We used to hang out in bars, hoping to meet some decent guy between vodka martinis. Now we sign up for online dating services, which is not necessarily a healthier approach.

Even AARP is into the Internet dating game, launching AARP Dating (aarp.org/dating) with tips, experts and even results of an AARP dating survey.

It isn't easy being single today. Indeed, if all the consultants and experts are to be believed, it's downright unnatural. But it wasn't always this way.

"Our generation still has this stigma that only desperate people are publicly looking for dates," says Christine Baumgartner. "We're supposed to meet someone at work or in church instead."

Baumgartner, 62, who coaches men and women on dating styles and issues through her website, ThePerfectCatch.com, also points out that women often are nervous about meeting a man on the Internet rather than through a friend.

And with good reason, says Tom Blake, a Dana Point, Calif., deli owner who has morphed into a 50-plus dating expert, with his own website, Findingloveafter50.com.

"Women particularly have really got to be on their toes," he says. "There are a tremendous number of scams, particularly when long-distance relationships are involved.

"I think online websites are a valuable tool for older singles and help them to expand their social circle, but it's important to be realistic."

Baumgartner agrees, although her results from online dating have been positive. She met her late husband through an online service several years ago, when she was an event planner.

Caution is only part of the tale, she says.

She tells her clients they need to discover what they want in a relationship.

"Get it clear," Baumgartner says. "Write it down. Then write down a list of what you have to offer in a relationship. Write a story about yourself, who you are as a person."

And if the right person doesn't show up? That's where Baumgartner comes in, teaching her clients how to realize their authentic selves.

"In the beginning, say to yourself that you love and accept yourself the way you are. Say it every hour until your insides believe it," she says. "Start accepting yourself and then you can accept others.

"I believe everyone wants to feel loved and be loving."

That has been her message to M.P. Wylie, who was married for 22 years and has been single for almost the same amount of time.

"I'm not willing to give up," says Wylie, 64, an Irvine, Calif., resident. Despite years of looking, she vows to carry on. "I know he's out there somewhere," she says.

Ah, but where?

The same place he's always been, says Kay Vickery. He's out there, but you have to find him.

She found her guy, Rick Fisher, in 1989.

"We were each looking before anyone went online," Vickery says. "We met through a dating service called Great Expectations, where you read a person's bio and saw a video before you called them and maybe eventually went on a date."

Vickery, a fundraising consultant, "wanted someone who is loyal and kind." She and Fisher talked on the phone several times before meeting for cocktails.

"We really liked each other a lot," she says. "We still do."

They share an Irvine home but have never married.

"We've bought a lot of investment property together," she says. "I think financially it's better to be separate and, frankly, it works that way for us."

Betty Gallups, 80, struggles with the marriage question. Widowed four years ago, she has lived for the past year with Tom Cataldo, 87, whom she met online.

"I was married for 57 years," says Gallups, who lives in Anaheim Hills, Calif. "That's a long time to have the same last name."

A former high school teacher, she now works with Cataldo on building sponsorship for his nonprofit. "Frankly, most of us are just looking for companionship," she says. "I certainly didn't expect to find love."