By Gina Damron Detroit Free Press
DETROIT — Jerry Reiser married his high school sweetheart. But that ended after 14 years. A softball umpire introduced him to his second wife. That, too, ended in divorce. Then two years ago, Reiser — now 58 — decided he wanted another longterm relationship — but found singles dances weren’t cutting it. He turned to online dating. Reiser quickly received more than 70 matches. He dated a handful of women from the online roster, but only one stood out — Debbie Kuzma. More than a year and a half after the two met, they were married. “We’re on the same page mentally, physically,” Jerry Reiser said. “Everything is perfect.”
The Reisers, who live in Clinton, Mich., southwest of Ann Arbor, are among a growing number of older people who are looking for or have found love on the Web.
Online dating companies like eHarmony.com, Match.com and lavalife.com have seen significant growth in the number of users age 50 and up in recent years. Joe Tracy, publisher of Online Dating Magazine, says that “the 50-plus segment in the online dating world is the fastest growing.”
Experts say the growth is multifaceted: Older people are using the Internet more; they have a harder time finding companions in social settings like bars, or at work; they are being pushed to the Web by adult children, and they are looking for a different way to find compatible matches.
“They are not necessarily looking for just casual dates or the next big romance,” said LavalifePRIME Vice President Lally Rementilla. “They’re looking more for companionship.”
For example, eHarmony saw a 20 percent growth in users ages 60 and up during the first quarter of 2009, compared with the same period in 2008.
“If you’re 45, 55, 60, it’s probably been a really long time since you’ve been dating,” said Dr. Gian Gonzaga, senior research scientist for eHarmony Labs. “So all of the traditional routes to finding potential partners have been cut off.”
In the case of Milford residents Cheryl and Larry Bond, the Internet paid off. The couple married in January, roughly two years after they met online.
It was a meeting that almost didn’t happen.
Cheryl Bond, 54, a divorcee with adult children, hadn’t dated in six years when she decided to take her search online. Not able to find men at work or at social events, she signed up for eHarmony. But Bond found the lengthy questionnaire laborious; she toiled over the decision, worrying what coworkers would think and scared of the people she would meet.
“I think there’s sort of a fear of the unknown,” Bond said. “You hear the horror stories of people who meet online and end up, you know, in a gutter somewhere.”
But after an e-mail nudge from eHarmony, she finished the survey and was promptly matched with Larry, a 53-year old Sterling Heights resident who also was divorced. They exchanged likes and dislikes.
Larry: Can’t stand someone always running late.
Cheryl: Doesn’t like people who are mean to others.
Larry hates mushrooms; Cheryl loves them.
They met for coffee at a Starbuck’s.
Larry was there when Cheryl walked in.
“You’re early,” he said.
The pair clicked immediately, and eventually married on a quiet beach in Hawaii. It wasn’t seamless: Some accommodations had to be made to blend their two families. They waited to get married until Larry’s son graduated from high school and Cheryl’s adult daughter had her wedding.
But even on the Web, not all matches end in long-term relationships or a wedding ceremony. Jerry Reiser dated women he met online who he discovered he wasn’t compatible with.
Larry Bond, who tried Internet dating a few years ago, said he also dated a woman he met for several years, but the two split.
“Some of it was just chemistry — wasn’t there,” Bond said. “There are very few people you click with.”
Not all older people online are looking for a life mate. Some are just looking for the proverbial good time.
Meet Carole Sipila.
You could just call her silversassy or silverfox, the handles she’s used while looking for men on sites like mingle2.com and PlentyOfFish.com.
Sipila, in her late 60s, is from Clinton Township, Mich.; she golfs and kayaks, goes dancing every week, is twice divorced — “Both husbands were drinkers,” she’ll tell you — and isn’t looking for a guy who wants to follow her around.
“If they don’t have hobbies or interests, they want to spend all their time with you,” she said. “And I don’t want to spend all my time with them.”
What does Sipila look for? Smart, attractive nonsmokers who golf and drive motorcycles.
“I’m pretty fussy,” she said. “I’ve got to weed them out.”
But her four children — all in their 30s and 40s — want her to be careful while perusing the Web, especially because she’s regularly being hit on by younger men.
Match.com and AARP have stringent recommendations for staying safe online, including getting as many details about a match before meeting in person; being wary of anyone soliciting financial advice or money, and requesting recent pictures.
Debbie Reiser tried staying anonymous by not putting a photo on her eHarmony profile.
“Whenever somebody didn’t have a picture on there, I just deleted them,” Jerry Reiser said. But, reading his future wife’s profile, he decided to meet her. “There was something about her.”
They started getting to know each other.
She’s a nurse; he works for Ferndale’s Department of Public Works. Both have been divorced and love going to church.
They met for the first time at the Gibraltar Trade Center in Taylor, Mich., each with one kid in tow — her 12-yearold daughter, his 17-year-old son. On the second date, she came over to his house for a home-cooked dinner of hamburgers and fries.
“Things just started going from there,” Jerry Reiser said. If it hadn’t been for the Web, “I would have never met Factory Direct To You Debbie.”