Online Dating Decoder: Desperately Seeking Meaning

Women come to me all the time for relationship advice, as I have been married three times (well, technically four -- I don't count the annulment) and dated hundreds of men. I try to explain that this is not a badge of honor; if you want relationship advice, go to someone who married her college boyfriend and is still married to him 30 years later.

Be that as it may, there are many women out there who, at 50-something, are dipping a wary toe into the brave new world of online dating. Having spent the majority of the past two decades single and available, I watched online dating mature from "last resort of the desperate" to "harmless fun for married men" to "the road to romance in a high-tech world." I assume this is an improvement, although I cannot guarantee it.

Fact is, once we're out of college and increasingly out of the traditional workplace in favor of isolated home offices, there aren't many other ways to meet men. I don't know about you, but I'm just not out clubbing as much as I once was.

Here, then, is some hard-won wisdom and a few shards of jaded attitude. It is my experience that the internet dating code has become, in a word, codified. Back when we were buying expensive newsprint real estate (remember newsprint?) for the personals, it was all about abbreviations like SWF and BBW. Now it's all in the translation.

Some of the code words are obvious: Cuddly = Fat. Searching for my Soulmate = Stalker. Some are more subtle. Here are a few of Ethlie's Tips for Online Dating, Over 50 Edition.

1. First, check the stats. Deduct two inches from his height and $30,000/year from his stated income. Then add 10 years to his age. Women, by the way, usually only shave off five years. Men tend to be deluded about the youthfulness of their appearance. I blame shaving mirrors: If they can't see the bald spot and beer belly, they assume you can't, either.

2. Next, look at the photo itself. No photo means he's either married or Quasimodo. Odds are he's not Quasimodo. The headgear is your first tell. Unless he's actually riding a horse, any man wearing a cowboy hat is bald. Also, do not expect him to go to a chick flick with you (any movie without explosions is a chick flick) or to cook indoors. If he's wearing a cowboy hat and standing next to a truck, he's bald and he drinks. If he's wearing a cowboy hat and standing next to a Harley, he's bald, drinks, and will cheat on you.

Unless he's actually playing baseball, any man wearing a baseball cap is also bald. If he's wearing a baseball cap, a sport coat and gym shoes, do not expect him to pick up the check.

3. If he's posed next to a sports car, he is insecure about his manhood and will hit on your sister. If he's posed next to a Hummer, he's insecure about his manhood and will hit you. If he's in a motorboat, expect a commitment-phobe. If he's in a sailboat, expect a neat freak -- unless it's a catamaran, in which case send him over to me.

4. Next, look at the way he describes himself. If he's a "good listener," he's a wimp; you'll be choosing the restaurant. If he's "down to earth," he's cheap; you'll be going Dutch. If he's "a great kisser," he's oversexed; expect to fight him off after dinner.

5. "Adventurous" means kinky. "Sensual" means kinky. "Open-minded" means kinky. "Worldly" means kinky. "Sophisticated" means kinky. "Kinky" means not only is he kinky, but he overshares.

6. "Wants to spoil you" means he's looking for someone his daughter's age, D-cup or better. "Generous" means he's looking for someone younger than his daughter, DD-cup or better. "Outdoorsy" means he doesn't own a good suit. "Athletic" means he spends his Sundays in front of the television. So does "I'm not the kind of guy who spends his Sundays in front of the television."

7. Watch out in particular for buzzwords that men think women like. "A gentleman" is a misogynist in a dress shirt. "A romantic" is a serial dater with a bouquet. "Spiritual" means he can barely earn enough to feed himself. And "sensitive"... well, sensitive means he isn't really looking for someone like you. He's really looking for someone like him. You know, someone with a penis.