COVER STORY:When two people click

A 53-year-old widow from Larkspur enjoys “sunset walks and chocolate strawberries,” as well as Sunday HBO.

A 79-year-old retired, divorced pediatrician from Walnut Creek seeks to share his interests in ballroom dancing and helping dyslexic kids.

A 63-year-old Gemini from Mill Valley attends temple on the High Holy Days and doesn’t “feel a whole lot different” from when he was 28.

Think online dating is just for the hip-hop, hip-hugger generation? Think again. These days, you’re almost as likely to find an AARP member surfing for love on Jdate or Jmatch, two of the more popular Jewish virtual dating hotspots, as a single born during the Carter years. There now are hundreds of Bay Area Jewish singles over 50 using their keyboards to meet their next match.

To begin with, the number of mature Internet users is rising. In 1996, just 2 percent of those 65 and older were even online. Now 22 percent of that age bracket are using the Internet, and 58 percent of Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 are dialed up.

And now older users are going beyond e-mailing grandkids or checking the weekend weather online. They’re lookin’ for love. At this writing, Jmatch reports that 19 percent of all Bay Area Jmatch members are over 50.

According to the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01, 9 percent of Jewish adults are divorced, 4 percent are separated and 7 percent are widowed. That makes nearly a quarter of the Jewish American population who are single and on the scene — quite possibly online.

“I don’t have time for traditional methods,” explains Barry Aug, a 52-year-old sales representative from Burlingame. “I can’t go to parties or bars or shopping malls as much as I used to because I’m busy. The computer is always right there in from of you.”

The ease of meeting potential mates from the comfort of one’s own computer chair seems to be the cheap and quick reason romance-seekers are going digital.

“Erica,” age 52, who prefers not to use her real name, remembers the “joy” of receiving hand-written letters from men she met through the personals section of Jewish newspapers. For her, online dating is the logical evolution of the old-fashioned seal-and-stamp method.

For Jews seeking other Jews there are a variety of Web sites to choose from, including Jdate, Jmatch, Jewishcafe and the Jerusalem Post online personals. Many Jews opt to use non-affiliated sites such as Silver Singles, Eharmony, Match, American Singles and Craigslist.

Erica went online after hosting five Shabbat singles events and not meeting anyone. It was no-brainer for her to sign up with a Jewish dating site.

“On Friday night I want to be at Shabbat. I want to keep kosher,” she explains. “Someone who is going to want to go to a football game on Friday night is not going to work for me.”

Peggy Simon, a 51-year-old East Palo Alto personal business coach and writer, also prefers someone who is Jewish, among other qualities.

“I look for someone who is emotionally available. I like the idea of someone who is divorced and has kids. I love dating dads. Dads who enjoy being dads say a lot. Dads who are involved in the local community, the Jewish community.”

“Beth,” 51, who also prefers that her name not be used, is the manager of a Bay Area synagogue. She turned to the Internet after growing frustration with the local dating pool. “There is no consciousness among the Jewish community to match older singles up. People think that since I work in a temple it would be easy to meet people, but it’s not.”

For some singles, seeking a Jewish companion becomes more of a priority later in life.

“In the past I wasn’t really looking for a Jewish partner, but the older I get I think I might have more camaraderie with a Jewish woman,” says Aug.

And aside from the Jewish connection, what else are Web-savvy seniors looking for?

Devora Alouf, a matchmaker at the New York-based Jmatch, said older users have very specific criteria.

“We have seen that toward the third stage in life, people are looking for a companion as opposed to a marriage partner. They want to connect on some level. One [person] they meet online will be for friendship, one will be a business opportunity, one will be coffee and one might just qualify.”

Jaime Midgley of the Utah-based agreed.

She began the national online service after observing that her single father was having a difficult time negotiating the dating game.

“I’ve noticed in their profiles that they are specific about what they want,” Midgley says. “They are not messing around anymore. They are not going to settle.”

While the ability to spell out specific requirements, along with easy accessibility and relative anonymity are particularly appealing to post-midlife singles, the Internet dating dance is not without its lows.

After posting a relationship resume and interviewing potential candidates by e-mail, singles are faced with the inevitable — sharing a picture.

“You may talk back and forth, but when it gets down to sending a picture you may never hear from the person again,” says Aug.

Simon says that for her, physical attributes don’t make a lot of difference. “I pay attention to the words. I’ve thought, he’s more overweight than I like, but he’s a great dad and into interesting things.”

One single man relayed the experience of meeting for the first time with a woman who was 10 years older than her online picture and 40 pounds heavier. While he admits “feeling sorry for her,” he felt deceived and left mid-date.

As Internet dating becomes more mainstream, an unspoken, universal rule demands honesty and pictorial accuracy. Why would a woman post a dated picture, lie and take the risk of getting caught and rejected?

Alouf, at Jmatch where 54 percent of users are female, says that with older Internet singles, the difference between the genders becomes obvious.

“Unfortunately, the way society is set up, men have it easier as they get older. Women have advantages in their 20s, and the roles reverse later on in life.”

As a woman in the over 50-age bracket, Beth has run into frustration in the dating game. “I have had the feeling that men were looking over my shoulder to see who else is out there. Men feel like it is a big candy store — they may be focused on the gumballs, but they’re also looking at the chocolates on the shelf. Men [in my age bracket] are looking for a 30-year-old woman.”

Overall, the reports are positive, but as in any venture, success doesn’t happen overnight. Internet dating takes just as much, if not more, time as coaxing friends into setting up blind dates, working the room at a singles event or approaching a stranger at the gym.

“I don’t know any true horror stories, just awkward moments,” says Simon. “You have to put yourself out there, no one is just going to come to your door.”

Erica, who spent a once-in-a-lifetime 50th birthday celebration in Israel with a man she met online, echoes Simon’s advice. “You have to really put energy into it, and stay focused. You have to be proactive.”

And as George Dunn, a 69 year-old Los Altos stockbroker, explains, unhinging your hand from the mouse, ungluing your eyes from the screen and hitting the streets is crucial — at any age. He met one woman who was “low-profile in her accomplishments,” according to her online posting, but she turned out to be an internationally recognized surgeon, and a “charming and intellectually stimulated person.”

Why didn’t it work out?

They both proved to be just too busy. “There wasn’t room for a relationship, but it was still positive.”

Whether they’re widowed, divorced or still looking for a first love, age matters less and less for those looking for romance from the privacy of their offices or in the hectic atmosphere of bar hopping.

“I don’t look or act 69,” says Dunn. “People who put brackets around age miss a lot of opportunities.”


From keyboard clicks to wedding bells

Putting your best face forward online