Singles Survival Guide: Finding Love Online

Drew Ludwig and Janelle Tufts met in graduate school eight years ago using online dating sites linked to their two favorite websites—for Tufts,, and for Ludwig, The Onion. “I thought, ‘Anyone who keeps up on social issues is cool,’ and Drew thought, ‘Any woman who likes The Onion is cool,” says Tufts. She says meeting online made it easier to find someone compatible with their lifestyles—Ludwig is a pastor, and Tufts describes herself as a “proud liberal Christian feminist,” a description that Ludwig says caught his attention right off the bat. “We both got lucky,” he says. “We lived minutes apart but never would have crossed paths if we hadn’t met online.” They live on the West Side with their three children. 

You know the dating websites are out there. Even if you haven’t seen one up close, more than one friend has suggested you try one when you lament that finding love is hard when you’re at work all day, are a single parent, hate hanging out in bars, or are just too exhausted come the weekend to beg your friends to go out on the slim possibility that you might meet someone promising. They’re all valid excuses, but you’re still alone.

Here’s another set of excuses:
• “I know people who have met guys online and they were creeps.”
• “There are married men on there pretending to be single.”
• “People lie about their ages.”
• “Only desperate people use online dating sites.”
• “I want to meet someone the normal way.”
• “It’s just not very romantic.”

The difference between these excuses and the ones in the first paragraph? These are not valid. At all.
Let’s start with the first three. Can you honestly say that you have not or don’t know anybody who’s encountered creeps and liars with conventional dating? Didn’t think so.


Admitting that you actually would rather be in a relationship than single does not mean you’re desperate. You’ve already admitted it to yourself—and others—so there is no shame in admitting it to others who feel the same way. As for meeting someone the “normal way,” what is that exactly? In today’s world, we do everything online from banking to shopping to catching up with high school friends to sending invitations to blogging to joining support networks. Today’s twentysomethings don’t even remember a time when there wasn’t online dating, and if meeting online isn’t considered “normal” yet, it’s pretty darned close.

Finally, everybody would love a great romantic story—the stranger on the airplane, the guy you keep running into at the park, the high school sweetheart at the class reunion. Truth is, most people meet their partners at pretty run-of-the-mill places—bars, work, school, through friend fix-ups, and yes, online. And when it comes down to it, the online dating world is really like one big bar, where you can look around, see someone who piques your interest, and start up a conversation. Except the Internet Bar has some pretty huge advantages over the brick-and-mortar scene:

More opportunity = less desperation. When you consider the nights you’ve spent in bars hoping to talk to this person or that, then hoping this person or that would ask for your number, it seems like a ridiculous amount of work for so little yield. With online dating, you can chat up several people at the same time, and still be looking. With so many eggs in your basket, you’ll actually be less desperate, because all your hopes won’t be pinned on that one person you happened to meet. We know a girl who, after years of pining for love, decided to give online dating a try. Two months into it, she was out having fun with her friends—and not even thinking about meeting anybody, because she had all kinds of dates—and she met the man who became her husband. He must have noticed her confident attitude, the kind that comes from knowing there are men who want to date you, if only you’re willing to look.
Fewer bad dates. By the time you actually meet an online friend face-to-face, you’ve probably shared ten dates worth of information. Not only have you had the chance to eliminate a lot of potential dealbreakers, but you know you have shared interests and things to talk about. Even if it turns out there’s no chemistry, you might still find a friend.
Increased safety. Armed with somebody’s name, hometown, and profession, you can Google to find out if they are who they say they are (oh yes, you should). More than that, anybody’s who’s signed up for a dating site has used a credit card, which means a paper trail.
More time to make a first impression. For any number of reasons, maybe you’re not the type who gets approached by the opposite sex, but you’re a great catch and you know it. Chatting online before a face-to-face gives someone a chance to get to know the whole you, so that he or she is not judging on one look. One woman we know shared great email exchanges with a guy, but when he showed up at their meet, he wasn’t what she expected physically. But then he started talking, and she recognized this was the same guy she’d been so attracted to online; they had a great time. When you already know somebody, you’ll view him differently than if you’d just spotted him across the bar. And vice versa.

One more word about romance: Love comes from what you feel about each other when you speak, listen, spend time together, touch, kiss. And when the chemistry is evident, those feelings are every bit as magical as what you read in romance novels—no matter where you’ve met.


“Good geography, a love of family, a good Mom, a faith in God....I’d say “Call the Caterer” if I just knew whether you were allergic to”
“... So began Jim’s first correspondence to me on I’d joined the dating service six weeks before, primarily to meet some nice men and get out of the house for a bit every other weekend when my kids were with their dad. Jim, on the other hand, had been a serial dater for close to five years, on a serious quest for ‘the one.’ He had dated a lot of beautiful and accomplished women, but he was not willing to settle for anyone less than perfect for him.  During our initial telephone conversation, days after he sent me that introductory email, we shared with each other what we were looking for—me, just a good time and he, a relationship (assuming the chemistry was just right).

 “I had to pick him up on our first lunch date—he was sporting a huge cast on his right leg from a recent motorcycle accident and was unable to drive—and when he opened the door, we both grinned like maniacs. Somehow, we knew the chemistry was going to be just right. On my drive back to work, I called my friend, Maggie, and told her,  ‘He’s The One!’ I later learned that Jim gave a similar assessment to his friend, Mike.

“By the way, I actually am allergic to cats, rather I was  allergic to cats until I married Jim a couple of years later and his three cats became mine, too! It’s been seven years since our first date, and over four years since our wedding, and the chemistry is still just right!”

“My (future) husband had already been on eHarmony for a year when I signed up for my thirty-fourth birthday. I’d finally realized that if I left my job, they would replace me and within a year I’d be forgotten, but family would remember me forever. It was time to start thinking about family instead of career. His profile picture had a cheesy smile and it looked like he’d gotten too close to a fisheye lens. We emailed, but he wasn’t at the top of my list. When he kept emailing, I realized I had no reason to discount him, and I started to pay him some attention.

“We met at a coffee shop at two, and I was ready to say I had a 4 p.m. appointment, in case things went poorly. But time slipped away as we talked, and we ended up staying until seven! We moved on to dinner, and talked into the night. I got home late, and he called to make sure I made it home OK.

“After that, I closed all my other matches, and two years later we were married. We’ve been married almost four years and every day I look at him and think about how perfect we are for each other. If he had come up to me at the grocery store or a bar or and tried to strike up a conversation with me, I would have blown him off and whined about how I just can’t seem to meet the right guy. I am so glad he was patient for the year and waited for me!”

“I can’t even remember how this guy ended up in my search—he was thirty-six, never married, no kids, and I was forty-three with four of them—but something about his profile just spoke to me. It was smart, and funny, and he had a nice smile, so I gave him a zero-expectations wink. I was shocked when he wrote back a lengthy email that was an extension of everything I loved about his profile.

“We exchanged emails over the course of a week or two, and I was hooked. And then he disappeared. After about a week, I sent him a brief email to check in, and he wrote back, ‘We may as well just meet; we’ll know soon enough if we like each other.’ That didn’t sound very encouraging! I lamented to a friend that I was sure he was going to meet me just to be nice, since we’d spent so much time emailing. We met for a drink, a drink turned into appetizers, and all the while, we were laughing and having great conversation.

“Three hours later, we walked to our cars, where we talked for another forty-five minutes. Convinced he wasn’t going to ask me out again and starting to feel like it was too obvious I was waiting for him to, I said I was cold, thanked him for the date, and started to walk away. To my surprise, he pulled me back and kissed me. I guess there was no turning back because we’re still together four years later.  (And oh yeah, he totally admitted that he was meeting me just to be nice!) You just never know.”

“I joined after moving out of the city to the suburbs and realizing the social scene was not quite the same. After six months, although having met some nice guys, I didn’t think it was for me, so I ended my membership. I remember getting an email from my now husband after my membership expired, but at the time, I didn’t want to pay the money to join again to communicate with him even though he seemed like a nice guy.

“Six months later, I joined for the second time. Again, after six months, I ended my membership again and with just three days left, I received an email from my now husband. What did I have to lose? We emailed, talked, and met for dinner. I knew immediately he was someone I wanted to get to know better. I told him I was no longer a member of and gave him my email. On our first date, he joked about me not having to join again and said, ‘Who knows, maybe this will work out?’

“We were engaged seven and a half months later, married nine months after that. I know that he is the man I was meant to be with. It has been proved to me over and over. He jokes with me that we could have started our lives together a year prior, but there was a plan for us to meet in the way in which we did. We have bought a house  together, adopted the most beautiful little baby girl (she’s now two), and there is no one else I would want to have shared these experiences with.

“I had been on a bunch of online dating sites and had even been told by one that I was ‘unmatchable’ before I took a chance on I met a lot of people, but after a few months of seeing the same profiles, I took a hiatus. Three months later, I checked back, just to see if there were any new prospects. I scrolled through for a few days, sent a couple winks, and sat back, not really caring or eager for any replies. By the fifth day, a fresh face emerged! Nice profile, cute pics, including one with a puppy—aww! I sent the wink immediately!

“What I didn’t know was at the same time, Fresh Face was at a buddy’s house setting up his profile. Well, his buddy’s girlfriend was doing all the work while the guys drank beer and checked out profile pics. Fresh Face saw my pic and said, ‘That’s the one! Post my profile so I can talk to her!’

“Exactly one week from the first wink, we met. The first word spoken face-to-face was, ‘Wow.’ We spent the next nine hours talking, drinking, eating, driving, and finally kissing ... very chastely! We moved in after dating a year and blended our families. The next year we married. We’ve been married for five years and are grandparents as well!

“We came from very different backgrounds; city boy and suburban girl, GED vs MS in education, no ties to siblings and the codependent family. We might as well have been from different universes. And yet, it worked! It’s been over six years. There’s no such thing as love at first sight? Ha!”



1. Visit Little Red Rails Online Dating Guide and Blog at There is more information here than you could ever possibly need, so if you’re the type who likes to be fully armed before battle, here’s your arsenal.

2. Don’t bother with the free dating websites. If a guy won’t cough up a membership fee equal to the amount of money he’d spend on a round of drinks with his friends, he’s not serious about finding a relationship and he’s not worth your time. There might be a gem in there somewhere, but free sites often attract curiosity seekers, dabblers, and cheats.

3. Don’t limit yourself. While there are sites for every niche under the sun (just search “Christian dating,” “vegetarian dating,” etc. and you will find them), they will—by necessity and for lack of a bigger advertising budget—have far fewer members than mainstream sites like or Check out the niche sites, of course, but also try a broader-based site; more to choose from means more chance of success.

4. Don’t lie. There’s all kinds of advice out there about building your profile, but the most important one is be honest. Don’t post old pictures, claim to love outdoor activities if you’re a homebody, or say that you’re trying to quit smoking if you’ve still got a pack-a-day habit. Not only are you going to want the same honesty, but if you meet someone you like, you’re going to be found out—later, if not sooner.

5. Take time to get to know each other. Be wary of anybody who wants to meet immediately because there’s no reason for it. Exchange emails until you can decide if this is someone you feel a connection with and would want to meet. Rushing into meetings can lead to bad dates, wasted time, and frustration with the process.

6. Never meet if you feel uncomfortable. If over the course of email exchange, or even in a phone conversation, you get a bad vibe, or even just a vibe that says, “This guy isn’t for me,” don’t meet. You don’t owe anybody anything except a courteous “Thank you, but no.”

7. Keep phone conversations minimal. It’s okay to have a quick phone conversation before a meeting, but avoid letting a phone conversation take the place of a meeting. If it’s time for you to be judged, let it happen in person where body language and eye contact can be part of the full presentation. It’s way too easy to dismiss a disembodied voice if everything isn’t exactly perfect, especially if a someone is juggling a lot of phone dates. If there’s potential, make him (or her) man up and meet you.

8. Beware of rebounders. Because it’s so easy to join a site and find dates, many people fresh off bad marriages—or still in the process of divorcing—end up online looking for someone to make them feel good about themselves again. They might be great people, but they’re often not emotionally ready for a new relationship. While it’s impossible to avoid these types altogether, nixing dates who aren’t yet divorced should save you a lot of headaches (because you will hear all about the process), if not heartaches as well. (Even among the divorced set, beware of those who still talk way too much about their exes.)

9. Always meet in public places. And always let someone know where you’ll be and who you’re meeting. Even if you’ve Googled him. Even if he sounds great. Even if it turns out you have friends in common. Just do it.

10. Don’t schedule open-ended meets. No matter how perfect this match sounds, resist the temptation to schedule a full-blown date, or to meet after work without an important reason to get home. An hour is plenty of time for the first meet. If it’s not going well, you’ll be grateful it’s not longer and if it is, it’s always best to leave a date wanting more. Coffee or lunch are perfect choices.

11. Don’t drink at the first meeting. It’s tempting to fortify yourself with some liquid courage before meeting someone new—it makes it easier to talk and calms your nerves. But it can also make someone seem more attractive to you than he/she really is or cause you to behave in ways you wouldn’t normally. If you can’t talk to someone stone cold sober, they’re not the one for you.

12. Ask yourself: Could I kiss this person? By the end of the first hour, if the date has any potential at all, the answer should be yes. Just a kiss; the expectation doesn’t have to be any higher than that. But if you absolutely can’t fathom it—for any reason—move on, no matter how good the person is on paper.


Donna Hoke is Buffalo Spree’s ancillary editor and frequent contributor.

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