Mac Musings

Online Personals: Dating for the Internet Generation

Daniel Knight - 2005.09.21

It's a whole new world when you start dating in your mid-40s after a 23-year marriage. Where do you meet women when you work on the Internet?

Why, with online dating services. of course!

There are a lot of personals services on the Internet, and I've tried severa; of them. Some are better than others, but they all share some things in common.

Try Before You Buy

Each of the services I've tried lets you create an online profile without having to sign up for the service. You can post your photo, set your search factors, and write about yourself and what you're looking for in a partner. You can find matches on most services, and receive them from eHarmony, which works a bit differently from most.

A lot of the services will even let you send an "I'm interested" message, but none of them will let you really communicate until you become a paid subscriber. It probably won't take long before you find someone who intrigues you enough that you're willing to pay $15 to $50 for a single month - or go for the discounted annual rates, which range from $100 to $250.

How It Works

On most services, the first thing you have to do is come up with an ID. You may be able to change this in the future, but give it some serious thought. Your ID should say something about who you are and what you want people to know about you. Mine is No James Bond, because I want to stress that I am not a player.

You might run into IDs such as young at heart, big blue eyes, intelligent beautiful babe, cute and cuddly, curlyhead, sociable mom, keep it real, twice shy, pretty smart, reality chick, blue angel - all adapted from ones I've seen recently. Some services let you include your name as part of your ID, and other don't.

The other really important thing is your tagline or teaser, the headline that people see at the top of your profile. Mine used to be "Turn Up the Radio and Sing Along," but I'm having more luck with "Attentive Dan Seeks Appreciative Ann" these days. Here are some current ones:

You get the idea. Some are obviously looking for a soulmate, others a good time, still others for "friendship and let's see what develops." Your tagline is probably the second most important thing.

Picture Me

The most important thing is a photograph. Most of the services let you search for all profiles or just ones with photos, and photo-only searches are popular. Even with an inclusive search, it's the photos that grab your eye. If you don't post a photo, don't expect much response.

Photos range all over the place. Some are studio portraits, others are fuzzy bits taken from group photos. Some have great lighting, others are so backlit or overexposed that you can't really make out the face. Good focus, good lighting, and a pleasant smile will all help you get noticed.

Writer's Block

Filling in the basic personal information is easy - you know whether you smoke, how much you drink, how much you earn, your height, your age, and more. There is a lot of fudging about body type, to the point where fit means not overweight, average assumes an overweight population, and "a few extra pounds" usually means a lot of extra pounds.

The hard part comes in writing your profile. Think long and hard about what you want to say, what you don't want to say, how you want to say it, and what to say first. For instance, if "I have 4 kids" is the first thing I read, I know that kids are a priority for this woman. Listing age or height in the first line isn't usually helpful - but in the case of a 6'3" woman nearby, it's going to be a big factor and is part of her headline.

Your profile will usually tell people how tall you are, how old you are, your perceived body type, hair color, eye color, ethnicity, religion, and a lot more. These are fields people search on, so if your profile has made their search, they can assume you don't smoke, aren't morbidly obese, don't have blue Marge Simpson hair, etc.

In writing my profile, I just started, edited, rewrote, rearranged, edited some more, posted it, reflected on it, came back later and made some more changes. Your profile can be a work in progress - and it should be if it's not attracting interest or attracting the wrong kind of interest.

Don't make it too long or too short. Give people a sense of who you are, but also pique their curiosity. If you tell them everything, what is left to ask?

I removed two paragraphs from mine earlier this week, and I may have struck gold yesterday. Time will tell, but people don't need to know about the "bird's nest" custody situation from the get go - it just sounds weird having the kids live at the family home while Mom and Dad take turns moving out for a week or two.

The same goes for writing about your potential partner. Don't paint too broad a picture or one that's too narrow. And try to be conversational - something I try to do in all my writing.

Searching for Mr or Ms Right

Once you have your photo and profile posted, the fun begins. You make it public so others can find you, and then you look for matches. You can do a generic search, say within 100 miles of your home ZIP code. Or you can create a custom search, which includes your smoking preference, which ethnic groups you find attractive, what marital status you want him/her to have (some services include "married but looking" as an option), income level, number of kids, etc.

You can cast a very broad net and get hundreds of results, or you can focus like a laser and maybe just find a few dozen potential matches. Best of all, you can revise and save your custom search to be more inclusive or more specific.

And that's when they've got you. You find a man or woman who interests you, wonder if it's worth the price, look at the different subscription options, pull out your credit card, and make your move.

Good luck in your search. In the days ahead, I will look at some of the online services I've tried.