Friday, April 21, 2006



(Mary Donnelly is a high school teacher who lives in West Islip, NY)

Just this past week, as I was about to cancel my Match.com membership for the third time, I received a "wink" from someone who looked like the kind of man I'd like to meet. He was 25, according to his online profile, and moderately attractive, with wavy brown hair and dark eyes. I checked to see if he met my criteria for dating. Is he taller than I? Yes. Does he have a job? Yes. Is his income comparable to mine? Yes. Is he a smoker? No. He's a Mets fan - bonus! He's a middle school teacher - score!

I then came across a word that made me uncomfortable: "divorced." I mulled this over, trying to decide whether it was a deal breaker. But then, I thought, who's to say that his divorce means that something's wrong with him?
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I e-mailed him, and we proceeded to carry on a cyberconversation for a few days. We talked about teaching, the Mets, our favorite foods, our favorite colors. I was about ready to send him my phone number and suggest a quick coffee date when a surprise e-mail arrived - not from him, but from his wife. It read, "He is still married - not separated - MARRIED."

Horrified, I did not respond. The next day, clearly having gotten inside Match.com, she sent me another e-mail, asking that I forward my correspondence with her husband. By then she had edited his online dating profile to include a bulleted list that described her husband as a cheating, back-stabbing liar. In another area of his profile, she posted a photograph of the two of them in happier days: his down-on-one-knee marriage proposal.
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Underneath another long list of grievances, including the fact that he's really a guy with "a few extra pounds" rather than "athletic and toned," she wrote, "Now, he will be divorced."

I was jarred by this audacious invasion of privacy, but I was also grateful that the wife contacted me before I had met her husband in person. Who knows where that relationship could have gone ... and more importantly, how long it might have taken me to learn the truth?

The same week, I read Newsday's cover story about police officer Michael Valentine's alleged cyberstalking. Valentine allegedly met a woman on Match.com, dated her for a while and then retaliated after she rejected him by getting into her Match.com profile, assuming her online persona and humiliating her. If only she'd had somebody to warn her (assuming it's all true), "Watch out, this guy is not too stable."
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Incidents like these make it hard not to wonder if I set myself up for danger as well as disappointment by using Match.com. How can I know if the profiles are true? If I meet someone I like, do I have to worry that he's maintaining his account behind his wife's back? If things don't work out, will I have to worry about him stealing my password and cyberstalking me?

On the other hand, it's foolish to assume that "traditional" dating is any safer. I haphazardly met the last man I dated in Penn Station. He was also a total stranger, and is probably just as capable of stalking as anyone I could possibly meet online. So what gives?

Although Match.com is probably the most popular dating site, others offer more ways to learn about your prospective date without having to become a hacker. On Friendster.com and Myspace.com, every person has a group of "friends" displayed on his or her profile page. If someone looks interesting, it's not hard to find out background information by clicking through his "friends list" and either contacting friends by e-mail or at least seeing what kind of people the friends seem to be.

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All of this is enough to make me consider retreating into a hidey-hole free from dating altogether. But then I consider the alternative.

As for my "divorced" friend, I never sent the correspondence to the wife. (That didn't seem ethical to me, and I could just imagine myself called to testify at their divorce hearing.) I didn't want any more to do with either of them, so I adjusted the blocking options on my computer and reported the situation to Match.com's abuse team. They responded a few days later: "We have been made aware of this issue and have taken the appropriate action on the reported account."

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I'm happy to get away from this mess, but I wonder if I did the right thing. Was Match.com's "appropriate action" in the best interest of the suitor's wife, or of her cheating husband? It seems a lot to have to worry about just for trying to find a companion in life.


1 comment:

Mary Donnelly said...

Thanks for posting my article. I'm glad that it interested you!