Online Valentine

Published 4:32 pm Thursday, February 28, 2013

“Well, I never expected to be on one of these dating sites, but…”

So begins a dismally large proportion of online dating profiles. Abashed, ashamed, the male writers of these profiles are like awkward fifth graders: hands in their pockets and heads bent down as they scuff at the dust with their foot.

It seems this new way of meeting people calls for skills which do not come naturally to some, myself included.

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A columnist earlier this month harkened back to yesteryear and an adage, “the way to a man's heart is through his stomach,” as she contemplated Valentine's Day. The saying makes it sound like all you have to do is lure a man into your house, serve him a piece of your amazing apple pie and you're good to go.

Before online dating, surely there were many women who were not good cooks who found their way to a man's heart through other means.

My father, who is a man of few words indeed, first attracted my mother's attention after she moved in next door and he rescued her car from the snow one wintry day. It was all very neighborly, of course.

And those men who first met their partners at bars usually started out with a confident offer to buy a drink, not by mumbling, “Golly Gee, never thought I'd find myself here…”, as they shuffled from foot to foot.

O.K., maybe some did meet partners that way.

But the point remains, in the world of online dating you have to be at least half-way decent at marketing yourself or the game is up. That first introduction is not based on ability to cook, the offer to buy a beer or even helping pull a car out of the snow. Instead, the first thing a potential partner sees is exactly what you want them to see.

This is supposed to be good, I guess. Empowering. You get to say right off the bat what you want people to know about you. By the pictures you load and the books you reference, you directly shape their perception of you. You have control.

But, I for one, find it not one bit liberating. And, it seems, many of the men on such sites struggle as much as I do to know how to represent themselves in such a direct fashion. I may be that “drama free down to earth girl” he's looking for, but how am I going to let him know?

I, for one, should be quasi-comfortable with the overall idea. I mean, I write for a living and these columns of mine are anything but impersonal. But, for some reason, I don't like the idea of having to market myself to future partners. I just don't. Maybe I feel like they should be able to find the good in me themselves, without me having to lay it all out on the table. Maybe – and this is probably more likely – I feel more comfortable talking about my faults than my assets. Or, we could just put it in the catch-all excuse and say I'm just plain lazy. I want to be swept off my feet, not because it's romantic, but because that means I don't have to walk.

Sure, we all know we are supposed to market ourselves while hunting for a job. A list of past accomplishments, awards and publications are strung like diamonds on our resumes, hopefully laid out in such a way, that their sparkle will catch the eye of a manager or someone in the human resource office. I've brought myself to terms with that.

But, online self-marketing is not quite so straightforward. While there are certainly achievements you could hint at on your profile to catch attention, listing the same things that are on your resume would come off as pretentious and would be, well, boring.

No, the online profile has to have just the right balance of content and levity, boldness and bashfulness, revelation and mystery to allure the would-be mate.

And, most of the times, it is not what is said, but how it is said that really matters, just like with any marketing.

“I live life to the fullest” sounds great but means absolutely nothing. Such statements are for the tentative. The brave put it all out there, using concrete examples of how they do indeed live life to the fullest like, “I hiked the Appalachian Trail last year” or “this one time…” Concrete examples are brave because, on some level, the reader has to decide right away whether they think you're crazy or cool or telling the truth.

Of course, most anybody would say they want to be with someone who “lives life to the fullest.” That's like saying you like to eat bread. But the man who says he likes Wonder Bread is a different kind of man than the one who says he likes pumpernickel. It is those pesky details that reveal who you really are and cue others in to whether they are interested or not.

Details matter. Even the detail of your profile name. (Hint: Your profile name should not include terms such as “hound dog” or “lurking.” Come on. Really?)

It's those men who finally pull their hands out of their pockets and actually say something other than how awkward they feel that catch my attention. And sure, because they give details, I might realize I'm less-interested in the long run, but at least I know who I'm dealing with.

In the end, I suppose the fears and trip-ups of online dating are the same as for any more traditional method. You have to put yourself out there. And some will find you attractive and some won't and that's just the chance you have to take.

Perhaps you make a mean apple pie, but the guy doesn't think it's as good as his mother's and walks away. You cooked, you shared a piece of yourself and, I say, good riddance. Let him eat his mother's apple pie for the rest of his life. It will be his loss.

Perhaps you offer the girl a drink and she turns you down. Well, there will be other girls in other bars and I'm sure many won't turn down free liquor.

Perhaps you help pull a woman's car out of the snow and she doesn't…. well, frankly, I can't imagine how that wouldn't win a woman's heart.

All said and told, I suppose it's the trying and putting yourself out there that matters, awkward or not. And, I say, the more yourself you are the more likely you are to attract the kind of person that likes you for who you are. I know that is convoluted and I still can't figure out how one defines oneself online, but, hey, why not give it a try. It can't hurt.