The fountain in the Stuyvesant Apartments’ oval is gurgling, competing with the giggles of little children splashing. Flowers are blooming under a golden sun. One of the first queen bees of spring buzzes by.

Love is in the air, but Millie Furkell can’t grasp it.

Love, after all, is ethereal.

Furkell is sitting on a park bench, wearing a black sleeveless shirt, white Capris pants and a silver sequined tennis visor. She is 75, but with her pink lipstick and smooth cocoa skin, she could easily pass for 60.

A widow, Furkell has been interested in her husband’s friend for about a year. She is planning to visit her love interest in the next few weeks. It’s decision time.

“I think he’s interested, but he might be too set in his ways,’’ says Furkell. “Nothing works these days. Nothing. But I don’t want to give up. I won’t give up. Maybe I’ll try internet dating. Oh dear, internet dating. What am I 30?’’

The internet is a silver lining for seniors

Furkell might be surprised to learn she is about to join a vibrant segment of society that is taking new approaches to finding love in their silver years. And that includes online dating.

Only 1 percent of seniors 65 and older had tried online dating in 2015, according to Statista. By 2017, 15 percent of seniors 60 and older reported that they looked for dates online.

Why Do Seniors Try Online Dating?

The numbers vary depending on how the demographic is sliced. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), for example, found in 2012 that 35 percent of the 60-69 demographic used websites and apps to find a companion.

A recent Pew Research Center study found that 12 percent of singles in the 55 to 64 demographic were surfing the web for companionship in 2015, twice the amount of web daters in this age group in 2013, the second highest jump of any age group.

“It’s the fastest growing segment of online dating,’’ says Melani Robinson, author of “1 Year of Online Dating at 50.

Robinson, who went on more than 100 online dates, thinks she knows why.

“Going to clubs or bars, or rock-climbing, we don’t do that like younger people do on a regular basis. There are very little places for us to meet people in that age demographic.”

Old standbys such as bingo games, bowling leagues and book clubs continue to offer silvers social interaction. But those activities now are viewed as fraternal, not opportunities to meet partners, say silvers.

“It’s the same people at the same games every week,” said Phyllis Gallagher, 73, of Manhattan, who attends a bingo game on the Lower East Side every Tuesday. “A lot of people go from game to game, telling the same stories. They’re lonely.

“Some don’t have any family. Their husbands or wives passed away and they’re not interested in dating. This is something to do, not somewhere to meet the love of your life.’’

But the internet can be that somewhere.

In interviews with dozens of seniors, sociologists, professional matchmakers, documentary film makers, authors and law enforcement officials we found that online dating has opened new dating doors. And silvers are briskly walking through them.

And online, they’re finding dozens of sites dedicated to their specific demographic—Elite Singles, OurTime, SeniorPeopleMeet, SilverSingles and ZooskSeniors—have consistently been rated as the most successful in matching seniors, according to DatingAdvice.com, an online firm that tracks dating sites.

Most sites use the same business model: It’s free to join and fill out a profile. Once clients want to contact potential matches, the monthly fees range from $15.95 to $31.95.

The explosion of online dating has also forced professional matchmakers (not your aunt or next door neighbor) to adapt.

Christie Nightingale, the owner and founder of Premier Match, which has offices in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., has married online dating with a personal touch, which she calls ‘hybrid matchmaking’.

“In 2012-13 we started to see much more interest in dating in 50, 60 and 70-year olds,’’ says Nightingale. “Some had turned to the internet but found it impersonal. We created a hybrid model. We have our own search engines but we offer a full-service approach.

“I meet with every client to really understand who they are and that they’re looking for. We help write their profiles, choose their photos and advise them about going on their first date.  It’s the best of both worlds.’’

For Silvers, online dating has been a social gold rush

Once silvers decide to try online dating, the first question most ask is, ‘What am I looking for?’’’  It isn’t a clear-cut quest.

“They’re looking for ways to attract a compatible match whether it’s for long-term or short-term,’’ says Krissy Dolor, an executive at The Worthy One, a lifestyle coaching firm for women.They may be widowed or divorced and don’t know who they want.’’

At least with online dating they can expand their search, and perhaps narrow it down to a select few.

“In general, if they’re in my age range and live in Manhattan and their profile doesn’t have something really creepy in it, I’ll say, ‘Yes,’” says MarySue Lundy, 57, of Manhattan, whose husband died 12 years ago.

Lundy has been dating for about five years. “I had a job where I worked from home so I seriously never met anyone. My kids were 9 and 12 so it wasn’t like I was going to go out to bars,” she says.

Her willingness to put herself out there represents the online dating gap between women and men. AARP found that 57 percent of women 50 and over use online dating, compared to 43 percent for men. Those numbers create a supply and demand conundrum. All the experts we spoke to agreed there are more women than men in the dating pool. With more women than men going online, it’s like an all-female college that decides to go coed.

“I didn’t like the idea before,’’ says Patricia Mason of Virginia who says she’s in her 60s and her marriage was annulled in 2007. “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and I’m on a limited budget so I don’t go anywhere. I wasn’t seeing anyone at church I was interested in. The only way I could find prospects is to do the online dating thing.”

Which was also true for Ken Smith, 70, a widowed police officer who knew just about everybody in Leicester, England, and had no prospects that interested him. Smith says he was out of touch with current dating and was accustomed to making the first move. He met his wife, Elaine, online. The couple might not have met if Elaine didn’t initiate contact. That’s not surprising, since many sociologists say women are better at the ‘dating game.’

“When I was younger, we are talking about the 1960s, it was a different era then, it was all Beatles and rock and roll and it was a different way of picking up a young lady,’’ Smith says. “But things have changed now from the 60s.’’

Thanks to online dating, Ken and Elaine have spent the last four years traveling the world. In fact, they were interviewed in Bryant Park while on holiday.

“I’ve got someone to push me around in my wheelchair, so I’m alright,’’ he says.

Are Niche Sites Better for Finding Love?

Should older daters look for love on the bigger sites or on smaller, more targeted ones? Opinion is divided.

%

of 60+ silvers use online dating

%

of seniors over 65 are sexually active

Millions Lost in Sweetheart Scams

Niche sites are a silver’s best friend (or are they?)

Digital dating worked for Ken and Elaine, but taking the virtual step into online dating isn’t for everyone.

Many seniors interviewed expressed concerns about having to learn new technology to get online and trying to figure out how and what to post about themselves “I think it’s a pain in the ass,’’ says Judith Chusid, 70, of Manhattan. “I’d rather go to a dinner party, I’d rather have people fix me up, I’d rather have my friends at the synagogue say, ‘We met this guy and we want him to call you.’ I’d rather do that than this.’’

Many say they also had doubts about the authenticity of possible matches and worried about scams by online stalkers that have bilked thousands of victims out of millions of dollars.

But there’s a reason more songs have been written about love than any other topic. Sociologists say we are social creatures and the desire to connect conquers most fears.

The AARP found that 74 percent of silvers are looking for a serious relationships or companionship. Which is why the digital dating business for silvers is booming.

To get an idea of how big a business this is, consider this: According to IBISWorld, a Wall Street industry research firm, online dating is a $3 billion industry with 2,080 businesses employing more than 5,000 workers. And a report by NASDAQ analysts predicts the online dating business will continue to grow at about 5 percent annually for the next five years.

No wonder there are now more than 2,500 dating sites in the United States, according to Forbes.  Match.com, one of the biggest, launched in 1995. EHarmony followed five years later. Today? There’s an online flavor for everyone,  including silvers.

“Most singles who I work with, usually end up on three sites,’’ says Julie Spira, a digital matchmaker. She recommends using at least one mainstream site (Match, eHarmony) for the search features and then suggests mixing in some niche sites. “It’s not one or the other, I believe in casting a wide net,” Spira says.

Online dating has also spawned robust cottage industries:

Need someone to write your profile? Done. Just interested in sex? There are experts to advise silvers on issues from erectile dysfunction to vaginal discomfort. Getting married for a second time? Try a wedding planner that specializes in silver nuptials.

Heartbroken & Broke

She thought it was strange that he immediately started calling her “baby,” “honey” and “my queen”, but she attributed it to his Belgian roots.

Tarnished Silvers

With billions of dollars fueling a worldwide business, inevitably there is going to be a seedy side to online dating.

Silvers and sociologists say that people using outdated pictures and/or embellishing on their profiles is common. That’s merely bad taste, something MarySue Lundy, an online dater, says ticked her off.

“People who lie,’’ she says. “They show up and their pictures are 10 years old, or they put their age as 10 years younger than their actual age. They show up and they’re like my grandfather, and I’m like, ‘What the hell?’”

But the more serious and heartbreaking problem is that there are some very bad people trolling internet dating sites looking for the lonely and lovesick. They prey on these silvers with the cunning and effectiveness of a pack of wolves. The predators here are scammers. They convince their victims, mostly women, of their affections and then begin to ask for financial assistance, offering up dozens of believable excuses:

They have suffered a business setback. They need money for their visa. A close relative died and they need funds for the funeral.

The FBI says there were about 15,300 complaints categorized as romance scams or confidence fraud in 2017. The losses associated with those complaints exceeded $210 million.

“The internet makes this type of crime easy because you can pretend to be anybody you want to be,” FBI Special Agent Christine Beining says in an FBI press release. “You can be anywhere in the world and victimize people.”

Sophisticated scammers will take months, even a couple of years, said law enforcement officials, to bilk their victims.

“The thing that’s really impressive is how patient they are,” Brooklyn-based attorney Carrie Goldberg, who specializes in online scams, says. “These scams take months, sometimes longer. They’re very patient.’’

What Are Seniors looking from Online Dating?

Sex and the silvers

The search for companionship that makes some silvers vulnerable to scams helps satisfy their libido. While many are only seeking a movie night out, or a visit to the Guggenheim, some are just looking for sex. But trying to convey that in an online dating profile can be as awkward as having sex for the first time.

“How do you portray that you are still a sexual being, this is one of the hardest things, say people in my workshop,’’ says Joan Price, the author of “The Ultimate Guide to Sex After 50.”

“There are also plenty of people who have given up on sex who don’t care about it, who are just looking for companionship but for those of us, and it’s a huge number, who still want to be sexual and are looking for our companion to be sexual, how do you get that across without coming across as creepy.”

According to a 2018 University of Michigan study, 40 percent of silvers ages 65-80 say they are sexual active. Yep, grandma and grandpa are getting busy.

“Think of all the ads you have seen for drugs like Viagra and Cialis,’’ says Price. “What age do you see pictured there? It’s usually 45 to 50, we don’t see over 60 and we certainly never see anyone over 70.”

Confessions of a serial dater

Melani Robinson has been on more than a 100 dates in one year. She hasn’t found love yet.

Remaining single and silver can be golden too

Silvers who divorce or lose their spouses long for companionship—and many hope they’ll find another partner with whom they can spend their golden years. Experts caution against trying to find the perfect sequel.

“I tell them to be very open about the possibilities of dating someone completely different from their ex or deceased spouse,’’ says matchmaker Spira. “Look at it as a fresh digital palette with the opportunity to expand their social circle. Maybe they’ll make a friend, maybe they’ll meet a business partner or maybe they’ll fall in love.”

And if they don’t, all is not lost, says the blogger and author Robinson.

“It’s okay to be alone,’’ said Robinson. “I think at this stage of my life what feels really good is to be comfortable being alone and to accept the fact that perhaps this is the way it’s going to be for the rest of my life.’’

It might be. But as more silvers decide to wade back into the dating pool, they find they have an ocean of possibilities because of online dating.

As Wired Magazine put it back in 2002:

Twenty years from now, the idea that someone looking for love won’t look for it online will be silly, akin to skipping the card catalog to instead wander the stacks because ‘the right books are found only by accident.’”

Sex and Seniors: Q & A with a sexpert

Studies and experts say those over 65 still seek out sex, but many just want companionship. Sex isn’t just for the young. Nearly 40 percent of people between 65 and 80 report being sexually active, a recent study by the University of Michigan found. People between 55 and 64 are also the fastest growing demographic that is turning to online dating. The numbers might surprise many—they shouldn’t. Joan Price, 74, the author of three books about senior sex including “The Ultimate Guide to Sex after 50,” shared her thoughts and advice on the subject with NYCity News Service.

Why is there a general notion that older people are asexual?
Think of all the ads you have seen for drugs like Viagra and Cialis. What age do you see pictured there? It’s usually 45 to 50, we don’t see over 60 and we certainly never see anyone over 70. If a man is portrayed as being sexual as an older man, he is laughable. You don’t see him as a positive role model. It is very difficult to come across an accurate and sexy portrayal of an older person. There is only so much Helen Mirren can do. She doesn’t have the time to be on everything. She had a beautiful photo taken in a bathtub, she is beautiful and sexy and she doesn’t hide her age. I can count on one hand, the number of role models we have for that.
How open are people in the older demographic about sex?
How do you portray that you are still a sexual being, this is one of the hardest things, say people in my workshops. There are also plenty of people who have given up on sex, who don’t care about it and are just looking for companionship. However, for those of us who still want to be sexual, and are looking for our companion to be sexual, and it’s a huge number, how do you get that across without seeming creepy. May be it is not the kind of thing to add to your online profile. I suggest they bring it up after they meet. The women who do it upfront are going to be hearing from all these people they don’t want to be hearing from. So maybe subdue it a little bit, but don’t say anything that rules it out. Say things like zesty and lively and physically active and sensual, and then once you are meeting over coffee, if there is a spark, talk about where might this be going.
What are the unique problems people of an older demographic face in online dating?
One of the unique issues for older people is that we want to be sexual, but sex may not be working the way it used to. We may have trouble with intercourse because of vaginal discomfort, or we may not be able to keep an erection for long enough, we may not have erections at all. We may have prostate cancer, treatments, side effects, there are so many things that have gone on in our lives already. We may have some limitations and one of the things I do is teach people how to have great sex, not despite the limitations but around the limitations. Instead of saying, “Oh, I don’t know that this is going to go anywhere because I have ED”, if he said, “I can tell you that I may not be able to have an erection but I can explore all the other wonderful ways I can pleasure you,” that’s a different attitude!
What are the fears holding back people over 55?
We are worried that we are no longer desirable because our society tells us that only young people are desirable. The fear that, “Oh I have to post a photo and what if nobody wants me?” that is a very tough thing to overcome. Then there are the fears of being duped. This does happen and we have to be pro-actively careful because there are bad guys out there that want to take our money. As we grow older, we also have medical conditions and people are dying, we don’t want to be looking for someone we are going to have to nurse. We want to have a vibrant social and sex life, intimacy, laughter and all of those wonderful things, but we worry about what we are getting into with a new person.
How are the insecurities of men different from that of women?
Women are more worried about how they look and men are more worried about how they perform.
Do sex-related problems make it difficult for men to find dates online?
I think older men have an easier time. They are easily outnumbered. When I do my dating workshops, I tell women, if you see a man whose profile looks interesting, don’t wait for him to discover you. Message him because men have so many people going after them, they do not even have to go out of their way to find people.

SEX, APPS & BINGO is a product of the NYCity News Service at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.