Losing a partner and finding oneself suddenly single from the age of 50 on happens to too many people.
To some, being single is the worst thing that can happen to them; to others it can be a new and exciting adventure. However, single seniors face unique challenges when it comes to dating. As a result, looking for a relationship or having a desire for companionship may end up motivating some to pursue potential partners online. The good news is that they are not alone.
Charlie Allen was looking for a companion when he came to the Traverse City Senior Center for some assistance. Charlie had spent 30 years as a merchant seaman at the helm, and 30 years on land. Married once, but now widowed, he had helped raise three children. Although he is 81, he is athletic, active, motivated and a catch for a woman who is also looking for companionship.
"Charlie and his neighbor came in one day and both of them had the same need — they were looking for companions," said Lori Wells, director of the Senior Center. "Charlie had no computer skills whatsoever, but was interested in online dating. He was just so charming and I thought a great catch for someone. I decided I needed to spend some time with him to help him find a match … I was always curious about how Match.com worked … so Charlie became an opportunity to let me explore online dating. We set him up with an e-mail account, a Match.com account and inserted his profile, adding the photographs that he had brought in on a disc."
"Just like anyone else who is looking for companionship, I learned about the possibility of using an online dating site," Charlie said. "I needed to find someone with a computer … I went to the Senior Center, thinking I could learn how to use one, but found it would take longer than I thought. So instead, Lori Wells helped me set up my Match.com account."
"If not us, who was going to help a guy in his situation?" Wells said. "I thought it was a perfect fit for the Senior Center to get involved."
At most online dating sites, any correspondence with an interested match is done through the online site. Match.com lets you know through your e-mail, when you have a message or a "wink" (someone expressing interest).
When you receive an e-mail saying there is a message, you must visit the site to further the match search — going to the profile where the message originated. If you like what you see, you can either send a message back or return a wink. If, eventually, you are interested in taking the match further, you can give out your phone number, enabling you to carry on a more personal conversation or schedule an actual date.
"Lori did leave a few of the ladies I was interested in my telephone number and they called me back … once I started talking to Sally, I decided she was the one," Charlie said. "She was the someone I was looking for."
Sally is Sally Biggings, from Cheboygan, and she had been on Match.com for a couple of months, looking for a companion.
"There hadn't been any interesting matches for me before Charlie and you kind of know right away, if it will work for you," Sally said. "Charlie is such a grin — a lot of fun and I like that too. We seem to mesh really well. I, like Charlie, didn't want to spend my last years alone. It's nice to have a companion."
Sally and her husband moved up to Cheboygan in 1992, when her husband retired. Sally lost her husband two years ago from pancreatic cancer.
"It's not hard at all, if seniors want to do online dating. Just don't give up — keep trying to find a match," Sally said.
If you do decide to try online dating, remember to research the pros and cons of online dating before you commit. It is a good idea to also browse the site before committing to a membership. Ask around and get a good reference for a site from people who have participated in online matches.
As another method for singles to meet other singles, the Senior Center is interested in setting up a speed-dating event, based on two age categories, 50 to 65 and 65-plus.
In speed-dating, men and women rotate to meet each other during a series of short "dates," usually lasting about three minutes. At the end of each "date" interval, the facilitator rings a bell and the participants move on to their next "date." At the end of the event, the participants submit a list of people they are interested in. Accordingly, those interested in each other are matched up.
"We need to hear from people to see if we have enough seniors interested in participating before we determine a date," Wells said. "We were thinking of a speed-dating event sometime this fall."
To let the Senior Center know you are interested in a speed-dating experience or for further information, call the Senior Center at 922-4911 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kathleen Bellaw Gest is a local freelance writer. For more about the Traverse City Senior Center, go to www.tcseniorcenter.com.