- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2011

NEW YORK — Baby boomers are swelling the ranks of online dating sites, and John Valentino is a happy veteran.

At 57, after a decade of pushing profiles and awkward meet-ups with strangers, he is married to 54-year-old year Debbie, a former Marine he met online two years ago.

“I had plenty of lemons before lemonade, believe me,” said Mr. Valentino, a furniture salesman in Long Branch, N.J.

One prospect said he was too old. Another went out with him to win a bet with a co-worker. A third told him all about her two grown sons and “their careers in the penal system, only they weren’t guards.”

That was when Mr. Valentino ventured onto a site that caters to older people - at the time called SeniorPeopleMeet.com. He quickly let go of his prejudice against the word “senior” and found Debbie, who has war stories of her own about trying to find a mate her age online.

“On other sites, most of the men who would contact me were a lot younger,” she said. “I would say why are you writing me, I’m looking for somebody my own age. I made it very clear in my profile. They would say I want the experience of dating an older woman.”

Dating online the second time around - after divorce or the death of a spouse - isn’t always second nature among the nation’s 78 million boomers, let alone people who are 65 and older, but neither is it all that scary.

Yet they often have unrealistic notions of how to hunt for love and companionship, said Pepper Schwartz, a sociology professor at the University of Washington in Seattle.

“People 65 or older, they’re picky in a different way,” said Ms. Schwartz, also a sex and relationship researcher for the AARP and developer of an algorithm to make matches more meaningful on the dating site PerfectMatch.com. “Young people tend to go for looks, period. Older people often have a little bit more leeway on what somebody looks like, but then they have all these other kinds of requirements that may or may not be realistic.”

For example, a snowbird with a second home may be looking for a mate willing to winter in Arizona. Others may limit possibilities unnecessarily by ruling out partners with all health issues.

In addition, Ms. Schwartz said, “Men are very interested in women being self-sufficient. Women are deathly afraid of becoming nursemaids, but long lists can really hurt. I hate the word settle, but you need to be practical.”

Ms. Schwartz said most are looking for a long-term relationship within a five-year span of their own age.

Based on the Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey, which samples 3 million U.S. households, as well as 2010 census data released so far this year, people 65 and older comprise roughly 13 percent of the population born between 1946 and 1964. The 65-plus age group will amount to nearly 20 percent of Americans by 2030.

Boomers ages 55 to 64 have been the fastest-growing age group since 2000, jumping 43 percent to about 35 million.

The number of people ages 45 to 54 also rose sharply, up 18 percent to 45 million as young boomers moved into the ranks.

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