Erika Ettin is an online dating coach and founder of A Little Nudge who for the past four and a half years has been helping people navigate sites like Match.com and OurTime, providing advice on profiles and pictures, and in some cases even conducting searches and responding to messages. Her clients range in age from 22 to 72 — with more on the older side.
Most of Erika’s senior clients have been in longterm relationships and need help figuring out how to find love in the unfamiliar world of online dating, which Erika calls “a completely different animal” than the old go-out-and-meet-someone version. And because it is such a different animal, it presents a different set of challenges. One of those is ageism. Where else but online are you a number before you’re a certain smile or a sparkle in the eye?
Recently, Erika — who is also a dating expert for JDate, the author of “Love at First Site” and a syndicated columnist on dating — wrote an article about the ageism she sees among her online dating clients. What she wrote piqued our interest, so we checked in with her by phone to learn more.
People don’t often talk about ageism and online dating in the same sentence. Do you see a lot of it when you’re working with clients?
Ageism is like the elephant in the room when it comes to online dating. In my experience as a coach, people assume that others their own age aren’t as in shape, as financially successful as younger people. They think someone who’s 60 must not be active, or people who are 70 must not be working — even if they themselves are. It’s often men who say that, but women do, too. I ask them, Why don’t you want a man your own age? And they say, Oh, they’re old!
I have found that 95 percent of my clients over age 50 tell me that the other gender doesn’t age as well as theirs. But you know, everyone ages, everyone gets wrinkles, everyone has baggage. Age doesn’t define us. You have to look at people as individuals.
Are there more men looking for younger women than women looking for younger men?
Although plenty of men out there are looking for someone their own age, and some women think men their own age are too old, it is more often men who are looking for someone younger. They have no problem telling me, I want a woman 20 years younger than I am. For whatever reason, social norms say that the man should be older — but why? It’s frustrating for women when men won’t include a woman up to their own age in their search; a man is 65 and only lists women age 45 to 55. I’ve worked with so many wonderful, successful women, and its frustrating for them. I can’t sugar coat how frustrating it is. And it’s not just older men. I’m working with a client who is 36 and thinks a 33-year-old is too old for him. She’s three years younger than he is!
It’s a huge double standard, but women are generally more accepting of older bodies in a partner than men are. Men say, I want a thin, athletic woman, and women say, I want someone who’s intellectual and cultured and well travelled. There was a study a while ago that tracked people’s eye movements on online dating sites — tracking how often the participants looked at the picture versus the profile. Men looked at the picture about 80 percent of the time. Women looked at the profile and picture about 50–50. There’s also data to show that as women get older, they’re attracted to older men, whereas with men, as old as they get, they’re still attracted to the same age person as when they were young.
We’ve also heard older women complain about being approached by young men on dating sites. Does it matter if the guy is younger?
Ultimately, everyone is entitled to his or her own preferences. What it really comes down to in the end is compatibility. If a young man and older woman work well together, then great. And vice versa.
Do you think dating sites should try doing away with the age question all together? Is the question in itself discriminatory? Or even necessary?
Despite the ageism that we’re talking about, I do believe that it’s necessary. Perhaps it could be less specific, like an age range, though. If the question were omitted, many people would be tempted to use old photos to make people believe they are younger than they are.
So, what’s the a solution?
I don’t have silver bullet solution. I coach men to start looking in their own range. I ask them why it’s so important to them to find someone younger, and I try to debunk what they tell me. They might say, well, someone 60 won’t want to climb mountains with me, and I’ll say, What makes you think so?
And I remind women that when you’re online dating, it’s hard not to take it personally. But these people don’t know you and they’re not rejecting you as a person. They don’t know who you are or what you have to offer. As one of my clients, a 72-year old woman said, “I was good enough to sit next to you in kindergarten, but I’m too old for you now?”
I also suggest that if online dating is not working for you, and you think you feel and look younger than your years, try and meet people in person — get out there and meet people in real life. Then again, 90 percent of my clients, when I ask them their age, say, But I don’t look my age. I just smile and nod.
My advice to clients is, don’t prioritize age. Look for people in a wide range — including your own age and even older. Just because online dating lets you discriminate against someone based strictly on age doesn’t mean you should do that.