Playing With Matches

by Jennifer Garstang September 27, 2012


By Jennifer Garstang

“I love lattes,” I said, nervously sipping my tall hazelnut beverage and admiring my tall, hazel-eyed date.

“Oh, I can’t drink them. I’m lactose intolerant,” he replied.

As we say at Passover, “Dayenu.” That would have been enough. Unfortunately, he didn’t stop there.

“If I have even a tiny bit of milk, I can’t leave my apartment for 10 minutes or it’ll be messy, let me tell you!” he said. And then, he told me, in enthusiastic and excruciating detail. I nodded politely in numb disbelief until his colorful and juicy story came to a close. A silent moment passed, and he took a sip of his tea.

“And then this other time,” he began, ”I accidentally drank, like, a gallon of milk…”

Thus ended my first date through an online dating service.

As I mentioned last month, online dating has everything that goes with meeting potential romantic partners — from the sweeties to the creepers — but at the speed of light and in mass quantities. Once you set up a profile, your chosen dating site will almost instantly begin showing you potential matches. After going on 15 to 20 dates ranging from nice but no connection to “Holy schnitzel! My date is having a vodka-induced nervous breakdown outside the movie theater,” I realized that, as with regular dating, you have to sift through a lot of frogs (or in my case, frogs, toads and mutant amphibian slime-monsters from Chernobyl) to find a prince.

Fortunately, after much trial and error, I have a few tips that may make for smoother sailing on the ocean of the Internet:


1. Don’t ignore the warning signs

Unless a potential match has hired someone to write his or her profile (which was probably the case with Lactose Intolerant Man), the red flags that pop up won’t go away when you meet. That guy who talks about drinking with the boys every Friday night will drunk-text you five times in a week and only remember three of them. That gal who goes on about how sick of drama she is will assume you’re cheating on her if you forget your phone for a night.

If you read carefully, you can also have a good idea of your long-term prospects with a person before the first date. I’ve had some serious and semi-serious relationships with great guys that ended because of compatibility issues I’d noticed but ignored in their profiles.


2. Be picky

When I first started, I tried to respond to every message I received. But as a woman whose age, height and weight put her smack-dab in the middle of the search criteria for most men 18-38 (and an unfortunate number of men 39 and up), it became impossible to keep up with all incoming messages, “quick-matches” and “winks” that flooded my inbox. So, I came up with a system.

First of all, the guy has to match my basic criteria as far as age, religion, lifestyle choices, etc. After that, it needs to be clear he’s read my profile, which eliminates 80-90 percent of incoming messages, including the, “hi hw r u?” messages and the “I WILL HIRE U $$,$$$,$$$!!!” e-mails.

Next, what he chooses to say about my profile must tickle my fancy. For instance, “That’s cool that you like cats” would get deleted without a response, whereas the message that began with, “A cat person who owns rats, eh? Not sure if that qualifies as ‘ironic,’ but it’s certainly amusing!” got me to visit his profile.

When I check out a guy’s profile, if I like what I read, I will allow “three strikes,” i.e. things that aren’t terrible but that give me a negative impression. These can include not using capital letters, a shirtless picture as the main profile shot, egregious and regular spelling and/or grammar errors (though after a couple mortifying realizations that I’d mixed up “your” and “you’re,” I’ve been a lot more forgiving), and excessive swearing.

Tough system, yes. But I take pride in the fact that, in my most recent foray back into online dating a few months back, I responded to only ONE of the 300 messages I received (the guy who made the “cat person who owns rats” comment), and two months later, we’re still seeing each other.


3. If you’re interested, do some schlepping and meet in person ASAP

Even if the person you’re messaging seems like “the one,” you really need to meet and get to know each other before getting in too deep. Email is no substitute for in-person interaction, and many people misrepresent themselves on dating sites. Have lunch, have dinner, have coffee. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re meeting them face to face…in a public place… to which you drive in separate cars…after telling a friend or relative exactly where you’ll be. After all, this is online dating, and the Internet was not made so people could sit at home being antisocial!


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