Project Toad: Letters from a Toad – An Online Dating Confessional

Not for the faint of heart…

Never – when I asked our dear Toad, Jake, to tell me his Lessons Learned so far about Online Dating – did I anticipate the depth of spirit he would share with us. He wrote us a letter, and he intends to write to us often as he experiences Online Dating. I won’t take anymore of your reading attention with my words. Instead, I give you Jake…

Dear Heidi Lee,

When I came to you with the idea of personally joining Match.com to find a relationship, I was thrilled that you offered your help. I also really enjoy seeing my adventures immortalized in your blog. I thought it would be fun and I trusted your instincts. I’ve seen your relationship with your own Prince Charming (aka PC) first hand, and I’d hoped your guidance would help me find that same magic.

Yet I have to acknowledge upfront that this project has spiraled into something I never imagined. Had I known what I was faced with, I would have never volunteered.  However, you’re my friend. Now that I’ve made the commitment to this endeavor and to you, my personal code of conduct mandates that I follow through.  But, Heidi Lee, it’s hard. I’m looking at myself and the man I feel like I have been. I see now that I have to become…

So let’s begin with what I’ve learned from you about myself. My only stipulation is that you do not judge me too harshly or see me shrouded in a perpetual cloak of ignorance. You are my friend, and that would hurt.

I never actually had a successful relationship in any capacity.  I’ve gone from one micro-relationship to another (or should I say I’ve been a Toad-Hopping from bed to bed?) I’ve done this all my life.  I prided myself in the belief that I held a keen understanding of what women want only to learn at 41 that I couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

I have dated, and yes, I use that term carelessly, women who were between 18 and 25.  I’ve always told you that I dated these younger women because I lived in a college town with limited options. Now I confess that this is not entirely true.

I never understood that my geographic location wasn’t the only reason for my perpetually young, ever changing, flock of female companions. Funny thing is you did, you called me on it, and I’m grateful that you forced me to open my eyes to reality.  I guess on some level, buried deep within, I couldn’t deny that I was (and still am) incapable of having an adult relationship.  Hence, Lesson #1:

  • Women don’t date boys, and boys aren’t capable of dating women.

Despite a list of what others may consider to be my sexual conquests, I’ve never felt good about the ease at which I leaped from one bedroom to the next. It secretly sickened me.  What I never realized was that I wasn’t just hurting myself. I was actually hurting these women as well. Although I never intended to do harm, my collateral damage remains in the aftermath.  I hid from the ugliness of my behavior and the reality of my actions behind a pretense of self-righteousness, anchored in a pool of arrogance and vanity.  I was actually pompous enough to believe – to hold as concrete – that I was doing these women a favor by sleeping with them. Hence, Lesson #2:

  • What women deserve from men comes from North of the equator!

Heidi Lee, it’s been said that “the truth hurts”. To be quite honest with you I don’t know how much more truth I’ll be able to handle.  In this short time I’ve already seen enough to know that this journey will be a painful education into self-discovery…which leads me to the lesson that keeps me engaged in this process:

  • I owe this to myself, to my sons, and to all the women in my past, present and future.

In light of my confession, I’ll take this next step with you, Heidi Lee. I want to begin this process in earnest by apologizing to all those that I’ve hurt and by forgiving myself for leading a less than respectable life.

Respectfully,

BD – Jake

P.S. As instructed, I will be dining out this evening with just me, myself, and a good book – so that I can learn that my own skin can be a happy place to live.

 

Project Toad: Jake’s Online Dating Profile

Friends, you will all be happy to know that our friend Jake survived Thanksgiving Dinner, and he has been able to dedicate time to creating his Match.com profile. He and I spent some time this afternoon figuring out how much of himself he wants to let strangers see online, and we completed his Match.com questionaire together.

Jake struggled with creating his own version of an Anti-Profile. As soon as we got his mind out of the bedroom and into relationship mode, he realized he had no idea who he may be open to meeting. He had no idea of what activities he may enjoy, but he did share that he likes astronomy. Good start – viewing the stars followed by a nice glass of wine.

Jake realized that the women he has always dated wouldn’t fit the profile of the woman who needs to fit into his current life. Jake went to what he knew. When Match asked, “What things do you like?” Jake replied, “Women”.

When the questions came to enjoyable activities, he asked something along the lines of, “Do they mean other than sex?”

Jake manages to find young women who live in party-mode, but he is a business professional and a single father. In his words, he usually meets the girls who are looking for a last-minute “hook-up”, but then they expect the hook-up to last until the next guy trolls along.

Poor, boy-dumb Jake simply has no idea how to meet a woman that he can be proud to present as his date to an office Christmas party without having to worry that she will leave tushy-tracks on the copier.

Match also wanted to know if he was single, married, divorced or separated. Jake wanted to ignore his short-lived marriage because he believed that being a 41-year old divorced father would be a turn-off. As soon as I presented him with my Seinfeld Theory, we were back on track.

After a couple of hours of Toad Kissing therapy, Jake was able to tell me who he hopes to find…

Jake needs a woman who can be as comfortable throwing back a few beers with a couple of close friends as she is hosting a cocktail party for his colleagues. She should also be physically active. We’ve established that she must enjoy exercise from his earlier debacle. Jake identified exercise as a must-have for the woman who becomes part of his world.

Jake’s perfect woman must be confident and comfortable with herself, and she has to have her own interests and commitments. He cannot get involved with a woman who will make her life revolve around his, and she needs to be strong yet gentle enough to tell him when her plans don’t include an invitation for two.

Ok, so all of this is great! We managed to go live on Match.com today, and we even found a couple of cute women that he liked.

Jake asked about using the Wink feature built into Match. I explained from experience that if he finds the woman interesting enough that he needs to take the time and respond to her with an email.

Men who read about a woman’s interests and aspirations should respect her enough to give a creative response. To get the woman to notice him in return, Jake needed to lead with something more than “Hello” in the subject line.

He put together a saucy yet appropriate little note to a lady who showed spunk and energy. And together, we hit the Send  button. Now I find myself sitting anxiously waiting for the phone to ring…hoping Jake is calling me to read me her reply.

Wow, am I living vicariously or what? Tune in…

Kind Regards,

Heidi Lee

Project Toad: A How-To Guide to Online Dating

Hello friends. Welcome to my how-to guide to digital dating. By now, you probably know that I met my Prince Charming through Match.com. What you may not know is that I survived years of countless failed relationships in the journey to Happily Ever After.

I have kissed my fair share of toads, and I hope to help other people with what I’ve learned. Until now, I have given you a handful of tips for safety and for fun. I haven’t really shared anything, though, that isn’t common sense.

Today, I have an opportunity to let you into my dating secrets. My friend Jake wants to try a new approach to finding love. He knows several people who met their husbands and wives online, and he has asked me to coach him through internet dating.

Jake also agreed to let me share this journey with you. He has been reading my blog quietly since I started, and now he is ready to dive in. I am thrilled to welcome you to participate in Project Toad.

The first step is to develop a dating profile for Jake – not an easy task. You see, Jake says that he doesn’t know what qualities women look for in a prince. This, to me, is a big problem. Jake wants to create a profile to which he could never measure up. He wants to fit himself somewhere for the sake of belonging.

The first challenge; therefore, is to help Jake understand that he has the right qualities for the right woman. He can’t reinvent himself into something he is not, so he has to find pride in the person that he already is.

Yesterday, I asked Jake to make two lists for me. In the first list, Jake needs to describe his best 5 qualities. The only catch – he cannot talk at all about being a parent in this list. Whenever I ask Jake what he likes about himself, he somehow ends every sentence with “for my children”.

Jake has to look inside of himself to know who he is when his kids aren’t around. That is the person who will be taking some lucky lady to dinner. Jake needs to introduce us to the man who holds the door open for his date as they enter a restaurant that doesn’t have a menu option for Children under 12.

Making this list is harder than it seems. As a single mom, I always thought I needed to find someone who would be a perfect dad to my son. Single parents put their children first, so our views are often skewed by the needs of our kids. I didn’t realize that I was interesting because I was more than Cole’s mom.

I needed to learn to separate the mother from the woman. I needed to learn to have a conversation that didn’t involve grass stained soccer uniforms or lead roles in school plays. Making this list for myself helped me to understand that I was more than just Tuesday Night on the carpool rotation.

Jake is also supposed to write down 3 qualities that he admires in others – qualities that draw him to those people. Is ambition a top quality, or is it sincerity? Qualities that Jake admires in others can compliment his own strengths and characteristics.

For me, I admire someone who is grounded and stable – my polar opposite. I’m still out chasing my rainbows. My Prince Charming often comes to my rescue because he makes sure I keep at least one foot on the ground. We are a perfect balance between security and adventure.

I’m anxious to see what Jake comes up with. He has so many good qualities. I believe that he needs to recognize his potential so he can share himself with other people. I promise to let you know as soon as he finishes.

Warm Regards,

Heidi Lee

Dating’s Gone Digital! A Smart Phone App for Singles?

A friend recently forwarded me a New York Times article, With an App, Your Next Date Could Be Just Around the Corner. The concept: “I’ve just finished up with a long day at the office and could use a relaxing drink with a charming man. Crap! No handsome man in my life right now!”

If I’m not curled up in front of my home computer, I may not have access to a readily available Little Black Book. No worries; I’ve got my 4G technology.

Yes, there’s an app that can act as a Little Black Book full of potential blind dates. Sites like OKCupid Locals and HowAboutWe allow for flirty singles to meet up in the spur of the moment. The app delivers recommendations based on geography and timing – a list of singles in a 5-mile radius right now. A couple of quick scans over profiles, and I could send a “How about we…” invitation to another trendy mobile-dater nearby.

Reading the article, I couldn’t help but thinking about a handful of my friends. Many have asked me about the various traditional dating sites like Match.com and eHarmony because I found Prince Charming online.

Wait, did I say “traditional” as if to mean “old school”? Yes, I suppose that I did. If I look at how I met PC a little over a year ago, I am reminded of the thousands of Singles Profiles I scoured during my digital dating days. Reading this article I felt as if my once oh-so-progressive approach to Happily Ever After may now be considered somewhat dated by the younger generations. The 20-somethings might gravitate towards this new spunky way to meet a match, or at least to have a date for a Friday night.

I thought about my single-and-seeking friends as I continued reading. Who might I recommend use this type of dating service? Clearly both the old-school online and the new-aged cellular sites have credibility. Here is what I came up with:

Sites such as Match allow singles to take their time and to get to know people before they actually meet. Singles even have the opportunity to speak to each other using and anonymous Call Me tool. They don’t have to divulge a personal phone number, a last name, or where they might be found. I think these sites are perfect for my friends who need a little caution and security in their lives while also wanting a touch of romance.

The thirty-something single or divorced Mom, for example, can cautiously multi-task through laundry, dishes, and Match-surfing. She can build up a nice little stash of men who may be available at the same time as her babysitter. Single moms and dads probably have the roughest time actually meeting like-minded people, so online dating is a perfect social channel.

I ran into many single dads online – I found many good guys who took a more private approach to meeting Ms. Right. Many of the men were dating online because they didn’t feel they were meeting the right women during bar crawls with their single, child-free buddies. Other men were simply motivated professionals who sought women outside of their existing social and professional circles. Yes, I met a few “creepy, wish I could roll back the clock” sort of men. All-in-all though, the men were vulnerably putting themselves “out there”.

Some of my younger friends are a bit more adventurous. A last minute suggestion for grabbing a martini might be just what they need after a long day at work or in school. I’m sure that a quick invitation from a handsome stranger could put a little kick back into a fallen step. A missed deadline, a failed project, or perhaps a celebration of a tiny personal conquest might be all the reason someone needs to reach out and spin the wheel. Whatever the reason, I think the App is aimed towards instant gratification rather than long-term commitment.

As long as the singles follow a few rules for safety, either sort of blind date could be a load of fun. I have 2 rules that clearly apply to both channels, but even more specifically to the Mobile App.

  1. Always meet out in public until you are comfortable that you are not dating Jeffrey Dahmer. If your gut check tells you not to go back to his place, your gut is really
    smart.
  2. Cash – not credit! A lady always knows when and how to pay for her own drink.

While the first rule may seem self-explanatory, please allow me to elaborate on Rule #2. None of these sites give away your personal identity – you shouldn’t either. Men and women both should always carry cash-on-hand. Paying for a drink with a credit card can give the other person the opportunity to glance at your last name – something you don’t want if your date seems to be sizing up your body parts for a coffin in the basement. Keep a spare $20 or two in your purse or wallet, and use it wisely. One day you may find yourself grateful to have listened to your mother’s advice to tuck a $20 away just in case – this advice comes from experience.

But have fun – enjoy – be creative. Most importantly, be safe.

Happy Dating!

Heidi Lee

Reference: Jenna Wortham. With an App, Your Next Date Could Be Just Around the Corner. New York Times. November 2, 2011.

Online Dating: Finding Opera in a Chorus of Elmer Fudds

The view out from my bedroom window is a bit extraordinary – peering through frost-laced glass I see the sun glistening on Green Bay. PC wakes me with a fresh cup of coffee and our Sunday morning ritual of listening to Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me on #NPR radio. A Boom penetrates the bedroom and shakes me in my jammies. My first thought is “here comes an autumn storm” until I realize the thunder in the air is actually coming from Elmer Fudd in my back yard.

Beams of light cross the Bay, and dance in front of the hunters cruising in their viscous vessels of ducky death. I send my thoughts upwards towards Apollo; the Ancient Sun God, “Won’t you please, fair and just Apollo, please bless that hunter with a beam of light straight between the eyes as he lifts his gun and points towards our little feathered friends? Fly away, little birdies. Fly and be free.”

Living in Wisconsin, hunting is a way of life for many. I’m not opposed to the sport as I understand the need to control animal populations. I simply do not choose the rugged outdoors as a primary means of a food source or entertainment. I prefer to get my meat from my grocer’s freezer and my entertainment from HBO.

This morning’s hunting episode caused my mind to wander back to ancient Sunday mornings before PC was in my life – cruising through the Online classifieds of the ugly Singles scene. Those mornings were often dedicated to searching through the profiles of Match.com to see if any new specimens could peek my interest. Too often, however, my AM coffee and Danish was interrupted by an online photo stylings of a potential Match –

Screen Name: Mr. Bass Pro seeks his Little Mrs.

He clearly expectived that the ladies in waiting were anxiously awaiting a private viewing of his latest trophy buck from a hunting expedition.

For reasons unbeknownst to me, some men seem to believe that women are sexually drawn to the guy who can gut a wild boar with his bare hands, and use the tanned boar-skin to line the baskets we timid feminine creatures would use to gather and grind the grains. These men see themselves in the glowing image of Orion, the mythical hunter, and they think that women swoon under their protection.

Really? Why? Why would any person in their right mind think that posting a picture of a Gutted Deer hanging by twine from a rafter was sexy? Why would he believe a woman would get hot and bothered seeing the murderer himself poses next to the victim while toasting with a can of beer and a bag of pork rinds? Why?

People have asked me, how did I get lucky enough to find my Prince Charming (aka PC)? With all of the  unique  people online, how did I navigate through the herds of love-seekers to find my perfect Match? Well, while I truly believe that he and I are lucky in love, I will say that finding him took skill, planning and knowing myself.

I thought I might share some of my Match.com rules with you, my friends, so that you too may learn to enjoy the exciting people in the e-social scene. How do e-love seekers manage to find people in the online scene without trying to fit his square peg into her round hole? How does one avoid the after taste from the aroma of Elmer Fudd if she is more interested in the mindless babblings of PePe LePew?

First – you have to know and love yourself. Realize that you are entitled – not only what you want, but you also have a right to not settle for someone who you don’t want. I have said this before, and I will continue to remind you. If you aren’t happy with yourself, you cannot find true happiness with another person.

Next step – Build an Anti-profile. When I started building my online check list a couple of years ago, I was able to search for men based on hobbies and interests. At first, I started by naming the qualities I had hoped to find in a guy. I said I wanted someone who was romantic, intelligent, funny and who enjoyed travel, wine and conversation. I hoped for someone who liked books and music. I mentioned a couple of my bucket list items included learning to speak Italian or visiting Ancient Greece. Sounds good, right? Sure, but who wouldn’t want those things? It seemed that everyone online wanted some version of that exact thing – but each person had their own translation of how that looked.

I’d bet that profile matched probably 3/4 of the people who use online sites. I didn’t say anything unique or creative to stand out in the crowd, and I didn’t really give the men an idea of who I was looking for. How could I, right? I hadn’t found him yet. That would be like describing the a cozy little cottage in Ireland when you’ve never been outside of the United States. You haven’t been there – so you can’t do it.

Some of my mistakes:

  • I didn’t specify that when I spoke of books I meant the drunken mystique of Ernest Hemingway
  • I failed to describe the music I wanted to hear was the romantic and velvety tones of Frank Sinatra
  • I never pointed out that the wine I wanted didn’t involve cardboard recycling

I did get what I asked for though – books and music. For my first coffee date, I met a man in the Starbucks part of Barnes & Noble. Before he arrived, I positioned myself near the front door and watched the types of books each man coming in would pick up and thumb through. As my guy pushed through the crowds and made his way over to me, I saw him touch his fingers to the Bargain Bin where he lifted a copy of Beer-Making for Dummies. He grabbed onto the book as if it were the last true message from a Prophet, and he made a beeline for the empty chair next to me. Oh no!

As we began our cozy little chat, he went on to quote the literary genius from his recent copy of You Might Just be a Redneck. He continued to entice me with promises of visiting the world’s largest ball of twine as we toured the NASCAR museums around the country.

OK, so this guy wasn’t going to cut it for me.

What did I need to do differently in my search? I took a new approach. I needed a little fine-tuning of my strategy. Instead of describing what thought I wanted in 50 words or less, I learned to be proactive. I read into and behind what was in the pictures and the bios of the men on Match rather than waiting for them to come to me. I reached out with a wink and a smile, and I started making tracks with men who had real “Heidi Potential”.

What I found  as I searched through the profiles with a new awareness was that our personalities do really come through the computer screen. I targeted my search more in line with my specific interests. I kept I excluded the characteristics I couldn’t live with –  hobbies that included firearms for example. I only started communicating with the men who could fit outside of my Anti-Profile – well – for the most part anyways.

Typically, an avid Wisconsin hunter makes his passion clearly known through pictures and language. Although I didn’t learn immediately that the online poster boy of Brawny Paper Towels was not my dream man, over time I understood how to use profile images and language to sort through the guys I didn’t want. If their pictures and language resembled Mr. Brawny, then I didn’t try read something between the lines that didn’t really exist.

I’ve heard people say that you can’t tell much from a one-page profile on Match or eHarmony. But you can. True, you won’t find your Love at First Site – but you can figure out how to find the obvious deal-breakers before you get started.

When I went online that I couldn’t say,” I want…a, b, and c”. I it was that simple, I probably would have already found him already. In the past, every man I had chosen to be my Happily Ever After turned out to leave me as Heidi Happily Even After…and on my own.

I believe that we hurt our chances when we lock ourselves into finding the image of the perfect man or woman. Our preconceived ideas create blinders on us against other possibilities. This means we limit our choices to only people who fit inside of that box whether by looks, by career, by education level, by whatever…. But I say, get rid of what doesn’t fit at all – then work your way into finding something better.

Through trial and error, I learned to ask myself,” What are my deal-breakers from the start?”. For me, I knew I could never be a Hunter’s Widow – the Wife who loses her husband a couple of weeks every November to the guys at Deer Camp with several cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Images of Christmas shopping in the Taxidermy aisle; thoughts of batting my eyes as I open my new formaldehyde and pine scented anniversary gift –  simply not a chapter in my Happily Ever After. I’d stopped encouraging further winks and emails from profiles that led with the Outdoor themes, and I looked to isolate hobbies such as camping and fishing. While I like the the to take in a bit of nature, men who lead with these activities probably enjoy it way more than I ever would.

And even though the Wisconsin Hunter’s Widow Tradition involves a Tour Stop from the Chip -N- Dale dancers, I’d rather take a trip to the city with my best girl friends to drop the singles into the g-string-covered genitals of the golden Adonis. And I’d top the trip off with a day of shoe-shopping.

Knowing what I truly wanted in my Prince Charming took time. Women and men both build images of their perfect love, but those images are built on dreams and wishes – and often likenesses to one’s self. Quite frankly, I could never put up with dating me – I’m too high-maintenance.

The man who I fell in love with is nothing like the image I created over my 40 year search for happiness. Instead, he is someone who I could have never imagined. While he enjoys taking me to the Theater, to Concerts and to the Ballet, everything he learned about Opera he learned from Bugs Bunny. You would have never looked for that written into a profile, huh? His love of Wagner evolved over many episodes of the tragic conflict between Bugs and Elmer. What a guy!

So my advice to you, friends, Why try to fityour perfect match into an incomplete image? If you limit yourselves within what you think you need, you leave out a whole other world of interest and intrigue. Once you figure out what you don’t want, Let yourself be surprised by what you might find. I did, and I’ve put a new man into my dreams who actually fits there.

Warm Regards,

Heidi Lee

Side note: I realize that many people – men and women alike – are passionate about the sport of hunting. My thoughts are, if this is your primary passion, save the blood and glory stories for Date #3 – at least.