Think back to your first kiss, or when you fell in love for the first time. There’s nothing like meeting a special someone to put an extra spring in your step, right? For many older adults, online dating is proving a fun and fast way to cultivate a growing social network—and increase the chances of developing a romantic relationship. Caregivers can support their loved one in navigating this world by helping them create a safe and effective dating profile, develop a sense for choosing potential matches, and what to do when it comes to meeting in person.
Venturing into new territory can help re-energize your aging loved one and add an extra sparkle in their eye. It can be a whole lot of fun chatting with new people, getting to know unexpected friends, and going out on dates. When it comes to trying out new ways of meeting people, remember that there are no mistakes here: it’s all about enjoying the process, playing things by ear, and inviting a little serendipity into your life.
Helping Your Loved One Create a Dating Profile
Since online dating might be relatively unfamiliar to your aging loved one, it can be helpful to get a sense of how confident they are with the process. Once you’ve helped them pick the right dating site according to their needs, make sure they feel comfortable navigating it and setting up an online profile. This might involve discussing what type of information is appropriate to share, and how to create a profile that attracts the right type of person.
- Pick a creative username: When setting up a profile, your loved one will be asked to choose a username. Instead of putting their real name—which can be a safety risk—encourage them to pick a creative one that says something about their personality. This helps ensure anonymity while conveying a fun sensibility.
- Create an anonymous email: At some point, you’ll probably take interactions beyond the dating site and into your inbox. To keep things anonymous while you’re getting to know someone online, set up a free account with an email address that matches their username. This will keep your loved one’s identity private at first, while maintaining a lighthearted feel and synchronicity with their online profile.
- Upload plenty of photos: Online profiles thrive or die based on images, it’s true. Encourage your aging loved one to choose photos that convey their authentic appearance and the depth of their personalities. If they love doing outdoor activities, for example, you might use a photo of them camping or hiking. When in doubt, share more photos than less—between 5-7 images is a good ballpark.
- Be honest and truthful: This sounds obvious, but there’s a tendency for people to fudge a little about themselves here and there when online. But if your loved one is looking to meet someone who they genuinely click with, they need to be honest about who they are. Encourage your loved one to share their favorite activities, how they most enjoy spending time, and what their usual activity level is—these details will help draw in like-minded matches.
- Share personality traits, but not private info: Your loved one should feel free to share how they most enjoy spending their days, the best aspects of their personality, and the people that are most important to them. However, they shouldn’t give away any concrete information like names of people, or locations of hobbies, workplaces, or homes.
- Be clear on what you want: It’s so important for your loved one to be specific about what type of relationship they’re looking for, and the person they want to attract. Figuring out what they really want might be challenging. Try asking your loved one specific questions about what they’re looking for so they can be clear with other users.
How to Take Online Dating into the Real World
After your loved one has made their online profile, they’ll start getting paired with potential matches, chatting online, and hopefully meeting in person to see how the connection holds up in the real world. This part of online dating can be both exciting and scary—and where caregivers can lend their support. By talking with them at each step you can share in exciting news, prevent missed opportunities, and laugh a lot together along the way.
Talk Openly with Your Loved One Throughout the Process
Depending on the emotional comfort level you and your loved one share, it might help to offer your personal insight during each step of the process, including their potential matches. We all need dating advice from time to time—and isn’t it true that other people often pick better matches for us than we do for ourselves? Whether your loved one is looking for friendship or romance, having another person’s input can provide a healthy outside perspective.
For example, you might want to gently challenge preconceptions or prejudices your loved one has about age, profession, or location—especially if you spot someone that looks especially well-suited to them. Your participation can also help keep everything lighthearted. Online dating can feel a bit lonely and disappointing at times. Having a trusted confidante to share the experience with can help them feel supported.
Focus on Overall Compatibility Interests and Activity Levels, Not Age
As we grow older, wisdom and life experience show us that “age ain’t nothin’ but a number.” And this is particularly true for dating as older adults. Much more important than someone’s age is their health, mobility level, and lifestyle preferences. After all, shared interests and compatible activity levels will determine how well two people get along in their older years—much more so than age and appearance.
If your loved one is active and goes hiking a few times a week, they’ll likely get along better with someone very fit yet a decade older than with someone the same age who prefers to relax at home in front of the TV. At the same time, an older adult with reduced mobility may be an ideal match for someone who prefers staying indoors or is extremely introverted.
Use Phone Calls and Dinner Dates to Learn More About Matches
Unlike dating in your twenties, your loved one probably doesn’t want to head out for a quick drink to determine whether they like someone or not. Instead, they may be more inclined to transition from chatting online to talking on the phone in order to test compatibility before meeting up in person. Having a few phone calls is a good way to find out if your loved one wants to meet their match in person.
If the calls go well, they might want to meet up on a dinner date. As we age, sitting down for dinner grows more important, and becomes a time when companionship is especially desired. Having dinner gives both people a relaxed space to share stories, enjoy good food, and have a nice time regardless of whether it’s platonic or romantic.
Keep It Fun by Exploring the Bay Area Together
The Bay Area is an exciting place, especially when you have someone to share it with. Whether your loved one is pursuing friendship or romance, exploring the Bay Area offers a fun way to get to know each other and the city itself. There are plenty of great date ideas to jump on—and depending on your loved one’s mobility level, there are numerous wheelchair-friendly activities to do, too.
- Grab a tasty treat: Head to Ben & Jerry’s in San Francisco to enjoy some ice cream. You’ll both get to feel like kids again, and they even offer a 10% discount to folks over 60.
- Play bocce ball: A quick ferry ride will bring you to Sausalito’s Bar Bocce, where you can eat a delicious meal and play bocce ball on their court afterward.
- Catch a new flick: After you’ve had a few dates getting to know each other, take in a film together at a local cinema. Many Bay Area theaters offer at least 30% off to people over 55 or 60 years old.
- Enjoy the outdoors: Head to the charming Japanese Tea Garden inside Golden Gate Park. Drink in the beautiful sights while sharing silence or swapping stories.
Stepping outside your comfort zone can be great a way to shake things up and bring on some new adventures. New relationships often have a way of helping us see our world a little differently. And while dating at any age involves taking a chance on someone, it can be pleasantly surprising how many nice folks there are around the city.
After they invest a bit of time dating online, your loved one might soon find themselves excited about going on a date—this can be especially heartwarming to see as a caregiver. Maybe they’re heading to AT&T park to catch a Giants game, or taking in the latest MoMA exhibition with a new friend. With ongoing encouragement from you, your loved one can have a fun time meeting their online matches in the real world, and maybe even connecting with a new special someone.
If you’re unsure how to best support your aging loved one, Institute on Aging offers a range of programs, services, and online resources to help. Connect with us today to learn more.