Rose Campbell was widowed after 26 years of marriage. John Souza's wife died after 44 years and five children together.
Both Campbell and Souza were looking for friendship and fun, not a second chance at love, when they bumped into each other online last October on a social network called Eons.
Soon they were chatting regularly. "There was a little flirtin' and a little serious conversation," said Souza, 70, who lives in Ocklawaha, Fla., across from the cemetery where his wife is buried.
The online encounters blossomed into a real-life meet about a month later. "It was a little awkward. I thought he didn't like me. He thought I didn't like him," said Campbell, 57, a retired schoolteacher and mother of two grown children in Ormond Beach, Fla., about 70 miles from Souza.
"Then we just clicked, and the rest is history," she said. Their wedding is planned for Sept. 6.
Eons is one of at least two dozen social networks aimed squarely at baby boomers, the population bubble born between 1946 and 1964 that has defied traditional perceptions of aging and retirement. Many boomers jumped into the Internet mashup to keep track of their kids on Facebook or MySpace, then moved on to their own networks in search of more common ground.
They're blogging about the virtues of oatmeal and the beauty of aging, posting video clips from their favorite old movies, and sharing ideas and support on grieving the death of a spouse, caring for a sick parent or sex after 50.
Besides Eons, other sites include BOOMj, BoomSpeak and BoomerGirl, along with Eldr, Secondprime and Growingbolder.
"Being 50 and over we all grew up around the same things. The same TV shows, the same history. When I say Roy Rogers, they know who I'm talking about," said 61-year-old Didi Moe of Melbourne, Fla., who started Central Florida Singles, the discussion group on Eons where Campbell and Souza met.
'It's a party'
The Boston-based Eons was founded by Internet pioneer Jeffrey C. Taylor in 2006, the year after he left his job-listings startup, Monster.
"It's a party," said Taylor, 47. "People kind of laughed at me when I said I was launching a boomer Web site. It was clear there wasn't any buzz. But they're loving it. It's a difference in life stage, lifestyle and life experience."
Taylor got Eons online just as the first boomers began turning 60 with their health and energy intact, longevity lengthened, and enough disposable income to attract advertisers and venture capitalists alike. With 700,000 registered users and 600 to 700 people a day joining its newcomers club, Eons offers plenty of virtual hand-holding with volunteer greeters and friendly experts who are peers.
Some of the boomer networking sites are loaded with staff content and expertise, or have a particular focus such as social change. Others, Eons included, are more user-driven, with hundreds of discussion groups, beginner widgets and age-specific applications like Eons' "LifePath," a way to plot a timeline of important personal events and future aspirations.
There's also a "life expectancy calculator" on Eons that bases life span on responses to 40 quick questions, and "Health Central," focused on groups and content dealing with everything from arthritis and menopause to cancer and dementia.
While some in the greater blogosphere scoff at the idea of separate boomer networks as ageist, and mock their applications as dumbed down, Taylor and other backers see a difference in the way their users behave online compared to younger enthusiasts at MySpace and other mainstream sites.
"The 20-somethings go online, check for messages, send a message and they're out," said Wendy Borow-Johnson, president of the Henderson, Nev.-based BOOMj, which launched last year and has 52,000 registered users, a minuscule number compared to the millions at MySpace and Facebook.
"People who are a little more mature go on, spend a little time. It's the way we used the phone in the past. We send longer e-mails, longer text messages. We engage more and take more time making those connections," she said.
BOOMj is gaining 200 to 400 new members a day, Borow-Johnson said.
"It's really easy to navigate. I'm not 22 years old, where surfing the Web is my life," said Laurie Rovell, 53, of Lake Forest, Ill. "I can't allocate that kind of time to Web surfing. I can find pretty much what I need to know on Boomj, including buying presents for people, the weather, the news. I'm just really not that interested in what Britney did today so it's nice to have a place that is more specific to my age group."
Rovell, who works in the luxury travel industry, is in a committed relationship with a man she met through other means, so finding love online wasn't her priority. But other boomers are there to date, and said they chose age-specific sites to avoid competition from younger women or the grind of dating services that charge fees in exchange for sterile profile-after-profile.
At Eons, some of the largest and most active groups are 50-plus singles looking to meet and date offline. There's "Single Boomers Out of Control," "Kinky Sex Alternative Lifestyle Singles" and "RV Singles."
Moe — who is divorced, has a grown son and cares for her 89-year-old mother full-time — has about 200 members around the country in her singles group, one of about 3,500 groups on all topics at Eons.
"Some of us want to find our final love. Some of us just want to meet new people and friends and have activities to do," said Moe, adding that many in her group meet regularly for bowling, beach and brunch outings. "We're coming from a common place. It feels like home."