WASHINGTON -- After being in a marriage for 32 years, Patty D.* found herself single at the age of 50.
The Baltimore County, Maryland, resident didn't meet anyone of interest on her own, and was never set up through friends, so she took matters into her own hands: She turned to online dating.
"I didn't have any expectations for anything beyond a date," says Patty, who is now 59. "I was looking to have a good time."
With 29 percent of adults age 45 to 59 -- and 45 percent of people 65-plus -- single, more seniors are following Patty's decision to turn to the Internet to find love or companionship.
Sound surprising? The statistics say this trend is anything but.
Sami Hassanyeh, chief digital officer at AARP, says 78 percent of baby boomers are online and 52 percent of adults 65-plus are online. And they're not just spending their time on Facebook. According to Match.com, people over 50 make up the online dating service's fastest-growing segment of users.
In an effort to connect single adults in the 50-plus population, AARP recently teamed up with HowAboutWe to form AARP Dating, an online dating site that launched in January 2013. In its first year, the site saw more than 700,000 visitors and suggested more than 250,000 dates.
Hassanyeh says the organization decided to launch the dating service to help the 17 percent of older Americans who suffer from isolation -- something he calls "a serious and significant issue."
"It affects their health, their quality of life, their level of happiness."
He explains that AARP Dating, which costs around $18 a month for AARP members, aims to improve the social lives of its users. The service encourages subscribers to take their connections from the online platform to offline interactions.
"Being happier, having a better social circle, friends and family around you, really improves your outlook on life," Hassanyeh says.
Finding Love Online
Patty is one of the lucky ones, but her success with online dating took about 10 months.
Prior to meeting her current partner on a free online dating service, she endured encounters with men who tried to scam her for money. She was also contacted by married men.
"It was such a variety of different people you would come across," says Patty, who is now able to look back and laugh at her experiences.
After a handful of disastrous dates, Patty found a true match online; she has been dating the same man for over nine years.
But Patty is not hoping to hear wedding bells anytime soon. She has no desire to live with her "partner," as she calls him. She says neither one of them wants to cohabitate (they live about 3 miles from each other), and neither wants to get married.
Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington and AARP's love and relationship ambassador, says not wanting to get married is pretty common among the older dating population.
Match.com reports only 14 percent of boomer women and 22 percent of boomer men say their number-one reason for dating is to find someone to live with or marry.
Schwartz tells the New York Times that financial considerations are one of the main reasons people 60 and older are not interested in tying the knot.
"I don't have to live with him, but we're always there to support each other," Patty says. "I'm really happy I've got a companion."
Looking for Love Online
Karen Marov, 67, decided to try online dating right after she retired from her job as a sales manager at a newspaper.
"I promised my daughters I would start getting more involved for myself," says Marov, who lives in Old Bridge, New Jersey.
Unlike Patty, Marov had some initial hesitations about online dating. She started with a free online dating service, but says she didn't feel very safe on the site.
"You never know what's on there," says Marov, who was turned off after being set up with someone who had a DWI on his record. "You can't tell what you're reading; you just don't know."
She joined AARP Dating in January and says she feels a little better using the organization's site, since she's more likely to have something in common with its users. But she continues to navigate online dating with caution.
"When you're older, you're not just looking for a nice-looking person. You're looking for someone that had or has a job, is educated," Marov says.
She has been on one date since beginning AARP Dating, but again was turned off after learning about her date's history with alcoholism.
However, says she's not giving up. She'll occasionally check out other users' profiles and says she will most likely continue to use the site.
"I'm not sure if this is the way to meet someone," says Marov, who likes to bike, hike and swim and describes herself as "still pretty young."
Rather, she says she would prefer to attend organized meet-and-greets with other AARP members in her community.
"In my age group, we have a lot to talk about, as far as, how you are finding retirement, finances and things like that. We could help each other that way, even if we don't date," she says.
AARP's Hassanyeh says hesitations are normal for all online daters, and especially for those who haven't been on a date in several years.
"They want to make sure, 'Am I talking to a real person on the other side? Are they being honest?'" he says.
To help address these concerns, AARP's website includes articles and blogs that offer tips to readers, ranging from "do's and don'ts" for online dating, to how to date in the digital age. AARP also has a sex and intimacy blog, manned by sociology professor Schwartz, who answers user-submitted questions on a variety of topics.
Patty's best advice to anyone thinking about online dating after 50 is to stay on-guard and "don't be naïve." She also advises users not to make generalizations about all online daters after one date goes poorly.
"I went into it with an attitude that everyone was going to be an experience; good or bad it was going to be an experience that I was going to enjoy," she says.
"Here I am, 10 years later … If you don't take the risk, you'll never know."
*Patty asked that her last name not be used in this article.
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