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Pulling the Profile
By David Israel

The problem with Internet dating is not meeting people; it's knowing when to stop meeting people. I should know, because for all intents and purposes, I met my fiancé online. And while sure, some part of finding your other half is simply perseverance and ultimate good fortune, another, perhaps larger part, is knowing the best game plan. Just like in hockey, the way a coach has to know when to pull his goalie, so must those who subscribe to online dating services know when to pull their profiles.

The scene is your average corporate office floor in midtown Manhattan, a little over a year ago: Fluorescent light fixtures recess into drop ceilings. Prefab squares of textured, split-pea green, glued-down carpet cover concrete floors. Cubicle walls cut the vast interior space creating a maze of semi-private cubbies. Each enclave is outfitted with the exact same desk, filing cabinet, computer monitor, ergonomically correct high back chair, phone and stapler. Vice-presidents can be heard rifling off emails on their keyboards. Assistants can be overheard on the phone setting up meetings for their bosses, arranging lunches, booking hotels overseas, or discussing the difficulties of finding quality reconstructive hair conditioners at affordable prices.

Meanwhile, I'm busy answering an email from a new girl I've made contact with through my online dating service. Her name is Jamie. She's a Columbia grad with subscriptions to both US Weekly and The Economist. She likes "titanium surfaces," has "small wrists and ankles," and "a thing for browsing ethnic grocery stores." From the photos she's posted and the previous emails I've received, she represents herself to be a savvy, good-looking, talented architect who's had her fill of players, who's grown weary of the tall, dark, and hand-somebody-else-your-commitment-issue types.

I like her style. I like it a lot. But I don't want to come on too strong too soon. Twenty-seven new profiles of gals between the ages of 26 and 36, over five foot three inches tall, and within a 10 mile radius of my zip code have already signed up for the service since I logged on yesterday. And one of them is an exceedingly attractive book agent (this appeals to the novelist-wannabe in me, big time). Plus, two other girls have sent me winks, smiles, or teases over the last hour and I haven't even had time to check out their profiles yet. So I play it cool.

Yes, I agree, we should move this thing to the phone, and I thank you for trusting me with your digits. But may I suggest holding off another few days? Maybe get to know each other a little more here, on email, before hearing each other's voices?

It's not that I don't want to speak to her. On the contrary: Past experience has definitely taught me the importance of making vox-contact early on. (This, after I fell madly in love with NYLAWYER75 over email only to discover on our first date that her voice was the missing link between Miss Piggy's and a Black & Decker power drill.) But I've also learned that once the ten-minute phone conversation is initiated (most online daters know proper first-phone-call etiquette: keep it to ten minutes), precipitating actual human contact, it's pretty hard to wiggle your way out of a real, live, date. Email, on the other hand, while being a solid avenue for revealing one's dislike of the present administration's environmental policies, is still a cold and sterile enough environment to abruptly disengage -- to put an end to it all without reason, to drop off the face of the Net, to disappear into the ether. This has happened at one time or another to everyone who's ever tried online dating. And while it's a definitive and immediate blow to the ego when it happens to you, once you've done it to someone else, it seems almost acceptable. "Eh, whatever," you justify. "It wouldn't have worked out anyway. I could never get serious with someone who doesn't know the difference between your and you're."

In the afternoon, when Jamie hasn't responded to my above email, I begin to get a little worried. Like maybe I shouldn't have balked at the phone offer. Like maybe she's now moved on to the next guy on her list, the one who doesn't have trouble switching from email to phone so quickly.

I bring it up on my therapist's couch later that day.

"The problem is that there's always going to be new profiles on there," I say as I stare out her office window at the lower Manhattan cityscape.

With a tone of voice that suggests she already knows the answer to her question, she asks, "And why is that a problem?"

"Supposing I settle for Girl A," I explain, "and begin to fall for her. I could be missing out on a new girl, say Girl E, who has A's beauty, B's IQ, C's sense of humor and D's summer house in the Berkshires."

"True, but what if Girl E has bad breath? Or several Yanni CDs?" (My therapist is a hoot.) "What then? Girl F?"

"See that's the thing: I'm sure there is a Girl F out there, and sometimes I feel that if I hold out long enough, she'll show up on my results page."

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