The last time many boomers tried to pursue some version of romance was in a Jimmy Carter-era fern bar or disco and when “What’s Your Sign?” was asked non-ironically. Just like millennials, however, boomers today are going online to find that special or reasonably likable person, a much more efficient means of starting a new relationship.
One in eight of all American boomers are using online dating websites, a 2015 Pew Research survey found, an impressive figure that indicates that the group is rebooting their personal lives as well as their professional ones. Fee-based Match.com is the biggest such site, but there are many free ones catering to single (or perhaps not so much) boomers such as Plenty of Fish (POF). Facebook and Meetup are other sites for boomers to look for love or an approximate facsimile, as those are well suited for users to find others who share a common interest.
Internet-savvy boomers search for a mate just as they might for a good stock- measuring likely future performance based on relevant metrics and past history. Much of job searching too has shifted online, of course, making the screening of and pitch to a particular person a familiar process. Online shopping, in which one scrutinizes everything in a category on a site like Amazon rather than hope to find what one wants among the things that are on display at a mall, is another useful analogy to explain the popularity of online dating. Expectedly, newly divorced and recently widowed boomers account for a significant percentage of online daters. In fact, the “gray” divorce rate has risen sharply- from just one in 10 people over the age of 50 in 1990, to around one in four in 2009- according to research by sociologists of Bowling Green State University. As well, one in three single boomers has never even been married, according to a 2012 survey by Bowling Green State University’s National Center for Family and Marriage Research in Ohio, making these folks also prime candidates for online dating. Single empty nesters who suddenly find themselves with a lot of time (and a lonely house) on their hands represent one more sizable segment, making it understandable why online dating among boomers has become a kind of cultural phenomenon. Grown children of boomers are sometimes concerned or uncomfortable seeing their mom or dad cruising Tinder or OKCupid to get together with someone, even sometimes giving them the be-sure-to-practice-safe-sex talk before going out on a date.
Another site, the unfortunately named Coffee Meets Bagel, is experiencing especially high growth (81% in 2014 and 314% in 2015) among 55-64 years olds. Women tend to be especially enthusiastic users of this and online dating sites in general, perhaps because they are more likely to be single in their later years because of the death of their husband. (In 2012, the life expectancy for American women was 81.2 years while that for men was 76.4 years.) Dating among boomers dispels many of the myths surrounding romance in one’s third act of life. “By and large this age group is happier, more secure, and even feeling sexier than their younger counterparts,” noted Dr. Terri Orbuch, relationship expert for the 50+ dating site Ourtime.com, thinking that boomers are also “better judges of the type of person who will make them happy.” Besides having greater life experience, the fact is that boomers likely have fewer years ahead of them than younger people, something that makes them want to use their time wisely, especially that spent with a potential partner.
With 30% of boomers now being single, it’s no wonder that marketers are going after the group with more and more online dating sites. IAC, which owns sites like Match.com and Chemistry.com, started Ourtime.com in 2011 for 50-and-over singles looking to date, and in April 2014, Stitch.net, a Tinder-like dating app for the over-50 set, was launched. Like Tinder, it shows users just one profile at a time, and it alerts them to profiles where a person they’ve liked has liked them back, so they’re less likely to contact someone and get no response. Stitch also does extensive background checks, a good thing given all the Internet trollers looking for something other than love or companionship.
While some online dating sites for younger people may be mostly about hooking up, those for older folks like Stitch are serving a greater purpose. “Our grand vision is to help improve the lives of older adults in every country around the world by addressing the many causes of social isolation and loneliness,” say the founders of Stitch, recognizing they are solving a serious problem while also running a for-profit business. More boomers are finding themselves alone after having a partner for decades and, for a variety of good reasons, have not had success meeting another soulmate. Many people on Stitch start out as pen pals in what is a safe environment, happy to communicate for weeks, months, or even years before getting together in person. Building a friendship first is often a good foundation for a romantic relationship, experts points out, making Stitch and others like it much more than your typical online dating site. “We thank you all for whatever algorithm you have in place that matched us,” say Stitch users Nancy and Bob, obviously two happy customers.