By Suzanne M. Ellis
The first meeting — and the relationship that eventually developed — between Judy Wilcox and Joe Corso was likely a combination of fate, good fortune, a willingness to attend a “singles event” and plain old-fashioned karma.
Wilcox, 58, and Corso, 65, met in June at an event sponsored by Lunch Appeal, a personalized matchmaking service in Liverpool. Wilcox had never been to one of Lunch Appeal’s gatherings but was talked into it by a cousin. Corso had been to one earlier in the year.
Wilcox and Corso are among the lucky ones because dating, in general, and meeting someone special, in particular, pose unique challenges to most 55-plusers, according to Pam and Scott Stowell, president and vice president, respectively, of Lunch Appeal.
“When you are in your 20s and 30s, perhaps even into your 40s, you feel like you have all the time in the world and that you always have tomorrow to meet someone,” said Scott Stowell. “When you get older, that thought process changes a lot [because] you have less time.”
Fifty years ago, the majority of people who found themselves alone at 55 or older were alone because their spouse had died. Today, the number of singles over 55 in this country is extremely high because the divorce rate is extremely high. For those older Americans who may have been married for 25 or 30 years or longer, suddenly finding themselves a single senior citizen can be a huge adjustment. And finding someone of the opposite sex to spend time with can be a daunting task.
Most, especially women, are not interested in hanging out at bars. Many older, single Americans have left the working world, so they’re not meeting people in their day-to-day lives. Online dating sites, if folks are even computer-savvy, present their own particular set of dangers. So much so, said Pam Stowell, that in September, New York state passed the Internet Dating Safety Act.
“While the use of Internet dating services has resulted in countless happy couples, this new method of meeting potential mates can pose risks to participants [and] New York State residents need to be informed of these potential risks,” according to the bill, which can be found in its entirety at open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S6283. “This bill [requires] Internet dating services to post a safety awareness notification, which [includes] a list of recommended safety measures users should take to ensure safe dating.”
Among the safer alternatives for seniors to meet someone are volunteering or taking classes or lessons that would appeal to other seniors.
“Of course you want to meet someone that is compatible, so a great way to meet someone who shares the same or similar interests is by getting involved with groups or going to places where you will meet like-minded people,” according to the website, lifebydesignover50.com. “If you like to sing, join a choir. If you enjoy golf, you may meet someone at the golf course. Community centers offer courses like cooking or learning a new language. There are gardening clubs … others like to go on tours to places of interest.”
Or, if they live in Central New York, they can attend one or all of the half dozen “Single Mingles” sponsored annually by Lunch Appeal. The events generally cost around $20, they are held in a variety of locations, always in a private room, and they include an ice breaker, munchies, raffles and prizes.
Singles over 55, Pam Stowell said, “are an age group that I’m passionate about. This is a market that I cater to and have really come to understand and enjoy.”
Both Pam and Scott Stowell said there’s no reason for anyone to feel a stigma.
“Going to singles events,” Scott Stowell said, “people are advertising that they are single and available, ‘So it’s okay to come on over and talk to me.’ ”
Singles events may not be right for those who prefer a more private, personalized service. That’s where the one-on-one matchmaking kicks in for the 300 or so currently active Lunch Appeal clients.
It’s $50 for the initial interview with Pam Stowell, after which people decide if they want to join. Membership packages start at $195.
“They fill out an application, we talk, we figure out if our service would be good for them, depending on what they are looking for,” Pam Stowell said. “Do they like us? Do we think we can help them find someone?”
Everyone who joins the more formal matchmaking service is subjected to a background check for violent or sexual offenses, Scott Stowell said. The company doesn’t share photographs with prospective dates, last names, places of employment, telephone numbers or any other personal identifying information. Lunch Appeal makes all the arrangements and informs the “couple” when and where they will meet. Feedback from both participants is delivered to the other within 24 hours.
Because everyone fills out a lengthy application about their hobbies, interests, lifestyle, family life, likes, dislikes, etc., clients have a wealth of information about the other individual before the first meeting.
“To a certain degree, it’s a blind date, but they do know a lot about the other person before they get there,” Pam Stowell said.
For the lucky ones like Judy Wilcox and Joe Corso, a $20 ticket to a singles event in Baldwinsville (plus a bit of that fate, good fortune and karma we mentioned earlier) was all it took.
The chemistry was obvious almost from the start, both said. After a couple of dinner dates and a lot of conversation, over the summer they met each other’s families, went to the state fair and joined a couple’s bowling team. This fall, they’re taking a cruise to Key West, Jamaica and Grand Cayman Island.
“We both like a lot of the same things, and we both like to travel. It’s nice to have someone to do these things with,” Wilcox said. “At our age, we are too old to waste any time, and I’m the type of person who isn’t going to wait for someone to knock at my door.”
Tips for safe and successful online dating
By Mike Costanza
• Not Internet-savvy? Consult friends, relatives or co-workers when writing your profile, and for other ways to make the Internet work for you.
• If you file a personal profile and photo, be honest. You don’t want to start a relationship with a lie and have to answer for it later.
• Many online dating sites are designed for those who have specific interests or characteristics. Look through the Internet for sites that are right for you.
• Protect your identity. Give only your first name initially. If you give out your phone number, make it that of your cell phone.
• Do not give your last name, address, or other personal information, financial information, or the address of your job to someone you have not met.
• Take it slow. Let an online conversation develop to one conducted over the telephone, and wait at least a week before meeting the person face-to-face.
• When you first meet, do it in a busy public place. Use your own transportation to get there, and inform someone of your plans in detail, including the time, date and location of your date and the person you’re meeting. Keep that first meeting short.
• Pay attention to your gut. Listen carefully to the person’s answers for inconsistencies, and watch for early warning signs of possible problems.
• You know what’s in your best interest. Stick to that, and don’t allow yourself to be talked into anything else.
Source: Terri Orbuch, psychologist and marriage and family therapist based in Detroit. She has her own radio show in Detroit, where she’s known as “The Love Doctor.”