Dating websites are an increasingly popular way for people 50 and up to find romantic partners, but that doesn’t mean the old-fashioned ways of finding love no longer work.
In fact, a study comparing both forms of dating found that in some cases, a dating relationship that’s sparked by striking up a conversation in a coffee shop or being introduced by a mutual friend can result in a better romantic outcome than meeting online.
Looking for love via the internet can dramatically and conveniently expand your pool of potential dating partners, but it also has its downsides, according to the dating comparison study led by researchers at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
“The widespread emphasis on profiles as the first introduction to potential partners seems unfortunate in light of the disconnect between what people find attractive in a profile versus what they find attractive when meeting another person face-to-face,” the researchers said.
They also observed that browsing too many profiles and photos on dating sites can be “cognitively overwhelming,” leading to “lazy, ill-advised decisions.” In short, you may end up ruling out someone you would have found to be a perfect match if you’d first gotten acquainted in person.
So where are you likely to have in-person encounters with potential romantic partners, especially when your high school or college campus days are long behind you? A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences sheds some interesting light on that topic by examining data from a nationally representative group of more than 19,000 people in the U.S. who were married between 2005 and 2012.
Slightly more than one-third of them met online, while the rest met the man or woman who eventually become their spouse in a variety of traditional ways. Zeroing in on the people in the offline-meeting group who were 50 or older, the most commonly mentioned places they first connected were: a bar or club, work, place of worship, on a blind date, or at a social gathering.
The study also found an association between the circumstances under which couples in all age groups began their relationships and the eventual outcomes of their marriages. The researchers’ analysis showed that relationships which began at bars, work, or on blind dates ended up being associated with relatively low levels of marital satisfaction, while those that started at social gatherings, places of worship, schools, or growing up together were associated with high marital satisfaction.
Strategies for meeting people
Whether you’re seeking a long-term relationship or simply a companion for a hike in the park or dinner and a movie, you can increase your odds of success by learning which locations and face-to-face communication techniques are most conducive to finding your match.
“When you’re in college or the workplace, it’s easy to meet and interact with lots of people in your age group, but as you get older, one of the challenges you face is breaking out of your routine to create opportunities to meet interesting people you don’t already know,” says Martin Graff, Ph.D., head of research in psychology at the University of South Wales and author of a column about finding romance online for Psychology Today.
Here are some steps Graff and other experts in relationship studies suggest you should take:
• Join a meet-up group. These provide a chance to get together with people who share a common interest—whether it’s hiking, volunteering, photography, gardening, or dining out. To find and join groups in your area you’ll need to go to Meetup.com, but the interactions you’ll be having with others in the group that you choose will take place in person.
There are groups specifically for widows and widowers to get together socially and others that are designed for singles in a specific age-range who are interested in dating or just expanding their circle of friends.
But most meet-up groups don’t list “finding romance” as an explicit goal, which eliminates the uncomfortable “sizing each other up” pressure some people feel when they meet through an online dating site. And if there’s not a group in your area that’s geared to your interests, you can start one yourself by following the suggestions provided at Meetup.com.
• Increase your odds of meeting someone new. Even for regular trips you make for grocery shopping, going to the library, or going to your local coffee shop, try occasionally finding a spot in a different neighborhood or nearby town.
Northeastern University researchers in Boston tracked the movement patterns of 100,000 cellphone users over a six-month period. Their study revealed that like rats in a maze, people adhere to repetitive patterns, regularly returning to the same spots. In fact, they found that 40 percent of the time individuals were found at their top two preferred locations and spent their remaining time in as few as five and at most 50 other places.
Obviously, if you’re always frequenting the same spots at the same times of day, you have minimal odds of running into someone new.
• Go out on your own to do what you love. Make a point of sometimes going solo to public places to do something you enjoy rather than going with a friend or family member. Being out on your own also increases your odds of interacting with someone with similar interests who’s not in your existing circle of friends.
Whether you’re at a museum, vintage record store, or a golf tournament, be open to initiating a conversation if the opportunity arises. And even if you don’t bump into anyone who sparks your interest, you’ll at least be out and about and having fun in the process.
Andrea Rock is freelance journalist who specializes in health topics. Her work has earned her the American Academy of Family Physicians Award for Outstanding Journalistic Achievement In Reporting and Writing on Family Medicine and Health Care, the National Magazine Award for Journalism in the Public Interest, and the Society of Professional Journalists Award for Investigative Reporting. She was a senior writer and editor for Consumer Reports for more than a decade, and is the author of The Mind at Night: The New Science of How and Why We Dream. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Money, SELF, O Magazine, and Ladies’ Home Journal.