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Grab-a-granny is an 86-year-old widow, living in Sydney.

Date: 2007-01-08

At a time most of us would expect to be nodding off in front of daytime TV, she's into internet dating, encouraged by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

She jokes on her internet profile that she wouldn't mind a toy boy, or girl, to get the family scared about their inheritance.

There are hundreds of similar ads appearing on Australian internet dating sites.

Seniors are a new target group for this highly competitive industry, with the number of 50s using the popular RSVP site more than doubling in the past year.

In part, it is because of a leap in late divorces. The ABS reports that divorces in marriages that have lasted 20 years and more have increased by a third in the past 10 years.

But there are also many more men and women remaining unpartnered through to their later years.

Many are locked into tight social networks of married people, with little opportunity to bump into other singles.

The chances of stumbling across a frisky mid-life lover while shopping at the local supermarket, or walking in the park, are mighty slim.

And women are really up against it. The 2005-06 figures show that by 65, unpartnered women outnumber men by almost two to one. Forty-seven per cent of women are solo compared with 27 per cent of men.

Of course, not all women are keen on getting back into a relationship.

Galaxy Research has found over-50s women in Australia are almost twice as likely as men to say they are single and planning to stay that way.

Many are happy living their lives for themselves, thrilled to not have to pick up other people's underpants, to eat when they want, to no longer share a bed with a snoring, middle-aged man.

But those still interested in a mid-life cuddle, or simply a hand to hold at the movies, the internet is proving a godsend.

Here, the ratios are pretty even, with just as many 50-plus men on the sites as women.

And pretty lively men, from the sound of it. There's a bearded 77-year-old from Brisbane seeking a "bohemian" female aged 64-70 who "rides a scooter".

The older generations are also using the internet to find travelling companions, penpals, new friends.

Many have been using the website, which has developed its own personal classifieds section.

Often, the older folk are persuaded by their computer-literate adult children, keen on helping mum or dad to be less isolated.

Social historian Barbara Dafoe Whitehead argues that the internet is producing profound social changes, similar to the pivotal role played by the birth-control pill, in adding fuel to women's push for independence.

In her book on the dating crisis, Why There Are No Good Men Left, she explains that the technology of the internet search engine came along just as millions of single adults were looking for new, more effective ways to conduct a successful mating search.

It is proving hugely important for 30-something women who are seeking to settle down before their tiny window of fertility slams shut.

Internet dating is a must for any single woman over the age of 30, declares Rachel Greenwald, Harvard graduate and author of The Program, a 15-step action plan for finding a husband after 30.

The intrigue of writing profiles and exchanging mails makes a delightful change from bridge or bingo.

But, for these much married generations, these thrills carry their own fears.

These are people who have often been badly burnt and carry much emotional baggage.

And what woman over 50 doesn't cringe a little at the prospect of revealing her naked body to someone new?

Yet, they are out there, eagerly putting their toes in these unknown waters and reaping the rewards.

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