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But now the order is reversed: a growing number of sites are geared to helping users plan offline activities to size each other up and decide if they've got chemistry. Most dating websites used to focus on helping singles get acquainted with extended online communication before meeting face-to-face.And everybody's getting into the act — even the AARP.
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The AARP partnership with How About We is part of the broader evolution under way among dating websites to focus more on the elusive ingredient that the online environment has never been able to provide: a reality check.Older sites such as and newer ones such as Dinner Date, Cupid Radar and Grouper, all are focusing on the importance of a personal connection offline that just can't happen via technology.This retro appeal is especially evident with Grouper, which organizes something like the old-style "double date," where a couple of friends go along for moral support.What's somewhat ironic is that young singles who are so digitally immersed are at the forefront of this move to meet face-to-face."People of my generation, in our 20s, think a one-on-one date — especially a blind date — can be a lot of pressure. By early next year, it aims for 10 more cities in the USA and Canada and will add London."I cringe a little when people describe it as online dating," Waxman says. The typical experience for a Grouper member is to spend about five minutes on our website and about two hours at a bar with your friends."Online dating industry consultant Mark Brooks, who has worked for many such sites, including POF (Plentyoffish), says the AARP move into dating seems smart."Seniors is a very good niche," he says.We've found most of our relationships — whether romantic relationships or just friends — happen a little more organically. "Most dating sites skew toward guys, with more guys than women. Being a 75-year-old single man is the equivalent of being a 21-year-old hottie."That's good news for AARP member Judith Schwartz, 65, of Clermont, Fla., an IT consultant and adjunct professor of computer science who began online dating after her husband died in 2008."The younger men were primarily interested in sex and the older men were primarily interested in having somebody take care of them," she says.We don't like to even call them dates," says Michael Waxman, 26, co-founder and CEO of Grouper, which launched last year in New York. "I did go on several dates and they're just not what they advertised themselves to be."AARP won't have a clear field for the older singles market.The Our Time community, which includes Our Time.com, Seniors and Senior People Meet.com, has 4 million members, according to parent company People Media.It operates as a wholly owned subsidiary of Match.com, which purchased it in 2009.For the new partnership, AARP is offering its members a seven-day free trial and half off the normal rates.How About We charges .99 a month, though costs dip for a longer commitment.Most online sites are free to create a profile but charge to communicate. Grouper, for example, costs a person for each group date, which includes its services and the first drink.