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Want to get back into the dating game, but not quite sure where to start? Things have moved on (a lot!) over the last few years and now, for many, online dating is the way to go, with sites such as Find Companionship, Match.com, Guardian Soulmates and many more leading the way. Whether you're looking for lighthearted fun, friendship or a companion to spend the rest of your life with, we've narrowed down some tips to help you on your way to finding a potential love interest - safely.
"Like myself, my husband was bereaved after a long and happy marriage. We feel really lucky to have found such happiness again."
Granted, online dating is very different to what you might term 'organic dating', i.e. offline dating, and it may feel like an unusual way to meet someone, particularly if your previous relationships successfully blossomed during the pre-internet days. So why is online dating so popular, especially among those over the age of 50?
Many have found a certain level of comfort in attempting to find love or companionship online, something that can be invaluable following a divorce or the loss of a spouse. If you've been married or cohabiting for a number of years and suddenly find yourself without a partner, you may wish to meet someone new. This can seem overwhelming at first, which is why many seek solace in engaging with others behind the smokescreen of a laptop, tablet or mobile phone.
"One of my friends met several older gentlemen through online dating sites after her husband died. She had platonic relationships with a couple of them, eventually becoming cruise companions! I thought it brave and she enjoyed the company."
Online dating can be quite an attractive option for older daters as you have complete control over your online profile, the type of people you search for and engage with online, how you engage with them (including the steps before meeting someone) and when and where you finally meet.
"Dating sites give you the opportunity to correspond with and find out more about the other person to see if you have anything in common before you meet them. I have been very lucky and am now married to a man who is kind, caring and has a brilliant sense of humour."
Online dating is also a good choice for those who are lonely and those who aren't able to get out and about easily, whether it's due to health issues, a disability or even location.
"I had realised that, through circumstance, I didn't have opportunities to meet people so this was a very good choice for me."
Sign up to Find Companionship to meet new friends online...
With so many dating sites out there, finding the appropriate one for you might feel like a bit of a minefield. It's trial and error at the end of the day, so there's no harm in taking the plunge and signing up even if you're not 100% sure. Many sites offer free registration initially, but you will often have to upgrade in order to use any premium features.
"I'd recommend joining a dating site affiliated with the newspaper you read. The people I met through Telegraph Dating were all of a similar background, level of education and had the same outlook as me."
Before you sign up to a dating site, it's worth asking yourself what kind of relationship you're looking for. Are you wanting something casual? More long-term? A companion rather than a love interest? It's also important to be aware that online dating takes time - don't expect immediate results or feel upset if that first conversation doesn't happen overnight.
"I had a lot of contact from younger men, which was very flattering until it dawned on me what they had in mind!"
It might seem obvious, but considering the increased popularity of dating sites, it's good to stand out from the crowd. Not only should you write about your interests and what you're looking for on your preferred dating site, including age range, but you should try to create a unique description of yourself, perhaps with a fun and intriguing headline that grabs the reader's attention. Finish your online profile off with a lovely photo that makes you feel confident and you're good to go.
"Be clear and upfront about what you want. I was clear about what my family set-up was and said that I wasn't prepared to be messed about!"
One of the benefits of online dating is that you can learn a lot about someone by just browsing through their profile. Take a look at their hobbies, interests and how they describe themselves. Having a common ground is a great place to start when striking up a virtual conversation, but don't discard someone straight away if your interests don't align. Remember, opposites attract, as they say.
"Look for meet-ups where people looking for friendship post events they want to go to. A friend made lots of contacts and a large social circle this way. Maybe dating could follow."
"I have met a caring, affectionate and understanding person. We have known each other for six months and it is working out really well. On paper our interests are very different so do not dismiss anyone because of this."
While there are many positives to online dating, there are also a few things to look out for, one of which is catfishing. While this may sound harmless (it isn't literally fishing for catfish unsurprisingly!), the term is actually used to describe someone who creates a fake identity on a social networking site for dishonest purposes. It might take a little time for you to figure out that a person isn't who they say they are, but trusting your gut instinct usually works...as does a little detective work on Google.
"I recommend Googling anyone you intend to meet. If they have told you they are a school governor/on the parish council/captain of golf club they will have a digital footprint."
It's important that you don't feel rushed or pressured into anything, especially if you're concerned that the person you've been chatting to isn't genuine or might only be interested in sex. Be clear about what you want, and if you find yourself feeling anxious, pressured or ill at ease, then consider pulling away from the exchange altogether. This is especially important when virtual relationships evolve, particularly if you're thinking about giving out your phone number or looking to go on a first date.
"I actually put in my profile that I only wanted to hear from people who were interested in developing a relationship over time. I think it paid to be frank and, as a result, I have met someone very genuine."
What else should you look out for? As with anything, approach online dating with some level of caution so that you are always safe online. Online safety is of paramount importance at any age, but older people are particularly vulnerable when it comes to online scams, many of which are conducted on dating sites.
When using a dating site, only share as much information as you're comfortable with. Don't part with identifying information such as your address or bank details. Take things at your own pace, only share your phone number if you feel safe doing so, and be sure to pick meeting spots carefully when going on a first date - a public spot during the day in a familiar area is crucial according to our gransnetters.
"Just be careful and make sure someone knows when and where you are meeting any intended 'date' and don't give too much personal information on those first few meetings."
"You just have to be on your guard. The advantage is that you can 'block' anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable. When or if you decide to meet someone, remember that even if you've been talking to this person for a while they're still technically a stranger."
While online dating might sound a little scary with so many things to think about and to watch out for, it really can be quite a revelation. Many of our gransnetters have not only found love and companionship online, but have gone on to marry or re-marry. You might just make a few friends for life along the way too.
"Internet dating is incredibly fun. You get to talk to all sorts of people, and not only did I meet my husband but I also made some wonderful friends."