Times are definitely changing and online dating is now the third most popular way to meet people (after the pub and through a friend)15 million people in the UK are registered on a dating site with one in five couples in a successful and serious relationship met online.

All the social stigmas about online dating sites have gone as more and more people discover that online dating can be fun, exciting – and if all goes really well – life-changing!

Certainly for older people who find that they are back in ‘the dating game’ it can be a really good way to meet new people. Online dating has definitely made it easier to meet many new people – people whom you would never have met otherwise.

Online dating is a huge step to take, especially if you feel that you are ‘too old for that sort of thing’ because in reality you are not too! Many older couples have met and fallen in love and are now enjoying their golden years together. Before getting your profile on a website, it is well worth spending some time on some good research.

There are 1,400 different websites for those living in the UK and the key to success is finding the right one(s) for you. It is worth doing some background reading about the the rules and etiquette concerning online dating and there are several websites that give ‘newbies’ advice including www.zoosk.com which has some interesting guidelines about how quickly one should reply to a message, exchange telephone numbers for the first time – or meet up! Interestingly, the site recommends that if you have enjoyed your first meeting that you should let he/she know promptly – and not leave it the customary two days that used to be recommended because the chances are that they will think you are not interested and will have moved on!

Choosing the right website for you does take time and it is worth looking at a few to ‘get the feel’. Some of the websites have people looking for friendship, casual dates and serious dating. The different sites do vary tremendously with the number and type of questions that they ask. Match.com is the largest website for the over fifties whilst silversingles (www.silversinglesdating.com) uses effective and easy to follow tools to match people by age, location, height, ethnicity and religion – for friendship, casual dates and serious relationships.

Some of the websites do not charge for membership, whilst others do have various charges for short and long memberships – with the cost being less for longer membership. The Saga website (www.justseniorsingles.co.uk) offers a £4.99 introductory trial. Paying to join a website is purely personal preference, but many believe that if someone pays to use a dating website, that they are more committed to finding that special someone.

Elite Singles (www.elitesingles.co.uk) is aimed at educated professionals – both retired and working and asks many questions to establish good matches. The website also has an advanced detection system which verifies each user – thus protecting its other users. Another popular website is run by the Daily Telegraph (www.telegraph.co.uk/online-dating) and using answers given to its questions, it establishes how good a match is – 75% and above is regarded as really positive! There are several faith-based dating websites, whilst ‘Muddy Matches’ (www.muddymatches.co.uk) is perfect for those who love the countryside.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are websites like Toy boy Warehouse – which is probably not for those wanting a loving long-term relationship.

The most important thing to remember is that if you are planning to ‘sign up’ that you are doing so because you want to have fun and meet new people. Creating your profile should be done carefully and include some fun information about what really matters to you; if you hate going into the country say so, if you have to watch a certain film every few months because you love it so much, it is better to be honest early on! The photograph that you upload is important too as it will ‘speak a thousand words’. Photographs should be relaxed, happy and current. Far too many people use photographs that are a good ten years old and in honesty, if someone likes you they will like you for who you are now.

It is important to try and stay relaxed about online dating. Some people find this easiest by meeting a couple of new people rather than pinning all their hopes on one person. Be chatty in your responses to your messages and ask sincere friendly questions that will help you get to know the person. Don’t give away too many details straight away like your address or telephone number and run if someone asks for any financial information.

If all is going well and you are enjoying the correspondence and looking forward to receiving the next message, it will soon be time to meet. If you use social media you can check the person out to ensure they are bona fide. Just like any first date, somewhere ‘neutral’ like a pub, restaurant or coffee shop is ideal because if things are not going well you can leave easily. For personal safety, ensure that a family member or close friend knows about the arrangements. Plan to meet just for a couple of hours and keep conversation light and friendly without heavy details about previous relationships. A really good idea is to read the person’s profile through whilst you are getting ready – and memorise a few key words about their pastimes and hobbies.

Meeting someone new can be daunting, but importantly, you must be true to yourself and honest with them and if you feel that things are not going well and that they are not the right type of person for you, tell them so. It is disappointing when things don’t go to plan, but if you remember, when you were young, you didn’t fall in love with everyone you danced with in the disco! If things haven’t gone as you had hoped, try not to be too downhearted.

As Frank Sinatra suggested – ‘pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again’!

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