"This is silly," Iris thought as she glanced at herself in the mirror. "I'm bright, still attractive, and I've kept my figure, so why should I be nervous just because I'm going to have a conversation with a man?"

It had been two years since her husband died, after 35 years of marriage, and Iris realized that she missed the companionship of a man. Now she felt ready for the comfort and security of a caring relationship. So, with a last glance at her watch, Iris put on her housecoat and headed over to her computer. Her "date" was on the Internet, with a man she had met at a matchmaking website.

Sounds like things have changed. Not really. The Internet is just one new way to help you meet people like yourself. Let's hear from some more people on how they meet people later in life.

In the Flesh

Don't want to meet your prospective date on-line? How about an activities club, where the focus is social activities and sporting events? Or a dinner club, where six or eight single people meet for a nice dinner and conversation once a month? Maybe you'd feel more comfortable at a church or synagogue singles night. Or maybe it's time to enlist the help of your friends, who probably know some terrific single people you haven't yet met.

Dating is just as nerve wracking now as it was 30 years ago. After many years of marriage, you may feel that you're out of the loop, or that the rules have changed. The best advice is to just be yourself.

Jean Barr, a Boston area social worker, recommends that once you meet someone you'd like to know better, you arrange a date for something you like to do. If you enjoy being outdoors, arrange a nature walk. If you enjoy quiet chat, arrange to meet at a museum coffee shop. Movies don't make great first dates, because you don't get a chance to talk.

Some Dating Advice

You may wonder about the dating rules of the new millenium: Who should pay the next time? Is it OK for you to call him? How soon is too soon to invite your new "friend" to your home for an intimate dinner? How can you let him know you're interested without seeming too forward? And how do you let her know that you find her irresistibly attractive?

The truth is, nobody knows what's really going on, so just go with what feels right to you.

Here are a few simple suggestions:

  • It's probably better to avoid the subjects of money or politics on a first date, until you know more about your companion's situation.
  • Men—don't opt for more than a chaste good night kiss on the first date, and do walk your date to her door.
  • Ladies—if you've enjoyed yourself, call him and tell him.

On the 'Net

According to Iris, who lives in an upper-middle class community in Southern California, "...the Net is how the world is meeting." She says 90 percent of her single girlfriends use the Internet as a resource for meeting men.

Dr. Richard Wessler, a psychotherapist and chairman of the psychology department at New York's Pace University, supports the idea of meeting in cyberspace. Dr. Wessler likes the idea of people meeting on the Internet because, "it's a safe way to find out who someone really is, not just who they say they are."

Rich Davis of Boston agrees, but adds a caveat. "It's [the Internet] really just an anonymous 'singles club.' People on the Internet can hide behind that anonymity. They can be whoever they want to be. If you feel that something just isn't right, then go with your hunch. Don't get caught up in the fantasy life of the person you're chatting with."

Tips for Safe Internet Dating

Concerned about the safety of online dating? A veteran Internet suitor shares his tips at Datesafely.com. George Jobel has played the online dating game and shares the following advice:

  • Begin anonymously
  • First of all, get an anonymous online account. "Never post your real name anywhere online," he advises.
  • Take your time
  • Take time to get to know your new friend. Chat about favorite books, or movies you love, or places you've been.
  • Pay attention to details
  • When you progress to talking on the phone, pay attention to make sure that everything seems to fit. For example, when you speak on the phone do you hear children in the background, although he says he lives alone?
  • The first meeting
  • When it comes time to actually meet, use your head. Avoid relying on your date for transportation. Take your own car or hail a cab. Meet in a neutral place, and always let a friend know where you're going and what time you expect to be home. Arrange for a definite place to meet inside wherever you're going.

One Man's Approach

George, a 51-year old, divorced professional claims to have a two-pronged approach to meeting women. One is to go to places where women tend to congregate and outnumber men, such as dances or dance classes.

George's second approach to meeting women is on the Internet. He claims to have received 285 replies from women across the country as a result of submitting his profile to a matchmaking website. George also recognizes that he doesn't really want to date a woman who is a custodial parent, because he doesn't want to assume the responsibility for bringing up children.

Carol McCarthy, a marriage and family therapist practicing in Massachusetts, agrees with George's approach to meeting people. McCarthy says that "Circulation is the key. You have to get out of the house."

McCarthy, who proudly states that she met her present husband through a personal ad, calls the Internet a "fantastic" and "credible" place to meet people. She finds it safe if no identifying information is given and says people can take their time writing back and forth learning about each other before they actually meet.

Looking for Companionship and Fun?

Regardless of how you decide to meet new people, one thing is clear: a growing population of people in their fifties and a high divorce rate have created a sizeable pool of unattached single adults over the age of 50. And regardless of gender, there are two main reasons why they're seeking dating relationships—companionship and fun.