Online dating. Sounds easy and guy friendly. Like eBay and Craigslist. No more going to bars, coffee shops, the gym and wherever else I go hoping to meet the right woman. Just post my "ad" and wait for the email contacts to roll in. That's the dream, anyway.
Still, was I going to take the online dating plunge and disappear into a black hole or a cone of silence?
After a divorce and a series of blind and not-so-blind dates, I needed help. I'd followed Melani Robinson's blog 1yearofonlinedatingat50.com and when she started a new website offering Online Dating Boot Camp, I sent her an email. Then I called. She was named one of the Ten Best Online Dating Experts by DatingAdvice.com ("the web's authority and leading research site for dating"). I live in Virginia, not too remote from Melani's New York, Upper West Side address, and I have a daughter living in Manhattan so this could work.
Melani recently held a boot camp at Redemption Bar & Grill on Second Avenue and 53rd Street where for three hours on a Tuesday night, in a private room, she took her troops through the do's and don'ts of online dating, creating a profile, choosing the right photos, grooming (the basics and then some), initial contacts by email and first date etiquette.
There is no marching, pushups, sweating or footlocker inspections, although she said I might need a wardrobe makeover to supplement my t-shirt collection and replace the out-of-date and ill-fitting things I've been parading around in. As she talked, I realized that at times her advice is more drill sergeant than Emily Post.
I started by asking Melani about profiles. "Some begin with 'My friends would describe me as . . .' ," she said. "Who fucking cares? They're your friends. Tell me how your enemies might describe you. Now that might be interesting."
What about photos like I've seen of men with their dogs? "There are a million dog pictures. Why the hell am I looking at ten pictures of you with your dog? I love dogs and one would be great, but if you've got the dog in every shot it's a red flag."
I rode motorcycles until I crashed last fall and ripped my leg open, so I asked her thoughts about guys posting photographs with their motorcycles (just not the crashed one). "They're all proud of their Harleys and it's so cliché," she said. "A middle-aged guy with his bike. I'm not saying don't mention it, just skip the photos that scream midlife crisis."
And, she added, "they write things they're proud of, like 'I don't need Viagra,' or 'all systems go!' That's a turnoff. What an asshole."
At this point, a cocktail or two was sounding like a good thing.
Viagra statements and such may arouse a woman's attention but not her interest. Melani's comments had me thinking that when it comes to figuring out how to attract women, male intuition isn't all it's cracked up to be.
"Any kind of sexual reference is inappropriate," she said. "'Sensual man looking for a mate.' Please, that's not subtle."
At this point I was wondering if women were making the same kinds of mistakes.
"Absolutely," she said. "This is about what I do to help men fix their mistakes. You want to know how women mess up? That's a whole other story."
Melani also covers grooming advice. One client who had been having no success online had some clothing issues. "He wore boxy suits and had a great body, very trim." She said his suits were expensive but ill fitting and he needed a more European cut. When he reported her advice to his tailor, the tailor's response was, "I've been telling you this for years."
Sometimes we just don't listen.
We have to touch the stove to see if it's hot. We're doubting Thomases, Peters and Pauls. No wonder we're not getting the contacts we think our online profiles should be generating.
I asked if there were other forms of self-sabotage she frequently sees men committing. One, she said, is when men in their mid-fifties (I'm 58) say they are looking to date women 18 to 45 years old. "Here's the deal. If I'm an attractive woman 45 to 50-years-old, I'm turned off immediately. There's something perverse about a 55-year-old man wanting to date a girl who's 18. Even if his profile and photos are great, I'm not interested in that guy. I have daughters that age. Do you really want to date a girl? Do you think you'll have anything in common? Even if you get that date, which is highly unlikely, everything you do will remind her that you're a lot older. Give age parameters like that and you'll simply turn off age appropriate women."
Okay. If I see a woman's profile and photos and she's interesting, how do I go about contacting her? For starters, she said, "if you're not Brad Pitt, why are you trying to date Angelina Jolie? You have to look in the mirror and realistically assess who you are because physical attraction is just as important to women as it is to men."
The initial contact is also crucial. She says men contact women with messages like, "Hot Photos!" or "You're beautiful!" We think these are complimentary. Melani says these are not conversation starters and they are not welcome coming from a complete stranger.
Are there other things I might put in my profile that would make women stay away? "Saying, 'I'm hoping to meet someone normal for once on this site' or any other statement that shows negativity, bitterness or resentment toward women."
I wasn't planning on going there but I have three children, now adults. Is it helpful to show or mention them to indicate I'm grounded, responsible and contact worthy? She said some men put up photos of their children, but "why would you be putting photographs of your children on a dating website? That's creepy. Of course you'll mention your kids in the profile, but don't embarrass them by posting their photo."
By this point, the online profile I'd prepared was starting to look like a minefield. But how do I know if this workshop is for me?
"When you're new to dating, or it's been a while, or when you've struck out online, there's something preventing you from meeting women," Melani said. "When men outnumber women and you're still not dating, there's a problem. If you're not even getting to a first date, there's an issue in the way you're presenting yourself or in the way you are communicating with women online."
She warned, however, that this boot camp isn't about teaching men to put on sheep's clothing or present a false profile.
"I'm not trying to teach you to feed women bullshit," Melani said. "I'm trying to give guys the opportunity to put their best foot forward, to show women the best part of themselves."
"For women, online dating is a scary thing," she said. "They're putting their photos and life out there for anyone to see. Women are going out on dates with strangers. Sure, they're meeting in public places but still, women want to know they're going to be with a normal guy they can trust and who's safe."
I liked the idea of starting the evening with a drink. But then what? Melani said she lets the men know that they're all in this together. They should feel free to ask anything and that no question is off limits. There's nothing they can ask that will shock her.
She described the evening as an easy give-and-take between her presentation and plenty of questions and comments. "This is like going to a batting coach when you're struggling with your swing," she said. "I just fix it. All I need is to see what you're doing. And these guys are like I'm giving them the secrets of the universe. They're like 'Wow!'"
I asked for comments made by some of the men she's helped. The one that summed up best was from Anthony who said, "Melani has revolutionized my approach to dating. She is the Michael Jordan of dating advice."
What's her key to success? "It's human nature to want a partner," she said, "and it makes me happy to know I'm helping people find love. It just doesn't get any better than that."
I could see a trip to New York City was in my near future. May 14, 2013, is Melani's next online dating boot camp at Redemption Bar & Grill. Information on that or her private consulting can be found at MelaniRobinson.com.