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Internet Dating Goes Gray

COLUMN ONE

Online matchmaking is clicking with seniors, who apparently stretch the truth about themselves as much as the younger crowd.

May 19, 2004|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Jack Luizzi guesses he's dated 50 women since his wife died five years ago -- and the retired Sears Roebuck manager considers that a slack pace.

Beckoned by a lavish buffet of Internet dating sites, Luizzi, 75, can sound like a teenage boy who has crept into the girls' locker room.

"I specify women between 58 and 75, and they'll come up with 25 pages of women. Ten to a page!" says Luizzi, a slight man with a roguish smile and a head of snow-white hair. "That's a lot of choice and a lot of possibility."

Luizzi may be more energetic than others, but he's hardly an aberration.

More than a million U.S. men and women over age 65 are testing the promise of computer-assisted love, according to Nielsen/Net Ratings, an Internet tracking service.

Living longer than ever, and armed with Viagra and high-speed modems, American seniors are the new hot market for Internet dating services. Registrations by singles 65 and older grew 122% last year on Match.com, one of the largest dating sites.

While friends, relatives and work are still the best way for older Americans to find a date, singles groups and online matchmaking services are starting to compete with church, a survey by AARP The Magazine found last fall.

By the time Americans qualify for Social Security, about a third have been widowed. Meanwhile, the number of older divorcees is on the rise. Census figures show that 7.4% of the senior population was divorced in 2002, up from 5% in 1990.

The singles trend is expected to explode after 2011, as the baby boom generation enters its golden years with liberalized attitudes about sex, cohabitation and personal satisfaction. At their peak, boomers will drive the over-65 population up to 25% from just under 13% today.

Taking note, AARP, the nation's largest retiree organization, last year added an advice column called "Modern Love" to its magazine. On the magazine's website, aarpmagazine.org, readers can find tips on how to safely use online services and post their own dating stories.

On one message board, a woman recounted agreeing to meet a suitor for coffee and the shock of discovering it was her ex-husband. Another poster, who goes by the handle "Gidget1949," said the man she met looked at least 20 years older than his picture.

"He had a car that looked as though he lived in it and a stash of books in the back seat to 'prove' his own personal Kennedy assassination theory," she wrote. "It was just a nightmare, except I did get a great barbecue lunch out of it."

Despite the occasional horror story, the Internet can be an attractive way for seniors to find companionship, said Trish McDermott, vice president of romance for Match.com.

Whether motivated by lust or loneliness, older adults like the convenience of online dating and the ability to tailor their search by age, geographic area and common interests, McDermott said.

"Seniors are the most likely of our customers to say that hard work, compromise and perseverance, rather than magic, lead to lasting romance," McDermott said. "So it makes sense to them."

Most commercial services allow anyone to see short profiles of their members for free. But to make contact, you have to pay a monthly fee ranging from $25 to $50 and post your own profile.

Some websites monitor the courtship, at least in the initial phases, booting out members who have caused problems and screening for foul language.

But veteran daters say it's pretty much buyer beware. Internet daters notoriously shade the truth about weight, age and income, or lie outright.

"They all lie about their age, by three to five years," said Luizzi, who lives in Woodland Hills. "So I knock off five years just to get even."

Luizzi turned to Internet matchmaking after he lost his third wife -- "the best of the bunch" -- to ovarian cancer.

Of the dozens of women he has dated, only a couple have turned into long-term romances, Luizzi said. One woman moved from Colorado to live with him for a few months, but it didn't work out.

His current "lady friend" lives in Studio City. She is in her 80s and has been widowed three times, but is "very well preserved," he said.

"You wouldn't believe it if you saw her," he said. "She really passes for 60."

Luizzi has tried newspaper personals, but he prefers the online version because he can more easily find women who fit his type [petite blonds] and share his love of big-band music.

Older daters tend to look for partners who share interests and will be good companions. AARP's survey showed that older Americans are more active than ever and want someone who can share in outdoor and social activities, said Ron Geraci, an editor at AARP The Magazine.

And they don't necessarily see marriage as a goal, Geraci said.

"They are very interested in maintaining independence," he said. "It's a 'come-hither, but give me space' attitude about relationships."

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