Preparing for a first date with someone you've met online can be a daunting experience whatever your age. But if you're 55 to 64, you're in good company. A recent eHarmony report suggests this demographic will see the biggest growth when it comes to online dating over the next decade.
But how can the more mature dater increase their chances of success when searching for a partner? Psychologist Madeleine Mason, founder of dating and relationship counselling service PassionSmiths, reveals the biggest mistakes older people make when it comes to online dating.
1. Using terrible photographs
This is, without a doubt, the biggest guff grown-up daters are making, says Madeleine. Never underestimate the importance of a well-taken, recent photograph that shows off your best side. Profiles with pictures are nine times more likely to receive messages. Think of photos as tools to express who you are, she advises.
"People put up out of focus, out-of-date photographs that don't represent who they are. It does them a disservice."
She thinks it's particularly noticeable in people who don't have social media accounts such as Facebook or Instagram and aren't used to communicating this way online.
"If someone puts up a photograph that's ten years old and blurry, it's coming across as slightly half-hearted," Madeleine points out.
That's definitely not how you want to appear if you're interested in attracting people you'll actually want to spend time with. But you don't need to be a selfie pro; follow these tips for the best dating photo:
- Make sure they're pictures of you (NOT your car or your dog!).
- Find a friend who knows how to take a good picture and help them select the best ones for your profile.
- Post more than one photo of yourself (and include body shots).
- Make sure you're the only one in the picture.
- Don't try to hide your age with an out-of-date photograph.
2. Being vague
It might seem tricky at first, particularly if you're not used to messaging online but referring to specific qualities or interests on your profile can be sexy, and most importantly lead you to meeting someone you can have a really good time with.
Madeleine says: "The more specific you can be on the profile in terms of your interests and what you find exciting about life is the best thing you can do, because then you'll attract somebody who will be able to imagine themselves in a scenario with you."
Would you be tempted to message someone whose profile just says: "I'm down-to-earth and enjoy nights in"? No. So don't be vague, and don't be afraid to write about the things that you love doing. People are far more likely to connect with you if your profile has piqued their interest, or they want to find out more about that intriguing hobby.
3. Lying about your age
Even if you think it's just a white lie, pretending you're younger than you are isn't going to do you any favours. If you get close to someone, they're going to find out eventually that you tried to deceive them, so what's the point?
A lot of people believe this is just something women do, but Madeleine says both genders are guilty of lying about their age. Don't let that number define you, but be truthful about it.
4. Choosing the wrong dating site
There are tonnes of dating websites out there so it can be tricky to know where to sign up if you're just starting out. Is it best to choose one of the main players, or something more niche?
In general, Madeleine advises sticking to the big ones, especially if you've never tried online dating before.
"I think it's worth joining one that's linked to the newspaper you read. But I'd say go for the mainstream ones, unless you have a particular niche interest that you'd love to see in a partner too."
And while you might prefer to try out a free site, if you're serious about meeting someone, you're going to want to meet people who are equally serious. That's the advantages of sites that charge a small membership fee.
5. Spending too long messaging
Once you've found someone you click with online, it can be tempting to while away the hours, crafting perfect, lengthy messages in order to get to know your new beau/belle, but Madeleine cautions that this can actually be a mistake. But so too can sending posts that say nothing about you, so it's best to get the balance right.
"When people message they either spend too long crafting messages and burn out. And if you're typing out really long messages and don't hear anything back, that can be really disappointing. I think you have to adopt a numbers game to some approach."
But you don't want to come across as lazy. Messages just saying "hi" aren't going to cut it.
Madeleine reckons the best strategy is to have a few lines of quite generic copy that you can use as a template. Something simple, like: "Hi, you look really nice on your profile. I thought I would drop you a line". But then, add something specific that makes it clear you've read that person's profile and are interested in talking further.
"Asking a question invites more conversation. One really good one to ask is: "what brings you to this site?" That way you're going to get a sense of what the other person wants as well. And then you can make some decisions on whether that fits or not."
6. Choosing an intense first date
As we covered above, you shouldn't be corresponding for too long. Madeleine recommends chatting for about a week as a rule of thumb.
"Obviously it depends on the circumstances, but after a few messages back and forth you should get a sense of if there is enough to go on. And then you need to arrange a date."
"You don't want a pen pal. You want to take online dating offline as soon as you get comfortable." She reckons a first date of around ninety minutes is ideal. A coffee or drink is a good shout. Think of it as a chemistry test.
"It's not merely a date; it's an experiment to see if there's enough to go on to have a longer meet up in the future."
7. Not being savvy
Safety is important, and it's never more vital to remember this than when you're potentially meeting strangers online. We've all heard horror stories of people, especially women, who have been lured into sending a lot of money to people they've never met and received nothing in return.
"If they start promising stuff and proclaiming a lot of affection and desire for you, then that's definitely a warning sign," cautions Madeleine.
So be wary if someone comes across as really charming and demands a lot from you but doesn't seem to want to meet. Madeleine also advises logging onto the Online Dating Association because their safety tips can't be beaten.
But there are plenty of reasons to enjoy dating as an older person. You have life experience and a good idea about what you will and won't accept from a partner. And you're likely far more confident than your younger self.
"There's something sexy about somebody being comfortable in their skin. Yeah, you might come with baggage, but so does everybody, and that's something people will be willing to work with," says Madeleine.