Online Dating: Separating Fact from Fiction

I’ve been on the dating scene for a few years now and have tried various ways of meeting people: set-ups by friends, speed dating, joining a singles volunteering organization (now defunct), stalking men in Lowe’s, and online dating. I’ve tried various online dating sites in this time: Match, eharmony, Chemistry, SingleParentsMeet, GreatBoyfriends. I’m not here to do a review of these sites, but I am here to tell you that I’ve become a bit of an online dating champion.

Champion?

You know, an advocate. Okay, maybe more like a defender. Because I know your first thought was “Susan, you’ve had loads of first dates, a handful of seconds and only one 3-dater from online dating, so you can’t be a champion. In fact, why do it at all?”

You should also be thinking, “And, golly, Susan, you’re just the cat’s meow — I happen to have this kind, intelligent, handsome, unselfish fun male friend who doesn’t live with his parents or smell. I know for a fact he likes single mothers sporting large bags under their eyes! When can I set you up?!” You were thinking that…right?

So being a Champion/Public Defender of Online Dating, I thought I should give it to you straight and attempt to debunk the myths about this form of dating. These are all questions or comments people have said to me personally. My responses are based on my experience and the experience of other online daters I know. They are not statistically representative and have what I’m guessing is a +/- 85% tracking error. Nonetheless, I feel it is my duty to tell you these things. Here we go:

Isn’t online dating only for the really desperate people?

When people say this kind of thing to me I know they mean it in the best way possible — but I’m not sure they realize that it doesn’t sound encouraging because, you know, I AM DOING ONLINE DATING, too. That said, no, online dating isn’t only for desperate people. It’s not only for “losers.” It’s simply a good way to meet people you likely wouldn’t meet otherwise. For someone like me, who doesn’t hang out in bars, has limited time to do activities outside of kiddie activities, and works at a firm with mostly married men (and with a surprisingly large number of single men who live with their mamas – yikes), it’s a terrific way to branch out beyond your social circle.

Wow, that’s brave of you.

Okay, we’ve established that online dating isn’t desperate, but let’s not get carried away. Online dating, in my humble opinion, is not “brave.”

This person was sincere when she made this statement to me last month, and I appreciated the spirit in which it was intended. I’m the first to agree that you have to be comfortable with the idea of trying something new and putting yourself out there if you’re going to do online dating. And for those who do it, I salute you — because I know firsthand it’s a little strange and awkward and takes guts and it’s…strange. But brave?

I think calling it “brave” puts way too much pressure on the process and its results. Brave is for my brother-in-law, who came back from a year’s tour of duty in Iraq. Brave is for my friends who lost their daughter a few months ago and are trying to figure out how to live their lives without her. Brave is for firefighters and cops and people doing, you know, brave things. Online dating is out of the comfort zone for many people and they deserve a hearty thumbs up for giving it a whirl. But it is, after all, just a way to meet people, and if you don’t like those you meet, it’s actually pretty easy to not be brave and hide.

Doesn’t everyone lie about how they look?

Guys I’ve met for dates often comment on this — how so and so posted photos 5 years old when she was 30 lbs. lighter, or how one woman was missing one of her front teeth…hidden in the closed-mouth photos of her. (Warning sign if no open-mouth photos! Boy, I felt sorry for him!)

There is definitely truth to people taking advantage of the veil of the web. Being about 5′ 8″ I am doubtful that men who say they’re 5’10” really are, so I tend to search for the taller ones and then discount an inch or two from there. I also went out with a guy who I thought looked like Ed Harris in his photo. Ed Harris is kinda sexy. Mr. X, on the other hand, was not because you couldn’t see the large mole on the other side of his face in his head shot, and more importantly you couldn’t see his stubby legs and the way he shuffled when he walked. Or that he called his son “Little Man” nonstop, and that he was, in short (ha, short!), an idiot.

But I’m not completely innocent: I check off that I work out 3-4 times a week and for the last 2 months that frequency has only been in my mind.

Aren’t guys only looking for sex? [alternative: Aren't all the guys jerks -- looking for sex?]

Regarding the first part, Jeff Mac at Manslations.com says the male brain imagines having sex with every viable (and not so viable) woman as its way of “saying ‘hi.” I have no reason to doubt this is the case in online dating either. However, Jeff reassures us that there are men looking for sex and a relationship. The trick is finding those interested in both.

As for the jerks, yeah, there are jerks in online dating. Come to think of it, I’ve met quite a few offline, too. No one’s got a corner on that market – know what I mean? [If you're a guy, you can insert a similar reference to women.]

Did you post a photo? I wouldn’t show mine.

The photo part is hard, but if you’re gonna do online dating, you should post a photo. I’m not crazy about doing it either, but I’m leery of men who don’t post their own — what are they hiding? More importantly, why are they hiding?

It’s not like if we meet I won’t see what he looks like. So, yes, I post a photo or two. Fair is fair.

By the way, if you post a photo, leave the ex-spouse out of it. I can’t tell you how many men post photos where it is obvious by the hint of an arm or long blond hair not quite cropped out it was a couples photo. No one wants to see that!

Forget this relationship nonsense. Shouldn’t you try Adult Friend Finder for a little fun? I mean, it’s been a long time…
How did that get in there?!

NO. I’m scared just thinking about it. (Read here if you missed my previous explanation as to why.) Reclaiming virginity is definitely the better path.

Are there any normal people on these sites? Does this even work? Why do you only write about the wacky ones?

Part A: please refer to my response to the first question. Yes. Yes, there are normal people doing online dating and I am one of them. Honest. You believe I’m normal, right? RIGHT?

Does it work? Yes, it can. My friends and neighbors have had a lot of luck with long-term relationships started through online dating. In fact, one is getting married this week to a man she met in February on eHarmony. A few of you have told me about other examples. I’ve heard other examples, too. It can work. What I don’t know is if it will end up working for me, but what’s the harm in seeing?

Susan, why do you only write about the nutjobs? Okay, I stuck this in as a way to support Part A. That is, I’ve met many normal guys through online dating. I’ve had several good dates — even 1 or 2 terrific dates — that for one reason or another never went very far. But writing about those experiences isn’t terribly exciting (although I did base the storyline in my novel about one particularly great experience — and gave it the ending I wanted). Why I write about the wacky ones is that it’s fun, it’s interesting, and it’s funny. So without further ado, I leave you with these Red Flag Online Dating Profiles:

“I enjoy working out to the point it is like a bad habit…. it is something I can not stop doing.” Bad habits = not good.

“Just window shopping I am really not in the mood to write an essay at the moment. I wish you could just postpone this part until later because it is really annoying to have to do this right now. If I put in a couple of more words – I’m done.” Well, keep on shopping then. And pick up an antidepressant or a new ‘tude the next time you’re at the store.

“Looking for a boat. I’m looking for time. I mean major time…If this site seems any good I’ll come back and expand upon this. I am not a current paying member. Thanks to those who have sent to or nudged me but I cannot respond now.” May I introduce you to the window shopper above. At least he paid to sign up. And what kind of boat?

“any nice, pretty, lonely girls who want a nice looking, good hearted, honest man that will treat them like the ladies they are, stop here.” [This accompanied a photo of him with badass sunglasses on, lounging around barechested.] Buddy, I’ll never be that lonely. Like I said, becoming a virgin again ain’t that bad.

“I am a very down to earth guy, with alot of paitients, careing and understanding.” ...And no spell check.

I will marry a fantastic and fabulous English woman! Whether I find her [here] or when I get to England… suits me just fine and dandy! I’m told that I am comfortable to be around and easy to get to know. Probably because of my casual wit, unending patience and the ability to actually listen. Yes ladies, here is a man that will listen to your ever resounding and lovely voice! I am sincerely seeking and hoping to meet the English woman of my dreams… (Oh the Scots, Welsh, and Irish lassies are gonna knock me for a loop!!!)(okay – British Woman!!! is that better? haha…) …the one I am destined to be with… I still believe this way, because it is a part of who I am (a romantic) and feeling this way makes me feel good! I can’t wait for God to bless me with the magnificent woman that will want to put up with me! haha Three letters: W.T.F. (and I’m part Irish and English!)

“im a fun loving hard working guy that active and looking to meet a sexy petite fun female that understands the word space also must very independant with yourself no leeches just someone that goes with the flow does this make sensesame as above dont feel like writing long description just be real” [accompanied by photo of half naked man posing for camera] Just be real and save us all the trouble by signing off right now.

“I can be boring or funny, surprising and patient. As an engineer, to some people I am from another planet. I am looking for someone who is intelligent, attractive, tolerant of idiosyncracies and likes me more than cats” Already been with someone from another planet. This time seeking an earthling. No cats required.

What do you say, daters? Has this been your experience, too?

Everyone, have a great week. Now go and get online!

19 thoughts on “Online Dating: Separating Fact from Fiction

  1. Katie says:

    Susan,
    I have two questions for you:

    1. Like you, I have met many duds online. But twice I met men who seemed almost too perfect (gorgeous, smart, great shape,etc). Those dates were much more intimidating to me because i felt very inadequate. Have you ever felt like the one on the date who was the dud?

    2. Is your novel about someone you met online?

    Thanks,
    Katie

  2. Hi, Katie. There have been one or 2 instances where I arrived to a date nervous that maybe I wasn’t going to live up to the other person’s expectations. But, generally, I’ll talk to just about anyone and that loosens things up and calms me down. It’s funny what expectations can do…no one is perfect, even the supposed great catches making you nervous. Keep that in mind on your next date! And if Mr. Gorgeous tries to make you feel like a dud, then he isn’t worth the paper his head shot is printed on. (That’s what I call lining for your dog cage.)

    As for the novel, yes, the main character ventures into speed dating and online dating. Familiar territory — hmmmm. The protagonist’s dates are like the ones I’ve had (albeit more exaggerated) and one of the storylines was loosely based on my meeting someone via online dating — actually someone he knew contacted me first on his behalf without him knowing about it. Strange, but true! It turned out we did end up meeting, it was wonderful and I really liked him. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter he moved away for work and that was that.

    I’d say, though, that while there are real life elements in each part of the story, I’ve mixed and matched a whole slew of situations, characteristics, added in new twists purely from my imagination, etc. I think writing a novel about things you know something about can be a lot like the decorating shows I watch. You take the pieces you have, refinish and rearrange them, throw on a different color, and you end up with a product just as, if not more, interesting in its own right.

  3. cynthiacloskey says:

    The thing that’s keeping me from tiptoeing back into online dating is the time and patience required. Posting a profile, keeping it fresh, responding to emails, sorting through options, going on dates, emailing and phoning and texting to get to know your dates … it’s like a part-time job, or maybe a full-time job.

    Any kind of dating, actually, requires a significant time investment, not only online dating. It’s more than I can fit into my week.

    So how do you manage it? Especially with kids. I realize you don’t have the kids every night, so that must help, but still.

  4. tunesmith says:

    Ha. Fun entry. A mutual friend forwarded it to me. I’m in a similar boat, a guy that has had loads of first dates, a few second dates, and a couple of weird variations.

    Most guy friends don’t react much one way or another about me doing online dating. It just sorta seems to be something to do. My female friends tell me to just stop doing it after every dating story, because they think that by and large, the women on the dating sites are a little crazy. Me, I’m not so sure I agree, but then again what perspective do I have. I haven’t dated a lot outside of online dating.

    I can say that I’ve heard more horror stories from women (about men from online dating) than I’ve experienced myself. Which makes me think that either women on the online dating sites are more sane than men, or that so far I’ve at least been pretty good at centering on honest, straightforward women.

    There’ve been a few lessons learned. Along the lines of the guy that only had pictures of one side of his face. Beware the artfully framed photos. However, it’s also true that the best looking women I’ve met have been the ones without any photos at all.

    I’ve met enough women now though that the patterns are starting to contradict themselves – there’s no rhyme nor reason. There’s not a right way to date. Lots of women are skittish and jaded and it’s impossible to form any kind of bond with them. I often feel like I’m in the role of a lockpicker. But every once in a while you find someone comfortable.

    The ones that bug me that are the ones that are into dating just for dating’s sake. Many get into the site and are into meeting three or more men per week, really ramming them through. It’s rather pointless. I think even initial chemistry requires a bit of up-front work. These days I’m emailing a couple at a time but only dealing with plans to meet one person at a time. Too much of a distraction otherwise. Each person deserves the respect of considered attention, and I at least hope for the same in return.

  5. I did the online dating thing back when it was very, very new, when I was in college. I was chatting with a guy who said he looked like Sting, but when we met “IRL” he looked nothing, NOTHING, like Sting.

    This is such a fascinating look at online dating. As I mentioned before, even though I’m married I’ve always been kind of curious about who I’d be matched with on a dating site, so I guess I’m living vicariously through you!

  6. Cindy, time is definitely a challenge, which is probably why I am enjoying the option of being on a site now that does the matching for me…which is funny because the whole concept aggravates me, too! What can I say? The 2 ways I manage the time thing (if you can say “manage”) is to only venture online for short stints at a time, like a 3 month subscription versus a yearlong one. You’re talking about the woman here who ended up canceling most of her magazine subscriptions because seeing a stack of unread pubs on the coffee table was making me anxious. So, I definitely give myself a manageable timeframe to work in. I also tend to ask if we can meet after exchanging a few emails rather than dragging out the “get to know you remotely” part. I just have learned that no matter how many emails or phone calls, nothing beats an in-person meeting to see if you really “click.” It may sound like rushing things, but for me I don’t see another way. Time management at its best – bada bing, bada boom! No, it’s not quite that, I promise!

    Tunesmith: thanks for coming by and sharing a male perspective on this! I agree about your comment on people dating for dating’s sake; it’s not my cup of tea or why I’m online. I also whole-heartedly agree with you that there is no “right” way to date, which was why I wanted to do this post. I hear a lot of negative stuff about online dating and while it has its own set of challenges, I honestly think it is no better or worse than other forms. I mean c’mon – how many of us have gone out on a blind date/set-up by a friend only to think, “oh, this is not good…”

    Madame Queen: Ah, so you waded into these murky waters, too! I have to laugh about the Sting comment. Not only did I have my Ed Harris experience, I met a very nice man who I swear looked exactly like Rod Stewart: he was British, spiky hair, extraneous jewelry, open shirt, tight pants, etc. He wasn’t marketing himself as a Rod look alike, but I couldn’t get over it. Nothing against Rod, but he’s not my type!

  7. Katie says:

    Susan, you certainly have made the most of your dating experiences and of men, in general. It seems that one man taught you to juggle, another provided the inspiration for part of your novel, and many others have at least provided you with good material to write about in this blog. Way to go. You have given me hope that maybe men can provide some value after all. :)

  8. Singlemomseeking and Katie: aw shucks, thanks for your virtual high fives! I figure you gotta use what you have – make lemons into lemonade and all of that…or maybe making a Lemon Drop (with an extra strong does of vodka) would be more appropriate?!

  9. Oh, hey, Katie. I meant to tell you the juggler and the inspiration for part of my novel are one in the same. So you can tuck that nugget away for when you read the book when it’s published — hopefully someday! :)

  10. Katie says:

    If you tell me he was also handsome, sweet, and loves kids I’m either going to hate you or not believe anything you write! :)

  11. Katie: he was handsome and incredibly sweet. I’m not sure about his love of kids; he asked about mine, which was important, but we didn’t get much further. But in the end he moved far away — like real far away. Like across the world far away and chose not to keep in touch with me. That really sucked — for me at least — although of course his loss! Silly men. I still think about him though and wonder how he’s doing.

    And, yes, it’s all true. Truth is stranger than fiction…I think that was God’s/the Universe’s way of pushing me to be a writer! But, hey, God/Universe, could you send a nice man my way, too?? ;)

    Jensen: thanks for the link. I took the survey myself (folks, no obligation to do so or more of them).

  12. I love the concept of online dating, just wish it had been around when I was much younger though. How incredible that you can look at so many potential mates in such a short time. You can chat up three of four at the time without others getting jealous and then sort out one or two to meet for a real date.

    Ladies, men are after sex, this is true. Now how many men go out seeking a wife, non did I here the reply? If that is so why are so many men married. Fact is girls that men are wanting a relainship, just that they do not know it yet.

    Am I male or female, young or old, good looking or ugly. Without a photo of me can you tell, you are women and need a photo, well men are Shallow Hals and scan women online by photo. Remember girls that men can fall victim to online deviants and no photo might indicate you are one!!!!!

  13. Katie says:

    Susan,
    The story of your mystery man gave me chills. I believe in angels and it sounds like you got a visit from one. A beautiful, kind man drops into your life, inspires you to pursue something you obviously love, and then disappears far, far away, never to be heard from again. OK, so maybe he wasn’t your angel, but I couldn’t help but think how amazing it was that you met someone who made such a difference in your life and helped you to find your dream, in what I am assuming was a very short time. I know women who have been married for decades to men who haven’t inspired them to do or be anything. You received a great gift from your mystery man, Susan. A gift that all of us reading your words now get to benefit from. What a great story.

  14. Susan thanks for the great article. I’m also happy to see all the comments on this post. Obviouslly you’ve hit a cord with people in the online dating world.

    I might also recommend a book from Myles Reed, online dating expert, called “Fishing for Love on the Net”. I’d love to see a review from you about this book. Myles has really done some fantastic work on creating a helpful book for online dating. Anyone who has been through it or is thinking about checking online dating out would find this book very helpful.

    Great advice here Susan. Keep up the thoughtful work.

  15. Katie: Words of inspiration, thank you!

    Barnschop: Online dating definitely is a great way to “meet” a lot of people at once. It’s also nice to know men can equally be deceived online. Wait, that didn’t come out quite right — I mean, it seems women are always looked at as such fragile creatures, which we can be, but both sexes are taking a chance and putting themselves out there online. BTW, thank you for confirming that men do want relationships. Always good for us ladies to hear…

    Ethan: I’m glad you found the post and comments here to be “great”! Goodness, come back again, won’t you?? I’ll check out the book. It’s always good to see a handsome, smart, presumably literate man who graduated from U of M (I’m class of ’90) put his skills and training to good use. I’m guessing the author is also a former online dater who made it to the married world! Again, hope for all of us.

  16. I am one of those guys that is looking for both a terrific physical relationship AND a healthy, long lasting emotional relationship. I have found that most of the women on this particular site are extremely aggressive physically, and all of them on the first date!!! By the way, I’m a pretty average looking guy, albeit with a great deal of Charisma-(inherited from my father). I know that most guys won’t complain, but it seems odd to me? I went on this site to meet a “Nice” woman with similar challenges with kids, life etc. I’m not giving up yet, for there are just as many nutty people in the non- virtual dating game as there are in it.
    Thanks for all of your guidance. Are you still single?? You’re are very attractive, and funny!! Cheers
    Rick

  17. Kim says:

    I recently joined http://www.love-boat.net and I like it because it’s 100% free so members (including me) tend to exchange more messages and visit more profiles because there are no limits, no expensive credits to buy and stuff…

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