You're divorced or single and thinking of trying that online dating thing, but something is holding you back. I get it. I've been there. So have lots of other people.
"Twenty million people are dating online," says Bela Gandhi of the Smart Dating Academy, who I talked to for a story earlier this year ("Are you good at dating?", TribU, Jan. 20, 2011). "I have so many clients who are in super-serious relationships that they found online."
That's all well and good, but the thing is, I don't want a super-serious relationship. I just got divorced. Some adult conversation and a movie that doesn't feature cartoon characters is about all I can handle these days.
So recently, I received a "three months free trial" e-mail from one of those online dating sites and I decided — If it's free, then why the heck not?
Within minutes of filling out my profile, e-mails with comments such as "Hey cutie!" or "What-up?" flooded my inbox. One man even said "Send me some body pics babe! Wanna see if you're hot from the waist down too!"
"One in 20 e-mails will be worth your while," stressed Gandhi. "That means you'll have to weed through dozens of bad ones to find the good. But it's worth it."
That sounded like a lot of work.
As the days went on, more e-mails came through.
"I need a wife now," wrote one guy.
"This must be your lucky day," typed another.
"I'm back in the saddle after 40 years of marriage and ready for action," shared the next one.
But then, one e-mail came through that seemed promising. He used correct grammar. He didn't write words like "pornography" or "coolio" in the first paragraph. I shot him a note that maybe coffee could be in our future.
As I waited for a response, I started getting a little excited. I haven't dated since 1995, and while the concept of small talk with a stranger sounded exhausting, something about this man seemed genuine. Perhaps if anything, I'd make a new friend out of the deal?
But soon I found a reply in my inbox that read "I'm looking to meet a woman who has been divorced for a couple of years, so we're just not the right fit for each other right now. Best wishes to you.."
My first online dating rejection.
So I'm out. No more. I guess I'm too fragile to handle the rejections from a man who doesn't even know my real name.
While my online dating stint was brief, I do want to pass on the wisdom I absorbed. Perhaps I can help you with your search for "that special someone." (Tip No. 1: Don't say you're looking for "that special someone.")
And for everything I didn't know, I turned to Bela Gandhi to fill in the blanks. Here are some do's and don'ts to being successful in cyber-dating.
Don't have screen names like "Mommywarnedyou" or "HotstuffMike." "Write a profile name that will make someone smile, not that will scare someone off," says Gandhi.
Don't take pictures of yourself with no shirt on in your bedroom. Shirtless photos are already sketchy, but if you want to show off your physique, be doing something, like swimming or fishing or rock climbing. You sitting in your desk chair with no shirt on just brings out all sorts of bad images that you don't want anyone to have in a first impression.
Don't use acronyms in your profile description that might offend, such as WTF or BS.
Do use spell-check when writing your profile. "You are wooing someone with your words so the first impression matters," says Gandhi. "And use punctuation. In this cyber-world, people think they can type the way they would text, and that can come off as lazy."
Don't reach out to people half your age. I got asked out by an 87-year-old man. I'm not against older men — but I will not be dating someone who could be my great-grandfather.
Don't "wink" at people. This is quite possibly more annoying than a million "pokes" on Facebook. If you like someone, send them a note.
Do write them an e-mail. "Take the time to write a good e-mail based on something the target has written," says Gandhi. "It doesn't have to be long — just enough to make them smile. And use the subject line in your e-mail to stand out. Ninety-five percent of people will say 'Hi'. Say something that responds to a comment in their profile. It shows you've actually read what they put out there rather than just looked at the pictures."
Don't be sarcastic. When I was struggling to write my profile, I decided to ask my 5-year-old son to describe me. I thought it was hilarious. But Gandhi warned, "Sarcasm doesn't translate in writing as well. They need to get to know you first, and that may be off-putting."
Do stick with it. Unlike me, who gave up after a week, Gandhi says it's important to stay in the game. "If you joined a gym and didn't lose all the weight you wanted in a week, would you quit your gym membership?" she said. "You have to give it a little time."
I think I'll stick to wishful thinking—if it's meant to be, I'll run into someone on the elevator or walking down Michigan Avenue.
But if you did indeed find "the one who got away" while dating online, send me an e-mail and fill me in.
Because everyone likes a happy ending.