Journal of Gerontological Nursing

CNE Article Supplemental Data

Older Adults Engaging in Online Dating: What Gerontological Nurses Should Know

Rachel K. Wion, MS, RN; Susan J. Loeb, PhD, RN, FGSA, FAAN

Abstract

How to Obtain Contact Hours by Reading This Article
Instructions

1.4 contact hours will be awarded by Villanova University College of Nursing upon successful completion of this activity. A contact hour is a unit of measurement that denotes 60 minutes of an organized learning activity. This is a learner-based activity. Villanova University College of Nursing does not require submission of your answers to the quiz. A contact hour certificate will be awarded once you register, pay the registration fee, and complete the evaluation form online at http://goo.gl/gMfXaf. To obtain contact hours you must: Read the article, “Older Adults Engaging in Online Dating: What Gerontological Nurses Should Know” found on pages 25–35, carefully noting any tables and other illustrative materials that are included to enhance your knowledge and understanding of the content. Be sure to keep track of the amount of time (number of minutes) you spend reading the article and completing the quiz.

Read and answer each question on the quiz. After completing all of the questions, compare your answers to those provided within this issue. If you have incorrect answers, return to the article for further study.

Go to the Villanova website listed above to register for contact hour credit. You will be asked to provide your name; contact information; and a VISA, MasterCard, or Discover card number for payment of the $20.00 fee. Once you complete the online evaluation, a certificate will be automatically generated.

This activity is valid for continuing education credit until September 30, 2018.

Contact Hours

This activity is co-provided by Villanova University College of Nursing and SLACK Incorporated.

Villanova University College of Nursing is accredited as a provider of continuing nursing education by the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on Accreditation.

Activity Objectives

Review the findings of a literature review that was designed to examine the body of evidence related to older adults who engage in online dating.

As a result of the review, highlight the clinical implications for nurses when assessing older clients in relation to their online dating practices.
Disclosure Statement

Neither the planners nor the authors have any conflicts of interest to disclose.

 

Many older adults maintain interest in intimate partner relationships and actively seek dates. Online dating websites are gaining popularity as being a convenient way to link with potential dates, particularly for women and individuals who live in independent dwellings or rural areas. Several online dating websites market exclusively to individuals 50 and older. Although connecting with others via the Internet can decrease social isolation, there are potential risks involved in online dating. Health care providers do not always assess dating and sexual health in the older adult population. Nurses are in a position to assess the dating relationships of older patients and can ask targeted questions to determine if patients are in a potentially risky relationship. A non-judgmental attitude and compassionate approach is essential. Knowledge of safe practices, alerting red flags, and available resources are essential tools for gerontological nurses to possess. [Journal of Gerontological Nursing, 41(10), 25–35.]

Do you want to Participate in the CNE activity?

 

Abstract

How to Obtain Contact Hours by Reading This Article
Instructions

1.4 contact hours will be awarded by Villanova University College of Nursing upon successful completion of this activity. A contact hour is a unit of measurement that denotes 60 minutes of an organized learning activity. This is a learner-based activity. Villanova University College of Nursing does not require submission of your answers to the quiz. A contact hour certificate will be awarded once you register, pay the registration fee, and complete the evaluation form online at http://goo.gl/gMfXaf. To obtain contact hours you must: Read the article, “Older Adults Engaging in Online Dating: What Gerontological Nurses Should Know” found on pages 25–35, carefully noting any tables and other illustrative materials that are included to enhance your knowledge and understanding of the content. Be sure to keep track of the amount of time (number of minutes) you spend reading the article and completing the quiz.

Read and answer each question on the quiz. After completing all of the questions, compare your answers to those provided within this issue. If you have incorrect answers, return to the article for further study.

Go to the Villanova website listed above to register for contact hour credit. You will be asked to provide your name; contact information; and a VISA, MasterCard, or Discover card number for payment of the $20.00 fee. Once you complete the online evaluation, a certificate will be automatically generated.

This activity is valid for continuing education credit until September 30, 2018.

Contact Hours

This activity is co-provided by Villanova University College of Nursing and SLACK Incorporated.

Villanova University College of Nursing is accredited as a provider of continuing nursing education by the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on Accreditation.

Activity Objectives

Review the findings of a literature review that was designed to examine the body of evidence related to older adults who engage in online dating.

As a result of the review, highlight the clinical implications for nurses when assessing older clients in relation to their online dating practices.
Disclosure Statement

Neither the planners nor the authors have any conflicts of interest to disclose.

 

Many older adults maintain interest in intimate partner relationships and actively seek dates. Online dating websites are gaining popularity as being a convenient way to link with potential dates, particularly for women and individuals who live in independent dwellings or rural areas. Several online dating websites market exclusively to individuals 50 and older. Although connecting with others via the Internet can decrease social isolation, there are potential risks involved in online dating. Health care providers do not always assess dating and sexual health in the older adult population. Nurses are in a position to assess the dating relationships of older patients and can ask targeted questions to determine if patients are in a potentially risky relationship. A non-judgmental attitude and compassionate approach is essential. Knowledge of safe practices, alerting red flags, and available resources are essential tools for gerontological nurses to possess. [Journal of Gerontological Nursing, 41(10), 25–35.]

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Approximately 30 years of research has shown that older adults maintain interest in intimate partner relationships well into old age. Some older adults seek such relationships through the process of dating (Brown & Shinohara, 2013; Bulcroft & Bulcroft, 1991; Bulcroft & O’Connor, 1986; Carr, 2004; Dickson, Hughes, & Walker, 2005). Dating is important for older adults, but also opens them up to risks associated with forging new relationships, especially if dates are with an individual who is previously unknown. A recent study using a U.S. representative sample found that 14% of unmarried adults ages 57 to 85 were in dating relationships (Brown & Shinohara, 2013)—a statistic that is likely to grow due to factors such as divorce and greater life expectancy. Older adults have many reasons for seeking a new relationship, including companionship (Bulcroft & O’Connor, 1986; Dickson et al., 2005), emotional support (Bulcroft & O’Connor, 1986; Carr, 2004), prestige, a desire to share their life (Bulcroft & O’Connor, 1986), and sexual intimacy (Bulcroft & O’Connor, 1986; Dickson et al., 2005). Older men may date in pursuit of the stability and domestic help that comes with being married, whereas older women may be more disinclined to pursue marriage at least in part due to the caregiving role that often comes with having a spouse (McIntosh, Locker, Briley, Ryan, & Scott, 2011).

Some older adults seek relationships via less traditional venues, such as online dating. Online dating websites for older adults designate the age of users as being 50 and older. Online dating affords greater opportunity for individuals in living arrangements that offer less chance for impromptu socializing (e.g., independent dwellings, rural areas) (Bulcroft & Bulcroft, 1991) and for women who encounter a smaller dating pool in their day-to-day lives (Dickson et al., 2005). The Internet has provided older adults with the chance to connect with others regardless of geographic location (McIntosh et al., 2011) and has been identified as an important part of decreasing social isolation in older adults (Alterovitz & Mendelsohn, 2013). The potential impact of online dating is highlighted in Sassler’s (2010, p. 567) assertion that as Baby Boomers leave the workforce, “increased life expectancy, good health, changing sexual attitudes, the growing acceptance of pharmaceutical sexual interventions…and the rise in Internet dating and retirement communities—will undoubtedly change the romantic options available to older adults.”

Older adults are becoming more familiar with the technology needed to date online. Among adults 65 and older, 53% use e-mail or the Internet and, of those, 70% report daily Internet use (Zickuhr & Madden, 2012). Two perceived benefits of Internet use by older adults are providing a way to connect with others (Doyle & Goldingay, 2012; Gatto & Tak, 2008) as well as offering a sense of community (Sum, Mathews, Pourghasem, & Hughes, 2009). One frustration with online environments is the lack of direct human contact (Heinz et al., 2013). This research finding suggests that older adults may be particularly interested in connecting with potential romantic partners face-to-face after an initial online contact—a phenomenon that could place them at a greater safety risk.

The purposes of the current literature review are to (a) examine the body of evidence related to older adults engaging in online dating and (b) highlight the clinical importance of nurses assessing for this type of dating by older adult patients. Promoting awareness of online dating practices of older adults and the risks associated with online dating can promote the safety of individuals who meet potential dates via dating websites and other online venues. Table A (available in the online version of this article) gives in-depth information about the studies cited in the current article whose results focused on older online daters.

Table A:

The level of evidence for the studies was determined using the criteria based on the Johns Hopkins Nursing Evidence Based Practice (JHNEBP; Poe & Costa, 2012) Rating Scale. The JHNEBP Rating Scale has two components: strength and quality of the evidence (Poe & Costa, 2012). Strength of the evidence is rated by assigning the study a level from one to five. Level one is considered the strongest and level five is considered the weakest strength. Quality of evidence is rated by assigning the study a grade from A to C. Studies with As are of the highest quality, studies with Bs are of good quality, and studies with Cs are of low quality or have major flaws (Poe & Costa, 2012). Evidence ratings for the older adult online dating literature are located in Table A (available in the online version of this article.).

Motivations for Older Adults Dating Online

The Internet and other forms of social media have opened romantic possibilities for older adults. Approximately 45% of adults 45 and older in the United States have used the Internet to find individuals they have previously dated and 17% have dated online (Smith & Duggan, 2013). Many older adults turn to online dating when looking for romantic and/or intimate relationships (Adams, Oye, & Parker, 2003; Alterovitz & Mendelsohn, 2009, 2013; Bateson, Weisberg, McCaffery, & Luscombe, 2012; Jonson & Silverskog, 2012; Malta, 2007; Malta & Farquharson, 2014; McIntosh et al., 2011; McWilliams & Barrett, 2014; VandeWeerd et al., 2014). In a survey of 500 online daters 50 and older, AARP (2012) found that the top reasons for dating online were (in descending order) (a) to find a serious relationship, (b) friendship/companionship, (c) casual dating, (d) intimacy/sexual relations, and (e) other.

McWilliams and Barrett (2014) conducted a qualitative study of 18 older adults who used online dating as a means of meeting potential romantic interests. There was a transition period between the end of the participants’ previous marriage and when they were ready to date. The length of time before pursuing a new relationship was shorter for men (<2 years) than women (>4 years) regardless of whether they were a divorcee or widow. Men viewed online dating as a way to quickly find dates, whereas women viewed it as a means for slowly easing into a new relationship and taking the time to get to know someone before meeting face-to-face (McWilliams & Barrett, 2014). Using the Internet for dating may be especially appealing to older women because it allows them to exercise more control over the process than when they were younger, as men of their generation were more likely to “call the shots” when it came to dating (McWilliams & Barrett, 2014).

McWilliams and Barrett (2014) found that men were more interested in relationships that led to a deeper commitment, such as marriage, whereas women wanted the intimacy and companionship that a relationship afforded but did not want to be married. Women expressed that they had no desire to become a caregiver in the sense of medical and household duties. Men wished they had someone to help with instrumental tasks as well as emotional support (McWilliams & Barrett, 2014). In another large study of online daters 40 and older (N = 1,113), 14.4% were looking for companionship and 15.8% were seeking a short-term relationship (Bateson et al., 2012).

Dating websites exist that specifically market to individuals 50 and older (e.g., Our Time, Senior FriendFinder) and some that target older adults who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual (e.g., Senior Gay Dating) (Adams et al., 2003). These types of websites may be perceived as safe places where users feel free to express themselves and find like-minded individuals (Adams et al., 2003). Many older adults have dating profiles on more than one social networking site (VandeWeerd et al., 2014). Dating online has been described as being confidential, secure, and private by some older adults (Malta, 2007). Online dating is viewed as being an easier way to meet potential dates when compared with trying to find a romantic partner in person (Malta, 2007; McWilliams & Barrett, 2014). In addition, online dating is perceived to make it easier to leave relationships (Malta & Farquharson, 2014). Dating online also allows for a vetting process that helps lessen the impact of immediate rejection (Malta, 2007).

Practices, Experiences, and Beliefs of Older Adults Engaged in Online Dating

Practices

Similar to their younger counterparts, older adults who date online struggle to market themselves in the best light as a means for attracting attention to their dating profile or personal advertisement (Adams et al., 2003). When creating a dating profile, older daters are challenged to achieve the delicate balance of embracing their age and experiences while still sounding youthful—all in the hopes of attracting the “right” person (Adams et al., 2003). McWilliams and Barrett (2014) found that women used their profiles to project an image of youthful femininity by stressing physical attractiveness and active social lives. Male participants’ profiles also focused on youth, but financial and work successes were also highlighted prominently (McWilliams & Barrett, 2014). In a study of online dating profiles of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender participants 60 and older, Jonson and Siverskog (2012) found that many used a humorous, self-mocking approach in their profiles; these daters tended to be upfront with references to aging and sexual difficulties and used humor as a way of deflecting potentially uncomfortable or embarrassing subjects. Many profiles also referenced youth and looking/feeling years younger than the actual biological age (Jonson & Siverskog, 2012).

In VandeWeerd etal.’s (2014)study, participants reported that the online dating environment allowed them to get to know a potential partner before meeting in person. Dating profiles also provided a means for daters to “weed out” individuals who could potentially become a burden or were otherwise not a compatible match. For example, McWilliams and Barrett (2014) found that one participant would look at profiles of potential dates as a barometer of overall health and would bypass individuals who did not eat healthy or did not mention liking a physical activity. Men and women valued youthfulness. Men were also focused on physical attractiveness, whereas women prized physical ability, effective communication, and intelligence (McWilliams & Barrett, 2014).

Alterovitz and Mendelsohn (2009) examined online personal advertisements placed by older adults and found that men preferred to date younger women. The gap in age preference increased as men aged. This preference of dating younger women was echoed in a study by McIntosh et al. (2011) when comparing older and younger men. Conversely, women preferred to date men who were older than themselves until the women reached age 75, after which they preferred to date younger men (Alterovitz & Mendelsohn, 2009). In the study by McIntosh et al. (2011), women 65 and older were more likely to have a lower minimum age criterion for potential partners compared to women between the ages of 25 and 35. Women were also more selective in terms of characteristics sought when explicating partner preferences as compared to men (Alterovitz & Mendelsohn, 2009).

In a more recent study, Alterovitz and Mendelsohn (2013) compared online personal advertisements of a geographically diverse sample of 450 individuals (evenly divided by group and gender), who were middle-aged (40 to 54 years), young-old (60 to 74 years), and old-old (75 and older), in relation to the dependent variables of loneliness, health, adventure-seeking, looking for a soul mate, romantic activities, and sexual interests. Although there was no significant difference between young-old and old-old participants’ inclusion of loneliness in advertisements, young-old individuals were significantly more likely to mention that they were seeking adventure, searching for a soul mate, desiring romantic activities, and looking to engage in sexual activities. The latter was relatively low in both groups, with 10% of young-old and 2% of old-old individuals reporting this interest. Health was the one topic that old-old participants (39.3%) were more likely than the young-old (19.3%) to include in online personal advertisements.

One factor that promotes dating among older adults is willingness to be located at a further driving distance away from potential dates as compared to younger adults (McIntosh et al., 2011). Conversely, older adults’ reluctance to date outside their own race or religion as well as a tendency to require a higher minimum income from a potential partner than younger adult counterparts may serve as impediments to dating (McIntosh et al., 2011). This reluctance can restrict the potential pool of partners for men and women, but especially women (McIntosh et al., 2011) because men are more likely to seek younger partners (Alterovitz & Mendelsohn, 2009).

As previously mentioned, some older adults desire a sexual relationship when looking for romantic partners. In a small study (N = 7), Malta (2007) found that all but one participant engaged in sexual relations the first time meeting face-to-face. The time from first meeting online to a sexual relationship ranged from approximately 4 months to 1 year. In a sample of 1,113 adults ages 40 and older who used an online dating site, Bateson et al. (2012) found in the past year that approximately 40% of participants had sex with at least one new partner they had met online; 23.3% had one new partner, 13.7% had two to three new partners, and 4.2% had four or more new partners. Although Malta (2007) did not cover safety concerns of a sexual relationship with participants, Bateson et al. (2012) compared the safe sexual practices of women age 40 and older with women younger than 40 in those who used an online dating website. Older women were significantly more likely to talk with a sexual partner about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs); however, they also were more likely to have sex without a condom (Bateson et al., 2012).

Experiences

In one study, 84.4% (n = 45) of older adult participants who were interested in dating online reported having a prior relationship through this medium (VandeWeerd et al., 2014). By dating and meeting individuals online, some older adults built relationships that were meaningful and long-lasting (Malta, 2007). Malta (2007) found that most romantic relationships between older online daters developed quickly—within 1 to 6 months of initial contact. Most of these romantic relationships had been maintained for 3 to 10 years. Interestingly, most of the participants indicated they would not turn to online dating if they became single in the future; however, they would recommend it to others as a means for finding a romantic partner. Of the romantic relationships that did not last, the mean length of time was 4 months of dating (Malta, 2007).

Beliefs

In Malta’s (2007) study, more than one half of participants were supportive of cyber flirting and had engaged in cybersex before and after becoming sexually active in real life. Cyber cheating was generally seen as something that was not acceptable. However, some participants responded that cyber cheating was acceptable as long as sex in real life did not happen. Specific situations where cyber cheating was deemed allowable were if the partner had dementia, was no longer able to perform sexually, and/or was away for long periods of time.

Dating and Relationship Risks for Older Adults

A paucity of research exists on the subject of intimate partner violence, elder abuse, and financial abuse in the context of older adults who are dating. All older adults are at risk for abuse despite their gender, age, socioeconomic status, and culture (Fitzwater & Puchta, 2010). Unfortunately, information regarding intimate partner violence, an especially egregious form of abuse, in older adults is generally lacking and national prevention and educational campaigns for intimate partner violence and/or dating violence do not focus on this age group (VandeWeerd et al., 2014).

Older adults are at risk for intimate partner victimization. Data on emotional, physical (including sexual), and financial intimate partner victimization in married or formerly married adults age 60 and older were analyzed from the 1999 and 2004 Canadian General Social Survey (Poole & Rietschlin, 2012). The 5-year prevalence for abuse was 6.8% of the older participants. Emotional abuse was the most common (6.3%), then financial abuse (1.2%), and lastly physical abuse (0.9%). Of individuals who reported some form of abuse, 28% experienced more than one type. Men and women experienced similar amounts of emotional and physical abuse, whereas women were significantly more likely to be abused financially. Incidences of abuse declined with age for individuals who were not in relationships, whereas age had no effect on abuse in individuals in current relationships. For individuals who experienced physical abuse, the probability of being abused was greater if they were in a relationship for ≤10 years. Individual factors that made an individual more likely to be abused were having disabilities and being on medications for depression, sleep, or anxiety (Poole & Rietschlin, 2012).

General Risks Involved in Online Dating

Although an online dating environment has opened up romantic possibilities for individuals of all ages, it has also provided an easier means for perpetrators to take advantage of others (e.g., sexual predators looking for potential victims) (Coleman, 2014). Internet dating scams are becoming more prevalent. One Internet dating scam becoming more common involves a perpetrator building a relationship with a potential victim over a period of months and then convincing the victim that he/she needs a large amount of money (Whitty & Buchanan, 2012). They usually present the need for money as an emergency with which only the victim can help (Whitty & Buchanan, 2012). Victims of this type of scam are manipulated by their romantic relationship with the perpetrator and comply with the request. These scams are typically led by organized international groups (Buchanan & Whitty, 2014). In a large study (N = 853) of online daters, of 826 participants who answered the question about whether they had been a victim of an online dating romantic scam, 13% had been a victim of a scam but had not lost money and 2.4% had been the victim of a scam and lost money (Buchanan & Whitty, 2014). Of participants who lost money, the range was from <$160 to >$160,000, with the mode between $1,601 and $16,000 (Buchanan & Whitty, 2014).

Whitty (2013) explored the experiences of individuals who were victim of at least one online romance scam in a qualitative study of 20 adults ages 38 to 71. These relationships lasted from months to 4 years. Four participants had not yet been scammed, but still felt victimized (Whitty, 2013). Similarly, Buchanan and Whitty (2014) found that many individuals who had been scammed but did not lose any money still felt emotional distress related to the loss of a relationship. In Whitty’s (2013) study, some participants were scammed through numerous fake online relationships. One extreme example is the case of a man who reported being scammed in 40 such relationships. Apparently, perpetrators sell lists of easy targets to other perpetrators looking to scam individuals through online dating.

The type of scams varied, with some being elaborate. One common scam was after the relationship developed, the perpetrator asked for money so that he/she could fly to the victims’ hometown and build a life together; however, after obtaining the money, he/she never showed and would claim some hardship stopped him/her from boarding the plane and he/she needed more money to get through the hardship. These requests for money would last until the victim cut ties completely. In a different scam, the perpetrator said he/she needed to borrow money for a business venture. A fairly common scam involved victims thinking they were building a relationship with a soldier who was soon to leave the military service. The perpetrator would ask the victim to take care of his/her personal belongings in anticipation of the perpetrator’s move to the victim’s hometown. The victim would receive a call from the “airport” that the diplomatic seals on the bags were going to expire and needed to pay a fee to get the bags released. Some women described this scam as being so extremely elaborate that they flew to Ghana to sign documents to pick up the bags but were subsequently kidnapped and kept by men with guns for several days until they signed the documents. Once released, the women still did not know they were being scammed and continued to send money. A few participants reported being taken advantage of sexually when they told their romantic partner that they could not financially afford to send money. The victims were told to perform sexual acts in front of a webcam, which the perpetrators recorded and then used to blackmail the victims (Whitty, 2013).

Common to online dating romance scams was that the perpetrator or an individual working with the perpetrator was identified as being in a position of authority (e.g., lawyer, doctor, law enforcement) (Whitty, 2013). Often the scenario in which the perpetrator asked for money was presented as being dire. Sometimes the perpetrator threatened to terminate the relationship if the victim was unable to help financially. Victims believed they had a deep connection and were in love with their partners in these relationships, which was why they were willing to give money (Whitty, 2013). This finding aligns with a finding by Whitty and Buchanan (2014) of a personality trait significantly predictive of falling victim to an online dating romance scam: having romantic beliefs with idealization. Whitty (2013) also found that other participants felt almost an addiction to the relationship and continued even after suspecting it might be a scam. A majority of the participants reported that during at least one point in their relationship with the perpetrator, a friend or family member brought up the possibility that they might be victim of an online romance scam; however, the victims were able to reason away these concerns due to the deep love for their online romantic partners (Whitty, 2013).

Other risks are involved in online dating that go beyond the online romance scams, such as intimate partner violence (VandeWeerd, 2014). Others risks include being lied to or experiencing other forms of deceit, emotional risks, sexual risks (e.g., pregnancy, STDs), violence, risks of personal information being compromised (Couch, Liamputtong, & Pitts, 2012), and risks of being exposed as an online dater to friends, family members, or employers (Couch & Liamputtong, 2007).

Many online daters use measures in an effort to prevent becoming a victim. Couch, Liamputtong, and Pitts (2011) conducted a qualitative study of 29 participants ages 18 to 70 who dated online to ascertain how they use technology to avoid the risks involved in online dating. Most participants were concerned about being deceived by potential romantic partners and wanted to make sure they were authentic. Some ways participants assessed the authenticity of potential dates included making sure the potential date posted a picture in his/her online profile and used a webcam, online chatting, connecting through other social media (e.g., Facebook®, MySpace®), connecting via phone calls, and searching for him/her online via his/her Internet Protocol (IP) address and/or name. Participants could see if the IP address city matched the city in which the dater claimed to live. Some older participants were particularly savvy using the Internet to track potential dates. A 60-year-old participant used Google® to aid in tracking his potential dates and shared information on any he found to be scammers via a scammers awareness website. A 70-year-old participant also used Google to search his potential dates and could determine if they were authentic or not via the search. Another way of eliminating a potentially risky dating partner was to friend them via social media to see how they interacted with others. Participants also used technology to help control how much about themselves was shared with others. Methods used to control information access included waiting to share photographs until photographs of the potential dater were shared first, having two different instant message accounts and giving out the one less used first, and having two different cell phone numbers and again giving out the one less used first. Some participants refused to connect via other social networking sites until having met face-to-face. Participants also blocked individuals who they believed were trying to scam them (Couch et al., 2011).

Risks Involved in Online Dating for Older Adults

Little research has been conducted on the possible and actual risks posed to older adults who use online dating websites. There are positive and negative aspects of using the Internet to date (VandeWeerd et al., 2014). It has been suggested that the Internet provides an environment that could potentially promote abuse in online daters. Individuals who commit intimate partner violence can look at the dating profiles of potential victims as an easy way of finding those who are vulnerable (e.g., disabled, socially isolated, having self-esteem issues) to abuse. Older adults as a group may be less equipped to deal with online predators and are not aware of the extent of the risks involved in online dating (VandeWeerd et al., 2014).

One risk to older adults who secure dates online is younger users may engage with them with the specific intent to harass, demean, and/or ridicule (i.e., “troll”) them for trying to date at older ages (Adams et al., 2003). Another risk is that the older dater may be exploited by his/her romantic partner through posting private pictures and videos on public websites (Adams et al., 2003). Older daters also may be highly likely to believe what they read in the dating profiles of potential mates. VandeWeerd et al. (2014) found that 88.9% of the sample thought that the individuals they met online were truthful in the information they presented. In a qualitative study, Lawson and Leck (2006) found that one older participant believed that the long-distance relationship he built with his potential partner over a period of months made him trust her and have absolutely no doubt that she would be the same in person as she presented in e-mails and phone conversations. Conversely, VandeWeerd et al. (2014) noted a disconnect between how potential dates sometimes presented themselves online and how they were in person. Another risk was the compromise of personal information. Couch et al. (2012) gave an example of how a 59-year-old participant had a man show up at her home unannounced. The man had found out where she lived as well as other personal information about her through his own online investigation (Couch et al., 2012).

One study examined adverse events that happened to older adult women who dated using MySpace (VandeWeerd et al., 2014). Sixty percent of participants reported experiencing an individual asking for money, access to their bank account, or credit card numbers, and 40% believed an individual had tried to take advantage of them financially. More than one half (51.1%) of participants felt unsafe due to using MySpace, with 56.6% having felt physically, sexually, or verbally threatened, and 37.7% were physically harmed as a result of seeking new companions or friends via MySpace (VandeWeerd et al., 2014). Of participants who experienced abuse via MySpace (n = 35), only 17.1% reported it to a family member or friend and none reported it to the police (VandeWeerd et al., 2014).

Sexual risk taking (e.g., engaging in sex without a condom) can also have negative health outcomes for older adults. Bateson et al. (2012) found that online daters with riskier attitudes regarding safe sex were more likely to be older, have a longer experience with online dating, have engaged with greater numbers of new sexual partners during the past year, and have a history of a STD. Savvy online daters are aware of this sexual risk taking and can use it to their advantage. One participant in a study admitted to having two Internet dating profiles—one where he stated his real age to find a girlfriend and another where he pretended to be older to find older women exclusively for sexual encounters because he perceived that they were less concerned about using condoms (Couch et al., 2012).

Clinical Considerations

Older adults may not be aware of the risks involved in online dating. An important venue for screening and education regarding these risks is during the health care visit. Health care providers may be uncomfortable discussing these topics with patients 50 and older or may be unaware that these patients are seeking dating relationships. Performing a sexual health assessment on all older patients is a gateway to determining if they are dating or a victim of intimate partner victimization, or at risk of becoming a victim.

Some providers know of the stereotype of older adults being asexual but still tend to not ask questions related to sexual health and safe sex (Gott, Hinchliff, & Galena, 2004). Providers find it more difficult to initiate these conversations with older patients compared to younger patients. Health care providers may be worried that asking about sexual health will offend patients and damage the provider–patient relationship. Other providers believe older adult patients may look to them for permission to become sexually active when pursuing new relationships after widowhood or divorce. Providers may be hesitant to discuss safe sex with older patients even if they know they are in a new relationship (Gott et al., 2004). As one general practitioner said in relation to talking about safe sex with an older patient in a new relationship, “Usually the context [of the office visit] seems totally inappropriate” (Gott et al., 2004, p. 2,098). Findings from Farrell and Belza’s (2012) study supports the point that sexual histories are not a routine part of older adult primary care visits, as evidenced in their finding that only 32.3% of older adult participants were asked about their sexual health during provider visits.

Implications for Nursing

Nurses in all settings are often part of the front line in patient interactions. Nurses are well positioned to assess whether older patients are engaging in online dating relationships and if there are any risks involved, such as physical, verbal, sexual, or financial abuse. Older patients, especially women, may be amenable to talking to nurses about issues related to sexual health (Farrell & Belza, 2012). It is essential during assessment to be aware that abuse and sexual health risks are sensitive topics, so the most compassionate, non-judgmental approach, as well as maintaining strict confidentiality, is important. If the patient is joined by a friend or family member, he/she should be asked to step out of the room.

Assessment of Dating Relationships in Older Adult Patients

Knowledge of current technology and social media use in forming dating relationships is imperative if public health practitioners are to understand the decision-making processes that lead to romantic and sexual interactions (Couch & Liamputtong, 2007); gerontological nurses working in community settings are one such group of practitioners. Some scenarios of online romance scams and what nursing can do to help are presented in Table 1.

Clinical Scenarios

Table 1:

Clinical Scenarios

A simple yes or no question as to whether the older adult is dating or looking to date can open the lines of communication. More open-ended questions can proceed from here. The method of dating and types of romantic partners can be determined. Targeted assessment questions can be posed to determine if any sexual health risk factors exist or if the patient is currently in an abusive relationship or at risk for being abused. Ask whether the patient is afraid for his/her safety. Also ask if he/she is worried about his/her finances. If he/she indicates that he/she has been abused in the relationship, it is important to give time to allow the story to be heard (National Association of State Units on Aging, 2006). Offer compassion, but respect and support the patient’s wishes. Provide resources and refer the patient to supportive agencies (National Association of State Units on Aging, 2006). Nurses are mandatory reporters in regard to abuse of senior citizens and any suspicions should be reported to Adult Protective Services.

Older patients in online dating relationships may be sexually active. Individuals in this age group may not be aware of the sexual health risks involved in sex without condoms (Qaseem, Snow, Shekelle, Hopkins, & Owens, 2009). Older patients may be more hesitant to talk about their sex lives as well. One way to assess this aspect of their care is to use the PLISSIT (Permission, Providing Limited Information, Specific Suggestions, and Intensive Therapy) model (Wallace, 2008). Permission is asking the patient if it is alright to discuss his/her sexual health. Providing limited information is based on the age-related changes that can affect sexual health and how much the patient wants to know about the problem (Wallace, 2008). For example, if the patient reports having condomless sex, the nurse can educate him/her about the increased risk of STDs given physiological changes, such as thinning and friability of the vaginal walls. Specific suggestions would be to recommend condom use or alternative ways to express sexuality if the patient is unable to use a condom (Wallace, 2008). Intensive therapy is not recommended for all patients; however, if a patient reports sexual abuse, the appropriate referral should be made (Wallace, 2008).

Education Concerning Online Dating and Safety

One of the responsibilities of nurses is to educate patients about health promotion and disease prevention. When learning that an older patient is dating via online websites, nurses can provide information to help keep him/her safe (Table 2). This can be done even before the patient starts dating, as the tips are important in the vetting process related to potential dates. Patients should also be educated regarding safe sexual practices and STD testing should be offered. Unfortunately, some patients may have already been victimized in their online relationship(s). If this is the case, information should be provided about how to get help and referrals should be made if needed. Table 3 shows resources for providers and patients.

Internet Dating Safety Tips for Older Adults

Table 2:

Internet Dating Safety Tips for Older Adults

Resources for Help

Table 3:

Resources for Help

Strength of Evidence of Older Adult Online Dating Literature

All of the studies reviewed in the current article were rated at level 3 because they were either cross-sectional or qualitative. The majority of the studies (n = 7; 70%) had a quality rating of B (good), 20% (n = 2) had a quality rating of C (low), and 10% (n = 1) had a quality rating of A (high). The future work of researchers focused on online dating in older adults should take the important next steps of developing and rigorously testing intervention strategies for promoting the safety of older adults who meet partners on electronic dating websites.

Conclusion

Individuals 50 and older continue to want to date as they age. Online dating websites provide an easily accessible venue to meet potential dates. Unfortunately, the convenience of online dating has resulted in readier access to potential victims for individuals who wish to take advantage of others. Nurses are well-positioned to educate patients about the potential downfalls of using online dating and provide information on how to remain safe in online social environments.

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Clinical Scenarios

Scenario What Nurses Can Do
A 53-year-old woman met a 67-year-old man via a popular online dating website aimed at all ages (Coleman, 2014). On their second date, he raped her. The woman later found out that he was a sexual predator. The woman filed an injunction against the dating website to ensure they would stop accepting new members until background checks could be performed. As a result of this lawsuit, the dating website as well as other websites agreed to screen for sexual predators, financial scammers, and identity thieves, and report any suspected criminal activity by members (Coleman, 2014).

Make patients aware of the need to use websites that perform background checks on members and encourage them not to use dating sites that do not perform background checks.

Encourage patients to use the buddy system when meeting an online date in person.

Encourage patients to meet in a public location with many other individuals around.

A 57-year-old woman met her boyfriend through an online dating website (Coleman, 2014). The man made several promises to her (e.g., he loved and would treat her well). He convinced her to re-ship computers to South Africa under a pseudonym. The woman was later convicted of identity theft and receiving stolen property. Despite appealing her conviction, she was sentenced to 6 years of probation and had to pay restitution, fines, and costs. Part of what implicated her was that she was considered to have been compensated for her role in the scheme because her boyfriend let her keep some of the smaller items and paid for her Internet. In this type of online romance scam, the criminal steals credit card information, buys items with it, and then has his/her romantic partner act as an intermediary to send the goods elsewhere (Coleman, 2014).

Make patients aware of possible scams involving online dating as well as other types of scams.

Caution patients against becoming involved with an individual who encourages them to send money or do business deals.

Mike is a 67-year-old man who resides in a senior living apartment. He has been widowed for 2 years after a 45-year–long marriage. He decided to start dating and used a dating website aimed at individuals 50 and older. Mike met Jane through the dating website and believed they had a serious connection. Over the next 4 months, they messaged daily. Jane told Mike that she was in love and he felt the same. He believed that, although they never met in person, he knew her and trusted her implicitly because they talked all the time. Mike wanted to meet Jane in person. Jane told Mike that she would like to move to his city but needed $20,000 to help with the move. Mike sent Jane the money and never heard from her again.

Provide community-based programming about the pitfalls of online dating. This could be done at senior centers or senior living apartments.

Give patients information about how they can protect themselves against online romance scams and resources they can use for help if they become a victim of a scam.

Internet Dating Safety Tips for Older Adults

Tip
Do not give out your password for any of your online accounts.
Do not give out any of your personal information (e.g., address, home phone number, workplace) prior to meeting.
Use an e-mail address that cannot be traced to you (i.e., do not use a work or school address) and that you can discard easily if needed.
When meeting someone in person for the first time, make sure to meet in a busy, public place.
When meeting an online date, make sure that you tell someone where you are going and have preset times to check-in with him/her to make sure you are safe.
When first contacting a potential date by phone, use your cell phone and not your home phone because your home phone can be linked to your address more easily (Schwartz, 2011).
Until you get to know your date well, do not let them drive you anywhere or walk you to your car in a secluded place (Schwartz, 2011).
Make sure that the dating website you use performs background checks on members (Coleman, 2014), but also remember that even if performed, it does not guarantee potential dates are safe.
Do not send money to your online romantic partner or allow them access to your bank or credit card accounts.
Take a picture of the license plate and text it to a friend before your first date in a car.
If a potential date becomes abusive online, block him/her if possible and report him/her to the dating site.

Resources for Help

Resource Contact Information and Services Provided
National Domestic Violence Hotline Phone: 1-800-799-7233; http://www.thehotline.org

Trained advocates are available 24/7 to talk with individuals experiencing intimate partner violence or looking for resources about abusive relationships.

National Sexual Assault Hotline Phone: 1-800-656-4673; https://www.rainn.org/get-help/national-sexual-assault-hotline

Calling the hotline will link individuals who have experienced sexual assault/abuse with a trained staff member who is local to the caller’s area.

Trained staff members can provide information about next steps and give referrals to local resources.

National Center for Victims of Crime http://www.victimsofcrime.org/help-for-crime-victims

Provides resources for victims of crime, including links to domestic shelters.

National Organization for Victim Assistance Phone: 1-800-TRY-NOVA; http://www.trynova.org

Provides information about resources for victims of crime, including victim rights, compensation, and advocacy.

Internet Crime Complaint Center http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx

Allows individuals to file a complaint if they believe they have been victimized.

Sexual Assault Fact Sheet for Women http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/sexual-assault.html

Gives information about examples of sexual assault, what to do if an individual has been sexually assaulted, and tips to lower the risk of being sexually assaulted.

National Adult Protective Services Association http://www.napsa-now.org/get-help

Provides details about Adult Protective Services and how to help when it is suspected that an older adult is being abused.

Authors Year Purpose Sample Design Relevant Results Level of Evidence
Alterovitz & Mendelsohn 2009 To determine what characteristics men and women desired in a mate by examining personal advertisements and then comparing outcomes by participant age and gender n=600 personal ads (n=300 men seeking women, n=300 women seeking men) Three geographic areas: Austin, TX; Seattle, WA; & Pittsburgh, PA Four age groups: 20–34 year olds; 40–54 year olds; 60–74 year olds; & age 75 and older Cross-sectional Examined personal advertisements on an online site As men aged they sought younger partners with an increasing age gap As women aged, they sought older partners with a decreasing age gap; however, at the age of 75 and older they sought younger partners Women were more selective about the characteristics they desired in a partner than men and became significantly more selective as they aged Level III Quality B
Alterovitz & Mendelsohn 2013 To examine potential partner preferences of online daters through their personal advertisements and determine if there were any age or gender differences related to these preferences n = 450 (n=75 men seeking women in each of the three age groups n=75 women seeking men in each of the three age groups) Three age groups: 40–54 year olds; 60–74 year olds; & age 75 and older Three geographic areas: Austin, TX; Seattle, WA; & Pittsburgh, P Cross-sectional Examined personal advertisements on an online site Those age 60–74 & 75 and older were significantly more likely to address loneliness in their advertisements (p < 0.01) When compared to the 75 and older participants, Those age 60–74 were significantly more likely to say they were seeking adventure, looking for a soul mate, wanting romantic activities, and seeking to engage in sexual activities (p < 0.01) Participants age 75 and older were significantly more likely to mention health in their advertisements that those age 60–74 (p < 0.01) Level III Quality B
Bateson, Weisberg, McCaffery, & Luscombe 2012 To ascertain the attributes of women users of an Internet dating site and compare older and younger users’ knowledge and attitudes regarding safe sex n=1788 women Two age groups: 18–39 year olds (n=675); and age 40 & older (n=1113) Australia Cross-sectional survey Women in the 40 and older age group were significantly more likely to discuss sexually transmitted diseases with a partner (p < 0.01) but were also more likely to have sex with a new partner if they refused to wear a condom (p < 0.01) Higher risk attitudes regarding condom use were associated with: being in the 40 and older group (OR 0.47); longer history of Internet dating (OR 0.86); more new sexual partners over the past year (OR 0.57); & a history of having a STD (OR 0.78) Level III Quality A
Couch, Liamputtong, & Pitts 2011 To determine how people meet and interact through online dating and the risks involved in using this type of venue n=27 Age range: 18 to 70 years Australia & United States Qualitative online interviews Some of the older participants tracked their potential dates online to help weed out any scammers One older participant, who was scammed in the past, set up fake profiles on multiple dating sites in the hopes of catching the scammer Level III Quality B
Jonson & Siverskog 2012 To determine how older lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual (LGBT) online daters in Internet forums use self-mocking or humorous in their personal profiles n=276 (n=162 men, n=88 women, n=26 identifying as transgender) Age range: 60–81 years Sweden Mixed methods Examined personal profiles on an online forum Age related comments were included in 24% of the male profiles, 30% of the female profiles, & 15% of the transgender profiles Many of the profiles used age in a self-mocking context Some profiles highlighted how the participant felt or looked younger than their actual age Level III Quality B
Lawson & Leck 2006 To examine the phenomenology of dating online as well as online daters’ fear of being deceived, worries about their appearance, and how to navigate an Internet romance n=50 (n=25 men, n=25 women) Age range: 15–58 years old No location given Qualitative phenomenology One concern from an older dater was how to tactfully end a date with a person they met online if there is no “chemistry” An older participant felt that due to building a long-distance relationship through phone calls and e-mail there was total trust and no concern that their potential partner would be deceitful in their relationship Level III Quality C
Malta 2007 To explore the romantic online relationships of older adults n=7 older adults in online romantic relationships Age range: 61–85 years old Australia Qualitative Semi-structured interviews Majority of romantic relationships took between one to six months to develop (M= 3.2 months) Those with long-lasting online relationships ranged from three to ten years (M= 6.5 years) Some had relationships that only lasted a short time (M= 4 months) All but one participant met their online partner face-to-face & all of them had a sexual relationship with the first face-to-face meeting About half of the participants engaged in cyber-flirting Level III Quality C
McIntosh, Locker, Briley, Ryan, & Scott 2011 To explore and compare the partner preferences of young and older online daters n=200 Age groups: n=100 age 25–35 years; n=100 age 65 and older Cross-sectional Examined personal advertisements on a large Internet dating site Participants from the older age group preferred a younger minimum age (p < 0.001) as well as a lower older maximum age when compared to the younger age group (p < 0.001) Older participants were significantly less willing to date interracially than younger participants (p < 0.001) Older participants were willing to travel further distances for a date than younger participants (p < 0.01) Older women preferred a partner income than younger women (p < 0.01); there was no difference in income preference for the older and younger men Level III Quality B
McWilliams & Barrett 2014 To explore how past romantic experiences may influence gender dynamics in terms of middle-aged and older adults’ online dating searches n=20 (includes 2 romance coaches) Age range: For the n=18 online daters, 53–74 years Qualitative Semi-structured interview Five themes: past relationship legacy, disappointing dating scenes, desire for intimacy, image of perfect partner, and a youthful personal presentation After marital loss women preferred tofocus on emotional recovery and wait to start dating; men focused on be ready to start a new relationship For men, online dating was a way to find partners quicker than traditional means; for women, online dating was a way to ease into the dating scene and develop a relationship at a slower pace Traditional places to meet dates were seen as being for younger people, which made online dating appealing Men were more interested in remarrying than women Both men and women wanted partners that were youthful; men for the status of attracting a women who is physically desirable and women for the assurance that their partner will be healthy and they will not end up becoming a caregiver Level III Quality B
VandeWeerd, Corvin, Coulter, Perkins, Telford, Yalcin, Myers, & Yegidis 2014 To examine the risks involved in seeking online relationships for older women n=45 women who used MySpace Age range: 50–65 years Florida Cross-sectional survey 85% had developed a relationship with a person they met online When meeting a potential partner through MySpace 90% felt confident that all of the information that was being shared was truthful 40% had someone they met through MySpace try to financially take advantage of them 51.1% felt scared/unsafe due to using MySpace to meet new people 55% felt physically, verbally, sexually, or emotionally threatened by someone they met via MySpace 38.9% experienced physical harm via someone they met through MySpace Level III Grade B

Keypoints

Wion, R.K. & Loeb, S.J. (2015). Older Adults Engaging in Online Dating: What Gerontological Nurses Should Know. Journal of Gerontological Nursing, 41(10), 25–35.

  1. Older adults desire intimate partner relationships in their later years and many use online dating websites as a means to find a potential mate.

  2. Older adults use online dating websites as a way to connect with more individuals than they would in their community and as a means of screening potential dates before meeting in person.

  3. Risks involved in online dating that older adults may not be aware of include financial scams, intimate partner violence, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and personal data compromise.

  4. Gerontological nurses are well-positioned to assess whether older patients are dating online and provide education on how to be safer when using this venue to find a potential mate.

Authors

Ms. Wion is PhD Student, and Dr. Loeb is Associate Professor of Nursing and Director of PhD Program, College of Nursing, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania.

The authors have disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.

Address correspondence to Rachel K. Wion, MS, RN, PhD Student, College of Nursing, Pennsylvania State University, 201 Nursing Sciences Building, University Park, PA 16802; e-mail: rkw12@psu.edu.

Received: April 27, 2015
Accepted: August 06, 2015

10.3928/00989134-20150826-67

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