(NEW YORK) — Mention AARP, and most people think of Social Security, Medicare, senior discounts but not love.
Now the group is now getting into the dating business, launching an online dating channel, and an online dating site for the over 50 crowd.
“AARP wanted to get into the game because, one, we know isolation is a very big issue for our members as they age,” said Nataki Edwards, vice president of digital strategies and operations at AARP.
Edwards says a quarter of the group’s 37 million members are single, and many have been asking the organization to help them link up with others. “It’s not necessarily about getting married,” Edwards told ABC News. “It’s about the companionship and having fun things to do with someone else.”
AARP’s new venture is not the first dating site geared toward older Americans. It’ll be competing with OurTime, which bills itself as the premier online 50+ dating service. AARP is partnering with HowAboutWe.com, which believes in getting people out on dates early on to see if they hit it off rather than spending a lot of time getting to know each other online, only to find there’s no chemistry when they meet in person.
Edwards calls it “dating like they used to date.” That appeals to Shelley Kilburn, who describes herself as a “54 year old SWF (single while female).” Kilburn likes the idea of meeting face-to face, telling ABC News, “When you talk to someone in person you get a better image or feeling, you have that ability to use … that sixth sense.” Kilburn, a former news colleague, has been divorced for five years. The Southern California resident hasn’t tried online dating yet but says she might gravitate to an AARP site because for her the group has a trustworthy “history and reputation, [so] I would be comfortable.”
Carol Siflinger agrees, writing in response to a Facebook question about the new site, “It is a great idea! I would hope singles going to this site would be of a better caliber than “meat market” sites! For those 50 and older, trying to date again can be daunting.
“It’s not so easy for people because many of them haven’t dated for 30 years or more,” said relationship expert Pepper Schwartz, who’s written extensively on sexuality. Pepper, who is also AARP’s Love and Relationship Ambassador, says online dating can be especially unnerving.
“Honestly, I think most of them go kicking and screaming. They wouldn’t do this if there was another option.” Schwartz, who is 67, met her fiancé online. “It’s not easy: you have to work at it. You have to be resilient.”
Of course, Schwartz adds, that’s not necessarily age-related. “Whoever found dating easy,” she says, “even when they were younger.”
Looking for a companion online worked wonderfully for Becky Hedlund Lemaire, of Breaux Bridge, La., who met her husband of six years through an online service. She says no matter which dating site you rely on, it’s important to take safety seriously. “Always meet in public,” says Lemaire. “Don’t give out personal information, and make sure someone knows where you are going to meet.”
AARP has tips too for the more mature dater, suggesting you don’t spend the first date talking only about your children or grandchildren, or your aches and pains. The organization says its new online dating channel will help with dating advice.
Those popular senior discounts will come into play too. AARP is offering a seven-day free trial, then half-off the dating service price for its members. AARP’s Edwards won’t be using the new service, because “I am married myself.” However, she’s laughs, “I have sent it to every single friend that I have who is looking.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio