One minute Bea Slater was buying a filet at her New Jersey supermarket, and the next she was getting a call that she’d be featured in a print ad for JDate, the online dating service for Jewish singles.
Slater is 90. She’s also my grandmother.
Before she knew it, she was wearing a royal blue velour tracksuit, the makeup team was gluing on false eyelashes and they affixed menorah decals to her nails. “They gave me a funny hat [a beanie] and headphones,” Slater said. She was dressed to look like a Silicon Valley programmer.
The idea behind the Jdate campaign, called “Yenta Programmers,” is that these Jewish bubbies stay up late coding –- to design the best Jewish matchmaking site, said independent creative director David Roth, who along with Hogarth Worldwide created the campaign.
It’s Jdate’s first big advertising push in three years. And now those pictures are running on some 400 billboards in Manhattan and Brooklyn. They’ve also been sighted in Chicago.
Although the cheeky ads are aimed at the younger generation of internet users, Jdate does have a sizeable population of older users: about 15% of U.S. Jdate users are 60+, which is pretty average industry-wide. Research shows that online dating use in the 55- to 64-year-old bracket has definitely increased. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 12% of 55-to 64 year olds say they’ve used a dating website or app — versus just 6% in 2013.
Jdate says its members over 80 make up just a tiny percentage of its membership. It’s hard to find stats on the 80+ crowd who date online, but there are a few. Nine out of 10 want to meet a non-smoker, and 1 in 5 want to meet someone who doesn’t consume alcohol. And it seems that older members are more likely to accept that the person they do meet likely loved before, with 95% happy to meet someone who was separated, divorced or widowed.
“When I was first widowed, I didn’t know myself as an adult woman,” said Annie Abbott, 75. The California-based actress and writer lost her first husband almost 19 years ago, when she was 56. (They met when she was 19.) After her husband passed away, Abbott decided to take a break from relationships for a while to focus on herself.
She traveled for work, pursued meatier acting roles and won some awards. But after eight years she decided she missed having a partner and more. “I missed intimacy,” said Abbott. And sex. “Being held is unbelievable.”
So she logged on to Jdate and spent a year and half on the site, on and off. But she wasn’t getting anywhere — she wasn’t happy with her matches. Then a friend got engaged to someone she met on Jdate. Abbott asked to read the friend’s profile. Her suspicions were confirmed.“I thought my dating profile wasn’t provocative enough. I was very shy about writing it.” She borrowed from her friend’s profile, tweaking it here and there. She started meeting more people. And then someone reached out to her. That someone was Ted Zwicker, a long-time divorcee in his late 60s.
“I could tell from his profile that he had an ease. He expressed his tremendous love for his two sons. And that really stuck out. Because it’s the way we all feel about our children.” (She has two grown daughters.)
The duo dated for a long time and finally tied the knot in August 2015.
Abbott used some of her experiences on Jdate as fodder for the one-woman show, Giving Up is Hard to Do.
The site – and online dating – is certainly not for everyone in the upper age bracket.
Adele Greenspun, 79 went online after her husband of 30 years passed away. The Philadelphia photographer says she wasn’t looking to get hitched. She had already been married, twice. (Her first marriage ended in divorce after two decades. Her second husband passed away as the couple neared 30 years of marriage.) She was looking for companionship. But after perusing sites like Match.com for three months, she realized dating online wasn’t really for her.“I just didn’t find it very satisfactory. Whoever I talked to didn’t show up, didn’t follow through. I didn’t like things they said about themselves,” said Greenspun. Distance was also a factor. She’d connect with men in South Jersey who didn’t want to cross state lines. There were also some interesting exchanges, like the guy who said, “I can’t wait to get into bed with you.”
As it turns out, Greenspun did meet someone, a retired photographer. But they met through friends after he attended one of her art shows. Social media may have played a small role, too. “He tried to reach me on Facebook.”
As for my grandmother, splashed on billboards around the country, is she looking to make herself a match?
“I had a wonderful husband for over 60 years,” she said. My grandfather, the late Jack Slater, passed away in August, 2009. “I don’t think I would ever find anyone like I found on the beach in 1946 at the Colony Surf Club in West End, New Jersey,” she said, adding like the yenta she plays in ads: “And he went to Wharton.”
If she had been widowed earlier or if she had had an unhappy marriage, she might have felt differently, she said. Instead of focusing on the past, she’s enjoying the present and her brush with fame. Her son Mitchell Slater, my uncle, recently brought her back to Brooklyn to see one of the billboards, the one positioned high above Junior’s Cheesecake on Flatbush Ave.“They loved her at Juniors. People were taking selfies with her,” my uncle said. The manager even gifted her a whole plain cheesecake.
They also took selfies with her at a sign near the Oculus in downtown Manhattan and near a subway entrance at Chambers street.
I asked my grandmother if the fame has gone to her head. (I wasn’t really worried, more curious what she’d say.)
“No, but I haven’t gotten over the big sign — I really can’t believe it little old me!!!”
As for future auditions? Call her agent. Or follow her on Twitter at @momagogo90.
Jaime Bedrin teaches media writing at Montclair State University. She’s been a volunteer with Moms Demand Action for five years. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two sons.