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Winking at Mr. Darcy

Four weeks in the world of online dating

Imagine walking into a bar where all the people wear T-shirts listing their age, salary range, likes and dislikes. Some walk up, look at you and walk away. Or maybe wink at you but say not a word. Welcome to the world of online dating.
    I entered that world via a $5 Groupon for What single woman in search of could resist a discount of 80 percent? Not this separated 30-something with two kids and now her very own Match account.
    The plan was to be online for one month and see what happens. I set my hopes low: one non-creepy date.
Secretly, I hoped to find someone I could wish Happy Valentine’s Day. That was a big stretch.

Week 1: Profiled
    To enter, you set up a profile. I answered questions about my body type, age, degree, hair color and eye color. Eye color? Would anyone really filter me out for eye color? For the first three days, I added no picture. I could almost hear the crickets through the screen.
    So I sought advice. A guy friend reviewed my profile and reported its flaws. I had some typos and an error that made it sound like I didn’t have a job. And I must have a profile picture.
    On Day 4, my photo went up, along with my corrections. So did my views: over 100 new views that one day. ignored the profile headshot I selected. Instead, my pic showed me full body at a festival. No, I’m not lying about my body type. A few days later, I switched my preferred profile picture and saw another spike in views and more likes for my picture. I was feeling a bit popular.

Week 2: Shopped
    After a week of waiting to be viewed, I set up searches. I searched three categories: guys with kids, divorced guys and Mr. Darcy — the perfect guy. My Mr. Darcy search was the least fruitful. If I expanded my search beyond a hundred-mile radius, I turned up two guys who met all the criteria and were remotely attractive by my standards. I believe the phrase you may be looking for is “too damn picky.”
    Still, window-shopping was fun. Until I realized that Match is a tattletale. You leave no traces when viewing people on Facebook, unless you make a mistake and like a picture of someone you don’t know.
    Not so with Match. Match reports everyone who viewed your profile. And tells everyone you looked them over. In some ways, that’s great because he sees that you looked, then looks at your profile. Maybe that’s enough to get a conversation going. In other ways, it’s creepy. You see that same guy viewing your profile every day — but no contact. You see you’ve been visited by a 78-year-old and wonder not who’s your daddy, but who’s your granddaddy.
    What Match doesn’t give you is a log of whom you’ve viewed. Maybe that’s to keep you coming back. You keep checking out the same guy again and again only to realize, again, that he talks too much about his cat, which is why you didn’t message him the first time you viewed him. So I made a spreadsheet to keep track of the guys I’d viewed.

Week 3: Dated
    Moving from online to reality is freaky. My first encounter with a real person was stumbling across a friend’s ex. He was marketing himself as a few years younger than he is.
    The virtual world next rubbed up against reality at my gym. A guy looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place him, until I recognized him from Match. Small panic attack as I realized that he’d probably seen me there too: Oh no, someone knows I’m on Match. If you live in a very small town, being on Match must be a giant pain. Anyone in town who is on Match too can share that you have bad spelling and desire “that special someone to complete you.”
    It got very real as I considered two potential dates. I had decent odds to meet my goal. Two guys — neither of whom met my criteria — messaged me; each had included his phone number. Score two for me.
    The last time a guy tried to give me his phone number, he did a double take at the picture of my kids on my phone. It’s odd that you are basically looking at the emotional resume of a person on Match. Yet there is something to be said for not having to wonder if an interesting person is available, has kids, has a degree and a job.
    Guy One disappeared the day before the date and was never heard from again. Date Two and I agreed that we weren’t likely matches, but it just might be fun to meet up. He insisted he pay for everything, so I declared it a real date. Goal met: non-creepy date.

Week 4: Gamed Out
    The algorithms for online dating are notoriously bad. I’ve never seen a match rated less than 87 percent. Apparently having a pulse is heavily weighted in’s judgment of likeness. My favorite predictor of compatibility: You share the same birth month.
    An ever-fresh deck seems to be the way to win. Not getting enough views? Update your profile or add a new picture. Each change of my profile photo brought a fast hundred new views.
    Before my month was out, however, matching felt like that game of solitaire I wasn’t going to win — no matter how many times I went through the cards. I won’t be renewing at the end of the month. Online dating isn’t for me.
    But I sure have new respect for people out there actively looking for their Mr. Darcy or Elizabeth Bennet. If you’re looking for love, getting a little help from technology doesn’t hurt any more than cupid’s arrow.
    In my month’s flirtation with, I achieved my goal. I’ve had a few nice conversations with other potential matches. I’m looking forward to a coffee date. But I’m pretty confident I won’t have a date on Valentine’s Day.