Ten minutes early for her date Anita Horwath sits in the back corner booth of Panera Bread waiting for Gill to arrive. Sipping her coffee she asks herself: Is he going to look anything like his pictures? Will he really be ‘very down to earth’ and what the hell does that even mean? She imagines all sorts of scenarios in her head.
She looks up to see Gil who’s well dressed, bald, and a little younger than she thought.
Horwath, a 56-year-old divorced mother of one, is part of a wave of baby boomers aged 55 to 64 who are projected to have the largest increase in online dating with an expected 30 percent increase from 2013 to 2030.
“I joined Match.com because my neighbor encouraged me to and because it was on sale at the time,” she says laughing to herself. “The whole thing is strange to me. I’ve been married, my son gives me shit about dating and I honestly thought before I signed up that I was a little old for this.”
A few minutes after Gil sits down, Anita thinks to herself that this is not really so bad. Anita, a drama teacher at a high school, says she had thought of going on this date like it was an audition but once they started talking she found no need to act.
“He was interesting, Italian, traveled the world and seemed interested in me.”
They talk for about an hour before Gil leaves Anita with a sign of his interest.
“Next time we get together you can teach me to act and I’ll cook for you.”
The age range of 55 to 64 are expected to have the biggest online dating boom, with a 30 percent increase between 2013 and 2030 – from 1.87 million to 2.41 million.
Fifty percent of couples will have met online by the year 2031, according to eHarmony.com.
One third of married couples today have met online, and by 2040, seven out of 10 couples will have met online, according to eHarmony.com.
But using the Internet to find somebody to build a relationship does not come free. Most dating sites charge a monthly fee, with the exception of a few limited time free trials.
As of Jan. 1, 2014, the online dating industry had brought in an average annual revenue of $1.249 billion. This equates to roughly $239 spent by each user per year, according to Reuters and The Washington Post.
As the multitude of online dating websites compete with one another based on different features offered, they also compete with one another on prices.
OurTime.com, which is exclusively for people aged 50 and over, has much cheaper prices than both Match.com and eHarmony for its packages. All three websites offer a six-month package with monthly rates of $11.99 (OurTime.com), $17.99 (Match.com) and $33.99 (eHarmony).
While eHarmony comes at one of the steepest prices and OurTime is priced much cheaper than most, it comes to a surprise that the highest percent of users for eHarmony have a household annual average income between $0-50,000, and the highest percent of OurTime users have an annual average income of over $150,000.
Kevin and Debbi Kelly are also a part of the 55 to 64 age range of the baby boomers looking to the Internet to find love. The two have been married for three years after meeting on Match.com.
Debbi included in her profile her 12 most important traits that she was looking for in a partner. When Kevin read through her profile in 2008, he took notice of her love of the beach, family, friends and traveling. After looking over her profile he sent her a message.
“His email so impressed me because he addressed every single one of my points and I knew he read them all because when he got to the bottom he said, ‘hey where is number 11?’ ” said the 56-year-old resident of Bel Air.
Before meeting Debbi, Kevin had been on Match since 2005. When he started dating online he had just gotten out of a terrible relationship where he bought a house with a girlfriend and she left him after dating for five years. They had only had the house for about four months. Kevin was left with a house and three kids to take care of from previous relationships.
A few of his buddies told him to try online dating. This was something new for him since he usually only met girls in bars.
“I was going to bars my whole life,” said Kevin, 58. “I was on a 30-year bachelor party. I hung in bars until I wore the bar scene out and I came to the conclusion you are not going to find anybody of quality in a bar.”
He had signed up for several different sites like Match.com and PlentyOfFish.com and both led him to what Kevin refers to as the dark side: his addiction to online dating. Kevin became dependent to checking his profile. He became addicted to taking women out and then finding new ones to exchange stories with his buddies about.
“You would bring a girl home to your house and leave her up in your bedroom only to run down stairs to see if anyone else has sent you a message online,” Kevin said. “It became very addictive.”
It got to the point where he did not know his dates’ actual names. Kevin would use nicknames to refer to his dates: Trauma-Mama, Rite-Aid and Ghost Stories.
“I met some crazy people on there,” Kevin said. “You find out so fast that what these women write in their profiles, they are no different than men. What they write in these profiles isn’t always the truth.”
Eventually Kevin found himself wanting an actual relationship. He would spend nights in his pajamas reading different profiles.
“I would say in 90 percent of the cases they were lying,” Kevin said. “It was not them in their pictures. From a standpoint it was them but maybe 15 to 20 years ago, maybe 15 to 400 pounds ago. You have to shift through a lot of garbage to find the truth and then you have to hold your ground. It’s so easy to go into online dating because it’s the best way to meet people now but it can still be hard.”
It took him about six months in to realize he really was not getting anywhere. Finally just when he was going to take a break from the online dating scene he fumbled upon Debbi Lacovelli’s profile.
“I was separated and I wasn’t divorced yet but I wanted to get out there and start dating a lot of people,” Debbi said. “That was my goal. I wanted to go out with a lot of guys and have a good time. I had just turned 50 so I wasn’t a spring chicken and I thought the internet was the best place to check people out because I am not a bar person.”
They later when on their first date to The Original Steakhouse. They had such a good time with each other they closed the bar down. The couple went on a few more dates to the mall and to Have De Grace before she was introduced to his family
“I learned the more you put into it, the more you get out of it,” Kevin said.
When looking for that one person to start a relationship with, no matter how old or how young, it starts with a key fundamental step, said Beth Gallihue, an adjunct psychology professor at Towson University who teaches a Love & Intimacy course.
“The first step in finding a relationship is finding out who you are and what you want,” said Gallihue. “Sometimes people live their lives for other people and get burned and they may be asking that question to themselves for the very first time. They can have baggage but also wisdom.”
When people in the 50+ generation are looking for somebody to build a relationship with online – whether it be on Match.com, OurTime.com, SeniorsMeet.com – there’s a key difference that stands out from those who have just graduated college and are under 30, Gallihue said.
While people in their 20s may be looking for more of a hook up and physical appearance based relationship, those in their 50s and over may have the baggage of a child or children, meaning that they would need a relationship that is based on deeper circumstances than just appearance and going out.
“Most people who are looking for a relationship at this age are not looking for their first relationship,” Gallihue said, “so they usually have been married before, so they are in a different stage of life than someone in their 20s.”
And while Gallihue said there are generalizations one could make about each generation and what they’re looking for, it ultimately comes down to the individual.
“Women will be looking for someone who is financially stable. I think younger people are more focused on physical appearance and older people are more focused on financial stability, but that’s a generalization,” Gallihue said. “I would guess it all depends what you are looking for; a hook up, a friends with benefits, fun or a significant other.”
Two weeks after their first date Anita has not taught Gil how to act, nor has he cooked for her. They haven’t been in any sort of contact since their promising first date.
“Neither of us pursued it. He was an interesting guy but I guess I didn’t have the motivation to contact him again and he must have felt the same way.”
As Anita sits on the couch of her comfortable Federal Hill home drinking her glass of wine she checks her matches but the appeal of the online dating scene is escaping her.
“My subscription runs out in a few weeks and I don’t think I’m going to renew it. The whole thing seems unnatural to me and it’s just…I find nothing pleasant about it.”
She laughs to herself as she thinks of one instance where she did get some enjoyment out of online dating.
“I recently asked this guy if he wanted to get coffee and he responded that he was really swamped. I asked him if he wanted me to send him a life jacket.”