The Third Third
 

Dating Apps: Aging Algorithms?

My 30 year-old daughter has made a second career out of online dating:  match.com, Hinge,Tinder, The League — she knows them all.  She’s used most of them (though not Grindr and, ecumenically enough,  neither Christian Mingle nor J-Date) and, as she admits, she has played to win — which is not, it turns out, quite the same as playing to discover someone with whom one might pursue a long-term relationship.   That was what she was meaning to do,  but in the process she got seduced by the “winning” part — getting someone to “like” her online (Step 1), make contact (Step 2)  and then (next play) love her in person.  None of these experiences ended well, though it is fair to say she learned a lot about herself in the process and now eschews the Dating as Competitive Sport model. She also learned quite a bit about the guys who game the system, too, not to mention the several different ways they can erase years and  ex-wives and children, shady business partners and psychotic former girlfriends from their online dating lives.  She’s sort of in transition now, from "Dating" to, well, finding someone who wants to and with whom she wants to pursue a relationship.  Like all transitions, it is a difficult one, so over the holidays several family members responded to it with generous emotional support (“You’re beautiful, brilliant, talented, so nice and fun!  Some guy is going to be so lucky!”) and, as families are wont to do,  advice and counsel (“Please take that profile picture down.  You look drunk and crazy!”)

It was in this context that I mentioned that a friend of mine, a 68 year-old widow, had also ventured into online dating.  She had a profile, and, in fact, had initiated some very preliminary contact on match.com and was looking into The League.  At this news — and not, let it be said, at the admonition to take down the tacky photos — my daughter burst into tears.  

“I feel so bad for her,” she explained, still sobbing.  “It’s so hard, this dating, all of it.  And I’m cute and young.  I cannot even imagine how awful it must be for G_____ [my friend] at her age!”  

It was a sobering conversation, one that gave me new insight into this stage of my daughter’s social life, and one that reminded me that I was very lucky to have met my husband when and how I did and even luckier to still be married to him.  But would I, if I had to, if I felt the need, ever be able to navigate online dating after 40-plus years of married life?  Would I dare to make myself that vulnerable?  Where does a 60-something single woman begin?  Could I trust the 20-somethings who create the algorithms that make matches happen to factor age and maturity into their equations?  How are we supposed to appear — if not cute, young and fun, what exactly, might be appealing in a photo or a profile now?

Clearly, I’m not the only one approaching online dating with such questions and trepidation.  But many are approaching, and not just in the abstract.  There are, after all, several sites designed specifically for older adults (OurTime, SeniorPeopleMeet) and growing senior sections on match.com, zoosk, eHarmony and others.  And California “aging expert” Judi Bonilla offers a class, in person and on Skype, called Come Back Cupid to teach modern dating technology skills (and, one hopes, discernment).

My widow friend asked a few trusted friends to vet the couple of guys she’s “met” online:  are their stories true, do you know them, have you seen them in the church they say they attend, is he really a widower, was he a respected professional?  And in doing so, once again, made the point she’d raised earlier in the evening.  If she’s going to meet someone she might want to grow old with, she’s going to need the help of her friends.  It would be so much easier, she noted, if we just dusted off our own fix-up and match-making skills and kept her in mind.  In the meantime, though, as a thoroughly modern widow, she’s keeping her profiles updated.

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