TRAVERSE CITY - Michael Sheehan loves his wife's wit and intelligence. It's what first attracted him when they began talking 19 years ago.
"She had a great sense of humor, and she wrote long, detailed emails," he said. "I thought that was cool."
The Sheehans - Michael, 77, and Dona, 74 - are part of a growing group of Americans finding love online, particularly those in their late 50s and early 60s.
Fifteen percent of American adults in 2015 reported they used online dating sites or mobile dating apps, up from 11 percent who reported doing so in 2013, Pew Research Center data shows. Americans age 55-64 who use online dating doubled in that time period, from 6 to 12 percent.
Michael Sheehan took a chance at online dating after his late wife died of bone cancer in 1995. After two years being single he decided he was ready to date again, but he already knew most people in his small Cedar community and wanted to meet someone new. At 58 he signed up for Match.com.
"What this does is multiply possibilities," Sheehan said. "You still do the things like go to church picnics and volunteer at Interlochen where you're going to meet other like-minded people, but it's one more arrow in the quiver."
The online forum allowed him to meet women from all over the country - a lawyer in Milwaukee, a finance professional at University of Michigan, a librarian in San Diego, a psychiatric nurse in Chicago named Dona.
He and Dona exchanged emails for months before they agreed to meet at O'Hare International Airport, and their in-person dates became more frequent after that. The couple married in 1997 and have lived together in Cedar since.
Sheehan shares his story with his peers; it's worth it if he can help someone else find love, he said.
This month he taught a class on "The New Dating Scene" at the Senior Center in Traverse City. About 30 people attended, and all were 50 and older. Of those 30 only three were men other than Sheehan, said Ericca Hovie, Senior Center Network program coordinator. He's invited back for an encore presentation, but he hasn't picked a date.
"There was lost of positive feedback. Lots of great questions," Hovie said.
Sheehan said the audience's biggest concern was about their profile picture. Most sites don't require users to post a photo, but Sheehan encourages it. Your picture is often the first thing prospective dates will notice, he said.
The next thing potential matches will read is your biography. Make sure it's detailed, but leave out information like your address and phone number for privacy, he said. He also encouraged his peers to ask grandchildren, neighbors or the senior center to help them navigate the websites if they aren't computer savvy.
Dona Sheehan's advice to anyone looking for love online is to be honest and demand honesty from those you meet. That way you won't waste time courting someone you aren't compatible with, she said.
"The best thing about it is you get to know the other person from the inside out, before we even exchanged pictures," Michael Sheehan said.
The couple rejects the stigma that online relationships are superficial or won't last. They've been together for 19 years, and Michael Sheehan still corresponds with friends he wouldn't have met without Match.com.
"There's a stereotype that this is the last resort for losers, if you go online looking for a date," he said. "I overcame that and thought, that's nonsense. It's geographic expansion, not desperation."
Americans are becoming more accepting of online dating, the Pew Research Center found. Fifty-nine percent of people said online dating is a good way to meet people, and 5 percent of people who are married or in a committed relationship said they met their significant other online.
Sheehan found love online this time around, but he acknowledged there's nothing quite like a real-life matchmaker.
"One of the best things is when a friend or a relative knows somebody who's single and knows you and says, Hey, you'd be a good match,'" he said. "Both Match.com and eHarmony try to fulfill that role, but they don't quite make it. There's something ineffable that doesn't really go into a questionnaire."
Michael Sheehan's online dating tips
n Choose an online dating site that fits you. There are many tailored to age groups, religious affiliation and interests.
n Use a recent, honest photo.
n Meet your correspondent for the first time in a public place.
n Break off communication if you feel uncomfortable.
n Pick a username that's flirty or misleading.
n Give out personal information until you're comfortable with your correspondent.
n Send money to your correspondent.
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