A Next reader emailed me recently, wondering about online dating. Is it safe, she wondered? Which sites are best for midlife singles? Would I share my experience, now that I’m out the other side and happily partnered up?
To tell the truth, I’m a bit of an evangelist for online dating. Not only because it’s how I met Douglas, who is now my husband, but because the overall experience was, for me, very affirming. I’m glad to share my thoughts about it.
I’ll begin at the beginning.
I started checking out Match.com in 2009, before my divorce was final. I’m a little embarrassed to admit how desperate I felt at that time, how afraid I was of the possibility that I might end up alone. I had visions of myself as an eccentric old crone with too many cats, living in a shabby third-floor walkup, frightening the neighbors with my outfits.
“Poor rejected thing,” they would murmur to one another, pulling their small children close as I shambled by. “I hear she was once the Maine Journalist of the Year.”
This was absurd, of course. Not the idea that I might not ever enter into another intimate relationship — that was entirely possible — but that I would be brought so low and become a dysfunctional social outcast just because my marriage had ended.
My marriage, my family and our home together had been essential components of my healthy self-identity for many years, it’s true. But I also had a meaningful career, hobbies, friends, commitments, supportive adult children and a roof over my head. I was 56, educated, healthy and solvent. Compared to a lot of women who go through an unwanted and unanticipated divorce, I was in pretty good shape.
Still, I was terrified. I felt compelled to look for a new partner. Maybe it was just to see if it could be done, if I could still conjure up that old, come-hither mojo after all the wear and tear of a 28-year marriage and raising two sons. Or maybe it was the honest self-knowledge that I am a better, happier, more productive person when I’m in a healthy relationship. In either case, since there were few eligible men in my social network I could imagine dating, much less getting serious with, online seemed like the best place to look.
I spent a few long, wine-fortified evenings with my computer, filling in the Match.com questionnaire and crafting a short personal essay about myself and the kind of man I hoped to meet. I tried to be honest about everything — my age, my weight, my shortcomings, my dreams — without being too hard on myself, too dead-serious. I was careful not to say anything that would make it easy for someone to figure out who I was, where I lived or where I worked.
I had to choose a user name. “Insomniac” came to mind, given my chronic lack of sleep in those days, but it was already taken. Feeling clever, I altered it to “Insomainiac” to reference my Maine-based identity, not thinking that it might confuse and alarm potential suitors. I located a few recent photos in which I looked pretty good but still like myself — nothing tragic, suggestive or revealing. And one Saturday evening, after tossing back a glass of Chablis and paying a modest membership fee, I loaded it it all up to the Match.com site.
A few things happened right off the bat. First, within a few hours, I received a small flurry of inappropriate, sexual messages on the protected Match messaging system, which doesn’t use members’ private email addresses. I was not surprised at this and just deleted anything distasteful. That stuff died down pretty quickly, thankfully.
I got a few virtual “winks,” too — shy, nonverbal hiyas from men who couldn’t quite bring themselves to send actual words. I ignored these, too. I needed an articulate, confident, assertive man in my life, not someone who needed coaxing, or therapy.
Within a day or two, I started receiving more serious messages from men who seemed genuinely, if casually, interested in me, whose profiles matched my own. I got brave enough to write back, and even initiated some contacts myself. I’ll write more about this phase of my online experience later this week.