When I first started online dating after my divorce at age 39, I was terrified. Not because I hadn’t been on a date in almost two decades.
Not because I hadn’t so much as brushed up against a man in over a year, let alone been intimate with one.
And not because I was worried about inadvertently hooking up with a serial killer. What I was terrified of was that people I knew would see my online profile and think I was a desperate loser.
It could happen. When I did a search on one site, a guy from my high school turned up right away. Then a guy who lived in my neighborhood. Then a guy from my synagogue. Oy.
The whole point of online dating was to avoid the awful feeling of walking into a bar on the make. Now I felt like I was not just walking into an anonymous bar in search of a man, but walking into a high school reunion, block party, or Bar Mitzvah with a big sign on my back reading: “Need Date Now.”
What to do? I had already decided that online dating was my only option. I wasn’t about to let my friends and family fix me up, since they would just think of the one single man in his 40s they knew and call it a day. I didn’t want to go out to bars and clubs, since that would be a waste of time and effort — plus I had kids for God’s sake!
So I came up with a plan. I would sign up for a dating site in disguise of sorts.
I would put my age at 85 years old. That way, I could secretly look for someone, but no one would be able to find me hidden among the senior citizen set. And if I decided to contact a man, I would just tell him the age was wrong. Besides, all he’d have to do is look at my picture and see right away I was a vibrant woman of 39. Ingenious!
“You’re 85?” answered one. “I don’t get it.”
“Oh! Ha, ha. LOL,” wrote another after I explained myself.
Here I was, communicating with a select few men who didn’t go to my high school, lived in distant neighborhoods, and weren’t even Jewish. My plan was working.
Until Larry found me.
Larry, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, although why I feel like I owe anything to Larry is beyond me, must have decided to do a search on every single girl, woman, and octogenarian who decided to date online. Why throw out such a wide net? Larry wasn’t that unattractive. A better haircut would have helped. But he certainly didn’t have to be looking at women from age 17 to 97.
“Something’s not right here,” wrote Larry. “Either your age is wrong or your picture is fake.”
Once we got it all sorted out, we exchanged a few e-mails, but after a while, I decided it was time to cut him loose.
Larry didn’t like that.
It was kind of like Fatal Attraction, but instead of a dead rabbit, Larry inflicted something much, much worse on me.
A few days later, when I went to the site and tried to send a response to one of my suitors, I found that my message wouldn’t go through. Something was terribly wrong. After a lot of frantic clicking, I figured it out. My account had been frozen, and I knew Larry was to blame.
I remembered his last ominous e-mail to me: “You’re not supposed to lie on your profile.”
OMG, I thought. So that was it. Because of that one lie, because of one rebuffed suitor, my hopes of ever finding a man were dashed. I would never love again.
I decided to do something drastic. I picked up the phone and dialed customer service.
“I’m sorry, but I seemed to have made a mistake,” I began.
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I told the young man that it was just an innocent typo, sure he’d believe me because people who lie about their age don’t say they’re 85. I babbled on about how careless I was, laughing nervously as I compounded my lie, anxious that this boy at a call center in Indianapolis held my future in his hands.
“No problem,” he said. “I’ll get this fixed in no time.”
My relief was palpable. I had been given a reprieve, a second chance. And at that moment I knew the lying would have to stop. I could no longer treat this as something secret and shameful.
So I changed my age and exposed myself to the judgment of whoever happened to see me online, hoping for a day when no online dater is ever labeled a desperate loser again.
Except maybe Larry, of course.
Molly Shapiro is a contributor to YourTango who writes about love relationships, and online dating.