You, too, can find love online; but look carefully, by John McGauley

I know a thing or two about affairs

of the heart.

Not cardiology, per se, but romance, although I do know a few things about how the heart functions — you know, veins and valves and that stuff.

Being a careful student of human relations, I’ve been fascinated for years by online dating. Many, many couples I know are together because of it; that’s a fact, and I listen to their stories. They’re both young and old, gay and straight, just about any combination you can imagine. We’re all God’s children and we’re all looking for love.

Now, I personally don’t participate in online dating because I’m happily married and have been for many years. Happily. Married. For. Years. Years, I tell you, durn tootin that’s true. Okay, that’s out of the way.

Online dating has a history, and it started out in a very crude form as anonymous ads in the back of newspapers and magazines, called “personals.” Only older people will remember those. Because you had to pay by the word, descriptions were terse and a little vague, things like “husky man” or “mature woman.” For some reason, many people wrote that they enjoyed “long walks on the beach,” even if the ocean was a thousand miles away. Photos did not accompany these ads, but were requested to be submitted with responses, which were sent to anonymous mailboxes at the publication.

Just prior to the Web, in the 1970s to the early 1990s, there was computer dating. For a fee, you sent your profile and picture by mail to a company and they matched you with possible mates from their inventory of other searchers. This was supposedly the “computer” part of it, although some suspected the names were just all placed in a spinning bingo basket. Also, computer dating had a negative connotation in that day; the last-chance station on the train line.

Then the Internet came along and online dating lost its stigma as millions began using it.

But, as with most endeavors that include human beings, it still has failings.

For example, the same conundrum that always existed, even back to the “personals” day, is how to describe oneself and decipher another’s retelling of themselves. One tip I’ll just throw out right now for all genders is to bone up on your vocabulary prowess: the word “hirsute” means really hairy, and is usually applied mostly to men, although not always. And “Rubenesque” is something you really should look up in the dictionary.

There’s a lot out there on the Web about how to describe yourself and what to avoid. For example, don’t talk a lot about how much money you make, for two reasons: It’s a turnoff, mostly to women, and it could make you a victim of a con job. Don’t try to be humorous; it never, never comes off sounding funny. Do not be self-confessional: “After 10 years of rehab and counseling, a short prison stint and plastic surgery, I’m now ready to start dating.”

Also, being human — and thus prone to exaggeration and obfuscation, depending on the circumstances — listen to everything any prospective date has to say, or writes about themself, then divide it in half to get an approximation of the truth. It’s not as ironclad as Newton’s Law of Gravity, but it comes close.

The same applies to photographs; take a look at them and divide them in half. Have you ever booked a resort based on the great photos, only to find out it’s a dump? Now, everyone says it’s really about the quality of the person, not just about looks, but you’d be a fool to not take a close look at the photo. It’s likely you’re looking at the best depiction of this person you’ll ever see.

Another pitfall is not to fall for false modesty, the “ah, shucks” stuff that is a ruse used by egomaniacs. Then there are the tip-offs to look for that might indicate any of the following types: pedantics (no, it doesn’t mean what you think it is; again, use a dictionary); eye-glazing bores, emotionally crippled “fixer-uppers,”; sex addicts; cheapo’s; slobs; Peter Pans; exercise junkies;political zealots; and false prophets. When you filter those people out, you’d be surprised how promising the remaining dozen people look.

A good rule of thumb is to throw out anyone who uses the pronoun “I” more than three times in their profile.

Also, it’s often suggested for the first meeting, choose a public place, for obvious reasons. What’s not said is what kind of public place. No low lighting. If they suggest a well-lighted public place, but it’s Section H, Logan Airport Central Parking, steer clear. Other location suggestions that are a tip-off that maybe they’re weird: an emergency room; IRS office; the end of a runway at a busy airport; the registration desk at a Star Trek convention; a gun shop; or a police station (although that may be your safest best, it’s still weird).

Two final items. Ask if they have friends (steer clear of those who can’t name any) and would they be willing to share their phone numbers. Like a job interview, you need references (and you might find you like the friend better.) And make sure you wedge these two questions somewhere into the conversation:

“What do you think about long walks on the beach?” and “Do you know what the word ‘hirsute’ means?”

John McGauley, an author and local radio talk-show host, writes from Keene. He can be contacted at

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