Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Dating Offline article in WSJ

A quick mention in Elizabeth Bernstein's clever "Bonds" column in the Wall Street Journal today...

Scary New Dating Site: the Real World

Dear Lonely Hearts: Do you spend hours at your computer, clicking through pages of single people on online dating sites? Are you exhausted from tweaking your profile, updating your photos and emailing potential matches? Are you sick and tired of feeling rejected when so many of them don't answer?

Lisa Jenkins, 42, met her fiancé, Ian Stickler, 41, after they each volunteered to work on a fund-raiser.

It may be time for you to break up with online dating and try meeting a mate in the scary, old-fashioned way: face to face.

For generations, people met at parties, in church or synagogue, through friends, even—horror of horrors—at work. But then we went online. We began making friends on Facebook and trolling for potential partners on websites like Match.com and eHarmony.

Sometimes it works. You probably know at least one couple who met online. I know half a dozen. But there's something that's easy to lose sight of: These happy folks aren't typical. Most people never meet their soul mate online. "It's exhausting," says Kate Wachs, a Chicago psychologist and author of "Relationships for Dummies." "People burn out really fast."

Before you even get started, you have to create your marketing pitch—get some decent photos, write an engaging profile, sometimes take a personality test. Then you scan hundreds, maybe thousands, of profiles and compose emails to the people you want to meet. If all this doesn't wear you out, the actual dates will.

That's, of course, if anyone bothers to email back. A lawsuit filed in December and seeking class-action status in U.S. District Court in Dallas alleges more than half the profiles on Match.com are "inactive, fake or fraudulent." Match.com general manager Mandy Ginsberg says the site's full-time fraud-prevention team works to identify and block fake profiles, including IP addresses that are in specific countries where fraud is prevalent or that try to set up multiple profiles. There are 1.7 million paid subscribers on the site, Ms. Ginsberg says, and fraud happens to very few of them.

"Online dating is a lot of time for very little return," says Jeff Koleba, 31, a Manhattan consumer-brand manager. At one point, he had active profiles on five dating sites. He says he found it draining to come home each night and study profiles, draft clever emails to the women he was attracted to—and then often receive no response. He recently quit online dating.

Now, Mr. Koleba tries to meet women when he is out and about—taking improvisational comedy classes, playing on a co-ed intramural soccer team, exercising with a runners group. "It's easy to talk, because we already share a common interest," he says. "So at least you'll usually get a decent conversation, even if it winds up going nowhere dating-wise."

Where can you meet Mr. or Ms. Right without going online (or to a bar)? I've asked around and heard these suggestions: Home Depot. The airport. The supermarket produce section. (Whole Foods and Trader Joe's have "the best looking and healthiest prospects," according to a musician friend of mine.)

I had some luck recently at a triathlon finish line in Miami—and I didn't even have to break a sweat. I was there with my sister, Rachel, to cheer on my brother-in-law, J.J., who was running in his first race. I was waiting on a breakwall by the water when a handsome man in running shorts sat down next to me. He asked if I was waiting for a husband or boyfriend, and I suddenly developed a southern accent: "Whah noooo, Ahm not!"

Then it hit me: Here was a mass of people in skimpy outfits who were clearly very fit—and had their ages written right on the back of their calves! It was easy to find things to say. We chatted about the race. Mr. Triathlon got to brag a little, and I got to show my nurturing side, asking concerned questions and offering to get him more water. I was having a great time—until my sister appeared abruptly and announced that her husband was exhausted and we needed to leave immediately. (It took two days, but I did start speaking to her again.)

Last year, Karen Jordan methodically told her friends, family and acquaintances that she was looking to meet a man who was "kind, generous, accomplished yet humble." "To me, it's just like when you are looking for a new job," says Ms. Jordan, owner of a Los Angeles skin-care company. "It's a matter of asking for help." She met her boyfriend through someone in her church choir.

After Lisa Jenkins, 42, a Clarkston, Wash., marketing consultant, got divorced several years ago, she came up with a method she calls "reverse stalking." Once or twice a week, she frequented places she found interesting—bookstores, art galleries, a bistro, a charity—at about the same time of day. "People who might be interested in you know where to find you when they finally get up the courage to ask you out," she says.

While volunteering on a fund-raiser for a local college art center, she met another volunteer, who asked her to lunch. Three years later, they are engaged. "I am very glad I didn't leave it to chance," Ms. Jenkins says.

Christopher Murray, 43, a Manhattan social worker, invited all his single gay friends to a game night at his apartment. Twelve men ate pizza and played a charades-like game called "celebrity" (you divide into teams and try to guess the names of famous people). Mr. Murray says the activity "allowed people to be interactive and work on a project together." His friend, Manhattan artist Joseph Cavalieri, 50, says, "It puts so much less pressure on you, because it's a group of people, so you are more relaxed."

How can you meet more people offline? Ask everyone you know for help. Be specific about what you are looking for, though, so you'll only get introductions to people who might actually be good matches.

When you volunteer with your local alumni club, fund-raising event or political campaign, sign up for the job that gives you an excuse to call others.

Become the designated photographer at weddings, bar mitzvahs and other events. Shooting video of Uncle Phil's 90th birthday requires you to wander around and talk to people without being self-conscious.

Put down the device. Get your head out of your smartphone, computer or iPad. You won't seem approachable if no one can see your face.

Smile more. Pretend you're on vacation, which is a time when most people are more relaxed, seem more approachable and talk more to strangers.

Travel in business class. People are less grumpy, more chatty. And there are free drinks.

Move to a neighborhood or a building that seems to have lots of people you'd like to meet.

Borrow a cute puppy and walk it someplace with sidewalk cafés. Or take it to the dog run. But be sure to own up to the fact that it isn't your dog: You don't want to get caught in a lie before your first date.

—Write to Elizabeth Bernstein at bonds@wsj.com or follow her column at www.Facebook.com/EBernsteinWSJ.


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