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The Vine

The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

Home » The Vine

The Vine: August 6, 2014

Submitted by on August 6, 2014 – 5:32 PM42 Comments


I could use some honest feedback from you and the Nation regarding online dating. Lots of my friends have encouraged me to try it, but none have any firsthand experience to talk about how to do it well…

…where I have a real chance to have some fun, stay safe, and maybe even meet someone. Most of these friends are married and never dated online, but they all swear they “know someone” who [insert online romance story here].

I am a 35-year-old woman, divorced four years, two children. I have dated some the traditional way with limited success. No real relationships since the divorce, and lots of dry spells. That’s mostly my own doing: busy with kids and work, introverted, enjoying life on my own terms, not into bars, picky for a variety of reasons (emotional, keeping my dating life away from my kids, holding out for someone I really like).

Lately, I have found myself curious to finally try online dating. I researched some of the big name sites and I read some of your past columns advising a “high churn rate” and such, which was pretty helpful. But I was talking about this with a friend at work, who works in internet security and is married to a woman he met online several years ago. He said that I should use a fake name, a dummy email address, not mention my kids in my profile, understate my income, and delay meeting people in person.

Is that what people (women) (especially with kids) actually do? Just practically speaking, how do you pull that off? If I meet someone I like, at what point do I come clean without looking like a paranoid lunatic or a pathological liar? I don’t feel sorry for wanting to keep creeps away from my children, but what’s the polite way to say, “Actually my name is not Sally, it’s Monica…and I have kids, surprise!”

If that’s not what people do, then what should I do? I may be too “in my head” about it, but I just wanted to get some feedback from people who have actually been out there.

Also, any particular sites to stay away from?

Thanks for any help you can give me,

I Just Want To Date, Not Join The CIA

Dear Agent Dater,

I know your work friend is just trying to help, but consider the source here. If you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Your friend works in internet security, and presumably has seen the worst people are capable of in the virtual world. I work at Tomato Nation, and I’ve seen the best people are capable of; the nine hundred thousand-plus dollars y’all have raised for Donors Choose over the last decade suggests to me that there’s another way to look at things.

That, and the husband I found on OKCupid. So, neither of us is wrong! Um, generally. Specifically to this case, Work Friend’s advice is terrible. Sorry, Work Friend.

There is in fact no way to announce on a third date — or whenever Work Friend suggests you finally admit that you’ve lied about everything the dating site’s algorithm is using to match you to people — that everything you’ve told the guy about yourself is a lie. I mean, there is, but not if you want to see him again, unless he’s turned on by this dead-drop foolishness, in which case he can find a LARP spy game and work it out. …That actually sounds fun; you know what I’m saying. If you won’t tell anyone ANYTHING for real about yourself and your life, what are you even doing trying to date? Isn’t the point to find a partner who loves you? Y…ou. And all the attendant challenges, and everyone has them, kids or no kids. I married an actor. He married a writer! What are we, nuts?

I am all for safety and being sensible, but there are no guarantees, and building an emotional panic room isn’t going to change that. Using a dedicated email address just for your online-dating profiles (most people have more than one; I did) is a good idea, but unless you have a very unusual first name that could attract unwanted off-sides Googling, I don’t see the point of changing it.

Not mentioning your kids in your profile is not acceptable. Yes, men who don’t want stepfam will skip over your profile; you shouldn’t date them anyway (note: maybe you’re in a more strictly I Have Needs place with all of this, and just want to get a leg over. Also fine, and my advice is not really different). I had “don’t want my own, will consider stepkids” checked on mine, and the one guy who lied about it didn’t get a second date. He’d also lied about whether his divorce was final, and his picture was…not representative, and and and, but the larger point was his confusing “presenting your best self” with “making up shit people want to hear.” Not the same; don’t do the second thing.

The income thing is just weird. I don’t remember having to answer that if I didn’t want to, and I didn’t, so I…didn’t. Men who make a point of listing the top tier are, in my experience, to be avoided.

And delaying meeting people in person…again, what are you doing here if you’re not going to take it to meatspace pronto? Delay meeting people at your home? Sure. Delay meeting them with the kids in tow at Bounce U? Sure. But you need to get into the same physical space as your various prospects as soon as you can manage it — and you may have a more challenging time with that schedule-wise than the child-free, but: Catfish, first of all, and more importantly, if you have no spark, that’s that, next. Don’t waste too much time on email where everyone has plenty of time to craft their best jokes. See if there’s anything there and if not, step lively.

Basic safety is another issue, and you can take steps to ensure that that don’t reach the level of an FBI clearance: don’t meet at or near your home, or get specific about where it is; don’t give out sensitive information online, and while mentioning your kids’ existence is a necessity, anything else about them (names, pictures, etc.) is off-limits for a while; arrange with friends to call you at a set time just in case-ies.

But acting like you’re on The Americans? No. The fact is, you have to do it for a little while to see how you should do it, but I’d love readers with kids and experience with the online scene to chime in.




  • Katie Levin says:

    I have no advice to add, just support for the LW. I mostly want to say, fanfully, that it is SO GOOD to read your voice, Sars!

  • LG says:

    In my periodic bouts of online dating, I did use a profile name that was not my name (although it was not someone else’s name either, more like Cookielover, although that wasn’t it.) I did sign messages with my first initial until I decided to meet someone, and then would use my first name. I always met dudes in a public place during the day (generally my least favorite coffee shop, since I wanted to stop having unsuccessful dates at places I liked) and definitely let a friend know where I would be and called her afterwards.

    After one dude sending very graphic texts after an unsuccessful coffee date, I stopped giving my number and would just use the designated email to communicate beforehand.

    But, despite all of that, I was honest about what type of work I do, what I was looking for, what I do for fun, all that stuff. Like Sars, I just didn’t select any options for salary.

    I guess I tried to balance putting my real self out there in terms of the profile content with feeling as safe as possible meeting strangers. I think you should aim for wherever in that balance feels right for you. Good luck!

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    I would love to hear how this internet security guy met his spouse. I envision lots of walls of COM-PU-TORS running stats and night vision goggles.

    I have never computer dated, but I think, beyond basic “He doesn’t need your SSI number” reasonable precautions, honesty is just the best policy. Obviously, neither your profile nor a first date should be treated as an info dump/therapy session, but how much would you really want to get to know somebody who released really basic, relevant, important facts about his life at a trickle, like he’s the Joker leaving a trail of clues? It doesn’t sound like a turn on to me.

    Be yourself. Enjoy yourself, and others will enjoy your company.

  • Lizard says:

    I’ve done a fair amount of online dating for the past few years, and everything your work friend says is the opposite of what I was told to do: that is, meet people in person as soon as you’re comfortable (I weeded out some TERRIBLE human beings by meeting in person), because phone or email just aren’t the same thing.

    Don’t let your communications go on and on in just email form, because until you meet, you don’t know about all the nonverbal stuff. I learned this one the hard way and wasted a lot of time.

    Definitely mention your kids. I don’t have any (would be happy being a stepmom), but someone told me that dating with kids is excellent douchebag kryptonite. Plus, if my mom had hidden her divorced/single mother status from my dad, I wouldn’t be here.

    As for the rest of it, the more practice you get with it, the easier it gets to figure out the promising messages and profiles from the crap, pick-up lines or spam.

  • Allie says:

    Met my husband on OKCupid; we’re about to celebrate five years together.

    I was very very very clear on my questions and fairly clear on my profile–that probably I wasn’t looking for guys except as buddies. He sent me a chat message for a friendly conversation, I said, “Not now, I’m about to watch a superhero DTV that just came out” and he fell head over heels, the story goes. But I sent him a “hi” afterward and we talked. And I waited for him to be awful like so many of the guys on there, but he never was. He said self-aware stuff like, “It sucks that you can’t put your A/C unit in”–I was recovering from surgery–“and part of me wants to offer to help, but since we haven’t met, part of me wonders if that would just come off as creepy so I’m not going to do it.”

    About two or three weeks of chatting a lot (we moved to Yahoo Messenger, which was probably the last time I used the service, and eventually used the camera feature to see each other), with no red flags, we met in person. We weren’t flirting before the meet but he liked me and I thought maybe I liked him; I wasn’t sure because I don’t do the attraction-from-afar thing (since I’d been burned by it in the pre-everyone-had-access-to-a-scanner days). He brought flowers “just in case.” We were supposed to just grab some food at a fast food place and then go our separate ways so he could get home in time to meet up with his friends, but we ended up walking around the parking lot, strip mall, and sitting in my car talking for probably two hours. I think he was late to meet his friends, oops.

    I sent him an email later saying, “Sucks we’re both so busy this weekend, but maybe we can set something up for next week?” It was the first time I’d used his email address; it came back with his last name, something I hadn’t known before.

    Turned out I’d known his brother for like almost fifteen years.

    Anyway, my daughter was 11 at the time, I think. Her rule was “I only want to meet serious people” and we came up with a number of dates/time that had to pass that constituted “serious.” He ended up meeting her briefly before the allotted time, because you know how it is with kid drop-offs–and, frankly, I was pretty sure he was as awesome as he appeared, so I wanted them to meet anyway.

    Uh, what else? Oh yeah, I ended up with thrush after the surgery, so we didn’t kiss until after we’d hung out quite a few times. We used the time to talk very very honestly about who we were and what we wanted. We talked about all the bad stuff we’d done in the past and who’d hurt us and who we’d hurt and why and asked the other person if those were things they could deal with. A lot of stuff we already knew from the OKCupid questions, but the personal stuff can really only be discussed face to face. We were both really big on honesty and communication, didn’t play dating games, etc.

    Ridiculously compatible. Ridiculously happy. We were married about 14 months after we met. I love him, my daughter loves him, and we’ve been through a lot of external bs together and made it through no problem, because of those compatibilities.

    Interestingly, when we met I think he was like an 85% match. He’s now a 99% match. I guess we’ve grown together. :)

  • Katherine says:

    I’m on OKCupid, and I’m also a straight woman so I can’t give you any “from the other side” advice, but, two things:

    You don’t have to list your income. I don’t understand why people fill that field out. (I have only two reactions upon seeing dudes’ incomes listed: “oh, no, honey, shhhh,” or “ew, quit bragging.”) (The former makes me a jerk; the latter, crazy.)

    Secondly, when the only indication that a man has children is that he’s marked his status as such — no photos with them, no mention of them in the essays, not even in the “things I could never do without” section — I don’t want anything to do with him. I’d love to be a stepmom, but I certainly don’t want to be married to a deadbeat. All this to say, I don’t think lying about having kids would come across as anything but insane.

    Good luck and have fun with it!

  • heatherkay says:

    I also met my spouse online on the Springstreet network dating site. Not sure if that network is still a going concern.

    DEFINITELY meet the guy as soon as possible. I had numerous times when I met someone for coffee and realized “you’re perfect on paper, but I’m not even an eentsy bit attracted to you.” And I had the experience of the guy looking at me with the same look in his eye. Pheromones are real, I guess. I had a dedicated coffee shop where I would do the first meetings, one that was pleasant and “me,” but not one that I would miss if I could never go there again.

    Most importantly, I would tell you not to take any of it personally. It’s just way to get your numbers up to increase the chances you’ll meet someone cool. The first meeting isn’t a date, it’s just the completion of a pickup. Feel free to do the asking if you see something you like. Stop for a while if it stops being fun. Treat it like a hobby (I always said it was like birdwatching), not a lifestyle. And enjoy the funny stories you’ll (eventually) get out of it.

  • M says:

    I internet-dated briefly a few years ago, and will probably try again when I’m ready to date again.

    I followed all the safety stuff, and ended up meeting 2 good guys. They ended up being “guys I dated for a short time” and not boyfriends, but it was a good experience.

    Being honest in your profile is important. It’s one thing to say your favorite movie is Casablanca when it’s really Ace Ventura, but you must say that you are a mother. After all, if a man lied about being a father, you’d dump him as soon as you found out, I hope.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    “no photos with them, no mention of them in the essays”

    The no-photos I would have zero quibble with. They’re kids, and there are creepers out there. What IS a red flag, or has been, is if the kids don’t come up naturally in the conversation very quickly, as you say. In my experience, when people have kids and have a…traditional custodial relationship, let’s say, with them, they’re mentioned within a pretty short time, even in a non-getting-to-know-you context.

  • Cat_slave says:

    @Allie D’aaw. Your story makes me smile and get a little little teary-eyed at the same time :-)

  • Xtina says:

    I didn’t meet my husband online, but I dated online for about 4 years. I never met anyone sketchy or scary, one or two jerks, but on the whole, very nice men that I just didn’t totally click with.

    I did meet one guy who didn’t mention he had a daughter in his profile. Even though he mentioned it on the first date, I was put off, because that information would have helped in my decision making. He also said there was “no place to put it” in his profile, which was bogus

    I am a pastor (which for some people can be as much of a deal breaker as kids!) and I have some other single lady pastor friends who would not mention their work in their profile. I preferred to be honest, because then the guy really knew what he was getting into. And I knew that he knew and still wanted to date me.

    And I would agree with others that say meet as soon as possible, don’t give your number out (I wouldn’t until after I met the guy), and create an email just for online dating.

  • FionaAnne says:

    “And delaying meeting people in person…again, what are you doing here if you’re not going to take it to meatspace* pronto?”

    *Was this meant to be ‘meetspace’? I’ve never seen the phrase meatspace and it rings of the old phrase about some clubs I knewe of when I was younger: ‘meat-market’.

    This, from earlier in Sars’s reply: “note: maybe you’re in a more strictly I Have Needs place with all of this, and just want to get a leg over” makes me think it was meant to be meatspace, though.

  • Kate says:

    I met my husband online. I moved to a new state after grad school, knew exactly 4 people in my city and didn’t go to church — and my state being in the south, this seems to be where most people meet, so that was out for me also. I think the advice you’ve been given here is excellent. I also disagree with your friend about the fake name and no mention of the kids. Lying (for whatever reason) and not mentioning the potential for step-kids can be big deal breakers. No pictures of them or mention of their names, absolutely. But you need to tell this person that you have kids so that if they want to get serious, they know this ahead of time.

    And yeah … the whole point is to meet people. Use your own best judgement here. Meet in public, tell multiple people where you’re going and who you are meeting, ask them to call/text to check in on you at a time when you should reasonably be home after your date. My standard for deciding to meet someone was based on their responses. Did they use full sentences and reasonably correct grammar? Was their initial email more than just a “hey baby u look gr8”? And above all, just go with your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, make an excuse and leave.

  • JC says:

    Just chiming in to agree with others–as a dude who has done some online dating, there’s nothing more draining than uncovering a seemingly endless string of lies on the first date or two. I suppose in some idealized world one could fall madly in love with someone who would have otherwise clicked past your profile because of some detail or other, but…no. I once went on a lovely date with a woman with whom I’d had excellent chats with via e-mail. The first thing I found out is that “I don’t smoke” meant “I only smoke when I’m awake.” Well…O.K., I’m not a smoker, but it’s not necessarily a deal breaker. Then I found out that “I’m not sure about kids” meant “I’m not sure if I want to start trying to get pregnant on the third date, or if I can wait until the fourth.” (I think it’s safe to say that neither men nor women want to hear things like, “I hope our baby has your eyes” on the second date. SERIOUSLY, THIS PERSON IS A STRANGER!)

    It’s important to be safe and cautious, but when your first through third impressions are “Here are all the big things I lied about or weirdly omitted,” it’s not a great start.

  • Mingles' Mommy says:

    I don’t do online dating myself, but a very good friend of mine met her husband that way – I think on – and they have two beautiful children and are very, very happy.

    Plus, there are a lot of good experiences noted above. Hope you find someone great!

  • Krissa says:

    I met my husband online-by-proxy; a friend of mine and a friend of his were matched on an online dating site, they played matchmaker. It worked! (Unfortunately not for them, but for us, yes.)

    The rub? We lived across the country from each other. We still decided, based on emails, chat, and phone conversations, that we needed to meet as quickly as possible – which meant I flew out to his home town within a month of our first contact, to have basically a three-day date. We each had contingencies on “if this is not romantic after all.” Turns out it was, in fact, romantic, and after a long-distance relationship of about a year and a half, I moved permanently to his town and we got married just shy of three years after we met. We’re about to celebrate our 1-year anniversary. Heart.

    Now, this clearly isn’t even traditional online dating, but many elements of our meeting have similarities; namely, meeting as soon as we could! If we could do it in a few weeks there is really no excuse to NOT meet, if someone is in the same town.

    Other really important thing: we were both almost painfully honest and open, since we met while living so far apart. Lies or subterfuge about family, or name, or anything would never have flown.

    Keep in mind to also never, ever say you are not an animal person. Never! :)

  • ferretrick says:

    I agree with most everything already posted, especially that your Work Friend…probably shouldn’t start a Vine of his own any time soon. Heh.

    One thing I didn’t see mentioned and I think the number one piece of advice for anyone considering online dating-TRUST. YOUR. INSTINCTS! Until you’ve done a few meets, you probably will feel a little nervous. However, there’s a line between normal predate butterflies, and uneasy feelings from your BS detector that something isn’t right. If it’s the latter, 99% chance your subconscious knows best. Listen to it. Not even necessarily that it’s a serial killer or something like that, but just that the guy’s misrepresenting himself somehow (ie not his real photo, he’s married, etc.)

    Also, second the advice to meet relatively quickly. Online attraction does not necessarily equal in person attraction, and if that’s the case, best for both parties to find out and move on. Plus you don’t want to exhaust all your getting to know you material over email, and then have nothing left to talk about on your actual date.

    Finally, as most people have said, the first meet should be something simple like a coffee shop, and plan for it to last an hour tops (if you really, really, hit it off and both have nowhere to be, sure extend it as long as you want, but that’s the vast exception, not the norm). If it’s a no go, you can end it quickly with minimal awkwardness for both of you. And you won’t feel obligated to let a date that’s not working drag on the way you would if he’s sprung for an expensive restaurant.

  • Cassie says:

    I met my husband online, but not through a dating site. I did, however, before I met him, spend a fair amount of time on OKCupid and

    Here’s my two cents, also as the child of a single mom who dated when I was younger.

    Do. Not. Lie. You can omit some things – but your children are not one of them. Answer what you feel comfortable with, nothing more. And, yeah, like everyone else said, if your children are non-negotiable to you (and they really ought to be), then people need to know that from the get-go. It also can be something as simple as “I have two kids that I love and live with me,” but it’s just a bad policy not to mention something that important.

    Send a few messages back and forth before meeting. It’s a good way to get some of the awkward out, and to make you you do want to meet. I’d say no more than a week or two, unless you two live in different cities (and that’s your look-out, not mine; Husband and I lived about 300mi apart when we first started talking).

    If there’s no chemistry with whoever you meet, or are talking to, be honest with them. Will it hurt their feelings? Maybe. But that’s better than seeing them a few times, hoping for something, and wasting time that could be better spent with someone else.

    And, this may be silly, trust your children. At some point Mr. New Guy will meet them (assuming he doesn’t strike out with you before that, and I don’t mean sexually). Listen to them if they don’t like him – or if they like him a lot. Of course, you don’t say how old they are, so they may not have an opinion, or have a “whatever” opinion about anyone you date. But if they do, trust it.

  • Karen says:

    Hi! I’m in the “never did online dating but know many happy couples who did” camp. I specifically wanted to share this video with you:

    Amy Webb is a media research person who went in the opposite direction of a lot of advice and was super picky and ended up meeting her husband. It’s an interesting story if nothing else.

  • Claire says:

    I think you should look into doing it for the same reason I’ve been doing it: it’s a good way to get some new dating experience, and you don’t have that barrier of “Well, where do I go to meet people?”. I’m in my mid-20s with very little dating history, and I’ve been loving OkCupid because it lets me get dating experience in a very low-impact way. I haven’t had any serious relationships through it, but I did just go to a wedding for a couple who met through it, so YMMV.

    And while I agree with Sars that your friend is probably overstating things, there’s no harm in being safe about things. Of the three guys I’ve casually dated this year, none of them ever knew where I lived because I never felt comfortable with that. Same with friending on facebook.

  • RC says:

    I had a surprisingly good experience with OKC as a heterosexual female in my city (although maybe that’s a function of my expectations being pretty low). Definitely don’t lie about anything, especially the big stuff like kids, but also it’s definitely okay to not put down things you’re not comfortable with any lurkers knowing (leaving things blank is absolutely fine, some of those questions were things I definitely did not consider profile-information, more like third-date information). The way I see it, it’s just going to be more work to lie and keep those lies straight and eventually if it gets far enough have to set the record straight.

    I personally used a descriptive but nonidentifying handle for my profile because my real name is very googleable (not sure how the other sites do that, do you have to put a real first name?). I got on a first name basis with a few, a last-name basis with a couple, only after meeting in meatspace*. Great advice about having a dedicated first-date coffee shop. I’ll have to do that next time. I didn’t end up with any creepers IRL; trust your gut and I think you can weed them out fairly easily.

    Oooh, and you’ll get some bad dating stories! My favorite messages (didn’t meet any of them, obviously) were probably the borderline spam message from some guy who was like “oooh you wear glasses that’s so hot” (…? glad… you like myopia… and my personality…?) and the guy 12 years older than me (okay..) who was married (eegh) and with a kid (…) but don’t worry his wife was totally into him having other relationships for reals you can ask her (uh huh..) who messaged me about 5 times as I didn’t respond to the first four messages because see above. Oh, or the guy who I had like, a 20% match with who messaged me anyway in borderline incoherent English, and when I didn’t respond within twelve seconds he started straight-up insulting me for “thinking I was too good to respond to him.” Yeah, I don’t have time for your illiteracy or “negging” bullshit. But the vast majority of the guys I talked to seemed like generally good and interesting people. Good luck!

    *(I love this term. I have had to teach to people in the past, though)

  • Lisa says:

    A friend decided on online dating after her divorce. She was matched with a guy she has known for years. She’s also knows his wife for years (he claimed to be divorced; they are not) and known his kids for years (he claimed to have no kids). Unsurprisingly, things did NOT work out (he freaked when she called him, insisted his marriage hadn’t “been real” in a long time, and wouldn’t discuss the kids). Don’t go there.

  • SolitaryBlue says:

    I’ve never dated online—but my brother and my sister-in-law met each other on an online game. At the time, she was in the UK, Bro was in the US. They started chatting in the game, then on Skype, and then Bro ended up moving to the UK to be with her. They’ve been married six years now and are really happy together. You never know what can happen.

  • EB says:

    Don’t know if the site still exists, but I met my wife on the site that used to advertize on TWoP, and we’re looking at 10 years married in November. Thanks, Sars!

  • Beth C. says:

    I’ve done the internet dating thing off and on for almost ten years now. Really be ready to jump in to the high churn rate or you’ll get frustrated really quick. I’m a “waiting for someone cool” type person too, but you aren’t going to find that cool person from their profile or a couple emails. Get ready to drink a lot of coffee if you really want to give this a go. That was the hardest adjustment for me when I started.

    Yes, take reasonable precautions. I set up a dedicated email with an address that didn’t contain my name or initials and the name I put to it was my first name/last initial so it was clear it was me but didn’t give too much away, especially because I have a rare enough name that if I gave you my full last name and the city I’m in it would be pretty easy to track me down. Other than that, though, yeah, I used my real first name. I didn’t give anyone my phone number until I met them in person, especially now with smartphones email is just as easy until you’re a bit more sure of someone. You only need one guy blowing up your phone for a week after a bad date to learn that one (He wasn’t creepy in a dangerous sense, just overly enthusiastic and slow to take the “it was nice to meet you, but it isn’t going to work.”).

    Always meet in public, ideally during the day or early evening. Let someone know what’s up and where you’re meeting, the usual thing. If you want, have them text you an hour in and make sure you’re cool. You can always pull the “let me just make sure it isn’t the babysitter,” when you check your phone. I also agree with the meet sooner rather than later. It really is incredible how much chemistry matters and nothing will show you that faster than having an awesome chat session with someone, meeting in a coffee shop and both of you going “huh, so…” I actually made a couple friends this way, because again- awesome to talk to, zero chemistry, but that isn’t really the goal here, you know?

    Definitely mention your kids in your profile, but you don’t need to give details and I really wouldn’t put up pictures. If you want you can say “two elementary school-aged kiddos” to give an idea of where they are in life. Dating someone with a two-year-old is different that a 15-year-old, but I would still say it’s totally up to your comfort level if you want to put that in the profile or just mention it when you start chatting. I never mention income, because it feels tacky to expect that kind of info from a stranger.

    Basically, try to remember that 98% of folks out there are decent people so go ahead and put your real self out there, just use reasonable precautions to protect yourself from the dicey 2%.

  • snarkalupagus says:

    I’ve been doing the match thing on and off for a few years now and have a balance of privacy and truth that works for me. On my previous go-round I had bought a used second phone and added it to my plan so I could text and call without randos getting my real-had-it-since-my-landline-days-don’t-wanna-change-it number; this time around I’ve just been more choosy about who I give that number to. I have a dedicated email address that reveals only my first name and last initial that I use for communication up until I’m comfortable giving out my number.

    Definitely meet in person as soon as you can. It’s easy to lose interest in an email volley, and the real-life spark is critical to the whole thing.

    And absolutely, positively, do not lie. You don’t have to reveal information that’s not relevant, such as income, but your kids are part of your life. I wouldn’t share photos of them either, but they’re integral to your identity (I would imagine), and acknowledging that weeds out the people who won’t welcome/accommodate it. Personally, I immediately DQ any man who commits that lie of omission–my profile even states that I wouldn’t want to be with a man who’s not devoted to his kids. Just because I never had them doesn’t mean I don’t get and don’t value what being a parent means.

    I’m 46 and never married and get questions about why. The men whose company I tend to enjoy the most are the ones who understand why I won’t just fib and say that I’m divorced (and who aren’t put off by the answer…no real reason, had some great relationships with great guys who have become great husbands to other women). Who wants to start a relationship based on a lie–even a little one?

    Lastly, don’t take it personally. The best advice I’ve ever gotten about online dating came right from this site–it is all about throughput. Online dating gives you the opportunity to meet people you wouldn’t run into any other way, and you can meet as few or as many as you can handle. Don’t get discouraged by low returns–it’s a big world out there full of lots of people, and the odds are that you’ll be uninterested in most, connect initially with some, lose interest in most of the some (and vice versa), and hit it off with a few. Keep the pipeline full and see what happens.

    Good luck, and have fun.

  • KarenS says:

    EB – met my spouse through that same TWoP-linked site! He got to it through the Onion. 11 years together this fall. Those were the days – almost no on-line photos – digital cameras still used the 3.5 inch floppy. I can’t really speak to the whole online dating thing because he was the only one who responded to my profile. I was adamant about no smokers. He was adamant about no Geminis. We met for coffee at a neutral site. Made some compromises – well, on his part he eventually quit smoking. I can’t really do anything about the Gemini-ism. But, very happy.

  • bobbe says:

    My sister-in-law was on OKCupid for a while, and one day someone new messaged her the single word “ho”, which she ignored (of course). About an hour later he wrote back “OMG I meant to write HI that was just a typo I’m so sorry”. No point, just…. don’t do that. :)

  • Liz says:

    Sars is on the money. I have done a lot of online dating, and my one hard and fast rule now is that I won’t go more than a few email/text exchanges without insisting on a face-to-face. Early on I spent from several weeks to several months chatting with someone online, quite enjoyably, only to meet them in person and find we had less than no chemistry in real life. There are also quite a few guys out there who seem to want nothing more than someone to text/sext with–weed those guys out fast by insisting on meeting.

  • JynnanTonnyx says:

    One sneaky tip for OKCupid:

    For their survey questions, you generally can’t view another person’s answers unless you’ve made your own answer public. This can be annoying for sex-related questions. I don’t like to publicize my sexual preferences like that because it really encourages OKDouchebags to perv on me, but sometimes you really want to know what a guy’s into in bed and it’s too early to non-awkwardly ask.

    So, make a generic fake profile (“[girlname]+[randomnumber]” works well) and BS some public answers to those sex questions. Then, you can use your dummy profile to snoop on a guy’s answers.

    I did this with the guy who’s now my live-in boyfriend (he found it amusing). Let’s just say that his answers were, uh, quite suitable. :)

  • Meg says:

    I met my husband via OKCupid, too. We went out for our first date after a handful of emails; it was two days after the 2008 Obama election, which is germane only in that we both discovered we were nerds of the Democrat kind, so that was a nice accidental screener. We’ve been married 3 years.

    Truthfully, he was my first and only date off a dating site. So I’m a bit of an outlier for this comment thread.

    That said, I also had two previous serious relationships that arose off friend-arranged blind dates, in addition to a number of “you’re very nice, but I just feel no spark” arranged dates, which really isn’t all that different from the online game, if you think about it. I’m willing to give someone a shot (and vice versa) as long as I feel safe.

    So yeah: I agree that meeting in-person early is important. Public place, people knowing where you are and who you are with, etc. I did use a different email address for OKCupid, too.

    Definitely tell about your kids in the profile. My friend, a single mom of a toddler, finally decided to get back on the dating horse via eHarmony, and she was brutally upfront with her responsibilities to her kid and her job. In other news, she’s getting married in a few months to a man who ended up moving towns to be with her.

    If anything, like people have mentioned, having a kid can be a BIG screener. In a great way.

    I actually didn’t put much info up in my profile, but I was wishy-washy about even creating a profile in the first place (my friends were pressuring me because they missed my dating stories…), so I put as little work into the exercise as possible initially.

    Good luck!

  • Amanduh says:

    I met my husband through (married 5+ years and still deliriously happy). I agree with pretty much all of the privacy/safety advice stated earlier. I also think it’s important to be honest about yourself in all ways. I’m overweight and I unashamedly like video games and Star Trek. I put that in my description of myself. I’m sure it turned off a lot of guys and made them skip over me; but it drew the attention of my now-husband, who was more interested in finding a spouse with similar interests than in acquiring size-3-wearing arm candy.

    I’d encourage you to try out online dating simply because you described yourself as “introverted”. We’re both introverted computer geeks who turned to online dating because we’re extremely uncomfortable in large gatherings. As my husband says, “If you’re looking for women who agree with you that the most fun Saturday night activity is sitting at home watching MST3K DVDs, you’ll never meet them at a bar…because they’re all at home watching MST3K DVDs.” You may not be as extremely introverted as us. However I can say it was a lot less stressful to have that first contact with guys online via email, from the privacy and quiet of my living room, instead of in a crowded space where you have to shout to be heard.

  • Bea says:

    I met my husband on eHarmony. We’ve been together almost four years, married almost one. He is great, we are great, etc.

    I would agree with everyone above and say that you should. Not. Lie. You don’t have to put pictures of your kids on your profile, but you should absolutely mention their existence. I don’t think eHarmony posts your last name, I think it displays your first name and last initial. There were some weirdos, but I closed them out and they didn’t bother me.

    I would absolutely recommend online dating, especially if you’re shy or having trouble meeting people. I was both. When I went on my first date with my husband, I had a little card with his name and phone number that I left on my bulletin board. (Of course, I forgot to take it down and when he came over for the first time, he was like, “…”) I had my best friend text me partway through the date to check in and also provide me with an excuse if I needed to bail. I had a really good experience with it. And if you hate it, you can always close down your profile, no harm, no foul. And even try a different company or whatever. Good luck!

  • Anne says:

    I met my current year-in relationship dude on OKC, and i am 39 with a teenager. You absolutely should mention anything about yourself that might be a dealbreaker online, which includes kids, just as you would expect the same from the other person.

    I love the internet dating thing for letting each person establish their own baseline of Beyond This I Shall Not Venture and fairly enough, kids are on that list for some people. Super young kids were on that list for my boyfriend, for example.

    High churn rate advice is the best advice though. I am very glad that I had the attitude going in that: I am looking for someone who wants ME, and I am not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and that is more than okay. Took me two years and fifty first dates. Of course tell that to my delightful boyfriend, who contacted one person.

    (that all said, god no, leave off your last name, use a 2nd email address, and no pics of your kids.)

  • Agent Dater says:

    Hi! This is the LW. Thank you all so much for sharing your experiences. All of this has been so, so helpful. I think I have had a mental block against taking the plunge because I was so hung up on the how-to details. (My mother’s contstant hounding to try it might have contributed to the mental block a little as well.) I especially appreciate all of you who are parents (or new step-parents or children of dating parents) who wrote in. I didn’t want to lie about having children to get more dates, I just was having trouble deciding where the line was between being open about myself and guarding the kiddos from the weirdos. So thank you, thank you. As usual, Sars and the Nation are just the best. Setting up a profile is on my to-do list for this weekend. Here’s to getting out there.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Amanduh, I totes love your husband from afar. See y’all at the Godzilla Rifftrax!

  • Megan says:

    You’ll do great. Good luck meeting the right person (and having mildly pleasant encounters with not-the-right-people).

    I am so excited that some of my earlier advice was helpful (I am pretty sure that I am (one of) the originator(s) of “throughput”). I did meet my partner on Craigslist and we are very happy.

    A couple more thoughts:

    In a smaller city (<250,000 people), the same pool of people is looking at all the major dating sites. People had strong opinions about the type of person on each dating site, but after spending enough time, I saw the same faces on all the sites. So I wouldn't get too hung up on which site you use.

    My partner tried dating a few women before me (3 years ago). He noticed about a year ago that every single woman he had encountered back then is now married or otherwise committed to someone. At least for him, everyone he knows who used the process did eventually find someone. I went to really surprising effort; he didn't. But in the long run, enough throughput does work.

  • Sarahnova says:

    Good luck, LW!

    I met my husband on Mighty Big TV, back in the day, and am currently gestating a little MBTV/TWoP baby. :)

  • Eliza says:

    I’ve been on OKCupid for two and a half years and had a wonderful experience. (Some bad dates, sure, but that’s to be expected; and a few of them were funny.)

    I do use a dedicated email that doesn’t include any part of my name, and when I was living in a smaller city, I also signed my messages E. instead of Eliza. I also made a Google phone number (which forwards to my actual phone) and give that out as my number so that I can get texts if someone was running late to a first date but they won’t have my permanent number if I never wanted to see them again; but mostly I only bother with this because googling my permanent phone number pulls up my name. I also use dating profile pictures that I don’t use for anything else, including facebook, so that reverse-searching them doesn’t pull up my name either.

    I don’t actually think that this is necessary for most women. My profile is up-front about wanting to meet people for, among other things, casual sex, and also up-front about feminism; that combination does tend to attract some hostile comments on occasion, and I like the security of knowing those people can’t figure out who I am.

    But most importantly, none of these safety/privacy measures misrepresents who I am or what I’m looking for, or gets in the way of meeting people to see if I like them in person.

  • Jules says:

    Just chiming in to agree with Sars. I met my wonderful husband on eHarmony in 2010 and last week we had our 3rd wedding anniversary. I would never have met him anywhere else.
    I agree that lying is bad, however, sometimes the dating sites force you into square boxes that you are too round for. I am not a religious person, which is not allowed on eHarmony, or at least it wasn’t four years ago. I don’t remember the exact phrasing, but on eHarmony I had to claim to be “spiritual, not religious”, their lowest check-box of religiosity. If I chose “none of the above” (because I didn’t know what they meant by spiritual), the site would claim I had no matches and send me packing. Same thing happened with a couple of my non-religious friends. No doubt this has turned some people away from the site, but I hadn’t had much luck with and the free sites I tried mostly yielded the “hey, baby u look gr8” types mentioned by Kate above. So I did a different profile, and made it exactly the same, except checked that spiritual box. Voila, dozens of matches! One of whom was my darling man. We are 100% in sync on the religion, too.

  • Margaret says:

    Met my boyfriend of three years now through OKCupid after tipping my toe in & out of online dating as and when I moved. Just one brief note about the whole truth line….I had what now seems like an obvious realization that if I talked about what I did for a living, it meant that I kept meeting people who worked in the same industry. And my nationality tipped them off to that. So I omitted both my nationality and my job from my profile. I was upfront about why I did it; my profile contained a message in the work session about my desire to not focus on it. And I met a ton of guys from all sorts of different industries, which is finally what cracked it for me I think; they liked everything else about me. I did end up with a couple of guys who when they found out the truth, decided I wasn’t for them, and only one jerk. But now I’m a happy American banker living in London dating an aspiring writer techie, and it makes all the sense to the both of us.

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