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Fifty and fabulous on the dating scene

'A ROUND 17pc of our user base is 50-plus years, so it is a very important category for us, and one of the fastest-growing groups," says Grainne Barry, managing director of online dating website, Anotherfriend.com.

"Online dating sites for fiftysomethings are seen as an opportunity for another chance at love and romance.

"These people are seeing their sons and daughters or friends having success with it and are giving it a go.

"Plus, online dating is becoming more acceptable and widely used in Ireland," Grainne says of over-50s who turn to internet dating.

Women proposed to in an era of love letters, and whose previous relationships involved whispering sweet nothings in phone boxes on corners, are now tapping away on the keyboard looking for love.

"Older daters tend to be more clearer and realistic about what they want and can often have more success dating online.



Romance

"In our experience, women and men over-50s are looking for the same thing -- friendship, a date or romance.

"It is only very few cases where men are looking to date younger women or younger men are looking to date older women," says Grainne.

Belinda Walsh is single, in her early 50s and living in Wicklow. She says, "Apart from a few short years of marriage, I seem to have been dating on and off all my adult life."

A writer and portrait artist, Belinda's novel Blondes Prefer Gentlemen is a romantic comedy based around internet dating, and will be available soon.

"In my teens and early 20s, dating young men full of enthusiasm and testosterone was a no-brainer," says Belinda. It was all hormonal, dating was akin to struggling with a sex-starved octopus, but also full of romantic possibilities and without a thought for the future.

"My friends and I dreamt about meeting a hunky, handsome millionaire who drove a red sports car -- it had to be red, no other colour would do -- and be swept off our feet! Ah, the innocence of it all."

The glamorous mum-of-two adds: "In my 30s, dating changed and became about finding Mr Right, the husband and father of my future babies. I was a woman on a mission to find love. I just had to get that band of gold and settle down. I remember saying how I would give up everything and follow my Mr Right to the ends of the world as long as we were in love. Mmm!"



surprises

The artist found dating in her 40s much more challenging.

"Dating in my 40s after a divorce was the worst. I worried about everything; unfaithful men, dangerous men, exposing my kids to strangers, coping with other people's kids and the few dates I did go on were filled with doubts and questions like, 'Is this the man I want my children to spend the weekend with?'"

However, surprisingly, dating in her 50s has brought some pleasant surprises.

"Thankfully, at 50, all that pressure is off ... phew! And dating is more about fun and companionship," says Belinda.

"I don't think many of us are looking for great changes in the second half of our lives, in terms of status anyway."

Famous fiftysomethings currently on the dating scene include TV personality Carol Vorderman (51), Christie Brinkley (58), and Jo Wood (56), businesswoman and ex-wife of Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood.

UK actress Amanda Redman was 53 when she wed her long-time toyboy boyfriend Damian Schnabel two years ago, when he was aged 38.

Belinda says, "Few over-50s are looking to change their single status. Our children are grown and doing their own thing and most of us are just looking for someone to go to concerts and shows with on a Saturday night. Dating online has become one of the most popular ways for the over-40s and 50s to connect. It has expanded more than any other age group in recent times.

"A word of warning, though, about sites with the word 'senior' in the title -- you may find yourself connected to more than your fair share of octogenarians. Mind you, older people with less pressure and plenty of free time are often a lot happier than the rest of us," Belinda says.

"I sat next to a very elderly group of men and women having lunch recently and the bawdy banter, laughter and fun they were having would be an eye opener to any 20-year-old."

In fact, there are some high-profile fiftysomethings out there who seem to be having the times of their lives. Take 54-year-old actress Sharon Stone, who was recently pictured kissing her much younger 27-year-old model boyfriend Martin Mica.



cautious

Sex and the City actress Kim Cattrall (56) was recently spotted out and about with millionaire artist Clifford Ross (59).

Belinda adds, "To be honest, on the downside, some of us over-50s are a little burnt out by difficult divorces and bad relationships and have to some extent given up looking for that elusive 'soulmate'. I am definitely more cautious about relationships and am also definitely more self-possessed.

"Because while there was a time when I would have changed my life for Mr Right, that won't happen now. I love my life and have many interests I really enjoy. I'd like to add more.

"That said, like most people I would like someone kind and quietly confident with a good sense of humour to talk to and do things with. As the great man Winston Churchill once said, 'Don't worry too much about avoiding temptation as you get older ... it will avoid you!'"


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