Love and Lust in the Modern World 

The weird, wide world of Internet dating


click to enlarge BILL CARMAN

Short, sarcastic and sweet. Athletic, kinda soft, legs like a biker, lots of energy but not the manic kind. I laugh equally hard at English-major jokes and South Park. I like 'em smart, creative and not too egotistical. How you're built is not that important. Sweetness counts.

I haven't posted that yet. I have yet to be convinced about the merits of online dating. If I launch my stats into cyberspace, will some creep end up stalking me? Will 27 Mr. Wrongs end up with my e-mail address? Where do you start, anyway? The prospect of finding someone online sounds so impossibly needle-in-a-haystack.

My friend Fly_me_to_the_moon says cyberspace is just like public space, only bigger. And faster. He states the obvious advantages of using the Internet to find a date: "It's (a) not a bar and (b) not work."

"Where the hell else are you going to meet people? After college, it gets progressively more difficult with every passing year," he adds.

Convincing point, but how much can you really ascertain about someone by exchanging a few e-mails?

Fly_me_to_the_moon argues, "There's an immediacy to online communication. You can tell right away if people can spell or how eloquent they are. Besides, how much can you learn about what someone's really like if you run into them late at night at the Neurolux after three or four drinks? Probably even less."

True, but if you smile at me in a bar, I know what to do. If you send me an e-wink or a chat request, I don't know if you're someone I want to talk to or not. The laws of attraction are hard to quantify. If I lined up all the guys I've ever had a crush on, they'd appear to be a random assortment.

But for those who know what they're looking for, it turns out the Internet is a good place to start.

JustSex 27 knew exactly what she wanted. She posted, "In town late week for work. Would love some hot casual sex ..." She received 49 replies, she says, "but only four or five from men I would sleep with." Back in the dark ages, like the 1980s, when this sort of thing was done by telephone, narrowing down the field might've taken months. JustSex got it done in four hours.

CallmeLouise, 45, had a taller order. She was looking for a long-term relationship. "My profile was short but specific in terms of what I wanted in a relationship: serious, not casual, dating," she says. "I mentioned my musical, art and literary tastes, which are hugely important to me, and my general approach to life. A sense of humor, for example, is fucking mandatory." Within a few weeks, her ad led to 22 responses. She narrowed her search down to 10 phone conversations, then to six dinner dates. No sparks flew, but each of her e-suitors turned out to be good company over a filet mignon and a bottle of wine.

"All in all, it was a good way to get a cross-sampling of simpatico eligible humans," she says.

A couple weeks later, MusicBizGuy answered her ad. They e-mailed. They met. They clicked. CallmeLouise and MusicBizGuy have been together four years, married for two, and they're looking into adopting a child.

Girls Rule

Admittedly, both these success stories come from women. Sorry, guys, the ratio of men to women surfing the date-o-sphere is not in your favor. One site had 2,693 profiles from Idaho women compared to 30,778 Idaho men. Many men report having met their dream girls online, but most say they pursued a few mismatches before Lady Luck finally cracked a smile. (As for men who've found the random hookup of their dreams, well, they must be out there somewhere. I posted ads, sent e-mails and questioned many, searching for reports of victory, but the only ones who claimed it was easy to find casual sex were women.)

At 2 a.m., I posted a vaguely written ad on one of the more adult-oriented dating sites. The ad had no picture, which means it would show up toward the bottom of a search, and I strictly limited the geography and age range of my potential matches. At 10 a.m., a note from the site's "autocupid" informed me that 16 men wanted to chat. Pirate208, by contrast, is a good-looking male who posted a more detailed, less restricted profile on the same site two months ago--with photos. He's seen one response.

NiceguysR­_ok24 logged onto Yahoo Personals, where the search engine allows potential daters to be quite specific about which traits they like in a mate. I conducted a search on the same site, specifying the same number of criteria. NiceguysR­_ok24 got a list of 12 matches (one of whom is now his wife.) I got a list of 176 matches. (The very first of whom was my ex, a testament not only to the online gender divide, but to the supreme precision of Yahoo Personals search capabilities.)

Not everything necessarily comes up roses just because you're a girl, though. Just because quantity is practically guaranteed doesn't mean that quality is, too. Runnerbabe, a fit, vivacious 46-year-old, was looking for a long-term relationship. Over six months of enjoying herself on dates but not finding "the one," she got tired of playing the electronic field.

"After bachelor No. 14, I gave up," she says.

Where to?

Just like in the real world, you've got to know where to go to find what you want in cyberspace. In the same sense that a chance encounter at the racquetball club might vary in tone from bumping into Ms. Right at a punk bar, there's a different vibe to the crowd on (formerly the industry standard, now sharing the limelight with clever competitors) than on ("the world's largest BDSM and alternative lifestyle personals").

There are countless dating sites, and they offer various levels of matchmaking assistance, from old-school-type classifieds, where you simply write a few words and post them, all the way to detailed personality assessments. There are sites targeted toward whatever you may be looking for, whether it's marriage ( "fun Jewish singles," (, men or women in uniform ( or non-drinkers (

Some sites' services are free; some filter off the riff-raff by targeting upscale clients, charging up to $1,100 a year and guaranteeing their results. Most sites allow users to post a profile and conduct basic searches for free, then require a subscription fee (from about $10 a month up) for more access, such as contact information.

Don't call me ... yet

If the mere mention of "contact information" makes you nervous, rest assured, any legitimate dating site has figured out a way to keep its users' names and e-mail addresses out of circulation. Date-seekers are encouraged to use nicknames, and, if you want to be extra careful, open a separate e-mail account to use for dating that doesn't reveal your real name.

There's always the uncertainty in cyberspace that someone isn't who they say they are. But that possibility exists out on the street, too (or at the racquetball club, or the punk bar). Just like in any dating situation, a dose of common sense goes a long way. Here's what the experts from the top sites advise:

• Guard your personal information. Turn off your signature file. Don't give anyone your phone number until you're comfortable doing so. If someone pressures you for info too soon, tell them to forget it.

• Be on the lookout for ads that look fake. Vague profiles promising easy sex are probably decoys that link to porn sites. If you find one, report it to the site manager. Reports of poseurs generally lead to their immediate removal.

• Request a photo. Request more photos. Refusal to send photos is a major red flag signaling a glitch in some creep's identity-cover-up plan.

• Use your gray matter the same way you would dating anywhere else. If something about a person makes you uncomfortable, you're not obligated to continue corresponding with them. If you do set up a meeting in public, talk on the phone first. There are a lot of personality clues in someone's voice. And, if you do meet in person, meet somewhere it's easy to leave if necessary.

Yeah, but ....

OK, so the similarities between online dating and offline dating are adding up. The excitement factor and the safety level are about the same online as they are offline. And the odds of success seem to be better in the virtual world. Maybe cyberspace really is replacing public space.

I'm pretty well sold on the idea of meeting people online. But I still haven't posted that profile. I might keep an eye out for interesting characters on my favorite sites though, just in case.

As my friend RandXX put it, "It's like virtual people watching."

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