We met online. Jennifer was living in a rural college town and found the pool of eligible men to be, shall we say, pretty shallow. Charles liked the idea of getting well acquainted with a woman before starting to date. Both of us found our way to eHarmony.com, and began filling out the lengthy questionnaires required by that site. One survey asked about “Must Haves” and “Can’t Stands.” For example, “I must have a partner who is honest and reliable.” “I can’t stand people who are racist.” When Jennifer saw Charles’ answers to these questions, she thought she was looking at her own responses. Ah, Fate!
Over the next several weeks, we corresponded intensely. At first, we did so through the dating site, allowing us to get acquainted without having to share identifying information. Soon we exchanged email addresses, and delved into an all-consuming online correspondence, feeling as though we were both teenagers again (Jennifer was 53 and Charles was 60 at the time). We had both decided that we would simply lay our cards on the table, sharing as much information as possible in the attempt to find someone who would accept us completely.
Jennifer almost ruled Charles out as a dating partner at first because of the seven-year age difference. Charles almost ignored Jennifer’s listing because she lived about 310 miles from him, and he had chosen a 300-mile radius for his search. Yet somehow we connected, and we chose to spend several weeks getting to know each other online before we (with hearts pounding!) met in person. Later, we both felt that this was a priceless opportunity to communicate about what really mattered before the distraction of being physically together. We talked about our previous relationships, our families, our values, our hopes, our fears, the good and bad choices we had made in life, and the things that made us smile. We went through the work day with our minds on the evening, when each of us would find a lengthy message waiting, to our delight. After a few weeks, we planned a phone call. It was such a thrill to hear each other’s voices for the first time!
How did we know that our potential partner was “the real deal?” We weren’t naïve; we know that many people lie online. In fact, one study showed that about half of online daters lie about their height and weight, and about 20 percent lie about their age – not by much, but they do lie. Jennifer’s friends, in particular, were concerned about her safety and whether she could trust the information that Charles was giving her. Like many online daters, Jennifer searched the internet for information about Charles. More than that, though, she examined his correspondence for consistency and emotional authenticity, as Charles did with her communications. We asked a lot of questions and made note of the other’s willingness to answer fully and deeply. Charles expressed his wish for Jennifer to feel safe in the budding relationship, and offered to wait before meeting, provide any personal information she might like, and to take gradual steps in building the relationship.
About 17% of Americans who were married in the last year met their spouse online. Nearly 21% of the over-40s in our (interesting but unscientific) relationship study met their partners online. (By the way, you can still participate in the survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MidlifeRelationships2.) We know from personal experience that, with appropriate caution, online dating can enable older adults to connect with just the right partner.
Northwest authors Jennifer Y. Levy-Peck, PhD, a psychologist and her husband Charles Peck, met online. You can participate in the creation of their book "Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40" (and enter to win a $100 Amazon gift card) by sharing your experiences in a survey: www.surveymonkey.com/s/MidlifeRelationships2.
Previous Magic at Midlife Columns:
Lucky to Have You: Gratitude Enhances Relationships
Enjoying the Single Life
Sex in Midlife Relationships: Complicated but Wonderful!
Upgrade Your Communication Skills
Tending Your Relationship as You Tend to Aging Parents
Learning from Your Relationship History
When Extrovert Meets Introvert
What Do You Want in the Long Run?
Creating Holidays for Changing Families