Online Valentine

One daring dater braves the Internet to find his match. Could it be just a click away?

February 04, 2005|By Ben Bernier | Ben Bernier,Special to Baltimoresun.com

A few months ago, I found myself suddenly single. I was dumped. And to add insult to injury, the last time I dated, original episodes of "Seinfeld" were still being aired.

Not knowing where to turn or what to do, I took the advice of a friend and looked into online dating. I was amazed at how many dating sites are out there: Match, AmericanSingles, True, eHarmony ... the list is endless. Most of the sites have the same general requirements: post your picture, write a blurb about yourself and who you want to meet, mention a few likes and dislikes, and voila, you're a swinging Internet single.

A Yahoo! search for "online dating" returned 16,300,000 results. For me, the first site that came up was Match.com. The organization's boast that it offers "Millions of possibilities to meet your match," appealed to me. These odds seemed promising.

Once I got to the site, the agony began. The process to become a database dater has four steps: make a profile, add photos, subscribe to the service and start "winking" and sending e-mails to eligible women (or men, whichever the case may be).

Creating the profile comes first and takes the longest time. I wanted to sound suave and alluring, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was the world's biggest dork for resorting to using the Internet to find a date. After much internal debate, I decided to be completely honest. I wrote that I'm a rich, handsome man who looks like a mix of Brad Pitt and Jude Law.

After finishing my profile I moved on to submitting a photo. This put a serious kink in the Brad/Jude plan. If I must come clean, I don't really look very much like either. I went back to Step One and tweaked for more truth: Tom Green and I look a lot alike. If you remember the former Mr. Drew Barrymore, you also remember that he was no Brad or Jude.

Technically speaking, inserting a photo on the site is very simple. Picking which photos to insert, on the other hand, has been the cause of many a Ben & Jerry's binge. As a rule, I don't normally appear in pictures -- the camera usually catches me making a face similar to that of a baby with gas. After some more flip-flopping, I managed to find a few photos that I felt comfortable putting online.

All right, I made it through the first two steps and I've lost my self-esteem and gained an ulcer. Isn't this fun? The next step is subscribing to the Match service. As I'm giving up my $24.95 for the month for all this excitement, I begin to wonder if I shouldn't just stay single, or meet a girl the old-fashioned way -- drunk and in a club.

I finally arrive at the final step, the Promised Land. I now get to look at the millions of beautiful women who are clamoring for the right to go out with me. I enter my search criteria into the Match search engine (i.e. ladies with a pulse, preferably) and I get 255 returns. Not quite the millions I had expected, but I'm only looking for one. The odds are still good.

I narrow down my choices using the search engine's advanced features. This takes my potential pool of dates down to 75. Once I realize that some of the girls have not been online in two or more weeks, the number falls to 50.

With the final 50 girls, I start going through pictures. I pick out the ones I like and start sending e-mails. To date, I've sent 25 e-mails. In a month, I received five responses. One of these was from an out-of-towner who wanted to know which clubs were good. It's nice to know that I'm just a glorified yellow pages directory.

I did manage to land a few dates through Match. My experiences were never completely awful, but they were definitely awkward and weird. Most people -- from what I can tell -- tend to put exceptionally flattering pictures of themselves online, giving others a misguided idea of what they truly look like. While I'll confess that I put some of my better photos up, I can at least say that my pictures were a) taken recently, b) actual pictures of me and c) not Glamour Shots.

People also tend to hold back on disclosing relevant personal information until you're stuck in a social setting where it would be considered impolite to get up and run away. Some charming conversation starters included, "My last boyfriend used to beat me" and "My drug problem is clearing up nicely."

Nothing tops one of my friend's experiences, though. She met a guy through Match and they decided to date. This particular gentleman, being debonair, took her to McDonald's for their first meal together. Once they arrived at the restaurant, he informed her that he had forgotten his money and he was just going to watch her eat. We do live in Charm City, huh? The most unbelievable part of the whole situation is that this guy was hurt that she didn't want to go on a second date! I guess the prospect of having to pay for her own Taco Bell just overwhelmed her.

What's the bottom line? Online dating is not for everyone. I have heard of success stories (they're pasted all over dating companies' Web sites) and I know a girl who met her fiance online.

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