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How to use dating apps after 40

Joanna Coles figured out the secret to digital dating — and it's all about going back to the (pre-app) basics.
by Julie Brown /
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Digital dating is a lot like driving a car. Or so says Joanna Coles, the Chief Content Officer of Hearst Magazines and author of the new book "Love Rules: How to Find a Real Relationship in the Digital World." Just like one cannot get behind the wheel without learning the rules of the road, you can’t successfully navigate online dating without understanding the terrain. “If you get in a car and you don’t know how to drive, and you don’t know how to signal to other cars what you want to do, then you’re going to end up in [the] hospital,” says Coles.

Dating may be like driving a car, but it’s also like riding a bike: It's scary at first, but it’s not impossible to learn — and even master.

In her book, "Love Rules: How to Find a Real Relationship in the Digital World," Joanna Coles lays out the rules of the road for navigating online dating.
In her book, "Love Rules: How to Find a Real Relationship in the Digital World," Joanna Coles lays out the rules of the road for navigating online dating.Allie Holloway

Coles insists that "Love Rules" is not just for the single millennial looking for love, but also for men and women getting back out there and re-entering the dating scene after many years. In fact, more middle-aged adults are dating digitally than ever before: A Pew Study examining online daters in 2013 and then again in 2015 showed the use of digital dating services jumped by almost two-thirds for adults aged 45-54. While the concepts of Tinder and Bumble may sound like a foreign language to some, anybody can — and should — use these dating apps, says Coles.

Traditional (offline) daters, or those just getting back in the game (albeit in a vastly different landscape) may be happy to hear that her biggest takeaway is a bit “old school:” Take the relationship offline as soon as possible.

Online dating is a bit like Costco, there's an enormous range of options. You have to look for the fresh produce aisle.

“Online dating is a bit like Costco, there's an enormous range of options. You have to look for the fresh produce aisle,” says Coles. “If you grow up in a small community, you're desperate for a friend's cousin to come to town for some new person to connect with. Dating apps are fantastic in that they provide incredible options. You just have to use them carefully.” So before you begin liking, swiping and private messaging, it’s crucial to learn the rules of the road, so you can successfully make meaningful connections in the digital landscape. Here are Coles tips for doing just that:

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

You joined Bumble — but that doesn’t mean your perfect match is just swipes away. “Online dating is merely a tool to connect you with other people” says Cole. So don’t stop meeting people in real life: go out for happy hour after work, join an intramural soccer team, try a new workout class. Dating apps are meant to be an addition to your repertoire; they are not the cure-all. And they certainly won’t do the dirty work for you when it comes to falling in love, says Coles.

Take it offline as soon as possible

When conducting the research for the book, Coles was most surprised to see a central theme crop up: people were keeping their communication online for a long time before meeting in real life. “People will have texty, flirty exchanges without actually talking on the phone or meeting in real life. And you see people giving up days, weeks, months … ” she says. While they are brilliant tools to meet new people, digital exchanges shouldn’t be used as a means to determine if someone is relationship material.

“The key thing to inject the real person into it is get offline. Figure out whether or not this person is someone you actually want to meet in real life,” she says. “You want to try and connect with someone. And my strongest piece of advice is do not waste your time in a lengthy text, flirty exchange with someone, which people often do, because it may turn out that you are connecting with someone online, and you have nothing in common at all.”

Don't just sit across the bar staring at each other thinking, ‘Is this the one?’ No date can withstand that pressure.

Do date night right

The League, a popular dating app among millennials, recently conducted a study of 20,000 users about their dating habits and found that the average first date is 55 minutes long. Does sitting across from a stranger in a loud bar making small talk for 55 minutes sound like your idea of fun? Didn’t think so. Coles also says this type of date places too much pressure on both parties. “Don't just sit across the bar from each other, staring at each other thinking, ‘Is this the one?’ No date can withstand that pressure,” she says. “Have your first date be something you do together. Go for a walk in the park. Go on a wine tasting course. Go to see something at the theater. But do something, so that you have something in common to talk about. It will be so much easier.”

Don’t press fast-forward

Texting or talking on the phone for a period of time can manufacture a sense of false familiarity. But you don’t truly know that person before you spend time together. Coles urges daters to take it slow, and not let the digital communication accelerate the relationship. “You cannot fast forward human relationships. And it's not actually how people fall in love,” says Coles. “For the most part, people fall in love with people they know that they've actually done things with, and that they've built up a commonality with. That's what makes people attractive to each other.”

Set great (but realistic) expectations

Dating apps are incredibly useful tools to meet new people, but sometimes it will only be that. If you are approaching every connection asking yourself “Is this the one?” you’ve entered dangerous territory, says Coles. “You will inevitably be disappointed by the answer,” she adds. Instead, Coles advises asking a different question: Is this someone I want to see again? This will ensure you’re setting realistic expectations for yourself and for your dates.

ARE WE HAVING FUN YET?

Dating is supposed to be fun. If you learn one thing from her book, Coles wants it to be this: Use digital dating to challenge yourself and put yourself out there — and make sure to have fun doing it.

“We spend so much time on our devices and behind our computers, that it's easy to become isolated. And it's easy to become a voyeur on other people's lives, and become less of a participant in your own life,” says Coles. “What the book really encourages people to do is to get up and put your devices down, and get out there and have fun and connect with people. Do things, travel, climb mountains … push yourself and have a bigger life. And if you have a bigger life there'll be more people in it. And you'll have more people to share with.”

NEXT: How to use sexting to improve your marriage

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