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The Scoop On Online Dating Sites

I came to the online personals with a lot of skepticism and a sliver of hope. After a slew of dead-end relationships and too many nights spent saddled up beside a bar, I decided to post a profile on a Personals web site.

There are varying degrees of Personals web sites. Marriage-minded individuals will want to check out eharmony.com. "When you're ready to find the love of your life, " the site reads. Becoming a member on eharmony means filling out a rigorous "personality test" with multiple sections. Section eleven is called "Most and Least Like You". Which characteristic is most or least like you? The characteristics range from "reserved" to "life of the party."

Since I'm not down with the idea of getting married anytime soon, I stopped filling out the eharmony survey. They took themselves way too seriously. Other web sites with religious affiliations that cater to helping people tie-the-knot include christiancafe.com and jdate.com (a Jewish personals web site).

A less intense degree of personals web sites includes: Yahoo, Nerve.com, Make Out Club, and Friendster. I ruled out Make Out Club and Friendster because there were too many younguns on these sites. I didn't want to sit down to dinner with a suspiciously young looking fellow. Someone who repeats over and over, "No, I really am twenty-one" while checking his cell phone to see if Mom has called.

With the list narrowed down to Yahoo and Nerve.com, I began sifting through profiles. If you choose to join an online personals group, the first thing to do is see who else is on the site. Do you see a hottie you'd like to meet? Or at least chat with online? Do you have similar interests with other people enrolled on the site?

I found Yahoo to be comparable to newspaper Personals. Profile headings read, "SWM looking for a good time" and "SBM likes to party." Not exactly my idea of cyberlove.

Nerve.com is a specialized web site devoted to literature, photography, and all things Sex. They claim to be "the sexiest destination on the web, whether you're looking for a movie recommendation, steamy fiction, saucy advice, hot photography, or a date." I liked this web site because of its high-quality fiction, tasteful nude photography, and because it shares personals with The Onion (www.theonion.com).

I also liked the survey which included the following phrases to complete: "Song or album that puts me in the mood. . .Last great book I read. . .In my bedroom you will find." But the best part of the Nerve survey is the fill-in-the-blank: "____ is sexy; ____ is sexier." An example would be: "Smart is sexy; smart ass is sexier."

The most crucial part of joining an online personals scene involves uploading a photograph to the site. If people can't see you, they're less likely to respond to your profile. Let's be frank. Even though the Internet may seem like a utopia for those who prefer personality over looks, it's still tough to get hooked on someone when you don't know what they look like. In any other words, appearances matter. Are you bald? Dyed-blue hair? Do you wear a mullet? These are things I'd want to know before sharing a bottle of wine with the stranger from online.

After filling out the survey and uploading a picture, the next step is waiting. Unless you want to fork out the dough to buy some "tokens." Nerve.com sells 25 tokens for $24.95. It costs one token to contact someone from the Personals. Then that person can reply for free. Or you can opt to "wink" at a person for free. When you "wink" at someone, Nerve sends an automatic email saying "Joe Junior is winking at you!" This basically means that Joe Junior is either a) a cheapskate who can't afford tokens b) not interested enough to spend a buck on your profile or c) too shy to write an email.

Inevitably someone will write you and want to meet. They may even write, "Let's go on a date" as in the case of my most recent online dating experience. I was surprised to see the word "date". Singles like to use the euphemisms "Let's hang out" and "Let's get drinks" to cover-up the idea of going on a "date."

Alexis Sneed, an elementary school teacher in North Carolina, says, "The last frontier of Dating is the Internet personals." Sneed is twenty-nine and wears a polka-dot dress with boots. "Men are like everywhere online, and they're not shy about asking a girl out. . .on an actual date."

But aren't online personals sort of, well, creepy? "It's not any creepier then like a sleazy man hitting on you at a bar, " Sneed says.

I had reservations about my first online date. What if the dude who said he was twenty-six and passionate about Plato turned out to be fifty-six and passionate about getting in my pants? What if the dude was a rapist? A serial killer? A politician?

Rob Summers called to confirm our date. Over the phone he sounded mildly Midwestern and casual. We agreed to meet at five in the afternoon at a posh hotel bar for drinks before seeing a movie.

I woke up slightly nervous on the day of my first Internet hook-up. By four-thirty I was ready to jump ship, abandon the date, leave the poor guy stranded at the bar. I wasn't going to go. I felt like puking. What was I thinking? Meeting some complete stranger as if that could possibly lead to anything more than awkward conversation. I don't even like small talk.

Nonetheless, I showed up at the bar. Rob walked in wearing khaki pants, a belt, and a long sleeved waffle shirt. I'm a sucker for waffle shirts. He had chin-length blonde hair, blue eyes, and tortoise-shell glasses. He looked like Brad Pitt. Okay, not quite. But he did have a certain swing to his hips that I found attractive.

Then he opened his mouth.

Rob began talking extensively about his recent rhinoplasty (yep, that's surgery of the nose). We were eating salmon.

"They cut out a piece right here from the middle, " Rob said while lifting his head and putting a thumb up his left nostril to show me the damage.

"Really?" I said.

"The sucky part is that I lost my sense of taste."

"You've got to be kidding me."

Let's be frank. The date with Rob didn't go so well. But who's to say the next one won't be the love of my life? Or at least the love of my night.

[Sidebar] ONLINE PERSONALS: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The Good: It's like window shopping. You get to look at pictures and read about people. It's ideal for the commitment phobic. You could spend the rest of your life searching through personals. Also, what better way to expand your circle of friends then through dates gone awry? Even though Joe Junior may not be for you once you meet him in person, he may be perfect for one of your single friends.

The Bad: It's no comparison to the chemistry of a face-to-face conversation. You may invest time writing emails only to meet and become disinterested. You run a risk when you agree to meet a stranger. Remember the warning, "Don't talk to strangers"? Well, there's a chance that your cyberlover could be a bad guy.

The Ugly: Photographs lie. The photo you think represents Suzie from Nerve.com may actually be a ripped-off photo of Natalie Portman. Or the picture of Suzie may be from 1987.

By Virginia Hall -

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