Whether divorced, widowed, or never married, the midlife and older single population is rapidly growing. In 2016, 19.5 million US residents aged 65 and older were unmarried. In midlife, it can be hard to have a social life when it seems like all your friends are already paired off. But as AginginPlace.org observes, "Intimacy and companionship are an important part of life and contribute greatly to our happiness, health and overall well-being."

Getting back in the dating game can be overwhelming, especially with newfangled technology playing matchmaker. 'The Rules' have all but been thrown out as apps like Tinder promote hook-up culture. However, midlife dating is more focused on fun and companionship, rather than casual sex or marriage.

What hasn't changed is that love is an art, not a science. As author Graeme Simsion comments about the "annoying yet wonderful randomness" rocky path to partner hood, "All those calamities, false starts and heartbreaks...never knowing when or if or how 'The One' is going to appear in your life" is still the same. With that in mind, here's some real-world advice for dating as a quinquagenarian and beyond.

Get Ready

Are you emotionally ready to begin a new relationship, or are you carrying around bitter baggage from past experiences? It can be especially hard to get back out there after the death of a spouse. AARP offers great tips on how to make sure you're ready to date. Keep in mind, you attract what you put out. If you want to attract a happy, energetic, and optimistic person, you need to be that person first.

This goes for how you look too. You can't expect to attract a physically fit person if you aren't fit yourself. Go to the gym, get a haircut, and buy a new first date outfit.

Online Dating

Your potential companion is out there...somewhere. While traditional ways of meeting people such as volunteering, taking classes, and joining groups are all still valid, technology has made dating easier and more accessible than ever. Well-established online dating sites like Match.com, eHarmony, OurTime, and Silver Singles allow you to cast a wide net (over the internet) that is narrowed by your own preferences. They allow you to meet others in your age group who live nearby and share similar interests and relationship goals.

Retirement Living sums up online dating this way, "You'll usually need to pay a monthly membership fee and set up a profile, including a photo of yourself, your general location, interests, and what you're looking for in a partner. The service will match you up with people who fit your requirements, and you can then talk with them through the website's chat feature and decide if you'd like to get to know them more."

AARP offers more tips when it comes to dating online. For instance, old rules no longer apply--a woman can make the first move. If the person's "dating goals" aren't listed on their profile, feel free to ask them what type of relationship they're looking for. You are totally allowed to talk to as many people as you want at a time, just keep in mind they're probably doing the same. While chatting online or over the phone is a great way to get to know someone, many times that's where it ends. After you've screened your potential prospect for red flags, meet in person.

Staying Safe

Trust your gut--better safe than sorry! Seniors Resource Guide offers tips on staying safe online and in-person. These include not giving out personal financial details and watching out for red flags like displays of anger or intense frustration, attempts to pressure or control you, being passive-aggressive, making demeaning or disrespectful comments, or being physically inappropriate.

Be aware of online dating scams that target older adults. Catfishing is when people assume false identities to attract others. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Never send money or give away your personal address. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable for any reason, just block them.

Date Expectations

If you have a checklist of boxes a potential partner must tick for you to even consider them, you're going to have a hard time finding someone who meets all your criteria. AARP advises setting reasonable and realistic expectations like meeting "a good person who is fun to be with and who shares your values and goals."

Another quick word on online dating--try not to build a person up too much in your head before you meet them. Their bio and profile picture may look great, but in person, they're a big dull dud. Bottom line: Expectations set you up for disappointment.

Cast a Wide Net

Now that you've dropped unrealistic expectations, you can also let go of "your type". As you've probably noticed after a half a century on earth, there are all sorts of interesting, kind, fun, and successful humans who have personality and a sense of humor to boot. By now you know that it's what's inside that counts, not appearance, age, and other superficial things. Basically the criteria should be that you like spending time with them and they like spending time with you.

Retirement Living says that "dating several people can help you find a compatible match for what type of relationship you are looking for." They recommend being "open to meeting people from different backgrounds (religious, cultural, or otherwise)" to give you more options. They also note it can be "enriching to get to know someone else's way of life." Remember age is just a number. According to AARP nearly 15% of percent of women aged 50-59 prefer dating men in their 40s or even younger!

Assert Your Needs

What kind of relationship are you looking for? A long-term commitment, casual companionship, or are you just dating around? Be honest with yourself and upfront with potential companions about your intentions, needs, likes, and dislikes. As the Chicago Tribune puts it, "Either you find what you are looking for or you find that the individual you are interested in is not the best fit for you."

Marriage and Family Therapist Dr. Tarra Duford warns that "Engaging in ambiguous language and behavior puts you at a disadvantage when you are trying to get your needs met." She goes on to say that "Pretending you really have no expectations or demands for the relationship,

conveys you are happy with whatever course it may take."It's easy to keep people at arm's length because it feels safe. But being aloof, not getting too involved, and playing games can come off as being unfeeling, uninterested, and detached. As Retirement Living observes, "one of the best things about dating in your senior years" is that there's "less pressure (on both of you) to fit some kind of predetermined mold, and more room to be yourself and get to know your partner for who they really are." The Chicago Tribune advises to "answer all questions from a place of acceptance and understanding that there are no judgments." You can't control what will happen, but you can be upfront about what you're interested in.

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