Monday, December 31, 2018

That time I tried online dating

The short version
This is the story of my New Year’s Eve a few years ago.  With the help of a very kind friend I overcame years of excuses and fears and finally joined Ok Cupid.

My age at the time: 37
How long I did it: one month
Number of people who contacted me in that time: 200
Number of those that I interacted with: 5
Number of those that I met IRL: 1

The long version
I remember back when online dating got started.  There was a lot of stigma, a lot of tales about all of those creeps online, and quite a few people that I knew IRL who had tried it and liked it.  And that little voice in my head that said, “This.  This is for me.”  I thought about trying it many times, but I always came up with an excuse not do it just yet.

Finally I reached a point in my life where I was open to not being single anymore.  The game plan: I would try online dating with an open mind and talk to as many guys as I could and meet at least 25 of them IRL…if by then I hadn’t met my match I would give up on the online thing.  But I still couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger.  It was too scary to do on my own.

One day my work girlfriends and I were talking about our love lives.  They were both online veterans.  One girl had met someone but it didn’t work out and she was still nursing a broken heart.  The other girl had just moved here from New York and was having a busy dating life.  She told us that online dating was a bust in New York, but here in our little corner of the world, it was hot.

The New York Girl, let’s call her NYG, told us that when she started online dating, she didn’t have a lot of luck.  She showed her profile to a friend, and the friend told NYG that her profile made her sound angry and bitter.  Her friend helped her rewrite her profile so that she came across online exactly the way she does in real life, a sweet and intelligent girl.  NYG offered to pay it forward to us and suggested that we all get together sometime and do an online night.

Our online night ended up being on New Year’s Eve.  Heartbreak girl didn’t make it, so it was just NYG and me.  We made pizza and chocolate covered strawberries, and then opened a bottle of champagne and started talking to men on the internet.

Setting Up A Profile
Here are the things that I have an opinion on and/or needed help from a friend to set up.

Picking a User Name: I was stumped.  Obviously it needed to be something clever and witty.  But what? 
NYG suggested name of first pet+street where I grew up.  Whiskers Williams didn’t seem quite right.  We settled on nickname + numbers to pad it out.  Kate777 was taken but Kate7777 was available.
Pictures: I would have stressed for a million years to get the perfect collection of selfies.  NYG took care of business by snapping a few photos with her phone.  They were not the best pictures ever, but they were good enough to make 200 people to say hi.
Body Type:  I’m 5’5” and was and still am in the high 130’s, that’s average right?  This is the value of having an honest girlfriend to ask.  NYG guided me to select athletic as my body type.
Income: I have an opinion about this one…uh uh.  It’s no one’s business.  And it was a turnoff when guys included it in their profiles.
Age: I have quite an opinion on this one as well.  OK Cupid asks you for your birth date when you join, and they use the date that you give them as the age on your profile.  From what I understand, it’s pretty common for folks to lie about their age online.

I’ll talk more about this in a minute, but once you meet someone online, you will do some heavy duty googling.  When I started googling my guy, his birthdate was everywhere online.  If it had been anything other than what he told me it was, it would have been a huge turnoff.  As for lying about my own age, the only guys that I wanted to date were guys who wanted to date a 37 year old.

Age Range: I’m attracted to men who are slightly but not too much older than me.  At some point I decided that I would never date anyone more than five years older than me.  But it felt too arbitrary to put 42 as the upper limit.  What if there was a great 43 year old out there? For the lower end, yeah I was open to dating someone a few years younger…um 34?  Would I rule out a 33 year old?   I ended up picking 29 to 45 as my age range…it stretched my comfort zone a bit without being too far out there.

Writing my profile: NYG showed me her profile and I took inspiration from that to write my own story in my own words.

Notifications: I don’t like interruptions, and was just a little bit scared about what would be out there, so I set things up to be completely separate from my everyday life.  I used my spam email account.  I never installed the app and only used the website.  OK Cupid didn’t come to me, I went to it.

We posted my profile and started to look at guys. NYG told me about the man that she was talking with on OK Cupid who she was meeting the next day.  Then we shut down the computer and headed to the TV to watch Mae West movies and Pawn Stars until late.

Logging on for the first time after setting up my profile: folks, I was terrified.  What if no one had responded to my profile?  What if a ton of people had?  Would they be a bunch of rude, creepy guys? 

January 1: eek, I couldn’t do it. Uh, I mean I was busy.  Terribly busy.  All day.
January 2: I held my breath and logged on. And breathed a sigh of relief.  50 messages…that was a very comfortable place between nothing and breaking the internet.

I started reading messages and looking at the profiles of the men who had sent them.  My game plan was to respond unless I had a compelling reason not to.  The only problem was that I wasn’t getting any buzz from the profiles.  No one bad, no one ugly, just nothing that was calling to me.

I had been at this for a good half hour and a sinking feeling took over.  There was just no one that I wanted to say hi to, let alone date.

I clicked on yet another message and looked at yet another profile and had a different reaction.  This guy wasn’t boring.  He was interesting.  I had the reaction, hey I’d like to meet this guy.  

Bouyed by one potential match, I read over the rest of the messages.  I found a second profile that I could honestly find nothing wrong with.

I deleted all of the other messages and focused on my two suitors…the nothing wrong with guy was also 37 and worked in finance.  Yep, that could work.  I sent him a quick note.

The hey I’d like to meet this guy…I had to think about this.  In the first place, he was 44, which was the edge of my comfort zone.  In the second place, he had kids (that’s all the info I had to go on, the checkbox “has kids”…quick background that I always knew that I didn’t want to have kids but I was always open to being a stepmom so you would think my reaction would have been yay but it was huh this is real).  I liked everything else a whole lot.  The internet said we were 80% compatible.  I wrote back and logged out for the night.

The next day I had something like 20 new messages including my two suitors.  The hey I’d like to meet this guy wrote a nice message, told me a bit more about himself and asked me questions.  I wrote back.  The nothing wrong with guy…wrote a really boring message that told me nothing about him and sought no info on me.  I moved on to looking at the new messages.

And got overwhelmed.  There was nothing wrong with any of these guys, there was just nothing that clicked for me.  I shut down the computer for the night.

The next night I couldn’t bring myself to log in.  The hey guy wasn’t enough of a lure to counteract all of the meh that I was feeling.  And that night turned into another night and an entire week passed and I hadn’t logged on.

I chilled out and gave it another try.  I had a few more messages and out of those there was another guy who there was nothing wrong with so I wrote to him.  The hey guy had answered my previous message the day after I sent it.  And it was a great response.  I immediately regretted ducking out for a week.  I was sure that someone else would have snapped him up while I was playing chicken and that it was too late to write back now.

Or was it?  What did I have to lose?  So I answered, explaining that I was new to the online thing and had gotten overwhelmed and had to take a week off.

The next night: he wrote back that he knew a few things about being overwhelmed by online dating…and asked what I was doing that weekend.  Eee…I wrote that I didn’t have any plans and promptly turned off the computer.

Meeting IRL
That Saturday morning I brewed up coffee and delayed going to the computer.  A girlfriend texted and asked if I wanted to see a movie that night.   We made a plan and I went to the internet. 

Hey guy asked if I wanted to have dinner with him at a Mexican restaurant in his town.  Thing 1: if you haven’t figured this out by now, I was scared senseless.  Thing 2: I didn’t want to commit to sitting down to a meal with someone I didn’t know.  But the restaurant he named was a place that I had always wanted to try…I inhaled and exhaled a few times until I came to my senses because thing 3: I wanted to meet him.  I was already meeting my girlfriend at 7.  I had an errand that I needed to run in his town.  Why not meet him at 5 at this restaurant that I wanted to try anyway…with a built in end time, how bad could it be?  If he didn’t show up, I would lose nothing since I had to do my errand anyway, and if it turned out to be a bad date I wouldn't be there that long.  I mean, obviously my first date with a guy from the internet wasn’t going to lead to anything, it was just practice.  I said yes and put my security measures in place, which was texting his profile to my girlfriends.

I finished my errand and showed up at the restaurant a few minutes early.  It was an unseasonably warm, sunny January day.  I sat for a minute, and then checked Facebook.  And then Twitter.  And then LinkedIn.  A few people came in during that time.  To check my expectations, I told myself that either no one would show up or a 60 year old 400 pound man who lived in his parents’ basement would.  The clock ticked away to something like 5:03 PM.

A man approached the restaurant.  To this day I still remember vividly seeing him for the first time.  Yes, it was a mere mortal who looked just like his pictures online.  But the Man, the Myth, the Legend in three dimensions far exceeded his one dimensional profile.   The next two hours flew by.  Dating wasn’t scary.  It was fun.

Our second date was a quick meet up for drinks in my town, since between my grad school studies and his single parenting duties, that was all we had time for.  We talked about past relationships and his divorce.  He had his kids that weekend, so there would be no weekend date.  But we made plans for the following weekend.

I had a good feeling about this guy, and suddenly I had a good feeling about online dating.  I started to put in more of an effort and talk to more people.  I didn’t find any more matches in my time left in the online world, but I lost my scaredy cat attitude.

Background Checks
With two good dates under my belt, it was time to up the game.  Did I want a stranger knowing where I lived and would I be going to his house?  Was he in fact a great guy or was he a serial killer?  I turned to the internet for answers.

He had told me his name and his birthday.  I figured out the year from his profile.  He told me the general area where he lived and where he worked.  He told me that he had been divorced a year ago and had two sons.  Was any of this true?

The only way that I knew to check someone out on the internet besides google was the county property tax records.  Sure enough, a John Smith owed a residence in the neighborhood where my beau said he lived, and sure enough, the year before the property had transferred from Mr. and Mrs. John Smith to Mr. John Smith.

One of my work girlfriends (the heartbreak girl) had been a cop and suggested that I look at the municipal court public access site. I found a Mr. John Smith with a birth date and birth year that matched my guy.  There were three records listed for him:
·       From a year ago: the thing that I wanted to see, a divorce.  Our court system doesn’t tell you everyone’s private business, but they did list some supporting details that I was interested in, like that a child support order had been issued to the company where my beau said he worked.
·       From 10 years ago: a traffic violation.
·       From 20 years ago: criminal trespass.  Um, so yeah, that thing was not like the other things.  And there was a surprising amount of detail about it.  He plead no contest and the terms of his release were never to return to the Alexander Hotel in the nearby big city.  That’s a fairly common name around these parts, but offhand I couldn’t think of a hotel by that name.
I looked at the court records for a few nearby counties and didn’t turn up any matches on my guy.

So was I going to have someone who I didn’t know with a 20 year old criminal trespass conviction come to my house and I was I going to get in his car and go off into the night?  I wouldn’t fault anyone for saying no, but my spidey sense said yes. 

On date three I waited until we got settled in with our drinks and then asked him to ‘splain himself. My spidey sense had been on track.  The reason why I had never heard of the Alexander Hotel is that it was an abandoned building that had been demolished 20 years before…about a month after a group of college kids went in to explore it and got caught by some overzealous cops. 

In the meantime, he had been checking me out on the internet. He didn’t find an arrest record, which was a refreshing change.  A previous woman that he’d met online had a conviction for sex abuse of a minor. 

Leaving the Internet
With each passing date, the handsome stranger became less of a stranger.  A few weeks later he told me that he was going to shut down his profile.  I took the trust but verify approach…I was conveniently “busy” until the next night when I logged in to shut mine down.  Sure enough, when I went to my message board instead of his picture there was an avatar of a heart.  When I clicked on the heart I got a message that the profile was inactive.  And within a few seconds my profile became inactive as well. 

What happened to my single girl friends
The girl with a broken heart kept her broken heart for as long as I knew her.  Every once in a while when we would catch up on our love lives, she would talk wistfully about maybe trying online again someday.  NYG and I offered many times to fix up her profile but she never took us up on the offer.

NYG had her first date with her now husband on New Year’s Day, the day after helping me with my profile.

A few thoughts about online dating
I totally failed in my goal of meeting 25 guys IRL.  I’m still dating the first guy that I met.  Last year we had a date at City Hall.  For parties we bring out our story about the time I tried online dating and met a guy who turned out to be a convicted criminal trespasser.

If I had it to do all over again I would have tried online dating much sooner and with much more intensity.  I would have set up profiles on more than one site and taken the first move more often.  I’m not qualified to give anyone advice let alone dating advice, but seriously…just try it. Poll your girlfriends and you just might find your own NYG to hold your hand every step of the way.  I sure needed the help and her kindness changed my life.

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