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Steven Ivory

*My friend Julie—-not her real name—-is online dating. After a year of single life, of nursing emotional wounds inflicted by a twelve-year marriage that was over long before she left it, Julie, a 45 year-old professional with two teenage kids, went online to find love.

I ran into her the other day in a Crate & Barrel as she shopped for a friend’s wedding gift. After nearly 20 minutes of standing in the appliance section and gabbing, we decided to grab a late lunch at the café next door.

Over chicken and pasta, Julie shared, among other things, her experiences of the past seven months on the Internet in search of a partner.

“Back when I met [her husband], online dating was a novelty”, she said, using a spoon to roll pasta up on her fork. “People were embarrassed to say they met online. When I divorced, I didn’t know much about dating, let alone online dating. It was my mother who said, ‘You should try it.’”

Not long after joining her first dating site, Julie noticed a pattern. “In writing their profiles, men describe themselves either as how they see themselves or how they want to be seen. I don’t know that it’s deliberate—-they truly do see themselves as optimists, as having it on the ball.

“One man wrote a beautiful profile about being charming, spiritual, generous. Over coffee, he was bitter and negative. I sat there thinking, ‘Who sent you? Where’s the man in the profile? When the bill came–we only had coffee—he said, ‘We’re gonna split this, right?’”

Julie learned that men online straight up lie. “That’s different from writing about how they see themselves, which is just a slanted opinion,” she insisted. “They outright lie about damn near everything—-their age, their job, about having a job, about being single.

“To be 50 years old and have all the photos on your profile be from when you were in college-—they lie about having gone to college, too—-is a visual lie because it’s not how you look today. They show up at Starbucks shorter, older and fatter than their pics from high school and wonder why I seem disappointed. I’m not mad that they look older. It’s because they misled me about it.”

From online dating, Julie is learning how to communicate clearly—-how to tell the truth about who she is and what she wants. Most important, she’s learning to listen and hear what is really being said—which cuts down on the amount of men she actually meets in person.

“In the beginning, I was doing a lot of one-time meetings. My girlfriend said, ‘Why are you just meeting these men just once and never seeing them again?’ I said, ‘Because I meet them and learn that we’re not a match.’

“She told me that if I spent more time talking with them on the phone first, it would save me the time of meeting some of them at all, and she was right. Now, I’m able to have a couple of conversations with a man and decide whether they are worth meeting in person. Before that, I wasted a lot of time and gas.”

Julie said she discovered that no matter the site—-be it those touting people who are Christian, with high IQs or sites that you have to pay for; paying supposedly weeds out the “riff-raff”—-most people just want to have sex.

“The profiles say they’re looking for serious relationships, but it’s all about sex. The women, too: when guys immediately start in on the sex talk, I say, ‘Hey, I thought you read my profile; I am NOT out here just to get laid.’ And they say, ‘Oh, that’s what all the women write in their profiles. Those are the main ones who immediately want sex.’ It’s just more people writing one thing and being another.”

Because Julie has kids, hasn’t dated in a while and is in her 40s, she is often seen as “desperate.” “Especially by the younger men looking for a cougar.”

She took another sip of merlot. “And if a person has more than three or four photos of themselves up—-like, 20 of ‘em, like one of my girlfriends–—that’s a person who is completely full of themselves. It’s all about them.”

On the other hand, the online dater who posts a couple photos of themselves and the rest are of cars and sunsets and “bridges and stuff” are, in Julie’s opinion, low on esteem. “That picture of his dogs is supposed to tell me what his interests are, but to me, it says, ‘I’m not much, but maybe you’ll like what I’m into.’”

What about the shirtless guy? She nearly choked on her meal laughing. “That guy’s profile could read like Ghandi or Einstein, but if he’s half naked, he’s probably an insecure jerk.”

And then there are the bigots and the intolerant. Julie is brown, from a country in South America. She’s received more than a couple of communiqués from men saying that they’d consider her if she wasn’t “Mexican.” “I heard from a guy who said he was liberal. During our conversation it was clear that he couldn’t see any view but his own. He didn’t realize he was no different than the people he complained about.”

Common courtesy, said Julie, is a rarity online. “You can be communicating with someone and they’ll just disappear on you. No ‘Thanks but no thanks’ or ‘I’ve found someone else’—-nothing. I admit being guilty of it, too. I guess we feel like if we don’t actually meet the person, they don’t emotionally exist. It’s wrong.”

Finally, Julie said she has learned that meeting quality people is a “job”, no different than any other life undertaking.

“When I first went online, it felt like being in a candy store,” she said, finishing her wine. “But a candy store offers no nutritional value. Meeting someone special online would be great, but all that disappointment and rejection on the net can make you forget your personal worth. I always want to remember that I am able to appeal to someone the old fashioned way, in person somewhere.”

Then Julie said something that I found downright prolific: “From going online, I learned that you can’t cut corners on the human process of meeting people and expect to find functional people.”

From the waiter I requested a dessert menu, but Julie waved off the notion. “I’m trying to lose weight for Mr. Right,” she said, giggling at that irony, considering all that she’d just said.

Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]