An Online Dating Expert Gets Played

There's nothing about the online dating experience that can surprise me. I've seen it all and revel in my ability to identify and avoid a dating shit show in the making. Um, at least that's what I thought.
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I am an online dating expert.

Hold on. Don't roll your eyes. This is not a self-proclaimed title or one given because I completed a web-based certification course. I was named one of the "Ten Best Online Dating Experts" by a leading dating advice website. Here's a portion of what the article states:

"Melani Robinson is as real as it gets. A writer, mother, dog lover, yoga enthusiast and foodie, Robinson gives dating advice based on firsthand experience in her award-winning blog, "1 Year of Online Dating at 50." Robinson calls it like she sees it -- the good, the bad, the painful and the disappointing. Oh, and she's not afraid of a few four-letter words."

That's right, boots on the ground, baby, and there's nothing about the online dating experience that can surprise me. I've seen it all and revel in my ability to identify and avoid a dating shit show in the making.

Um, at least that's what I thought.

I met RJ for a drink after we matched on Tinder. We had exchanged a few texts and spoke briefly on the phone. He was interesting, funny and complimentary. There were no red flags in our communication, his written profile or pics. In my expert opinion, RJ was normal. The one drawback was that he was only visiting New York City but he planned to rent an apartment as work brought him to Manhattan on a monthly basis.

When I arrived at the bar he was already seated at a table by the window. RJ smiled, stood and walked towards me. Beyond being handsome (sheesh, even a novice could see that), I surmised that RJ was normal AND a gentleman.

"Your pictures don't do you justice," were his first words and I quickly added "charming" to my professional assessment of RJ. Two drinks later I had learned much more. He was interesting, had traveled the world and we shared many common experiences. As our date ended he walked me to my Uber and we hugged goodbye, but not before he asked if I was available for dinner the following night (go-getter, check). It was the only opportunity we would have for a proper second date before he left for home. I had plans so it appeared we would have to wait for his return to the city for date number two. Before I'd even arrived at my apartment, RJ sent a text thanking me for a great first date (follow-through, yep).

The next day we flirted a bit as we exchanged more texts and talked on the phone. The list was growing and "confident" was added. RJ asked if I would meet him for a walk in Central Park on the morning he was flying out. I suggested Tavern on the Green where there's a coffee to-go window and outdoor seating. Again, it was a stimulating conversation. He mentioned that he didn't think online dating was for him because it was awkward talking to a bunch of strangers, especially since people aren't going to tell the whole truth about their lives (insightful, noted).

After an hour it was time for me to leave for an appointment across the park on the Upper East Side. RJ asked if he could walk me there. "Gallant" was then included and further cemented when he took my hand as we strolled.

Upon arrival, he kissed me goodbye (swagger, absolutely), said he'd be in touch and looked forward to seeing me again when he returned. After he left I thought about the ease of those two dates. No drama, just two single adults enjoying each other's company. It was comfortable, normal and sane. There was also physical chemistry and in the digital dating arena that's wildly refreshing.

Later that evening, my cell rang. It was an unfamiliar number from the state where he resided and I figured he was calling from his home phone. Here's the conversation:

Me (cheerfully): Hello?
Caller: Hi, this is the wife of the guy you just dated.
Me: (stunned silence)
Caller (furious): You know, RJ, the guy you met on Tinder?
Caller: This is his wife and he's busted BIG TIME.
Me: (still shocked and silent)
Caller: Maybe you should lose his number.
Me: (yep, I was still mute)
Caller: He's married.
Caller: I don't suppose he told you he's married?
Me: No.
Caller: No, of course not but he won't be for long. Maybe you should keep his number.
Me: No, I don't think so.
Caller (clearly repeating for his benefit): You don't think so.
Caller: OK, goodbye.

I amended my, ahem, expert opinion to include "rotten cheat."

Still reeling, I thought about any clue I had overlooked. No wedding band tan lines, he gave me his cell number and was openly affectionate, even relaxed, in public. There wasn't a thing I missed.

Or was there?

It seems when it comes to matters of the heart, even a battle scarred realist can get played. I was caught up in our connection -- the rarefied digital dating experience -- when his words should have prompted me to take a step back and do some Google creeping. Let's look at what he said again.

"With online dating, people aren't going to tell the whole truth about their lives."

Preach, RJ.

A version of this post first appeared on Melani's website:

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