Without a doubt, the question I'm asked most frequently by people in their fifties, sixties, seventies and beyond is "Am I too old to date?" My answer is always the same: Regardless of whether you are on your own due to death, divorce or a lack of long-term relationships, you definitely are capable of finding a new companion for friendship, marriage or something in between.

Finding a new partner may take a little time and you might need to resolve some emotional obstacles, particularly if you've experienced the upheaval of divorce or the death of a long-time love. Deal with your issues, but realize you don't need to let go of your positive feelings for your departed loved one, nor must you forget that person. You may think, "I had such a good relationship and now I'm alone; I'm not sure I'll be able to find someone again." When you're ready, you can and you will.

Research shows that there are three great ways to find a companion. One is by participating in group activities, such as a book club, activities at your religious organization, a wine appreciation class, a walking group or the gym. Spending time on a regular basis with people who have similar interests makes us feel more comfortable, and that's a good thing when we're trying to meet someone new.

Blind dates work, too. Some see them as archaic or for the desperate. Those are myths. Today's fix-ups are likely to be orchestrated by a close friend or work colleague, meaning people who know you well, not some distant relative who couldn't pick you out of a line-up. The architect of your match-up will have a good idea of what works for you - maybe even better than you realize for yourself.

The best option, I think, for seniors looking to get back in the game is online dating. If you haven't dated in a while or were with the same person for a long time, it's the ideal way to get your feet wet.

What's so great about online dating?

• Hide being shy or nervous. Type out an online message to someone and then review it, edit it, rewrite it, shorten it, lengthen it, delete it and start over. No one will know. With an in-person date, you can't take back those words once they're out of your mouth. Online, you can practice your repartee before you click "send."

Flirt in your pajamas. You can explore new people from the comfort of your home, at any hour of the day or night. You're in control of where and when and how. That's empowering!

• Expand the pool of potential partners. People you meet through regular activities or blind dates tend to fall within a circle that already surrounds you. Online dating opens up a bigger and broader world while still affording you total control. You choose the geographic scope for possible suitors: across town or across the country.

• Cut to the chase, quickly. With in-person dating, weeks can elapse between setting up a date, going on it, and then waiting to find out if a second one will happen. To me, online dating is an express process. The back-and-forth of online conversation helps you figure out sooner if someone has the qualities you seek. In fact, you can investigate one, two, five or ten possibilities in the very same time frame and still have plenty of time for work, volunteering and dinner with friends.

Online dating also is the best option if you've never been married or it's been a long time since you were in a relationship. Maybe it's been hard to identify exactly what you're looking for or find a sizeable pool of people to consider. The large supply of candidates online and the way they describe themselves help you define or hone the qualities that interest you. Any time you can see people and vivid descriptions of them, you get a better sense of what you want or don't want in a partner. Also, when you go through the process of describing yourself to others, it gives you a fuller understanding of what you hope to find. You want to find someone who's close to you in values and interests - so go ahead and look for someone who's like you!

About the Author

Terri Orbuch, Ph.D.

Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., is an Oakland University professor and research professor at The University of Michigan.

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