Old-fashion dating services attract baby boomers

Posted: Friday, February 07, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) -- Internet dating wasn't an option for Jordan Stevens.

The 38-year old financial consultant says he doesn't keep a computer at home because his work days are spent at a PC, and he doesn't want to conduct personal business on the job. And, after being out of the dating scene for seven years while he was married, Stevens wanted more insight into the singles scene than the Internet could provide.

So last year, he hired matchmaker Lisa Ronis, joining other boomers who are seeking help as they look for a mate.

''It's nice to have someone to help you through the dating process,'' said Stevens, who has had relationships with three women he met through Ronis.

Ronis said about 75 percent of her clients are boomers, between 38 and 56 years old. Other matchmakers report similar statistics.

''There are a lot of boomers out there who just didn't pay enough attention to their social lives,'' she said.

Such aid doesn't come cheap, and that is one reason why boomers make up the bulk of those using matchmakers and traditional dating services. Many young people can't afford matchmaker fees of between $4,000 and $25,000 and costs of up to $4,000 for traditional dating services.

Internet dating sites preferred by Generations X and Y cost up to $600 a year.

At Together and The Right One, two services run by the same firm, baby boomers comprise 57 percent of the 100,000 clients. Meanwhile, about 80 percent of the 175,000 people using Great Expectations are baby boomers.

By contrast, people between the ages of 35 and 54 represented 43 percent of the 26.6 million visitors to personals Web sites in December 2002, according to research firm comScore Media Metrix

Older singles say their social circles and pools of potential mates has shrunk as they've aged and friends and colleagues have married. Baby boomers using traditional dating services say they seek the discretion and commitment-minded upscale singles they believe these companies offer.

Anne Morgan has many accomplished, cultured friends met through her 20-year marriage to a lawyer. When they divorced last year, Morgan realized she didn't know any single people of the same caliber so she hired Chicago-based matchmaker Barbie Adler for $4,000.

''Barbie knows single people like my married friends,'' said Morgan, a 47-year old living in Oak Brook, Ill.

Morgan tried the Internet briefly but found the amount of responses too overwhelming.

''It was entertaining for a while but it was also a waste of time, Morgan said. ''When Barbie calls, I know she put some thought into the match.''

The matchmakers and dating services all say they conduct extensive interviews with clients to determine suitable matches. Some say they conduct criminal and credit checks to insure the quality of their memberships.

Lovelorn boomers seeking a short-cut to romance should also conduct a thorough investigation of any service they are considering before paying any fees, experts say. Matchmaking is a $917 million industry according to Marketdata Enterprise, and it is no stranger to fraud and lawsuits.

''These are businesses that prey on people's emotions. Some complaints have tear stains on them,'' said Dan Parsons, head of Houston's Better Business Bureau. ''A lot of the sales reps at these companies have hard core sales experience. They've gone from selling cars to selling flesh.''

Great Expectations president Mitchell A. Brandt concedes that some clients may have some justifiable problems with his firm, but believes they are a very small minority. He maintains in dealing with matters of the heart, some people will inevitably be hurt, get angry and seek to blame someone for their unhappiness.

''If you meet someone, we are the heroes, and if we don't we are bums,'' said Brandt, who claims the key to successfully using a dating service is realistic expectations.

Great Expectations client John Parker said he has been met several nice women through the service although he hasn't found anyone particularly special just yet.

''It is just another tool to meet people,'' said the North Palm Beach resident, who said he was in his mid-50s.

Parker also uses the Internet but has found that people fudge the truth. He said one woman he met on the Internet led him to believe she was a lawyer, but she turned out to be a police officer.

Dating services say they cut down on the lying that can go on Web sites although they concede nothing is foolproof. ''If people are going to come down here, sign up, pay money, you figure they really want to meet someone,'' said Brandt.

Of course, some boomers have successfully logged on for love on the Internet.

On Valentine's Day, Troy Smith will marry a women he met through Match.Com six months ago. He realized using the Internet could be time-consuming, but he really wanted to meet someone and couldn't afford a more traditional dating service.

''They are just way too expensive,'' said Troy, a 47-year old facilities coordinator.



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