Monika Hengesbach had tried online dating, but she always quit when she couldn’t find a good match.
“I’d put myself on one of these sites, but I never seriously did anything about it,” says Hengesbach, 47, of Pleasant Hill, Calif. “I would have a horrible date, and then say, ‘I’m done.'”
Not all online dating sites are the same. Some focus on finding the love of your life, while others let you know who is nearby if you’re seeking a little love just for tonight. Some cost money to join, while others are free. And some focus on certain attributes, such as JDate.com for Jews or OurTime.com, which targets singles over age 50.
For women in that 50-plus demographic just entering the online dating world, getting started can be overwhelming — you’ve got to navigate seemingly endless pages of potential profiles and photos before you find what you’re looking for. For those who have tried online dating but haven’t been active for a while, dating sites might feel different because of new features such as apps, “winks” and texting.
What hasn’t changed, though, is that countless people meet, mingle and sometimes even marry the people they find online.
THE ALGEBRA OF LOVE
Today’s online sites use sophisticated algorithms, or formulas, to pair your online profile with those of people you might like, giving you better choices.
“In the past, you plugged in a list of what you were looking for, and you had to do the shopping yourself from a very long list,” says Helen Fisher, chief scientific adviser to Match.com, which launched in 1995, making it a pioneer in the industry. Fisher’s research on the chemistry of romantic love is the basis of Match.com’s “premium offering” site, Chemistry.com. That site says it’s for people looking for longer-lasting relationships. As for Match.com, Fisher says, the algorithms are constantly updated to improve the chances of making a good pairing.
“If you say you only want to date a 6-foot-tall guy, but the site notices you are clicking on people who are 5-foot-8, it will adjust what profiles it shows you based on your online behavior, not what you say,” she explains.
eHarmony, a site that calls itself the top relationship-minded dating site and touts a scientific approach to matching singles, has refined its matching focus over the years. When the site launched in 2000, users would answer 430 questions to reveal their beliefs and important qualities. Now, they answer only about 150, all designed to better uncover deep-seated values that keep a couple together for decades, as well as preferred activities for dates, says Grant Langston, the company’s vice president of brand marketing. The refinement was necessary because the site was pairing people with shared interests but not values, such as the hunter and the vegetarian who both loved the outdoors.
Langston says clients could “make better correlations without duplicating the kind of questions seen in the longer questionnaire. The experience was better for the user, since no one wants to answer hundreds of questions.” Now, he says, “The site is better at finding deep compatibility as well as affinity.”
Hengesbach made a strong match in 2013, when she met 46-year-old Robert Heaton of Antioch, Calif., on Chemistry.com. She’d changed her goal from seeking long-term commitment to simply having fun “and seeing where the adventure would take me,” and it worked.
“His profile wasn’t the norm, talking about how he loved to work out and take long walks. It spoke more of his passions,” she says. “He started his profile with ‘Looking for a confident woman with a beautiful spirit and individual style.’ He talked about what (he hoped his new) relationship would look like, with compassion, intimacy, commitment. He mentioned that he had strong morals (and was) always a gentleman. He talked about living each day to the fullest, ’embracing the simple joys of life.’ He ended it with a quote, but what I remember is it said, ‘I choose us.’
“When we met for the first time, he had such a calm persona, and our meeting wasn’t all one-sided. He asked questions about
my world,” she remembers. “It was easy to talk to him.” After the first date, they agreed to meet again. “It was nice to deal with someone comfortable in his own skin,” Hengesbach says.
That comfort continues today: Hengesbach and Heaton were married on July 26.
A PERFECT FIT
Some sites are tailored to help you find that kind of serious emotional match: Chemistry.com, for one, as well as PerfectMatch and OurTime. OkCupid, too, is geared toward long-term love. “I estimate we create well over 200 marriages every day,” says president and co-founder Christian Rudder. While OkCupid’s user base is people in their 20s and 30s, Rudder says about 10 percent of the site’s users are older than 50.
Match.com, with 2.38 million active members in North America, has the numbers that increase your odds. “A majority of Match members are between the ages of 30 and 49 — 52 percent,” Fisher says, “but 30 percent of Match members are 50 and up, and that age group is our fastest-growing demographic.” She adds that while Match members are looking for relationships of all types, the majority is seeking a serious relationship.
That’s a pretty good ratio, considering that — according to research publisher IBISWorld — just more than 21 percent of all online daters this year fall into the 45-to-64- year age range.
Other sites are designed to connect you with someone for short-term fun. Tinder (gotinder.com), for instance, is a smartphone app that helps you find people based on whether you like their looks. If the person you find attractive likes your looks in return, then you are permitted to message each other.
“There does seem to be a continuum of sites,” says Langston. “We (eHarmony) probably sit on the more serious side.”
On Chemistry.com, users take a personality test that helps them find people who are close matches — who have chemistry, in other words — and allows direct contact. And it’s a “closed community,” so only members can see your profile. “You can’t just go to the site and scroll through people,” says Fisher.
Free sites, such as OkCupid and PlentyOfFish (pof.com) exist, but Langston noted that the cheaper a site is to use, the younger and less serious its users are. “The fee to join tends to act as a bit of a filter,” he says. Fisher agrees: “People join paid sites to meet others that are just as committed to their search in finding a great relationship. Many users of free sites move to paid as they get more serious about their search.”
Match.com costs $17.99 a month for a 12-month subscription. eHarmony is $19.65 a month for a year’s subscription. “If you have to spend money, you almost by definition have to be more serious about the process,” Langston adds.
Determining what is important to you helps winnow out potential suitors who may ultimately not work out. Knowing what you find respectful and setting those standards is key, says Victoria Felson, 52, of Framingham, Mass., who has used online dating sites for two years. For example, she doesn’t like it when people indicate that her profile is a favorite or send a “wink,” another sign that they like her profile, but then fail to write a note of introduction. “I write (back), ‘Thanks for your interest, but I don’t respond to winks or likes,'” she says.
Felson has loosened her requirements since first going online, but she still maintains age, location and health criteria. “They cannot smoke cigarettes, because it could lead to cancer,” says Felson, whose husband died of cancer in 2010. And she won’t date someone more than an hour away or relocate for a suitor, as her life and adult children are firmly based in Massachusetts.
Details like that also help to make your profile stand out from the hundreds of other women who share your age, location, religious background and values — those competitors who will pop up when a potential suitor is looking for someone with the same attributes as you.
“Put some time and effort into being unique,” Langston says. “I could write, ‘I can’t live without music,’ but that doesn’t make me interesting. If I say, ‘I love to play and sing country music, and I’m a big fan of so-and-so,’ the detail is what makes you interesting.”
And finally, remember that you get out of online dating what you put into it. “Online dating is not something you have success with (with just) intermittent effort,” says Langston. “It is a certain amount of work, and you have to commit to that. Make it a priority … and set the time aside to do it.”