Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The internet approach

I have to add a preface to this week's "Dear Jamy" (and I know it's not Tuesday, but I hope you can live with that), because this question comes from my real life friend, Amanda. When we first met, Amanda was dating my best buddy, Mike. Even though Mike and Amanda's romantic relationship ended after a month, she and I continued to be friends.

Amanda and I shared an apartment (with a third friend) for about four months when we were 18. When we were living together, we would stay up late talking about all kinds of things. Sometimes, I would lull Amanda to sleep with my ramblings. When she went away to college a few years later, she asked for a tape recording of me telling stories, to help her sleep. She was worried that I would be insulted, but I laughed and took it as a compliment (though I never made the tape). Hey, at least my stories were good for something!

Without further ado, here is Amanda's question:

Dear "Jamy,"

Your guidance would be helpful on this whole internet dating thing. I don't have a particular big question at the moment, but lots of little ones--the word has changed so much since my 1999 foray into print personals--imagine, seven dates with no photo ahead of time! I think single mothers [Ed.'s note: Amanda has a young son.] do not get the kind of volume that you allude to (though I only overcame my fear of posting photos a couple days ago)--it is only keeping me moderately busy, though each effort is in itself a little exhausting. I have set up one date with one of the guys I contacted, and I am considering further contact with a guy who contacted me.

Perhaps because I haven't been flooded with requests, I think I am interested in even less emailing and phone calling than you recommend. I'm really not sure what conversations to start by email that aren't some variation of "I really liked the thing you said about bunny rabbits in your profile, and I too adore olives!" and I use that up on the first email. By the time we have both expressed interest or at least willingness to meet, a brief chat on the phone (consisting mostly of setting up a date) seems sufficient if there have been no red flags-- let's just get to it and see how we do in person. When you recommend one or two phone calls, does that include that logistical chat? Do you specify, "let's chat on the phone a bit to get to know each other more?" before the phone call so that it is clear if you aren't ready to set up a date?

One of my problems (which perhaps you share) is that I veer wildly from too selective to too flexible. Am I willing to consider the one "trying to quit" smoker just because he is cute? Is the one I want to eliminate because he likes cigars just not cute enough? I'm kind of trying to look for a critical mass of positives and not more than a few minor negatives--but what constitutes minor? And how do I spot when I have my best interests at heart and when I'm following unhealthy tendencies?

Speaking of which, is it worth bringing any of my reservations up in email or should I momentarily overlook anything I think I might be willing to overlook in good circumstances? Do I tell Cigar Guy (who contacted me), "Yeah, it's cool we like some of the same bands, but if you smoke cigars more than once a year, I don't know if we are a good match," or is that just rude? Clearly one wants to avoid the Darcy letter, but should I gloss over any negative, or try to ask questions about the extent?


Dear Amanda,

I'm honored that you asked for my advice since you actually know me and, therefore, know the depth of my inexpertise (not that it's ever stopped me from giving advice or generally expounding). However, our friendship ensures that you will be able to take this advice with the proper perspective (i.e. not too seriously).

First, my guidelines are just that, guidelines, not hard and fast rules. I'd say that as with all other things dating (and human and life) related, you have to trust your gut. And if I could pick one word to describe internet dating, it would be "exhausting."

I recommend minimizing both emailing and phone conversations because you have to make the dating decision in person. If the fellow is not setting off any alarm bells, get to the in-person meeting as quickly as possible. (I agree with you!) I have had interesting email conversations with internet guys (e.g. Kyle), but these rarely led to a successful anything. And they have a way of raising expectations, perhaps to the point where meeting becomes intimidating. (The exceptions are those people who live across the country from each other, meet online and conduct a long-distance courtship before ever meeting. I assume this is not what you have in mind.)

However, since some alarm bells can only be triggered by speaking with someone, I a phone call is a good idea, if not required. It doesn't have be long. As you say, it can consist mostly of making plans, since logistics are easier via phone, but even a short conversation will add another dimension to what you know about this stranger, and that can be helpful. So, yes, my recommendation for "one or two phone calls" does include the logistical chat. (I like to talk on the phone and I find it's not a bad way to get to know someone, but it's best to save the "getting to know you chats" for after the first meeting.)

I have met several guys after email interactions only and no one ever murdered me (though there were a couple of bozos I wanted to sock), so I don't think it's a terrible idea. It's a fine a idea, as long as you are comfortable with it.

Regarding screening profiles, try to be as open as possible, but keep an eye to your deal breakers. There are some really stupid things that drive me crazy in online dating that I can't let go of—for example, a guy who lists an age range with his age as the maximum. For example, a 34 year old guy who is willing to date women between the ages of 24-34. He won't even consider dating someone who is 35? What's that about? I would never contact a man who did that, even if he were my age or older. But who's to say that is a good call?

The examples you give are related to smoking. Is smoking a deal breaker for you? Because Mr. Trying-to-Quit is still a smoker (all smokers are trying to quit) and you will have to deal with some smokiness. How much will that bother you? Or, put it another way: if he were perfect for you, but he smoked, would you go out with him?

Following up on what you said, if you are willing to overlook something in good circumstances, you should leave it alone. If you think you want to see the guy again, that's when to talk about it. Unless you are afraid of falling in love at first sight and don't want to take that risk with a cigar smoker. Ha ha!

In general, I don't think it's a good idea to gloss over negatives, because things that strike one as negative are often symbolic of something larger that really matters. But, if you go looking for negatives, you are sure to find them. Every profile you read will have negatives and can be thoroughly and unflatteringly dissected (particularly after a bad date!). Don't look too hard in the profiles for the negatives; focus on the positives. The negatives will come to light quickly enough when you talk or meet the person.

Actually, we should ask Pele your question (maybe she'll have a good comment to add), because even though I think she's gone out on fewer internet dates than I, she's met many more boyfriends and likeable guys than I have. It seems to work for her in a way that it doesn't work for me. I wish you her kind of luck!


Grateful for: Amanda.

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