Meet me in cyberspace

Looking for a dream date? A soul mate? A one-night hookup? Welcome to the weird, wide world of Internet dating

Illustration By Bill Carman

Intellectualredneckgirl71: Short, sarcastic and sweet. Kinda soft, legs like a biker, lots of energy but not the manic kind. I laugh equally hard at English-major jokes and South Park. You: smart, creative, not too egotistical. How you’re built is not that important. Sweetness counts.

I haven’t posted that personals ad yet. I have yet to be convinced about the merits of online dating. If I launch my stats into cyberspace, will some creep end up stalking me? Will 27 Mr. Wrongs end up with my e-mail address? The prospect of finding someone online sounds so impossibly needle-in-a-haystack.

My friend Fly_me_to_the_moon, a 35-year-old male, says cyberspace is just like public space, only bigger. And faster. He states the obvious advantage of using the Internet to find a date: “It’s a) not a bar and b) not work.

“Where the hell else are you going to meet people? After college, it gets progressively more difficult with every passing year,” he adds.

Convincing point, but how much can you ascertain about someone from a few e-mails?

Fly_me_to_the_moon argues, “There’s an immediacy to online communication. You can tell right away if people can spell or how eloquent they are. Besides, how much can you learn about what someone’s really like if you run into them late at night at a bar after three or four drinks? Probably even less.”

True, but if you smile at me at a bar, I know what to do. If you send me an e-wink or a chat request, how can I tell if you’re someone I want to talk to or not? The laws of attraction are hard to quantify.

But for those who know what they’re looking for, it turns out the Internet is a good place to start.

JustSex, a 27-year-old female, knew exactly what she wanted. She posted: “In town late week for work. Would love some hot casual sex … “ She received 49 replies, responded to five men and invited one to her hotel room. Back in the dark ages, when this sort of thing was done by telephone, narrowing down the field might’ve taken months. JustSex got it done in four hours.

CallmeLouise, 45, had a taller order. She was looking for a long-term relationship.

“My profile was short but specific,” she says. “I mentioned my musical, art and literary tastes, which are hugely important to me, and my general approach to life. A sense of humor, for example, is fucking mandatory.”

Her ad led to 22 responses. She narrowed her search down to 10 phone conversations, then to six dinner dates. No sparks flew, but, she says, “All in all, it was a good way to get a cross-sampling of simpatico eligible humans.”

A couple of weeks later, MusicBizGuy answered her ad. They e-mailed. They met. They clicked. CallmeLouise and MusicBizGuy have been together for four years, married for two.

Admittedly, both these success stories come from women. Sorry, guys, the ratio of men to women surfing the date-o-sphere is not in your favor. Many men report having met their dream girls online, but most say they pursued a few mismatches before Lady Luck finally cracked a smile. (As for men who’ve found the one-night stand of their dreams, well, they must be out there somewhere. I placed ads, sent e-mails and questioned many, searching for reports of victory, but the only ones who claimed it was easy to find casual sex were women.)

When NiceguysR_ok24 logged onto Yahoo Personals, where the search engine allows potential daters to be quite specific about which traits they like in a mate, his search generated a list of 12 matches. I searched on the same site, specifying the same criteria in the same zip code. My list suggested 176 matches. (The very first of whom was my ex, a testament not only to the online gender divide, but also to the supreme precision of Yahoo Personals’ search capabilities.)

Not everything necessarily comes up roses just because you’re a woman, though. Quantity is practically guaranteed, but quality might be a different story. Runnerbabe, a fit, vivacious 46-year-old, was looking for a long-term relationship. After more than six months of enjoying herself on dates but not finding “the one,” she got tired of playing the electronic field.

“After bachelor No. 14, I gave up,” Runnerbabe says.

Just like in the real world, you’ve got to know where to go to find what you want in cyberspace. In the same sense that a chance encounter at the racquetball club might vary in tone from bumping into your soul mate at a punk bar, there’s a different vibe to the crowd on (formerly the industry standard, now sharing the limelight with clever competitors) than on, which calls itself the world’s largest bondage, sado-masochism and alternative lifestyle personals site.

There are countless dating sites, offering various levels of matchmaking assistance, from newspaper-type classifieds, where you simply write a few words and post them, to detailed personality assessments. There are sites targeted toward whatever you may be looking for, whether it’s marriage (, “fun Jewish singles” (, men or women in uniform ( or non-drinkers (

Some sites’ services are free; some ( filter off the riff-raff by targeting upscale clients, charging up to $1,100 a year and guaranteeing results. Most dating sites allow users to post a profile and conduct basic searches for free, then require a subscription fee (from about $10 a month up) for more access, such as contact information.

If the mere mention of “contact information” makes you nervous, rest assured; any legitimate dating site has figured out a way to keep its users’ names and e-mail addresses out of circulation. Date-seekers are encouraged to use nicknames, and e-mail addresses are hidden from public view.

There’s always the concern in cyberspace that people aren’t who they say they are. But that possibility exists out on the street too (or at the racquetball club, or the punk bar). Just as in any dating situation, a dose of common sense goes a long way. Here’s what the experts from the top sites advise:

• Guard your personal information. Turn off your signature file. Don’t give anyone your phone number until you’re comfortable doing so. If someone pressures you for info too soon, tell them to forget it.

• Be on the lookout for fake ads. Vague profiles promising easy sex are probably decoys that link to porn sites. If you find one, report it to the site manager. Usually, poseurs are promptly banned.

• Request a photo. Request more photos. Refusal to send photos is a major red flag signaling a glitch in some creep’s identity cover-up plan.

• Use your gray matter the same way you would dating anywhere else. If something about a person makes you uncomfortable, you’re not obligated to keep corresponding, so stop. If you set up a meeting in public, talk on the phone first. There are a lot of personality clues in someone’s voice. And, if you meet in person, meet in a place that’s easy to leave.

OK, so the similarities between online dating and offline dating are adding up. The excitement factor and the safety level are about the same online as they are offline. And the odds of success seem better in the virtual world. Maybe cyberspace really is replacing public space.

I’m pretty well sold on the idea of meeting people online. But I still haven’t posted that profile. Maybe I just don’t feel like dating. I might keep an eye out for interesting characters on my favorite sites though, just in case.

As my friend RandXX puts it, “It’s like virtual people watching.”