Like pretty much every other aspect of our lives, finding a mate has moved online. Online dating services have proliferated and cover virtually every niche interest and age group. While the success rate of finding true love online is as varied as the number of people you talk to, without question people of all ages are connecting online. There are the Big Kahuna sites like Match.com and eHarmony. And then there are the niche market sites specific for those seeking someone of the same religion, like JDate.com for Jewish singles and ChristianSingles.com for Christian singles. There are groups for meeting fellow pet lovers, people with herpes, and people who smoke cigarettes and weed.
And of course there are sites specific to age, like OurTime.com for post 50s, and Over70dating.org for those over 70. In dealing with any online dating site, there is an abundance of cautions to avoid being scammed. There is nothing new about victimizing lonely people. And as for the results, well, successful match-making outcomes are as varied as the number of people with whom you speak.
But what about the old-fashioned ways of meeting your true love, especially if you are middle-aged and haven't been out on a date in what feels like centuries? Where do you begin if you're out of practice? How have the dating rules changed since you last played the game? Here are some ideas to get you started in your quest for romance:
1) Be clear about what you you want.
It's perfectly OK to say you are marriage-minded. It is equally OK to say you are not, and that what you really want is a pleasant little fling. What's not OK is dishonesty -- to say you want one thing just to get another. Not being clear about what you want upfront is a surefire way to heartbreak and disappointment. Practice honesty, starting with being honest with yourself.
2) Give people a chance.
At 20, you could tell from across the room and before she opened her mouth whether you wanted to ask her out. Yes, that was hormones working. At 50, it behooves you to slow it down and have a conversation or six before you reach any final judgments. First dates are sometimes awkward, especially for those who haven't had them in awhile. Don't be so quick to reject someone.
3) Stop seeing friendship as a consolation prize.
Friends are our currency for a happy life. Whether it's someone you can call for a last-minute movie or just to say "hey, I felt like cooking today. Want to come for dinner?" these people can enrich your existence. Yet we all remember the girl in high school who told us she "only" wanted to be friends. Being a friend is not the same as runner-up in the beauty pageant. In some ways, it's almost better than the romantic involvement you didn't get. Nobody has enough friends, nobody.
4) Look in the right places.
This is the old "bar or church?" question. Where you go to meet people matters a great deal. You need to go where they gather. And where that is, again, depends what you are looking for. If it's a serious relationship you want, ask your clergy, close friends, and family members for help. Ask them to introduce you to people they know who might want the same thing you want. If that feels too bold, at least let them know that you are ready to date. These are the people who know you best.
5) Feel good about yourself.
The greatest romantic elixir in the world is self-confidence. No one else will appreciate your value if you don't. Project confidence and the planet is yours to lasso. And learn to differentiate between confidence and arrogance. Arrogance is a turn-off.
6) Join in, don't shut in.
Mr. Right is not going to come knocking on your front door. You need to leave the house to meet him. Accept invitations. Go on community hikes, attend plays and concerts, follow whatever interests you. But do follow it -- and get out of the house.
7) Be open to the adventure.
No, you probably didn't expect to be hunting for a mate at this point in your life. And at times, it feels depressing and daunting. But if you approach it as a fun adventure -- laugh at the missteps, shrug off the mishaps, show up for each coffee meet with a smile and genuine interest in the person you are meeting -- eventually you will strike pay dirt. On the other hand, Mopey Marys and Angry Als rarely get anywhere. Who wants to be around someone who can only talk about how much they hate their ex and how screwed up their lives are?
8) Go beyond the dating services online.
Facebook reconnects old friends and is an excellent place to find high school sweethearts, old flames from college, former next-door neighbors who you flirted with. Why hunt for someone brand new when The Special One might actually be resting dormant in your past?
9) Expect some setbacks.
Yes, you thought you had landed Prince Charming when the two of you met at the neighbor's holiday party and he engaged with you all night. You even texted friends the next day to tell them about him, how smart and funny he was, how comfortable you both felt. And then he vaporized in thin air, never to be heard from again. It happens. Science can't explain it either but just know that sometimes a magical evening is magical for just that evening. Enjoy those precious hours, how great they made you feel, and move on knowing that forces beyond your control capped your time together. So be it.