Dating at 50-plus

First: Are you ready? Next: What are you looking for? Next: These tools will get you started.

When it comes to dating, there is good and bad news for those age 50 and over. There are more potential mates to choose from. The U.S. Census reports that approximately 60 percent of them are single – never married, divorced or widowed. Though all may not currently be on the market, having more in the pool is a plus.

The bad news is if you've been out of the dating scene for a while and preparing to dive in, you will quickly learn that COVID-19 and social distancing has drastically changed the dating game. you may be best served by soliciting help in navigating the dating arena.

Experts agree that, before inviting others into your life, ensuring that you are indeed ready is the first step. Many carry baggage stemming from past relationships that tend to block the ability to maintain a successful new one. "When we do not deal with things from our past, we tend to fall back on the same patterns, which often leads to problems in future relationships. People need to know the kind of relationship they are looking for. Is it to marry? Companionship? Or just to have fun?" says Melanie Jesse, a clinical social worker and therapist at Springfield's Best Life Counseling Services. Knowing what you are looking for, says Jesse, also allows you to create boundaries "which are important in any relationship."

Once you've crossed that hurdle, you can begin exploring your dating options. While online dating has been a huge favorite of millennials for quite some time, over the past few years it has become an increasingly popular dating tool among seniors. Pew Research Center reports about 30 percent of seniors have been on a date with someone whom they met online. So, while you may be hesitant or overwhelmed, we'll make it a bit easier for you to take the plunge by narrowing down the sites.

Top dating apps for people over 50 as identified by AARP:

1. Our Time – Billed as the "premier online 50+ dating service," users submit personal information then look and send private messages to those who share their interests. They can also see who is checking them out. It's free to join. Monthly subscriptions for additional features start at $29.99.

2. SilverSingles – Great for those looking for romance and companionship, it offers a comprehensive personality test covering interests, beliefs and preferences. Automatic matchmaking connects users to 3-7 matches a day, making it one of the most popular sites. Free, with premium membership starting at $24.95 a month.

3. Eharmony – Best known for catering to those over 50, it allows picture uploads, use of a variety of communication tools, identity verification and access to a matching system that the company says contributes to its high success rate. Free, with premium rates $35.90-$65.90.

4. EliteSingles – Designed for those looking for lasting relationships, it is popular among college-educated, upper-income daters. It has a thorough questionnaire that accounts for factors such as income, culture and values. It allows users to specify the type of individuals with whom they would like to connect. It has a system that aligns users' "tastes" and expectations. $31.95 per month.

5. Match.com – Twenty-five years in the business makes it an industry pioneer. Boasting of being in 24 countries and 15 languages, the site, dubbed best for expert matching and live social events, is free, with advanced features starting at $15 a month.

6. SeniorMatch – With a ban on those under 40, SeniorMatch touts itself as "the largest and most effective senior dating site for baby boomers and seniors." Free membership allows users to send "winks" to those you're interested in. But you'll have to upgrade to premium to send messages.

7. Zoosk – This site's behavioral matching system provides members with in-depth reports on who's checked them out and who they are checking out. This includes demographics, education level and many other fun facts, as well as an analysis of their own activity level and tips for becoming a more successful online dater. $30 per month to send unlimited messages and use all features.

There are other noteworthy online sites and apps. So Syncd is unique as it uses the Myers-Briggs personality test to match daters. Bumble, where women "make the first move," has morphed from a dating site to a social networking system with platforms to increase career opportunities and to meet a new best friend. Other options based on ethnicity, religion, special interests, etc. are also available.

AARP advises seniors to increase their knowledge of technology in order to easily navigate dating apps and websites. Do the research to find the ones that best meet your needs. Stick to a max of three sites to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Familiarize yourself with the lingo. Most important, put your safety first. And don't give up if your first few matches don't work out.

Jolonda Young is a former Illinois Times staff writer. She currently is director of Illinois Central College Trio Talent Search program.

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