages. I would say 90% don’t respond if they are not interested so I don’t respond either.
Mike agrees. “If they respond, even negatively then I think I might still have a chance. If they don’t, then I know to let it go.
Jo says “ I tried to in the beginning but then I became overwhelmed. I didn’t have enough time to answer them all.”
Annie points out that men and women think differently. She embraced the male way of approaching this.
“At some point, I realized that for men no answer is an answer. So I decided to embrace that. No answer could be an answer for myself so if he disappeared then it was the same as if he sent me a message saying “I am no longer interested, I think we are not a match”. I didn’t take it personally because being a match for someone says nothing about my value.”
I thought it was nice to acknowledge their message even with just brief “no thank you” but Annie disagreed.
“I used to do things like that. I started as the nice person position and didn’t want to hurt people but I found that when I would answer even to say I am not interested then they will keep coming back for more conversation. I found it was almost received as a “maybe”. I found that no answer was a real “no”. It was really clear.”
“Certainly. Why? You may be surprised to find out that there are many individuals for whom the politeness and common sense are “foreign languages”!
So I asked, how many messages do you think a woman receives?
V thought men and women got the same number depending on the quality of their profile
Rob couldn’t even guess but he figured is she was pretty probably a lot. Mike said he though about 5 a day maybe. Half_Full_Cup thought maybe several per day.
Jo thought that men probably received even more than women. Susan agreed although she said that 3 or 4 messages a day was more her average.
Annie had a system.
“I had to find a system. For me, the system was no, no, no, no, delete, delete, delete and then just deal with the ones that had a chance. It is a bit like a job interview. They don’t contact all the applicants, only the ones that have a chance. So I really approach it in that way. It was the only way I could manage.”
The research shows the following:
A writer experimented with this by setting up 5 fake profiles of varying attractiveness for each gender and attempted to control for variables outside of attractiveness (profile content, questions, etc.).
The results after a week:
- The median messages for females was 18 messages (so ~3 per day)
- The median messages for males was a paltry 0 messages
If you are curious about the experiment you can read more here: http://jonmillward.com/blog/attraction-dating/cupid-on-trial-a-4-month-online-dating-experiment/
I wondered if men were getting mixed messages about how to proceed in this new online world. Just like in the real world of dating, they are often damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Is it possible that men feel like their hands are tied because they are not sure what the proper thing is to do.
Annie agreed, “I have found that to be a big challenge for the men I know. I found that men are really confused with the lead and how to take it. So some men will just completely give the lead to the woman by saying “where do you want to go” and then the woman answers “I let you pick” and then the man thinks “I have no direction, I don’t know anything about her” so they are both frustrated in that situation.
I have found what works really well is when the man is leading by listening.
“Take something from her profile and start from there. Oh! I see that you enjoy red wine. Are you a Pinot Noir type of lady?”
He is leading and he is going to win because he has taken enough information.
As for the women who have to deal with the “What would like to do/Where do you want to go” type of question, you can help a man taking the lead by not taking it yourself. Just answer, ‘A glass of wine would be great’ or ‘I love Italian food’, this is a general hint so he can then suggest a plan, ‘Would you join me for a glass of red at Romano’s?’ Some men will jump on the opportunity, and some others will not.”
I found that is the missing part for most men is that, the good guys want to please you but they don’t listen. They just want to please you and they want to do whatever you want to do or on the other side there are the jerks that say, “let’s do that” without even considering how we feel about it. So I found the guy who can find the in between place is the one who is going to win that game because they are so rare and women will respond to being listened to.”
One thing that was interesting about how men and women respond to online dating is the way that they internalize the events that happen. If a man stops responding to a women’s message, she assumes that it was something she said or did; whereas if a woman stops responding, a man will assume that the problem was with her.
Rob had this experience and thought that the woman wasn’t really who she was pretending to be. Mike said he figures he was “too much man for her”.
All the women thought that they had miss-stepped in some way. Except for Annie. She felt that she didn’t really want to date them again anyway so when they disappeared, it was kind of relief. She said that women need to ask themselves, did they really want to see that guy again. Most of the time the answer was no.
Do most people online lie?
Rob thought about 30% of women lie about their age, weight or some other part of their attractiveness. Mike said the numbers were more like 50%.
From a study done by Michigan State University, women removed 8.5 lbs from their weight while men removed 2 lbs but they lied more about their height. While people are honest about their age, their photographs were not as recent as they led one to believe. All told it is believe that 80% of people lie on their online dating profile although most of their lies could be called “little fibs”.
Rob said that one profile which made him laugh was titled “Made you look”. He said it was a very attractive picture of a woman but in looking at the other pictures it was obviously taken years before. It did “make him look”.
If online dating is so fraught with dishonestly and difficulty then what would be a better way to meet potential partners?
Everyone agreed that meeting during regular daily activities would be a much better way to meet people.
Half-Full_Cup says “Meeting during normal life-activities, such as clubs, coffee-shops, outings etc … is somewhat more “affirming” in terms of real contact, but online dating widens the playing field and opens up so many more possibilities. People need to embrace it as a learning experience, rather than an oppressive reflection on ego/self-worth.”
Annie thought meeting on a holiday was best because we are more open to possibilities when we are on holidays.
Jo agreed. “When I am working 9 to 5, I have no intention to meet anyone but when I am on holidays I open myself up to the possibilities.
I asked them if they would comfortable if a man walked up to them in their daily lives and introduced himself.
To my surprise, all the ladies said, “Yes.” In a bar, in a grocery store, at the mall. They all agreed that a man could come up to them and introduce himself. I wonder how that would play out in real life. Would they still be as happy if a stranger came up and started talking to them? I wonder.
V thought it really depended on the person.
“That depends on everyone’s personality: some people are more introverted than other. Some are more analytical (e.g. sometimes in such situation I am overanalytical. Smile because I always should remember, while we may not be able to control different situations in our lives, we can control the way we respond to them. Therefore, I can’t see myself approaching a group of lovely ladies sitting at a bar). But I wouldn’t consider this a wrong approach if is done in a polite manner.”
I think Half_Full_Cup might be right
“There should be courses taught in online dating. It’s not going away.”
Another observation I made about the differences between men and woman was how they responded to abuse online. The men were all genuinely surprised when I told them that one in five messages is abusive. When I told them the names I had been called or things that had been said to me, they were shocked. They had no idea that women had to put up with that.
Rob told me that he once told a woman he wasn’t interested and she sent him back a tirade about how all men only care about looks and how dating is a meat market. He said he actually didn’t want to date her because she said she was religious.
Women tend to think everything is about how they look but Rob says it is more about who they say they are. He felt that most men read the entire profile and made their decision based on that.
Mike says he doesn’t read the words, just looks at the pictures.
The disconnect seems to be that online we treat people differently then if we know them personally. People will leave people hanging for example.
Rob said that he has left people hanging. “I have been on some dates where I asked if they were interested in going out for dinner and even took their number but then never called them.”
When I asked him why he would do that he said that after he had thought about it, he realized he wasn’t interested after all. He admitted that that probably wasn’t a very good trait.
He then asked me if I would be interested in going out for dinner sometime….hmmmm.
V was a bit more old fashioned.
” Being a genuine gentleman and a fashioned man (even though very open minded) the men should speak out their mind and always be fair. Therefore, never disappear without saying goodbye.”
I asked them how long it takes for a woman (or a man) to know that they are attracted to a person.
Annie and Jo both thought that a couple of dates were necessary to know if they were interested or not. Susan said she could tell instantly if it was a no but the “maybe’s took a bit more time.”
Rob thought that most men knew right away if they were interested. Mike said he knows as soon as they open their mouth.
V said he always knew as soon as he met them face to face and he thought women also instantly knew.
I asked Annie what advise she gives her classes when they talk about writing a profile.
Annie says “What we all do when we write a profile, we want to talk about ourselves and who we really are, and I found that is not the point. We need to be authentic, of course, but also wise on a marketing level. You don’t want to hear the list of ingredients when you watch a ketchup add! And I don’t want to know everything about somebody’s life the first time I see their picture online.
We want to put just enough for people to get excited with us. So using marketing language you need to talk to that other person in a way that connects with them. “Are you the type of man who enjoys road trips and real adventure?”then they can say, “yes, I am” or “no, I am not”.
So the profile that did very well for me had at the top ME: and a couple of words. Funny things about me like that I like taking risks but I am afraid of lighting the BBQ. Something that is really specific about me and it isn’t so important that he knows that I am afraid of the BBQ but it gives the guy something to talk about with me. If you say “I love the beach”….which beach do you like?
Sometimes we complain that guys are not really that interesting but we have to look at what we have given them to talk about because they pick from our profiles so are we giving them something they can pick.
I made a point of having a shorter profile because it not about having an extensive explanation about who I am – they will find out. It is about putting enough things for them to get the idea of the type of person I am, the type of person I am looking for and all fun things. Nothing negative about “if you are a player” – you only talk to the person you want to meet and the person you want to meet is that great guy so he isn’t a player or that jerk or whatever. He is a great guy and you are talking just to him. Not to all the other guys on the site that you don’t want to meet.
I put a few funny things about me that are very specific. So my friends would be able to read it and say, “this is so Annie, to do things like that. ”Then they read the part I write about them and think “Yes, this is me. I am a great guy like that!” And then there is the “us” part which is the dream of us together that we have.
Because there is that kind of “oh this is really the type of relationship I would like” because when you are single for a long time, you forget what it is like to be a couple and the pleasure of being two.
We write about the guy we want and then give that kind of vision of being two and what it means for us and then the person who wants that same type of vision for two really connects with that and says “oh yes, wow. I really want that.” Then there is an inspiration for a guy to send more than just ‘hey’ or ‘how are you?’ because in reading your profile, he felt something.
It is hard to make a man feel something, they don’t feel as often as we do. When you bring a beautiful, fun, sensual version of being too, and you put softer words that men connect with the feminine world, you help a man opening his heart.
To summarise, it is about having a message that says, I am happy, I am good at taking care of myself. My life is great already (without saying that) and this is how I would like it to be with a partner. And men when they feel they can provide something, they get very excited about this. So many men offered to take care of my BBQ. It gives men something they can offer and something to talk about with you. You need to give them that opening.”
V’s advise for women writing a profile was to put some effort into it.
‘I would advise them to put a bit of effort when write their profile. An intriguing, well written, articulated profile is a must. At least for myself. I am fascinated to read such profile, since I prefer the substance over a nice…shell. Avoid the stereotypes and clichés (they are so boring and unattractive): “I like walking, hiking, going to gym n times per week, I love my family and friends (who doesn’t?!) etc., etc.” Never use shortcuts or Internet slangs. Be honest about your fundamentals: age, marital status, children, etc. Don’t share your entire life story in your profile but don’t make it “2 words profile” neither (e.g. “I will tell you later” or “If you want to know anything just ask me”!)’
Mike just wanted more pictures. 🙂
The women all said the same thing. They want to see your eyes. Take off your sunglasses and smile, honey.
So what have we learned….
1) The first rule of online dating is lower your expectations.
You are drawing from a pool of 250,000 people, of all cultures and attitudes. If you think of it in terms of meeting people at the grocery store, you may be able to gain some perspective. If you were to walk into your local grocery store and look around. How many people in that store would have the potential to become your best friend? How many would you date? How many would you avoid? The truth is that it takes large numbers and a lot of sorting in order to find people we have a minimum of common ground with. Add another 230,000 to that mix and you have to kiss a lot of frogs. Accept that. Have your “delete” trigger finger ready.
Try to find the fun in it. Meeting new people can be interesting and fun if you truly allow them to be who they are without placing your expectations on them. It is a great lesson in staying in the moment.
In lowering your expectations, you don’t get as easily discouraged. Online dating must be taken for what it is. A way to meet a lot of people. Nothing more. Can you find that perfect one, yes, possibly but if you expect that everyone you meet is going to have some possibility, then you are going to be discouraged.
By lowering your expectations, I don’t mean settling for a person you don’t really want. I mean, let the experience be just that. An experience. Don’t read more into it that isn’t there.
2) Improve your changes by taking time to write a good profile and attach good, recent pictures.
Commit yourself fully to doing this right. Hire a photographer if you need to. Find some online help in writing that perfect profile. Make the full-hearted effort to show yourself truthfully and in a good light.
3) Stay safe.
Be aware that people lie online. Accept nothing at face value. Whatever he or she says they are, they must first show you that in person before you put any stock in their words. Be aware but remain open to the possibilities that they could be what they say they are too. Find that sweet spot between being suspicious of everything and naively trusting everyone. Never give anyone money, ever.
4) Be prepare for frogs (or diva’s)
Know that part of this process is wading through a lot of people who are the “wrong one” on the way to finding the “right one”. Wade graciously and carefully. This online dating takes a Stetson or tiara and hip waders.
5) Don’t be modest.
You are marketing yourself and confidence is sexy. Over confidence is not. Find that sweet spot. Read other people’s profiles for ideas.
6) Be original and specific about the things you like.
Give your potential partners something to start a conversation about. Give them glimpses of who you are and what you like.
7) Playing hard to get doesn’t work.
You have to make the first move. Look through the search and find someone to try and strike a conversation with. Reach out a lot. If you are going to do this – then commit to really doing it.
8) Don’t fantasize too much.
Don’t endlessly email. Meet sooner than later.
9) Don’t do all the talking.
Listen. Even it there are gaps in the conversation. Silence even. Be quiet and let your partner set the rhythm of the conversation
10) Stay in the moment.
You might meet just someone or someone special or you might meet that special someone, but either way, enjoy that moment in time.
For those of you who have decided that online dating is not for you, there are ways you can meet people in real life. Look for singles events in your area or join some clubs and meet all kinds of people, single and otherwise.
Join the Surrey Board of Trade and meet all kinds of people
Good luck. Stay safe. Be Honest. Don’t take yourself or online dating too seriously. Stay in the moment.