You've Got Male (or Female): Love Online
Don't pooh-pooh the Internet as a means to find love. You use it to research a subject, to buy books, to get cheap plane tickets, to make hotel reservations. Why not to find love?
You’ve Got Male
Once Internet dating was considered the last resort for those who had nothing to do but stay home on Saturday night. Now it’s gone mainstream, with Westchester singles joining millions of other Americans trolling online, hoping at the very least to land a date, if not hook a mate
By Caitlin Kelly
Illustration by Zela Lobb
Something was up. By 10:30 that March morning, there were 25 replies to my personal ad on firstname.lastname@example.org, a website created by America Online. By 11 am, there were 40. Twelve hours later, more than 175.
You’ve got mail, indeed.
For many people, tossing your photo and a few paragraphs about yourself onto an Internet dating site, in full view of thousands of strangers (and, possibly, snickering former students, amused exes, and bemused colleagues) is about as appealing as gum surgery. But it was my last resort after six years of post-divorce fruitless dating.
I’d tried everything else. “Go where the guys are!” friends urged. I’d cruised local hardware stores. I don’t play golf. I attended school and college in Canada, so old school ties didn’t help me. For five summers, I crewed on sailboats around Long Island Sound, working hip to hip, sometimes three or four times a week, with fit, strong, outdoorsy guys, many of them with fine educations, good jobs, nice personalities, and, clearly, a shared passion for the sport. I did find two terrific boyfriends that way.
Join a church? Mine had about three single guys, none a potential match. Business events, parties, mutual friends? No, no, and no. The only personal ad I answered was placed—no joke—by a convicted felon, a con man who derailed my life for several months.
So, with little optimism, I turned to the Internet. Having already bagged one criminal, I wasn’t particularly worried about meeting another, and at least I now knew the danger signs—as well as a great private detective.
Back in 2000, when I first dipped my toes in the online dating swirl, Internet dating was something you didn’t really want to admit to doing. Today, some 17 million Americans are using online dating sites, according to Jupiter Research. The firm predicts that 27.4 million Americans will view online personals in 2006 and 5.2 million will pay to create their own ads.
In other words, searching for a mate online has gone mainstream. “There are many decent professionals using online dating,” says Sherrie Schneider, a co-author of The Rules for Online Dating (Pocket Books, 2002). “They work long hours and aren’t going to some bar to meet people after work. They’re busy people hoping to maximize efficiency.”
The sites range widely in tone and audience, from the racy Nerve.com to eHarmony.com, which uses long and involved questionnaires. Some are based on religion, like Jdate.com, which caters to Jewish singles. Others are more generic, such as Matchmaker.com, Match.com, and GreatBoyfriends.com (founded by Elle magazine advice columnist E. Jean Carroll), where every man (and woman) comes recommended by someone for whom romance fizzled, but friendship—and the desire to help find that person a partner—burns on.
While it’s arguably no more dangerous than meeting someone unfamiliar through any other avenue, men do tend to inflate their income and their height, while women subtract both pounds and years from their online profiles. You post your description and tastes (preferably with a recent, flattering color photo, as those posting without receive many fewer emails) and may have to choose a snappy headline to describe yourself—in six words or less. No pressure! (Mine read “Catch Me if You Can,” less meant to suggest I was a catch than my eternal elusiveness.)
“I wasn’t more nervous meeting men online,” says Joanne Porrazzo, a widowed 42-year-old who lives in Larchmont. “I was very safe, met in public places, told people what I was doing.” Widowed for six years, she turned to online dating after so many people told her their success stories.
She tried Match.com, Jdate.com, and eHarmony.com and says she had the most success with the latter, a fact she attributes to eHarmony’s long, involved questionnaire, which tends to weed out those less-committed to finding a mate and tease out more subtleties about seekers’ characters and values. “Perhaps there was something to that annoying long personal profile I had to complete,” Porrazzo says. “On the other sites, I think people base their decision heavily on the photos.”
Porrazzo chose the online route because she works long hours in Manhattan as a building manager, and doesn’t date people on the job. In the three years she did it, she met about a dozen men face-to-face and dated one for a few months.
Bob DiMaggio, a 48-year-old Rye resident who runs Brushworks of Rye, a painting business, has never married. He says it’s not hard to meet people, but “it’s harder to find someone you connect with on lots of different levels.” He, too, has tried several different sites in the four or five years he’s been using online sites and prefers eHarmony.com. “It gave me the most opportunity to meet people. They come up with hundreds for you to be introduced to.”
DiMaggio has met about five or six women over the years; like all online daters, he’s seen promising initial emails fizzle when they finally spoke by phone, or even the liveliest phone conversations later stall face to face. One woman told him she was about 10 pounds too heavy; when they finally met, it was more like 100 pounds. “Who did she think she was meeting?” asks DiMaggio. “Stevie Wonder?”
Linda Williams, a 41-year-old single mom living in Hartsdale, has been dating online actively for about two years; she dated one man for the entire time. “I learned a lot about myself during my last relationship, and this knowledge has provided me with the motivation to improve myself and grow as a person,” she says. She’s recently met someone new.
Williams admits she had to master a learning curve. “I’ve also learned how to ‘work the system,’ so to speak, and read between the lines in a profile.” Warning signs include those who never want to speak by phone, who endlessly postpone meeting face to face, or those who are only available at severely limited times—a pretty sure sign they’re married or in a live-in relationship.
Lynn Naliboff, a lively 34-year-old who works in publishing, is also still searching; her current ad on Match.com has the headline, “Make Me Laugh.” She’s been online dating for four years, at one point even using four sites at the same time, but refuses to initiate contact. “I still feel the guy needs to make the first move,” Naliboff says. “It shows they are interested and are willing to work for it. It’s all about who opens the lines of communication first.” In that time, she has met three men face to face; none, it’s safe to say, turned out to be her Prince Charming.
Naliboff now has a personal policy to cut off any man who emails her more than five times without making a date. Schneider heartily endorses that move. “Trying to meet someone online often turns into pen-pal stuff,” warns the author. “People will talk for months, sometimes up to a year. Forget it! If a man doesn’t arrange a meeting within four emails, he’s not going to. Drop him and move on.”
Women, especially, make egregious errors when they start online dating, Schneider continues. They send all the wrong messages—too sexy, too desperate, too prim—by posting photos in a bikini, in a bridesmaid’s dress, or with their kids. They choose boring, nondescript screen names instead of “Fun-Loving Brunette, 50.” They pour out their hearts in their profiles instead of keeping them bright, tight and fun to read. “It’s not therapy! Keep it light and breezy,” says Schneider, who met her own husband in the real world, at a singles dance.
Of course, online dating is really just a prelude to what happens when you finally meet face to face.
For Eric and Christine Puente, now married and living in Croton-on-Hudson, love arrived at IM speed. They met on Match.com in January of 2000 when Eric wrote to Christine, then living in Mahwah, NJ. He was 33, divorced with no kids, and she was 28. He loved her smile and her sense of adventure, summed up in the Jack Kerouac quote in her profile: “Mad to live, mad to be saved, and desirous of everything at once.”
“I did attract some very scary people,” laughs Christine, “but I’m a very cynical and cautious person. I got a lot of weird stuff, but so many of the men I was meeting were boring!” Eric’s email—offering a menu of first-date options that included a hot tub, Mexican food, Central Park or skiing—worked for her. They finally met, at Santa Fe restaurant in Tarrytown, on February 16, 2000. Within five months she moved in with him, was engaged two months later, and they now have a 21-month-old daughter, Audrey. Both work in corporate jobs in Manhattan, and were hardly wild-eyed bohemians tossing fate to the wind. They just knew.
“It was pretty much done after our second date,” recalls Eric. “Neither of us had ever had such a good time with anyone else, and I had never met anyone like her in my life.” Agrees Christine, a petite blonde, “I had a physical reaction when I finally met him face to face. My hands were trembling so much I had to hide them underneath the bar. That night I called my Mom and said, ‘I’ve met my husband.’”
For Andrea and Howard Frank of Bronxville, now sharing a bright, cozy one-bedroom, online dating offered what years and years of “normal” dates had not—a loving, nurturing same-faith partner ready to commit to marriage. Andrea, a website designer, is 43 but looks at least a decade younger, with close-cropped dark hair and beautiful brown eyes. Howard, a 44-year-old internal auditor, is slim and muscular, often referring proudly to Andrea, sitting beside him, as “my wife.” Their apartment is covered with photos of them and wedding memorabilia.
Andrea, then living on Long Island, began her quest at Yahoo.com by answering ads first, not sharing her photograph until she felt comfortable doing so. She’s not a size 6, and some men instantly rejected her for that. After three or four months, she decided to post her own listing. “I knew deep down there was someone out there for me. I wanted marriage. I wanted courtship. I came from a single-parent home.” Andrea’s mother died when she was in her mid-20s, and she stayed in the family home and became active in her
temple, but never found the right guy. Howard, who also sought a Jewish mate, kept attending singles dances in the city, watching as one after another of his friends got married. They finally met in December 1999, got engaged in February 2001, and married on April 14, 2002.
Rabbi Marc Gellman, who had been something of a father figure to Andrea for many years, even included their meeting in his address at their wedding: “At the beginning something that was faceless and anonymous turned into a relationship that was intimate, deep, and enduring. I had no idea you could find all of this on the Internet. I knew you could find discount drugs, but I didn’t know that if you looked hard enough you could find someone reaching through that mass of gigabytes to find another heart and to find a companion in this wounded world. And to all this, in the memory of how you came together, I say…Yahoo!”
I’m now engaged to one of the many men who emailed me that day five years ago. He lived in Brooklyn, I in Westchester. I work alone at home and he in a midtown office. Neither of us hang out in bars or attend many parties. He’s Mexican-American who practices Tibetan Buddhism. I’m Canadian and an Episcopalian. He loves golf while I prefer dancing to really loud blues. Had we first met face to face, I doubt we would have given one another a chance.
Yet our similarities have proven as intriguing as our many differences. As journalists, we’ve both enjoyed exciting careers and lots of world travel. We love French food, lazy mornings, downhill skiing. And we both laugh way
Traditional dating is like fly-fishing—choose a lure you think will attract your quarry, cast, wait, repeat. It takes a lot of patience, even without hip waders. Even then, whatever waters you choose limit what you’ll find. Internet dating is like sending a trawler out to the Grand Banks with a really huge net. You can’t really predict who will approach you or why or just who you might snag. But more often than not, it seems to work.
Caitlin Kelly, a freelance writer living in Tarrytown, is the author of Blown Away: American Women and Guns (Pocket Books, 2004).