Click Here For Love

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ILLUSTRATION FOR TIME BY TOMER HANUKA

As older Americans grow more comfortable online, they’re seeking e-romance in record numbers

For 47 years, George Mynchenberg shared love letters and romantic dinners with his wife Beverly. "There was always just one woman in my life," he says. Now — eight years after her death — there are about 40.

The road from stalwart husband to bachelor about town wasn't a straight path. In 1997, a year after Beverly died, Mynchenberg met his second wife through a friend. But six years later, their marriage fell apart. "I thought, 'I'm 80. What the hell do I do now? I still want a companion.'" Mynchenberg finally tried a method that he never dreamed would suit him: online dating. He joined four e-dating services, which he refers to as "friendship clubs." Every morning in his waterfront home in Ormond Beach, Fla., Mynchenberg sits down at his computer and sifts through the profiles of dozens of women, searching for an intelligent 69-to-79-year-old Floridian with whom he can share conversation, travels and intimacy — but not marriage.

So far, Mynchenberg says, his effort is working. His romantic calendar is packed, with nine recent dates as evidence. "You can get a pretty good idea of what people look like [online], where they're from and what their pros and cons are," he says.

While e-dating has been around for nearly a decade — and many younger singles swear by its proven powers — an older singles set is just catching on. On Match.com, one of the most popular online services, the number of singles over 50 has tripled since 2000, to 934,000. SeniorFriendFinder.com's membership has likewise spiked from 95,000 in 2001 to over 313,000 today. As older Americans become increasingly comfortable with the Web and e-mail, many are expanding the range of their online activities to include cyber-romance.

That's why a dozen new sites catering to this burgeoning market have cropped up in the past few years. SilverSingles.com, SeniorsCircle.com and Yahoo's ThirdAge Personals are among those that have grown steadily by focusing on an older age group. Most sites cost $20 to $30 a month. Others are free to join but charge for every e-mail or chat session. Unfortunately for older daters on modest incomes, an AARP membership doesn't buy any dating discounts online.

"Ten years ago, a lot of us didn't even know how to get online," says Alice Solomon, 67, founder of GorgeousGrandma.com, a support site for aging single women, and author of Find the Love of Your Life After 50. "But these days, among my peers, online dating has become the hottest thing since underwire bras."

Mynchenberg spends two hours a day on sites like Match.com, AmericanSingles.com and SeniorFriendFinder .com. And though he has already exchanged notes with 40 women, not all the subsequent meetings have turned out well. "One woman was way too rich. I couldn't afford to keep up with her," he says. "She wanted to hop on an airplane and fly off to Paris." Another woman, whom Mynchenberg liked very much, suffered from congestive heart failure and had to move in with her brother 40 miles away.

But for others, online romance has bloomed into love. Living in remote Malakoff, Texas, Frances Gaspar, 61, started e-dating because few eligible men lived nearby. Soon she found herself juggling dozens of e-mails from friendly Texans as far as 100 miles away. One of them, Bob, 63, drove for two hours to meet Gaspar for ice cream after courting her with jokey e-mails. "He wrote, 'I'm a registered massage therapist, but I won't rub you the wrong way,'" recalls Gaspar with a laugh.

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