For women over 50, looking for Mr. Right can be like looking for a winning ticket on the floor of a race track.
They buy personal ads. They join singles groups. They hire dating services.
But the odds are against them.
"Women live longer, and the single men in that age range usually prefer women younger than themselves -- sometimes much younger," says Donna Shugrue, manager of Perfectly Matched, a Colorado Springs, Colo., dating service. "If we had a man over 50 wanting to date in his own age range, we'd get very excited."
Laura, a 53-year-old computer manager, learned first-hand about the older-men shortage. After she and her husband divorced almost 20 years ago, she raised their two sons, then set out to find a social life; but there was none to be found.
"You'd think, 'Oh, with the kids gone, she's going to start this mad dating scene.' No. Men my age don't want to date a woman my age, and that's the truth."
Laura says she feels sorry for these men.
"They're robbing themselves of a meaningful relationship," she says. "They think that a young companion will make them look young, but they're wrong. Youth doesn't rub off." George, a 57-year-old shoe clerk, is one of those men Laura is talking about.
"Women in their 50s are too old for me," George says. "They're older in their attitudes, the way they think. They sit around with their knitting and their flowered dresses and their sensible shoes and they look older. They've let themselves look older."
Laura resents that attitude.
She says she and her older-women friends stay in shape by taking regular aerobics classes at a co-ed gym; they rarely see older men there.
"Older women do much more to look young than older men," she says. "As you get older, your mirror time increases and increases."
Although George says he puts little or no effort into looking young, people tell him he looks much younger than 57.
Even so, he says, finding dates can be as tough for older men as it is for older women.
"I think that we older men, as a group, have been hiding behind the bushes," he says. "We're afraid to walk out and say, 'Here I am,' " to reach out, for fear of being rejected.
"Like the women, we don't have the confidence we did when we were 30. We look in the mirror and say, 'Why would anybody want an old [guy] like you?' "
But a month ago, George decided he'd spent enough time in the bushes. He placed a personal ad -- and received 22 responses.
He says the biggest challenge to him is finding a younger woman who wants to share a deep relationship, but one without commitments.
"I'm not ready for a commitment," he says. "Maybe when I grow up."
Betty Burdette, a 51-year-old saleswoman, says she's not interested in men who are afraid of commitment. She wants a guy she can count on.
Ms. Burdette has never been married, but has had a few long-term relationships. She's been out of the dating scene about 10 years, but she's ready to get back into it.
"I've now reached the point where I'd like a man in my life," she says. "I've decided I don't want to spend my autumn years alone."
Ms. Burdette has tried to meet men at social gatherings, without much luck.
"A lot of men don't come over to a girl unless she's blond and has a great body," she says. "What does that say?"
So a month ago, Ms. Burdette placed an ad: "SWF [single white female], young 51, 5'8", prefer tall men, country girl at heart. Loves life, antique auctions, dancing and outdoors. Seeks WM [white male], 50+, LTR [long-term relationship]."
She has met a few men for pre-date afternoon meetings, but none has led to a full-fledged date.
Sophie Kepponen, 68, has given up on dating, and is resigned to spending the rest of her life alone.
The retired bank teller says she'd like companionship, but her options are limited.
"A lot of the men in my age bracket . . become widowers and they don't date," she says. "You want to know why? Because they've forgotten how."
Friends and relatives have tried to set up Ms. Kepponen with single men -- and each attempt has led to disaster.
"I've decided I'll make my own mess," she says. "I don't need somebody else's."
As troublesome as the singles scene is, some see it as the only alternative to loneliness.
Ms. Burdette, for instance, is still out there trying to meet Mr. Right. She's meeting an architect for coffee.
He sounds interesting on the telephone. Maybe this will be the start of something big.
"You never know," she says.