I'm 25, and I talked to 3 single women in their 50s about what it's like to use dating apps like Tinder and Bumble. Their experiences surprised me
Shayanne Gal/Business Insider
- Single women over the age of 50 are finding themselves discouraged with dating apps that tend to cater to younger generations and embrace hook-up culture.
- Tinder can be too aggressive for someone fresh out of a 20-year marriage, while Bumble can give an older woman control over her preferences and allow her not be bombarded by messages, women say.
- Some find apps catered to their age group, like eHarmony and Match, "too old" and others like Happn too "trendy."
- Despite frustration, many are leaning into the apps, using them as means to meet people and explore their new single lives.
A few weeks ago, my mom came to me with a question: She was becoming increasingly frustrated with dating apps. Were other single women her age feeling that way, too?
What she was searching for was innocent enough: someone who she can have fun with, travel with, and ultimately be in a long-term relationship with. Marriage? No, thank you. Kids? Been there, done that. A one night stand? TMI.
She's over 55, has been married, had kids, owns a home, and has been providing for herself for years. She was no longer looking for someone to take care of her - she was doing a fine job already - but someone to love and be loved by.
She moved to Abu Dhabi in 2015 and was teaching at a university there, when a female colleague two decades younger introduced her to Tinder. It was exciting and unlike any other dating experience she had before.
"What was exciting was I was meeting people I would never meet," she told me over the phone recently. "It is different when you are in a foreign country, you have people from all over the world, and unless you are going out to clubs and bars, it is difficult to meet people."
So, she swiped right. And she swiped right a lot. One man she met she described as a multimillionaire who picked her up in a Jaguar limo and took her to the Dubai opera. Another asked her to be his fourth wife after only a couple of dates. There were lots of late nights out dancing, followed by cozy nights in chatting online, getting to know someone.
At this point, my mom estimates she's been on nearly 50 dates - some with men 20 years younger. And though she didn't join Tinder with specific expectations, something wasn't clicking. After a year of using the app, she deleted it.
"No one I met on the app, none of them, wanted a committed, long-term relationship," she said. "A lot of them are looking for threesomes or just want to have a conversation, but what about me? What am I getting out of that other than having a date once in a while?"
As an older woman, my mom was confronted with a simple fact: she was now living in a society where the most popular way to date catered to younger generations and fully embraced hook-up culture.
So, what's an older lady to do?
This is also a truth Carolina Gonzalez, a writer in London, came face-to-face with after her 28-year marriage ended.
At 57, she downloaded Bumble - Tinder seemed too aggressive, she told me. She's also tried Happn and OkCupid, but quickly trashed them because she didn't find a big enough pool of users in her age range, or found the app to be too trendy. Sites like eHarmony and Match, she said, seemed "a little too old" and hard to "get a full sense of who is available."
She enjoyed the control Bumble gave her, and the ability to not be bombarded by messages but to make the first move instead. It seemed noncommittal, she said; clean, in fact. The variety, though, "can be scary."
"When you just get out of a long marriage or a long relationship, it is weird to go out with anybody," Gonzalez told me. "Though there is still a hope you will meet someone and fall in love, but I am probably never going to meet someone and have what I had before."
But that, she said, was also liberating. She was free to have 15-minute coffee dates, be vulnerable, and feel sexy. At her age, Gonzalez said, she feels much more confident in who she is - a trait, she said, that younger men find appealing.
My mom said this, too. She frequently matched with men 10 to 15 years younger than her because, she said, she was able to "hold a conversation."
For Gonzalez, dating apps only proved to her that her life wasn't missing anything, except maybe the cherry on top. Bumble lets her go out to the movies and dinner with people and form relationships, even friendships, with men she would have never met before. She's in a place where she is not doing anything she doesn't want to do, and experimenting with dating apps as a way to have fun as a 50-something divorcée. Her life is not shutting down with age, she said, but opening up.
She did, however, see that the options available to her younger girlfriends were much more plentiful. Peaking over their shoulders, she saw her younger friends swiping with much more fervor and not running up against the spinning wheel - an indication the app is searching for more people with your age range and location.
"This is a big business and they are missing out," said Gonzalez, referring to popular dating app companies who don't cater to older people.
Tinder declined to comment when asked to provide its app's age demographics and whether or not it thought its platform catered to older users. Match, eharmony, Happn, and OkCupid did not respond to Business Insider's request for comment.
Jess Carbino, a sociologist for Bumble, told Business Insider in a statement that out of its female users over 40, 60% believe the app will "most likely to lead to the type of relationship they desire."
But how many swipes must a single lady swipe to get there? My mom compared it to panning for gold. (I swear she is not that old.) "You really have to dig in the dirt for that speck of gold, you have to go through hundreds of different profiles," she said.
Though, she questioned, this may not be entirely the fault of dating apps, but how people use them.
"Dating apps work for men, and older men, but don't work for older women," my mom said. "Most women who are older are not looking for hookups, where most men are looking for whatever experiences they can get. How do you find those few men who are out there who are looking for a relationship?"
That is a question Crystal, 57, has been asking for the 15 years she's been single. (Crystal declined to have her last name published.) She's a single mom living in Pittsburgh, and she's tried it all: eharmony, Match, OkCupid, Plenty of Fish. Just before the holidays, she canceled Bumble, finding it all to be too stressful.
She's hopped from app to app like most people do - hoping to find a new pool of available people. But what she found was just recycled profiles.
"Whenever I go out, I see all these license plates from states all over and think, 'There has to be some available people here!'" said Crystal. "I am self-sufficient, I just prefer not to be alone. I guess the idea of the long-term relationship scares people away."
Crystal wants to try Silver Singles after Valentine's Day and plans to change her profile to say "just looking to date."
Her best advice to other ladies her age on the apps: don't list yourself as looking for an activities partner.
"That is when all the weirdos come out of the woodwork," she said.
I have to admit: as a 25-year-old, the kind of dating the 50-plus ladies I spoke with described is the only dating I have ever known. However, I grew up in the digital era, where you can be flaky in real life, flirty over text, have low expectations, and shallow notions.
This is a new frontier for older women like my mom. She's living in a world where society tells older men that they're silver foxes, and older women to take up knitting. It's not the best message to take into the next chapter of her life - one where she is newly single and searching for something not so vapid, all the while playing the dating game with rules made up by a younger generation and tools that condone it.
In light of that, she's gotten a lot more specific. She realized she didn't have to feel frustrated so often if she just leaned into it.
These days, she refuses to date Cancers - or any water sign, for that matter. And that is why she recently re-downloaded Bumble: she gets to see right away if a potential match has an unappetizing astrological sign.
I asked her why she decided to do it all over again.
"If I didn't have the apps, I would have no options," she said, laughing. "The benefit is it gives you options. You get frustrated and get off it and then get lonely and get back on. It's a cycle. It's like anything else, you run the gauntlet. That's life."
Are you over 50 and using dating apps? Want to share your story? Contact this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org, (646) 768-1658, or by Twitter DM @MeiraGebel