After more than 40 dates in a year-and-a-half, Jane Richardson found true love online nearly two years ago, and married last month in Madison.

Richardson, 66, is part of a growing group of seniors who have turned to online dating. As the stigma of logging on to Internet dating services has faded, senior singles are meeting new people, with some entering in to long-term relationships and even marrying.

"I'm a pretty outgoing and positive person. I laugh and say I can talk to anybody about anything for an hour," said Richardson, who retired from a job with the Badger chapter of the American Red Cross, but is best known for the eight years she spent as an aide to former Mayor Paul Soglin.

Still, online dating is work, Richardson said.

"You have to be persistent and you have to be patient and you have to have a good sense of humor," she said. "Some people say, ‘I would never do that,' but for me, it was kind of like this treasure hunt."

Online dating is a contemporary way of meeting eligible single people who share the same interests, Richardson said. "My experience was very positive."

Match.com, the most popular online dating site, doesn't break out data of those 65 and older on its site, but more than 6 percent of Match members are over 60, said Jaklin Kaden, the company's public relations coordinator.

Meanwhile, 22 percent of Match.com members are in the 50-plus demographic.

"In fact, within the last five years the 50-plus age group is Match.com's fastest growing demographic," Kaden said. "It's grown over 50 percent in the last five years. We find that our age demographics mirror the age demographics in the U.S."

Match.com also owns a website for older adults called SeniorPeopleMeet.com.

In the Madison area, a recent search of singles 65 and older on Match.com revealed a small pool: 25 men and 17 women. Most daters interviewed for this story said they were looking for a life partner or companion.

Tom Thrall, 67, of Fitchburg, is among those 25. He calls himself a "veteran of these wars" and has used Internet dating sites for about six years. He's tried eHarmony and Yahoo, too, but found that Match.com has worked best.

Previously married for 32 years, and divorced for almost 10, the semi-retired wildlife biologist - who goes by the name "biologyguy" on Match.com - is looking for a woman aged 55 to 66 within 90 miles of Madison. His daughter in Colorado encouraged him to get on Match, where she met a man she's been with for two years. He said he averages one date a week.

"I've met a lot of nice people, had a lot of dates. I just haven't found that right one yet," he said.

Like other veteran online daters, Thrall said he meets prospects informally for coffee or a drink at first, so there's no big time commitment. Unfortunately, none of his dates have entered relationship territory.

"It may be that someone was interested in me and I wasn't interested in them. It works both ways, of course," he said.

Thrall is an optimist, believing that just because it hasn't worked yet, doesn't mean it can't. "All it takes is one, you know. So I keep plugging away at it with the idea that it's very possible.

"When I find somebody it's going to be for the long-term. That's why I'm so fussy."

Richardson, who got married July 24, turned to Internet dating three years after her 37-year marriage ended in divorce.

"I had many, many, many first dates," she said, and a couple of relationships worked for awhile. Then she heard from Steve Dennis, a widower from northern Wisconsin, where she has a cottage, and the two hit it off immediately.

What Richardson said she likes about a service like Match is that the user can select who he or she wants to contact. She even encouraged her former husband, Neil Richardson, 66, a retired UW-Madison professor now working as a real estate agent, to give Internet dating a try.

Neil Richardson said that after eight weeks on Match.com, he's gone on 15 dates and is continuing to see two of the women.

While it's going well for him, Richardson said it can be a strange experience, especially for people of his generation who didn't grow up with the Internet.

He found the logistics of getting registered difficult. "You have to know how to right-click and upload photographs and things that I really just don't have practice at," he said, adding that a younger colleague uploaded some photos for him.

"But once you look past (the) strangeness, I have to say it's an awfully darn efficient way to meet people compared to just hoping to get lucky in the supermarket line," Richardson said.

Like a lot of daters interviewed for this story, Nancy Davidson, 67, of Madison, said people often don't represent themselves honestly online.

"There's a lot of people out there who don't present themselves in a true light - their ages don't match, their pictures can be old. What they say they want isn't necessarily what they want," said Davidson, a retired social worker, who has done Internet dating on and off for about three years.

Many men in her age group are looking for a woman 20 or 25 years younger than they are, she said.

"Also, the older I get, I always say the field narrows. There aren't as many eligible people out there anymore," said Davidson, who has been married twice and has six children from her first marriage.

She met her second husband on a dating site and they married in 2004. That marriage only lasted 10 weeks.

Still, she continues to plug away at online dating because she doesn't see an alternative.

"How does anybody meet single people?" she asked. "It's not all that easy."

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