- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 10, 2005

BERLIN, Md. — Forgive Charles Walsh if he is a little slow to join the world of speed dating. The 55-year-old divorced father hasn’t even been to an evening social event in nearly a decade.

“I was married for 20 years, and now I’m nervous,” said Mr. Walsh, who preferred to sip a beer at the bar and watch about 50 older adults in this beachside town try speed dating, an adult mixer where men and women are paired for a few minutes of get-to-know-you chat before they switch partners.

Older Americans are joining young urban singles in impressive numbers looking for love through speed-dating events and online personals sites. Match.com, a popular dating Web site, says registrations among people older than age 50 have increased by 340 percent since 2000.

On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where the roads are dotted with ads for new retirement communities, the changing senior-dating scene is evident. The speed-dating event Mr. Walsh attended was set up by Mingling Singles, a group that has tripled in membership since its creation just two months ago.

Another group near Ocean City, Beach Singles, has 150 members, all older than 45, with a new chapter planned in nearby Salisbury. Then there’s the Merry Widows and Widowers Social Club in Ocean City.

“The seniors are pouring down here,” said Lois West, 71, secretary of Beach Singles. “They move here for the beach, but then they don’t know anybody.”

The silver-haired singles scene on the Eastern Shore is likely to keep growing, too. Eight of nine shore counties have a greater proportion of residents older than 65 than Maryland as a whole, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Some elderly speed daters said their grown children pushed them to attend a speed-dating event. Others said they were sick of tagging along with friends who are couples or were just tired of trying to find love in a bar.

“As soon as my 31-year-old daughter heard about it, she was like, ‘Oh, Mom, you have to go,’” said JoAnn Collinson, 52, a widow from Bishopville who said she’s looking as much for companionship as romance.

Some dating Web sites now have special seniors-only areas. Spark Networks, based in Los Angeles, started SilverSingles.com last year, and the site now has about 600,000 members.

Kathleen Roldan, a spokeswoman for San Francisco-based Match.com, said one possible explanation is that seniors are becoming more comfortable with the Internet and are finding that online dating lets them take their time choosing a possible mate.

“Fifty-five and over is our fastest-growing segment,” Miss Roldan said.

The speed dates occasionally lead to the bowling parties, restaurant meet-ups and golf outings set up by groups such as Beach Singles.

“People want to get back out into the dating thing, maybe meet someone,” Donna Guildener, 53, said at the speed-dating event. “Picking up someone at a bar or something is not my scene. My kids keep telling me, ‘You gotta get out there. You gotta get out there.’ It’s just hard to get back out there, so I thought I’d try something like this.”

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