Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of columns about online dating.
A few years ago, Paige S., a dancer, moved from the West Coast to New York. A 40-ish divorcee, she was excited about starting over.
Hoping to find her bashert, Paige threw herself into a whirlwind of young professionals’ events. She also tried JDate, quickly discovering that most of the men who contacted her online were considerably older than she. She didn’t immediately reject them as dating possibilities, she says — she had no checklist for love. But many weren’t sure if they wanted children.
Paige wanted to start a family.
Burned out after a series of frustrating JDates, Paige decided to take a break from online dating. One Friday night, she went to the nearest synagogue.
“I wasn’t even wearing makeup,” she told me. “I just wanted to pray.”
There, she met Evan D., a 30-year-old stockbroker. Evan asked her out; Paige accepted. Around that time Paige, who is beautiful, fit and full of life, also accepted dates with other men, mostly in their later 30s and 40s, whom she met at charity events and through work. Because she had been through a series of disappointments, Paige insisted on “taking it slowly.” She chose not to become intimate with any of the men, and just enjoyed their company. One by one, she recalls, they fell away; she suspects they were frustrated by the lack of sex.
To her surprise, it was Evan, the younger man, who had the maturity and deep interest in her to stay the course.
They ended up marrying a year after they met.
Paige and Evan would likely never have met through online dating, Paige told me recently as she rocked the couple’s baby in her arms. Evan was irresistibly drawn to Paige when he met her in person, but he hadn’t been searching for a partner older than he.
Nor would Paige have “searched” for a considerably younger man.
But Evan had the character she sought.
Online dating, according to the common wisdom, lets a dater target his or her search for the right partner. But lately, I’ve realized there is a built-in drawback: Someone who views life and romance holistically (not focusing inordinately on surface criteria), or who is not photogenic, or does not present a desirable dating resume (because of something like age, weight, height, income level), may have better luck meeting dates in real life, especially if she/he has confidence and charisma.
“Online dating puts people into boxes,” says Will Winter, a Manhattan psychiatrist and singles expert. “It strengthens people’s perfectionistic tendencies when it comes to superficial criteria, and that’s not the way to go into relationships.”
Younger women who try online dating frequently complain about inboxes flooded with hundreds of notes from eager suitors who haven’t read their profiles. The men writing those messages probably fantasize that these 20something women are looking for a relationship with them; in reality, many younger women are just trying online dating as a lark or an ego boost. Meanwhile, many 30- and 40something men who claim to want meaningful connection don’t search for women who are in their own age range or slightly older — and those are the women most likely to be looking for true love online.
Nor are men the only ones hung up on surface characteristics that are, to be honest, part of what potential daters consider in real life, but are given disproportionate weight online.
Recently my friend Hannah, an attractive 40-year-old attorney, confessed her frustration that the only men contacting her on JDate were much older or “short guys.”
When I gently pointed out that she might want to open her mind to a guy who’s a little shorter, she said, “What do you mean? I can’t date some tiny guy.”
I thought of the husband of one of my best friends. He is very short and happens to be one of the most manly men I’ve met, a former college wrestler who shows the same gentleness and strength toward the pit bulls he and his wife have adopted as he does to helping an elderly person cross the street. In other words, he is a real man, unlike some of the of the handsome, 6-foot-plus, narcissistic J-flake “professionals” wasting women’s time.
But 99 percent of women searching for a man online would never include a guy below 5-foot-7 in their search criteria.
My friend’s wonderful husband would never meet their standards.
Table For One appears monthly.