The Divorced Mom's Guide to Online Dating

Three years after my marriage ended, I was finally ready to date again. But with two small kids and a demanding job, how would I find time to meet men? The solution seemed simple: Go online. The reality? Keep reading.
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Giving it a Try

I live in a big city -- Washington, D.C. -- but the world I actually inhabit feels small, two linked microcosms of home and office. My ex-husband and I work at the same company, so meeting someone on the job is a long shot. At the end of my workday, I rush home to relieve the babysitter and take care of my two young children. I'm too old and too busy to hang out in bars, and I'm not about to take up golf, hunting, or skydiving just to meet a man. "Go online," says my divorced friend Amy, as though she's giving me a tip on where to find Tory Burch boots at a discount.

I'm conflicted. On one hand, I'll have plenty of company: Forty million Americans are looking for love online, and 17 percent of U.S. marriages last year originated there, according to research. Those have to be better odds than sitting on the couch watching the Disney Channel. On the other hand, I'll have to swallow my pride. Somehow, mating via computer feels like a last resort. Isn't it bad enough that Prince Charming Number One defected? Shouldn't my good sportsmanship be rewarded with the effortless appearance of Prince Charming 2.0?

Evidently not. So my impatience, Amy, and a bottle of good cabernet gang up on me, and I take the plunge. There's no shortage of dating sites. One of the largest, eHarmony, actively sets you up with people according to a scientific formula based on a member's core values. That sounds a bit too Big Brotherish for me. I settle on one of the other large sites, Match.com, largely because that's where Amy met her boyfriend, Bill. "Let's write your profile," she says. "Think of it as an infomercial for yourself." She pushes the keyboard toward me and tops off my wineglass.

I type in my basic stats and answer questions about interests, exercise habits, and favorite things. I decide to speak from the heart. "I'm riding my bike to work today, talking to you in my head," I write. "Here's my list of Top 10 things you should know about me." Over my shoulder, Amy reads aloud. "'One: Everyone meets for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. The fun is figuring out which.' Good! That shows you're spiritual." "And not desperate," I add. "A date can just be about having a good time." "'Two. Do you cook? I find that sexy. There's nothing better than having my children (5 and 7) tucked in their beds while I pour the wine and you play Grill Master.'" "In other words, dude, I've got two kids," I say. "And I'm not cooking you dinner."

We laugh. Amy reads on, ending with my grand finale. "'Ten. So here's the thing. This is my first foray into online dating. I've been single for three years, and the pain of my divorce has finally lifted. I'm a passionate person, not perfect by any means, but I have a Go Big or Go Home attitude about life. If you are still reading this, then...'" We set my criteria filters to eliminate men who live beyond a 15-mile radius of me, smoke, exceed my age (47) by more than 15 years, and are shorter than my 5-foot-10. I upload a head shot, three photos of me on trips with friends, and one with my dad. For security reasons, profiles use pseudonyms. "Melina means honey," I say. "How about Honeybee?" "Perfect," Amy says, hitting submit. "Let the games begin."

The next day I receive an e-mail from MultipleOMan. "Welcome to Match!" he says. "You're hot, but you're outta of my league, so I'm taking a pass." He's cute in his baseball cap. "You're e-mailing to reject me? And how can 'MultipleOMan' and 'out of my league' be in the same message?" I respond. We banter, make friends. And boy, do I need a friend. I'm clueless. Every day the site pairs me up with five people, and I'm supposed to indicate whether I'm interested. I can also search for men who fit my criteria and e-mail them or "wink" to test the waters. "MultipleOMan, how do I work this thing?" I ask. "Respond to matches of the day, wink, or what?" "Do nothing," he says. "Your in-box will fill up, I promise."

I'm skeptical, but he's right. Profiles steadily trickle in. A little becomes a lot -- perhaps because I'm the new kid on the block -- and within a week I get 1,000 clicks on my profile and 30 e-mails asking me out. Match sends a pop-up directing me to reset my filters more stringently. "You got the pop-up!" says Amy. "That's flattering." I feel like I've won the slots for men! What's interesting is that most mention my Top Ten list. "I feel like you're talking to me," writes one. "You make me smile," says another. And the "Do you cook" query turns out to be a surprisingly concrete conversation starter. Not only do several men offer to make me dinner, but their responses also tell me a lot about them.

Amy checks out the pickings. "Would you want to kiss him?" she says, pointing at a would-be date who's 15 years older than me. "You've got to vet according to what matters most to you." I ponder this for a moment. "I'm looking for a smart, funny, kissable dad around my age who lives nearby," I announce. Bam, bam, bam, just like that Amy deep cleans my virtual boyfriend closet. We reset my criteria so the guys have to be younger, taller and local. That leaves six. I set up dates with all of them for when I return from a two-week vacation in India.

But after I arrive in Mumbai, I discover to my horror that my Match mail has been sending my out-of-town auto-reply with my real identity. Yikes! This is unsafe, a real Match no-no. Several suitors jump in to help. LetsDance, an IT specialist, actually calls my office to sort it out. I decide he deserves a personal thank-you. In the meantime, instead of soaking up the sights of India, I'm searching for Wi-Fi to e-mail HorseDad. Over the course of 10 days I experience an entire relationship -- including flirting, deep talks, huge fight, and ugly breakup -- with a total stranger. I realize I may be getting a little addicted to the sudden new attention.

Continued on page 2:  Real Date Dilemmas

 

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