Your Own Funny Valentine: Mr. Right Is on the Internet

Are you facing another shagless, dateless Valentine’s Day?

Good news! There’s somebody for everybody–even you–and they’re lurking out in cyberspace just waiting for you to electrify their portals. An online dating service could get you fixed up before the 14th, no problem. Match.com, for example: It’s a database, the mammoth proportions of which guarantee, if not a mate, then at least a date. Give it a whirl. Yes, you– bitter party of one ! Isolation is making you irate, and your bad vibes are keeping suitors away like a bad smell.

Membership in Match.com costs $24.95 per month, but I would recommend that you go ahead and sign up for a year at a rate of $99.95. It’s cheaper, and your “specialness” might take more than a month to meet its match. But before you log on, take a moment to read the following in-depth, hard-hitting facts that my investigation has unearthed; it may help you avoid dinners with trolls and serial chlamydia infection.

Special Report

With a current total of 1.34 million profiles and an average of 62,000 new member registrations per week, Match.com offers the kind of statistical probabilities that could get Quasimodo a date, were she not a fictional character. (Don’t hate me, but I have always thought of Victor Hugo’s masterful creation as a lesbian.) Since 1995, more than 520,000 members have resigned after finding the relationship they were seeking, and 1,100 of those successes led to marriage–or so claims the blustery press release.

A cursory surf of the current postings reveals no shortage of bubbly, optimistic potential: “Creative/MBA Seeks Perfect Date: Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Lunch in Newport, Dinner at CBGBS. Game?” … “Bambam Seeking Pebbles!!!!” … “Looking For a WB Girl” … “No Head Games Please!” and, enigmatically, “An Acquittal Is Not An Indictment.”

Still skeptical? Why don’t you swing by the Puck Building on Sunday, Feb. 11, where you can scrutinize 10 engaged couples who met on Match.com. (This event is free to Match.com members. If you don’t feel like joining yet, you can always hang around outside and scrutinize the arriving participants.) Starting around 10 p.m., the engaged couples will be competing in an ultra-dorky bridal Olympiad called the “Happily Ever After Game.” Events include “spewing champagne, diving into wedding cakes, twanging garters,” etc. The winning couple will receive a whopping $20,000 wedding package.

I recently pumped two of the competing couples–Krista (age 34) and Steve (35), and Christine (29) and Eric (34)–for the cyber secrets that made their Internet dating so successful. Here are my resulting dos and don’ts:

1. Do get a hobby or an interest, even if it’s clog dancing. Both couples said that their shared interests were the foundation for their initial correspondence and subsequent success. Krista and Steve love sports. Christine and Eric love music; he’s in a punk band called Squirrels From Hell and she’s a Deadhead who plays the flute. He bought her a Jethro Tull CD, et voilà !

2. Do add a picture to your profile. Krista’s response rate quadrupled after the addition of a lovely, and recent, vacation snap. “But not a swimsuit shot,” she warned. “It looks too desperate.” Christine advised using a photo where you don’t look overly fabulous; this trick guarantees that your liaison will start with a refreshing compliment, as in: “Oh, you look so much better than your photo.”

3. Don’t underestimate what it takes to write an effective profile. Krista and Steve attribute their union to the diligence of their profile writing and have each framed theirs. But don’t infuse your profile with too much blasé irony: “likes to watch Cops and buy undies at Kmart” will, for those who have never been lucky enough to meet you in person, make you sound unsavory and pathetic.

4. Do get organized. Successful Internet dating is like having a part-time clerical job.

5. Don’t be a “fem bottom.” Krista felt she was successful because she did her own searches: “Don’t just rely on the matches they send you.”

6. Don’t do dinner on the first date. You need to be able to skip out after 20 minutes if there is no groovy potential. Starbucks is great, but bars are better; nasty personality traits often emerge after a couple of Tio Pepes.

7. Don’t have your first date at some place where you know people. Krista and Steve went to the Raccoon Lodge, a Harley bar on 83rd and Amsterdam; Christine and Eric went to a place called Santa Fe in Tarrytown.

8. Don’t fornicate until medical histories have been exchanged. Think Elvis and Priscilla–it’s better to travel than to arrive, etc.…

After conducting in-depth Diane Sawyer-type interviews with these wholesome, cheery Match.com poster children, I was left with the distinct feeling that this was not the whole story. There must surely be a seedy (and more entertaining) underbelly to Internet dating. After all, what about the 4.5 million assorted oddballs, pervs, slappers and toupee-wearing gargoyles who have registered since Match.com started on April 21, 1995, and vanished–presumably relationshipless–back into cyberspace? I turned a piercing Sam Donaldson-esque (speaking of toupees) journalistic gaze in their direction. The following two case histories will hopefully alert you to the darker side of cyber romance.

Case Study No. 1: Gertrude

When she discovered Internet dating, attractive, intelligent, 30-year-old Gertrude was elated. “Wow! An instant date whenever you want it, and far fewer hideous people than I expected,” she said. In two years of active dating on various sites, Gertrude only met one dud: “Nice-looking, but so suicidally depressed I can’t believe he physically dragged his ass to a coffee shop.”

But gradually, over the next six months, things started to unravel. “It was not Match.com, it was me,” said Gertrude. “After a while, Internet dating starts to magnify your psychological shortcomings and hurl them back in your face.”

One of Gertrude’s problems was that, unconsciously, she had started to prolong the correspondence period. “For me, this was very dangerous. It reinforced my fear of commitment and my desire to stay in control,” said Gertrude. “Delaying the moment of truth allowed me to fantasize and project. When I finally caved and went on a date, I was always disappointed.” This was a wake-up call to self-aware Gertrude–but though she was determined to address these issues, her attempts to get her own house in order were always sidetracked. “Cyberdating is the ultimate distraction. There is always another date in the works. Mulling it all over with my therapist was a much less reinforcing activity than cracking open a bottle of Beaujolais with yet another good-looking guy.”

Poor Gertrude had tumbled down the rabbit hole into Cyberland, where the normal rules of life simply do not apply. “I got so used to dating zillions of men that going on four dates with the same guy felt like a claustrophobic marriage, and I would invariably bail,” she said.

Will she ever meet Mr. Right and get off this Valley of the Dolls merry-go-round? Shockingly, Gertie is still subject to the old prejudices about dating services. “If I meet someone and marry them, I know it will all seem bogus because we met through a dating service, even if it was electronic. Recently, I dated a guy I met at a party. I felt so elated to meet someone in the normal way.”

So why not quit and try to meet guys the old-fashioned way? “I can’t. I’ve medicated myself with e-mails and dates,” she said, “and now … I’m addicted.”

Case Study No. 2: Penelope

“In 1998, I got 4,000 hits in a three-month period,” says the gorgeous Penelope, who is possibly the world Internet-date record holder. She was operating on the theory that, by dating as many men as possible, she would be sure to encounter Monsieur Droit. “Yes, it was exhausting, but you know what they say: ‘Throw enough shit against the wall,’ etc., etc.”

For the first year, good-hearted, come-all-ye Penelope never insisted on a photo: “I didn’t want to seem superficial.” That was until she met Humpty Dumpty. “This one guy wrote me fantastic letters,” recalls Penelope with a sigh. They were “sexy and smart. We wrote back and forth for a week. Then we set up a date. I was all done up with strappy sandals, so excited,” she said. “And it was horrifying. He was a total fat fop, in a velvet pantsuit with woman hips and legs. I ran away after one drink. The next day, I couldn’t get off the couch. I was skeeved out, and yet hating myself for being superficial.”

Humpty Dumpty may have sent Penelope into a spiral of heavy introspection, but smutty messages (sensitive chicks be warned, smut is par for the course!) leave her perkily unfazed. She chuckled as she regaled me with a verbatim recitation of her most recent (unprintable) hide-the-salami-type epistle. “My sister and I laughed so hard; then I reported that pig to the systems administrator, and I haven’t heard from him since.”

But most pervs, according to Penelope, are more persistent than Mr. Salami. “Another guy kept writing me these ridiculous fetish stories about teaching ladies to swim at a country club. He would get aroused, then one of the ladies would yank down his swimsuit and publicly ‘humiliate’ him,” she said. “He had a million variations on this theme. I finally wrote back and suggested he get an old-fashioned men’s one-piece swimsuit. I haven’t heard from him since.”

Penelope’s most bizarre encounter involved a correspondent called Jeremy. “This Jeremy guy started writing me these beautiful, poetic letters. He was in no rush to meet face to face. Very romantic, right? Wrong!” One day Penelope excitedly opened up one of Jeremy’s e-mails, only to find that he was dumping her–and worse! “He told me that there was no Jeremy, and that he was actually a woman called Laura,” she said. Laura then ‘fessed up to a very Machiavellian scheme: “She had taken on this Internet persona, Jeremy, to study me. A guy called Will, one of my regulars, had told her he was obsessed with me.” For months, Fatal Attraction Laura had stalked Penelope in cyber-drag “because she wanted to know exactly why Will was so interested in me, so she could then act like me and snag Will.” At the end of her last e-mail, according to Penelope, she wrote: “Do not ever go out with Will because he has seven aliases and none of them were real.”

To those of you about to embark upon a lust- or curiosity-fueled Web search for Penelope, you are more likely to find Jennifer Lopez (who’s reportedly back on the market), because Penelope has hung up her strappy sandals and mouse and is taking a well-earned break.