Married at 20, a widow at 56. It’s been awhile since my aunt’s been on a first date, and things have changed.

She recently dipped her toes into the ocean of dating and then decided to just jump in.

Her son-in-law helped her choose a new computer and get connected to the Internet. At first she wasn’t sure how to get online or enter a Web site address, but before long, she was navigating Jewish dating sites like a 21st-century dater.

During a recent visit, I met her most recent suitor – of four days – but he was history by the end of the weekend. I witnessed her over-the-phone sayonara and was very impressed with her courteousness yet firm tone. Not bad for her first break-up in 36 years.

After the phone call, she hopped back online and did a search on one of her dating sites. That night she had a date for coffee, which drifted into dinner, and an additional dinner date with somebody else later in the week. She also planned to go to a singles Shabbat service with a girlfriend the upcoming weekend.

I admire her steadfast determination to throw herself into the dating scene. It’s not easy to start dating after marriage – and she was married five times longer than I was. Her marriage was a happy one that she didn’t expect to end, but the direction of one’s life often is out of one’s control. Her positive outlook is inspiring.

In just a few short weeks, she’s become an expert on Jewish online dating: learning the rhythm of small talk, weeding out suitors she’s not interested in and feeling the frustration of waiting for the “I’ll call you” phone call.

In fact, it was from her that I heard JDate and JCupid recently merged; I had no idea.

Although one can learn about online dating from others, it’s one of those things that you have to experience firsthand to really understand.

If the idea of dating online seems too intimidating, the recently published book “I Can’t Believe I’m Buying This Book: A Commonsense Guide to Successful Internet Dating” (Ten Speed Press, $14.95 paperback) by Evan Marc Katz may be helpful.

Topics include tips on writing essays, selecting a photo for your profile, writing memorable introductory letters and selecting whom you want to date. The actual titles of the chapters are a bit catchier, respectively: “I’m tall, smart, funny, down-to-earth, handsome and hopelessly uncreative”; “That’s you?!”; “Hey you look cute. Check out my profile”; and “No, no, maybe, no, no, no.”

The author was a customer consultant at AmericanSingles and JDate and founded the world’s first Internet dating consulting service, E-Cyrano, in 2003.

Although that does give him credibility, he does live in Los Angeles and therefore may not understand the logistics of online dating in a community like Phoenix.

Here’s advice for those ready to embark on online dating in Phoenix’s Jewish community: It’s not as anonymous as you may think.

One time I was at a Raw Kaballah Shabbat dinner and realized somebody across the table was talking about a guy I had just started corresponding with via e-mail. I remained silent, but before long, it was clear that every single woman at the table had dated him in some form or another.

Luckily, my boyfriend Ron was only on JDate a few months before I met him. He hadn’t dated any of my friends and I haven’t noticed any glares of hatred headed his way when we’re in public. Although we’ve run into people he or I had gone on dates with, there really haven’t been any terribly awkward moments.

So if you’ve recently found yourself back in the dating world after a decades-long hiatus, don’t be embarrassed to try online dating. As Katz says in the title of his book’s first chapter: “What kind of people do this? You, your neighbor, your mom and everyone standing in line at the supermarket.”

This article first appeared in the Feb. 13, 2004 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.