Mention AARP and most people think of Social Security, Medicare and senior discounts. Now the group is getting into the dating business.
"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 said 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 this age group. It'll be competing with OurTime, which bills itself as the premier online 50+ dating service. AARP is partnering with HowAboutWe.com, whose philosophy is to get 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 white female)." Kilburn said she 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 a (woman's intuition), that sixth sense."
Kilburn, a Southern California resident and a former news colleague of this reporter, has been divorced for five years. She hasn't tried online dating yet, but says she might gravitate to an AARP site because to 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. Schwartz, 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, says she 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. "Who ever 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 - the group suggests 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 said she won't be using the new service because "I am married myself." However, she laughs, "I have sent it to every single friend that I have who is looking."
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