Beware! Online dating is a minefield, harboring scammers and sociopaths ready to part you from your money, your home, your credit, and to break your heart. Someone from Ohio could really be in a bank of computers in a small cafe, speaking from blocks away, or in a small closet, a basement maybe, or in Nigeria. Considering online dating? Arm yourself against the minefields that abound in cyberspace.
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Field of Frogs
The Illusion of Love on the Internet
I believe a journey is a voyage that takes you somewhere you want to go, to find something you think you do not have. What you learn along the way, can make all the difference in what you seek. My honest journey is a cautionary tale through the internet, navigating my own field of frogs.
I was a good (though feisty) Catholic girl growing up, and immediately after college married. Two children later, living now on St. Croix, my husband asked for a divorce. We had spent most of our married years growing in tediously different directions. It had been a twenty year succession of arguments which left me feeling unhappy, unfulfilled and at the end of my endurance. I was empty. I got through that with help from my children and several lovers, including finally the love of my life. It was ironic that just when I had finally found Vicente, someone who brought me tremendous happiness after so many years, and the freedom to enjoy this love, our relationship would end far too soon. Unfortunately there were problems with this great love, so now that my children were grown, in the dawn of my sixties, I moved to Florida.
I had created the opportunity for a new beginning. I chose a community where everyone would be new and therefore the playing field would be level. I had not considered that we live in a couples’ world. Life is easy and fine if you are part of a couple. I was alone and life was less easy and far less fine than I had hoped. There was only so much fussing and shuffling of furniture I could do with the house and when that was finished there was no one around to appreciate my efforts. No one to pay a compliment, or tell me my workout routine was paying off. No one to appreciate my efforts to keep myself looking attractive. I was still alone.
One late afternoon in Florida. I poured myself a glass of wine and curled up on the sofa to enjoy my new and very different view of a setting sun. An occasional Osprey appeared to say hello as it flew low to grab its dinner from the lake. A lazy peaceful time of day. It would be another quiet evening. Far too quiet and with too much time to remember a very different life.
I knew literally everyone on St. Croix and during my more than thirty years there I had been totally connected to the community in which I lived and worked. I had enjoyed an exciting career in the hospitality industry. I had accumulated a great number of close friends and when you are on an island your friends also become your family. I felt appreciated and accepted. I was also deeply in love and sharing a wonderfully full life as part of a couple. All that had changed.
“I am officially and decidedly over this move to Florida.” I had phoned my old and dear friend Delsey in disgust.
“There’s nothing to do.” I continued celebrating my pity party over a second glass of wine. “No exciting job, no projects, no kids to take care of, no man in my life, no one to talk to around here except an occasional neighbor on the street. I don’t feel connected to this place at all. I feel irrelevant.”
“I felt the same way when I first moved here.” Delsey had come to Florida a few years before I did.
“You forget one thing Delsey, you have Rob. You are married. I’m rambling around in this house alone and it’s making me nuts. There’s stuff I would love to have help with here and there and that’s hard to find, often there’s no one around to even to talk to. There are places I’d love to go but don’t want to go alone, there’s no one to share my life with, maybe I should go back to the island. I miss having a man in my life. I really miss my old life!”
“Absolutely not.” Delsey was adamant about getting all of her friends safely relocated back to the states. “That’s just not an option. You moved here for a reason, it was the right reason so we just need for you to find somebody to share this new life with.”
“You make it sound so easy.” I always admired her positive attitude but perhaps she had oversimplified things this time.
“All I know is that I’ve put up my last Christmas tree by myself, and I’m becoming a pathetic person.”
“Oh for God’s sake, you’re not pathetic you’re just lonely and you need to meet the right person!”
“That’s easier said than done. I’m not in the workplace, I’m not picking up kids at school or running PTA meetings. Everyone in this place is married, and finding a man seems a piss poor reason for going to church, so what do you suggest?” I threw that out as a challenge because I felt I had covered all the bases.
“There’s always the internet.” Delsey had mentioned that to me many times in the past and it was always the place of last resort. Was this it, was I at that place of last resort?
“I had never thought much of going online to “meet” someone on a computer screen. So I’m really not into the whole idea of being online. My romantic notion is simply someday, somewhere, Mr. Wonderful would be across the room and the squishy feeling of seeing my “special someone” would come over me and that would be that.”
“I understand that, Gay, but that someday and somewhere has not happened, and Mr. Wonderful is nowhere to be seen. So you have to try something different.”
“I know. I’m not sure where to start and I’m really not sure if online is the place I want to be.”
“If you want different results, you have to try something different. Isn’t that what you were always telling me, Gay?”
OK, maybe I had said that. It’s important to recognize that while I was not a fan of online dating, I had to acknowledge that it was hugely popular. The number one way to meet people, particularly in the over-fifty group. So maybe I was a bit behind the times. Maybe there was something about this online business that I could learn.
A week after that phone conversation I invited Delsey, her husband Rob, and our very good friend Sam for dinner. We had all been close friends on the island where we had lived, loved, and left within a five year period of each other. We all made the decision to relocate to Florida for different reasons and had remained best friends.
Somewhere between dinner and dessert that night, Delsey decided that Sam and I should appear on her local television program to share thoughts and experiences about our various relationships, the perils of dating after fifty…and the possible advantages and disadvantages of dating online. Even though we had been close friends for twenty years, there are some things a person would not or should not do, even for friends. And Sam’s reaction was swift.
“No,” he said without hesitation. My reaction was similar and I added, “Hell no!”
One week later Sam and I were still shaking our heads no as we entered the taping studio of the local television station. Delsey introduced us to her viewing audience and the cameras rolled.
Delsey moved deftly through the program, reading from her well prepared comparisons of the various dating sites. Each was geared to a slightly different audience; some were for specific religious groups, others for gays and lesbians, some targeted compatibility, still others fancied the chemical attraction. A plethora of choices. A wealth of information. An abundance of perspective internet users for these sites and a big black hole that swallowed everyone together in one huge common mouthful, referred to as cyberspace.
I interrupted Delsey’s presentation with the question,
“Do they have any sites dedicated to people who might be allergic to marriage?” Delsey controlled her smile but the camera man could be heard chuckling out loud in the distance as he tried to stabilize his now jiggling camera.
“No, I don’t think so, but perhaps you could somehow indicate that on the questionnaire and bio that you fill out.” Surely she isn’t thinking that I would ever be filling out such a questionnaire. By “you” she has to mean the general audience.
Delsey, in her role as moderator, occasionally would glance over the top of her pink polka dotted reading glasses to ask us questions or seek confirmations on her findings, and we did our best to answer enthusiastically.
“Have you ever had any experience with any online dating sites?”
Come on Sam, you can answer this one, you told me you were on one of these things. Just because she’s looking at me doesn’t mean you can’t answer the damned question. Sam’s silence was deafening and so slowly I blurted the confession I had tried to forget
“I did try one of the sites you mentioned about a year ago. I’d’received a call from a neighbor. She’d just received a three day free offer to sign up online and find her Mr. Wonderful. She suggested I do the same and when I saw the same offer in my inbox I decided to at least give it a three day trial.”
“So how did that work out for you?” I knew Delsey would have to ask me that. I was reluctant to tell her.
“Actually, it was exactly what I had expected it might be. I didn’t think that any of these men would be of interest to me.” That was tactful enough wasn’t it?
“Why not?” Delsey asked. A reasonable question but she could be annoying, like an attractive Pitt bull with lipstick. Why not? We’re on television for the love of Pete, how can I be tactful with this now? “Well, none of them had the look that I found attractive. I also thought the things they were interested in– hobbies, weekend activities, vacations,– were just not things that would work for me.” Still trying to save the answer I continued.
“So, even though there was nothing unsuitable about any of them, there was nothing that grabbed my attention, or made my heart flutter.”
“And you believe that you need someone that does that for you?”
“Yes, I really need the hook that captures my attention and makes me want to get to know them better. Their likes, dislikes, something that I could relate to.” This is not going well, I have nothing to contribute to this, that was three days out of my life. I wasn’t into it then, I’m not into it now. How long is this damned program supposed to last anyway, I feel like I’ve been talking for hours, and what’s up with silent Sam all of a sudden?
Reading my mind, Delsey turned to Sam and deliberately posed the next question to him.
“Tell us about your experiences online Sam.”
There it was. Finally. I know he told me about a few weird things once and I’m sure he was speaking about himself and not one of his friends but this would be good.
“I really have not ever had any experience myself with online dating sites, but I have known people who have.” What a cop out. I didn’t see it coming at all but Sam is still working in this community and I guess he has to, or feels he has to, protect his privacy and his personal life. Tragic that he has to be so guarded about being gay, he’s such an outstanding person.
“Is there any reason, Sam, that you never decided to try one of these sites?”
“The information that I got from my various friends who had tried them made me realize that this was not the format that I would find positive for myself. I put it out of my mind entirely.” Thank God, that seems like a great way to end the show. Two guests, neither is remotely interested in online dating because it’s unnatural and often freaky. Now let’s all go home!
Sam had been thoughtful and cautious in his comments. He briefly discussed the pros and cons of all points of views he had received from his friends, and had decided it was not for him. Ditto for me. I had never really known anyone who had met someone online. Not ever. Not even years ago when online dating first became popular. I had told Delsey I had no experience with this stuff. Three days hardly would count, yet it gave me enough of a clue to know this was not for me.
Sam had tried really hard. I, on the other hand, felt from the beginning that I had nothing to contribute to this TV program. It seemed appropriate for me to participate and appear to be interested in a subject even if I knew absolutely nothing about it. Thank God it’s over. Now we can all go back to Delsey’s house for happy hour.
I tried really hard to sneak a peek at my watch to see how much longer I would be required to sit there with my ever-so-fake-smile, waiting for the chance to finally escape to Delsey’s house for our post- show cocktails. It was a bribe, and it had worked. Finally, the wrap up. The proper thank you for our participation, the thank you to the viewing audience, which hopefully only numbered a scant handful. And then it hit.
Delsey removed her little pink readers, leaned forward and looked straight into the camera…
“Now,” she said, “I have a surprise for my two guests.”
Here it comes, I thought. The sucker punch to the gut. The unanticipated, unwelcome offering of something very sinister.
”….I have taken the liberty of signing each of my friends here tonight to two dating sites that were mentioned during this program. All they have to do is promise to come back on this program in a few months and tell us about their experiences!”
There it was. It could have been worse, but I’m not sure how. I was trapped just as surely as a grizzly with his paw poorly placed and clamped painfully inside a sharp metal vice. I never saw it coming, but I could hear myself let out the great silent scream of a wounded animal.
Sam and I exchanged a glance that was unmistakeable. It was excruciating pain mixed with fear of the unknown. It was impending doom. Terror.
Another series of really fake smiles, and with keys rattling nervously in hand I made my way to the car.
Cocktails with Delsey and Rob consisted of two very strong belts of vodka with only enough tonic to improve the swallow. Incredulous glances and comments were exchanged and Delsey was convinced that she had not blindsided either Sam nor me with her gift offering.
“Neither one of you would ever have chosen to go on a dating site, we all know that!” She seemed almost proud of herself that she had pulled off such a coup.
“Delsey, if you knew that, then why the hell didn’t you leave well enough alone?” I was curious about that one.
Delsey stood up, drink in hand and made her pronouncement.
“I firmly believe that online dating is the best chance to meet someone.” There’s that definite opinion of hers again.
“These people are out there but they are not going to come knocking on your door! You two need to get with the program and just find someone online!” So what’s wrong with someone knocking at our doors? As long as it’s not the Latter Day Saints or a vacuum cleaner salesman, who cares? Besides, I’ve seen the local firefighters, and any one of them could knock on my door anytime.
“Delsey, please tell me this isn’t about trying to create yet another program for your television show.” That would be beneath her, but a question I felt I had to ask.
“Heaven’s no, look here you two, I’ve known you both for so long and you each have so much to offer someone, I really believe it’s the best way to meet your fairy-tale handsome Prince. So I took the liberty of getting you both on the program, and then came up with the brilliant idea to give you each this little surprise. I only meant to help you with something you wouldn’t help yourselves with, and that’s the truth.”
There was the rock. There was the hard place. There was the friendship with Delsey. We chose our friend.
I sucked down another vodka and headed for home.
GETTING READY FOR THE PARTY
I began the daunting task of navigating through the myriad of questions in preparation for creating a profile designed to introduce me to my Prince Charming. Worse than applications for passports or drivers licenses: Height, body type, eye color, hair color, religious preference, education, job description, number of children, do you want children, (at least they didn’t ask if I wanted to keep the ones I already had) and on and on it went. Your idea of a perfect first date, type of music you like, hobbies, interests, movies, books, pets, those were all fairly easy and obvious questions. (Did any of these things truly matter?) I guess if you were in your twenties and wanted to start a family it would be important to sort out the baby question in advance but I feel that the creators of this data base omitted more important questions that would get to the heart of a person’s character and personality. I began questioning the questions. Why would anyone possibly care what my favorite color is, or if I preferred Italian over Mexican food? Asking if I preferred Italian over Mexican men would have made more sense to me.
What kinds of books did I like to read or did I like to cook. No questions about what makes me sad or happy, am I a well adjusted person, am I bipolar, currently in therapy, or ever been on the FBI watch list. I concluded that nobody cared about important things, which made me a tad nervous thinking that if nobody cared about these things then I would be trying to find Prince Charming in a pile of superficial fluff, or clever lies. How would I know if he seemed to measure up to my criteria? I had given a great deal of thought to the qualities I wanted in a man and they were easy to name, but a lot harder to find: kind, thoughtful, compassionate, good sense of humor, well educated, financially secure, well traveled, lover of animals, honest, sincere, charming, compatible, romantic, passionate, sensitive, sexual, attractive …., and as a dear friend of mine told me having read my list, I should have simply asked if the man could walk on water. When I reviewed the list it became abundantly clear why I was single!
I finished my profile as honestly as I could. It was not full of cute sayings or dazzling adjectives. In my own opinion it was a bit lackluster. It is so much easier to be creative and witty when you are in the company of others. I did manage to accurately account for my likes, dislikes, interests, hobbies, and what qualities I was looking for in a man. There goes that list again, maybe I would scare them off with that damned list, or maybe eventually someone would measure up. I also managed to convey that I was a woman of substance with the serious intention of finding the right man. Bravely, with a click of a button, my profile was sent into cyberspace. Only time would tell.
Who was handling all this information? All the fragments of profiles that were scattered into space? Who were the elves working in Santa’s Workshop of online dating? Who was in charge of matching up interests, skills, education or even age? Computers can’t reason. They only regurgitate out information they have received. I told myself that ten to twenty years ago there were many reported success stories of people who met their partners online. That was then, however, and now the internet opens so many more doors for millions of people. Evidently forty-million people plus, use the internet for a dating or match making site today. Who would be coordinating all these millions of profiles, and who were these people? Where would they come from? Could it be that everyone would be looking for a mate? Maybe they were cheating on their wives and not divorced at all? Satisfied that this was like a bizarre field trip through space minus the chaperones, I accepted there would be no one checking anyone. The onus was on me to remain on my toes.
With some degree of anxiety, and a sprinkling of anticipation, I faced the computer squarely the next morning and there they were. In someone’s mind for some unseen reason, these few forlorn and lonely looking men appeared in my inbox.
(Surely this was not what had cost me hours of homework the night before! Not to mention $49.95 per month.) I am not a superficial person, but even cereal boxes would have passed on the opportunity to print these pictures. Yet here they were, and they weren’t pretty. The were all “searching for their soulmate.’’
They probably had a soulmate and she dumped them!) Someone, they say, who would enjoy long walks with them on the beach. (In reality, a short walk to the garage is probably more than old Ralph looked like he could manage. They all said they knew how to treat a woman. (If they really knew how to treat a woman, would they all be divorced now?) Looking for someone online? Really?
To do what with, I wondered. Chances were good it would not be looking for a long term relationship. They all want to go camping, hiking, skinny dipping-(oh God please spare me that visual). Chuck looked sleazy. Skinny dipping put it over the top. I could not see myself relating to any of these men.
My idea of camping would be a week at Caneel Bay on the beach at St. John in the Virgin Islands. They said they liked to dance. John didn’t resemble Gene Kelley in the least.
He probably meant a hoe-down at a trailer park. Looks can be deceiving, I know, I’ve heard it all my life but this went beyond looks. The information, photos, activities, hobbies, everything was pathetic and nothing that I felt I could work with. No one I could or would even respond to. I believe what happened in this particular Santa’s Workshop section of cyberspace was a random gathering of everyone within ten years of each others age, regardless of geographic location. Even if I had wanted to meet any of them, (which God knows I did not) it would have been impossible based on where they lived, never mind a distinct lack of matched interests. It went on like that for days. I thought it odd that I could receive this many men in the inbox who were totally inappropriate for me, my age, or my location. Surely my profile would not have appealed to this group. I can only assume I must have been fresh meat. (Charming!) I would open the page and hit delete. Open the page and hit delete. There was just no point in contacting any of them. ( Probably no point in my even being on a dating site, which is what I told Delsey from the beginning). So my initial days of online dating supported the public statement I had made on television, that no one had the look I wanted nor the interests that would match my own. After days of looking I came up empty, and discouraged.
The odds of finding the Prince on a site like this was an absurd notion from the beginning. The first thing is the visual impression. I am not superficial but I could not get beyond the photos I was seeing. On a chance that one could get beyond the first impression then there might be a chance to explore mutual interests and ideas. My mind ran to Alan, one of the pack who stood out, for the wrong reason. I wondered when it was that ball caps and “wifebeater” shirts had become the costume of choice for a dating site photo?
(At least Alan was probably telling the truth about not having a wife. No self respecting woman would have let Alan out of the house looking like that, let alone have his photo taken). Many photos had men straddling motorcycles, or behind the wheel of a vintage car. That didn’t do it for me. Unless that guy was Marlon Brando or James Dean, no motorcycles please. No, my Prince Charming was not in this group.
This group looked like they could have settled for any ‘double-bagger,’ or even been OK with a woman who’s face would force her to Trick or Treat over the phone. Too bad for me I was never on the cover of Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition or been a waitress at Hooters, then I might be having better luck!
This whole process was disappointing and absurd but I had signed up to play. After hours of thought provoking work on that blasted profile, and being honest as possible, I knew one thing. While I was being honest, the nagging doubt persisted that the mythical ‘ he’ was somewhere skulking around dying his hair black, or attaching his graduation photo to his profile, and otherwise just lying his ass off. It is an unpleasant business. It is a scary, fascinatingly comedic process, in a dangerous sort of way. I was two days into it, and I hated it.
One day I decided it was time to check on Sam to see if his luck was any better than mine. I called. I heard. I was way ahead. Sam had found guys who were interested in piercings, tattoos, hot sex and motorcycle rides. Others who preferred handcuffs and mirrored ceilings.
“At least you were in contact with these guys to get this information Sam, I couldn’t even do that!”
“Isn’t that supposed to be how it works?”
“Yes. I am almost envious of your weird group which seems to trump my group of zeroes. These guys had been sent to me through space.” (Lucky, lucky, me)
“This really was all a bad idea Sam, how the hell did we get into this mess in the first place?”
“It was your dinner party and Delsey’s unabashed idea of how to create a different type of program for her audience”
“Well, I had a feeling that this would happen, although I wasn’t thinking it would be quite as unappealing as it has become. I should say at least for me. I just had no idea this is how it would work.”
“I didn’t either,” admitted Sam, “but I was willing to try, at least for Delsey’s sake.”
“I agree with you about Delsey. She was really convinced that this would work. I’m sorry for her sake it isn’t going well at all.”
“Well, I s’pose there’s one way to look at it,” Sam always saw a bright side.
“What’s that, buddy, because I am not thinking this is going anywhere.”
“The bright side is, at least we won’t have to do another television program!”
“Right. You know Sam, this dating site sends me a group of guys every day that remind me of stowaways on a railroad car, and you either throw them a line of encouragement, or hope they jump off the train at the next stop!” (So far I had hoped they would all jump off at any stop, as long as it was not mine!)
“Sam, I’ve made a decision.”
“OK, do tell”
“If any of these men that I’ve had to look at these last few days lived across the street from me, I asked myself if I would even venture across the street to introduce myself and take them a fresh batch of muffins. When I couldn’t answer that simple question with a yes, I knew it was time to pull the plug.”
I have to add my muffins are really not too bad!
“So what’s that mean now?” It seemed like Sam was feeling he might be left alone in the middle of our mutual mess if I bowed out.
“It means, dear Sam, that I have given it two days, I’ve hated every minute of it, it doesn’t seem to be working, and it’s making me feel bad for these sad souls. I’m done.”
“Just like that?”
“Yes, just like that.” Sam seemed a bit surprised but there’s no denying logic.
“I do wish you well with all of this Sam, and hope you have really good luck but I can’t do this any more. It’s a huge waste of time. I really am done.”
I called the dating site in question, explained my situation and told the disinterested person on the other end that I needed to cancel my membership.
“Sorry, but this is not working for me. I am finished. Over. I am finished.”
“Oh, I’m sorry you’re not having any luck, but your three months have already been paid for so we’ll just apply any remaining time over to the parent company. It looks like you’ll have about two full months left on the contract and we can have you up and running in an hour.”
There it was. Another paw in another trap. Was there no escaping any of this? Now it was confirmed; this never was a good idea. I called Sam. He commiserated with me. I loved Delsey, but I was ready to put a contract out on her life!
For anyone who had been out of a relationship as long as I had, Valentine’s Day was just another day; the fourteenth day of the month. I never realized the coincidental significance: a commercial excuse to trade on those romantics who selected flowers, cards, or lacy intimates. For me it was just another day, but a day spent in my office busily writing down enough words to properly present a different profile to be posted on the new dating web site. Different web site, different process, somewhat different information. Different results, hopefully.
Easy to describe your friends, not so easy to describe yourself. Yet here I was again, trying to grab someone’s attention by drawing them in to my personality and hoping that somehow a meeting with Mr. Wonderful would emerge, for even a simple cup of coffee. The new profile was completed. I began to reflect on the possible outcome of this computerized matchmaking. It all seemed so shallow but it was too late for me now; I was floating in cyberspace yet again. My calm, effortless, pleasant life, would soon be spiraling out of control.
“Welcome to the game of life, which I believe you are mastering quite well! Your willingness to show your vulnerability to the world through your book “Field of Frogs” will encourage others to bring forth their own vulnerabilities in their own ways. Your ability to write is clearly one of your biggest talents and what was cathartic for you was entertaining for your readers. Kudos to you I loved it. “ Nancy, Orcas Island WA
“Read your book and found it most interesting. I thought internet dating was rather benign until I read your book. Really eye opening. But if the choice was going to bars, church or the internet to make connections we would all choose the internet for all the reasons mentioned. Glad you survived and hope the frogs in your life bring you joy and happiness”. Jim, Ohio
“I really enjoyed this book…. I had tears in my eyes through some of it about your work with the dog, and was absolutely disgusted with the various men you were exposed to. Amazing you survived…You left the reader hanging a bit and the end was interesting.” Paula, Nova Scotia
” I had to call you because I loved your book so much. I read it in two sittings and found it was well written and expressive and thank you so much for sharing it with us.” Liz, Texas
“…Once I started your book I couldn’t put it down…I was captivated by the events leading up to the discovery of that charlatan…and knowing how many of those men are out there it’s astonishing…I loved this book and can’t wait for your next one.” Trudi, Montana
“I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated, Field of Frogs, and I applaud your work to get the word out in this way to warn others about widespread internet scamming…..I’ll think twice about glibly suggesting internet sites to friends. …I hope you’re getting lots of readership. I was gripped by your story and couldn’t put the book down during the entire Mark Smith episode. Ugh! Yuck! Here’s to the silver linings and to new beginnings.” Sarah, Florida