The latest trend in online dating? Going offline as fast as you can.
dating websites used to focus on helping singles get acquainted with
extended online communication before meeting face-to-face. But now the
order is reversed: a growing number of sites are geared to helping users
plan offline activities to size each other up and decide if they've got
And everybody's getting into the act - even the AARP.
54-year old nonprofit, best known for lobbying on behalf of the 50+
crowd, for the last several years has been repackaging itself to appeal
more to the younger end of its constituency: a quarter of the group's 37
million members are single and more than half of the singles are
younger than 70, AARP says.
So the organization is launching its own dating enterprise, in partnership with an up-and-coming site called HowAboutWe.com,
which solicits ideas for interesting dates, then connects potential
partners who like the suggestions and want to go out. Its traffic jumped
221% in the past year, according to ComScore.
"The core idea was
to build an offline dating site that made it easy for people to say
what they want to do for a date, connect and get offline," says Brian
Schechter, 33, co-founder and co-CEO of HowAboutWe, which launched two
Although he just turned 50 in September and isn't an
AARP member, Ken Nicholas signed up with HowAboutWe this fall because he
"liked the premise of taking it offline."
Nicholas, a sales
consultant in Los Angeles, was married for 12 years; he says it was
difficult to get back into dating after his divorce was finalized in
August. He had tried a few online dating sites with "really terrible
His date suggestion: "How about we start with
coffee and end with wine. Add some art or culture in between and it
could be fun." That got him a few dates, including one woman he's seen
several times since.
The AARP partnership with HowAboutWe is part
of the broader evolution under way among dating websites to focus more
on the elusive ingredient that the online environment has never been
able to provide: a reality check.
Older sites such as Match.com
and newer ones such as DinnerDate, CupidRadar and Grouper, all are
focusing on the importance of a personal connection offline that just
can't happen via technology. This retro appeal is especially evident
with Grouper, which organizes something like the old-style "double
date," where a couple of friends go along for moral support. What's
somewhat ironic is that young singles who are so digitally immersed are
at the forefront of this move to meet face-to-face.
"People of my
generation, in our 20s, think a one-on-one date - especially a blind
date - can be a lot of pressure. We've found most of our relationships -
whether romantic relationships or just friends - happen a little more
organically. We don't like to even call them dates," says Michael
Waxman, 26, co-founder and CEO of Grouper, which launched last year in New York.
September, Grouper expanded to a dozen U.S. cities and one in Canada.
By early next year, it aims for 10 more cities in the USA and Canada and
will add London.
"I cringe a little when people describe it as
online dating," Waxman says. "There's really almost nothing online about
it. The typical experience for a Grouper member is to spend about five
minutes on our website and about two hours at a bar with your friends."
dating industry consultant Mark Brooks, who has worked for many such
sites, including POF (Plentyoffish), says the AARP move into dating
"Seniors is a very good niche," he says. "Most dating
sites skew toward guys, with more guys than women. But senior dating
sites have more women. Being a 75-year-old single man is the equivalent
of being a 21-year-old hottie."
That's good news for AARP member
Judith Schwartz, 65, of Clermont, Fla., an IT consultant and adjunct
professor of computer science who began online dating after her husband
died in 2008.
"The younger men were primarily interested in sex
and the older men were primarily interested in having somebody take care
of them," she says. "I did go on several dates and they're just not
what they advertised themselves to be."
AARP won't have a clear
field for the older singles market. The OurTime community, which
includes OurTime.com, SeniorsMeet.com and SeniorPeopleMeet.com, has 4
million members, according to parent company People Media. It operates
as a wholly owned subsidiary of Match.com, which purchased it in 2009.
the new partnership, AARP is offering its members a seven-day free
trial and half off the normal rates. HowAboutWe charges $34.99 a month,
though costs dip for a longer commitment. Most online sites are free to
create a profile but charge to communicate. Sites with the offline
focus charge differently. Grouper, for example, costs $20 a person for
each group date, which includes its services and the first drink.
officials say members have been asking the organization to get into
dating for several years. Members have started 20 dating-related online
groups (with names like "Single and Mingle") that have more than 6,000
participants. AARP senior vice president Sami Hassanyeh says after the
website approached the organization a year ago about a partnership, AARP
decided to plunge in.
"I do not think we're late in getting into this," he says. "I think the market is getting bigger, not smaller."
2012 Census information released in November says there are almost 38
million unmarried Americans ages 50 and older in the USA. More than half
Research suggests face-to-face chemistry maybe be
more important than some online dating sites initially realized. A
study earlier this year in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest
finds "no compelling evidence" to support the online sites' claims that
their algorithms work better than other ways of pairing people.
been amazing for us is that the industry in 2012 - be it Match.com or
site after site after site - they're emphasizing meeting face-to-face as
a chemistry check," says the study's lead author, social psychologist
Eli Finkel of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
In May, Match.com, founded in 1995, announced "innovative features
for connecting people that eliminate the distinction between online and
offline dating," including monthly mixer events in 80 cities. By the
end of this year, Match.com officials say the site will have hosted
nearly 2,000 events with 150,000 singles. Members are encouraged to
invite friends. PlentyofFish, a free online site, also hosts
"I think what people have reached is a
saturation point of wanting to do everything digitally," says Andrew
Connell, president of DinnerDate, that launched in January. "A lot of
people were saying 'it just feels like work.' "
currently operates just in San Diego. He says other cities will be
added, but they need enough restaurants and enough users. The site
focuses on age-themed dinners of 10 people rather than matching
individuals, he says. It also conducts mixers for slightly larger
"Our belief is the computer is a great way to process and
meet people, but you can't beat natural human chemistry," says Connell.
Waxman says his site is aimed at simplicity, which appeals to the young
adults it serves. And its events are designed with the Millennial
mindset. "Some describe us as online dating. We describe ourselves as an
offline social club," he says.
"We handle all the logistics,"
Waxman says. "Simply sign up and tell us when you're available to go.
When we have a match who we think is going to be good for you, we
basically organize a time and place for two of you to meet and you are
each responsible for bringing two friends along."
Daniel Katz, 23, of New York City, isn't an online dater, yet says he has been on three Groupers.
looking to meet new people. If I met a girlfriend, I definitely
wouldn't complain," says Katz, an account executive. "It's mostly
getting out of your comfort zone but having that safety net of having
your friends with you. It's not just the people you're meeting, but they
also pick pretty cool spots. I've gone to a lot of bars and restaurants
I probably wouldn't have gone to otherwise."
companies have all but bypassed the website approach and gone mobile
with location-based dating, with smartphone apps such as CupidRadar,
based in Los Angeles, which launched this year.
Sarlak, 41, says he wasn't targeting any specific age group with his
app, but he says he's done online dating and thought there needed to be a
better way than the lengthy process that involves "e-mailing and then
talking on the phone and then coordinating schedules and finally
"Then you would meet after weeks and months and in a half an hour face-to-face realize it was not a good connection," he says.