Double take

He was in love with himself -- both of them. Dr. Jekyll was hot; I had to dump deceitful Mr. Hyde.

Published January 13, 2003 8:14PM (EST)

Hell: My dark Angel

His name was Angel. He wasn't.

This is a story about the kind of date we're all afraid of, ladies -- the one who picks up your Internet profile, then edits his to match exactly what youre looking for.

It all seemed to start innocently enough. He e-mailed his profile through the Sea of Love site. It was uncanny; he looked like the perfect match for me -- single, never married, no children, professional, loved dogs, liked to travel, was just as comfortable knocking around in a pair of jeans as he was at work, viewed life as an adventure and a gift! He was balanced (even a Libra!), and first and foremost, liked who he was. His picture: totally hot -- Puerto Rican, tall, dark, handsome and an awesome dresser.

He liked long hair -- red -- wanted to meet someone professional, with a good sense of humor, who liked animals and liked to travel, interested in history and art. Right on target.

Angels real profile: Divorced guy from Brooklyn married for eight years, has two teenage sons and an ex-wife he supports in Jersey. Downsized from his job twice, claimed to have lost nearly half a mil in the stock market, said his dog was kidnapped and offered me the leftover treats for mine (they belonged to the nonkidnapped dog of girlfriend No. 2), looks at life as a stage and he's the player and the gift, and is extremely pleased with himself -- and his double life.

But I didn't know that then. We exchanged e-mails. We met. I fell. He was a perfect gentleman. He was smart. He was funny. He had an ass you could bounce a quarter off. We went out, we rented movies, we made out on the couch. He made me coffee the next morning. How could this be real? How indeed?

We had sex -- hot, mind-altering, parallel-universe, can't-walk, can't-remember-my-name sex. And that was the first two weeks. Not bad for my first foray into Internet dating. I was satisfied; I canceled my online membership. He canceled his. (Or did he?)

Unbeknownst to me, I had just entered the eighth circle of hell. It started with the panicky and adrenaline-mixed feeling you experience as you sign on the dotted line at the car dealership. You're thinking, Great looking with a real power package, but am I getting screwed? Here's a tip. If you get that feeling, if at some point during a date it crosses your mind that he might have three secret families, run. Never look back.

Things began to not add up. He was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll was the guy I first met. Then there was this other cranky guy -- the one with no photographs in his house who contradicted himself all the time and never introduced me to his friends, who "accidentally" threw out things that I left at his place, who never answered the phone when I was there.

One crazy story too many had me on the phone to his house when I knew he was out of town. Of course a woman answered. She was as curious about Angel's double life as I was.

I'm going back to blond. I hear they have more fun.

-- (Name withdrawn), Atlanta

Heaven: All that soccer mom shit

Online life was a distraction from real life in 1998, a life that was none too pretty for either of us at the time. We were both going through the end of messy marriages. His left him raising his 5- and 7-year-old children by himself. I was 500 miles away, trying to decide what to do with the remains of a wreckage of a career, and a marriage I knew was over, though I hadn't yet told my husband. I was game for a serious distraction.

We were introduced by a mutual online friend and enjoyed each other's wit, twisted sense of humor, and favorite music, movies and books.

"I could really love you, if only you were real," he said, not really kidding.

We spent a fortune on long-distance calls, falling deeper into infatuation. Instead of online life being the escape, it began to eclipse real life.

My husband found out about my decision to leave, and I decided it was as good a time as any to visit my mystery love. Scared, yet driven by conviction and the clarity of thought that a truly insane person has, I drove from Omaha to Milwaukee and met him at his door. We took a long moment to recognize each other, then fell into a long embrace. It took us all of about 15 minutes of small talk to make love that night. It was frighteningly better than either of us had dreamed it would be.

Then reality intervened again. His divorce wasn't yet finalized, and turned out to be uglier than he had let on. I turned out to be much more of an alcoholic than I had let on. It took a long time for us to recover from both.

But life moved on. We have a house in the suburbs. He goes to work in the morning and I walk the kids to school, bake bread and all that soccer mom shit. We eat dinner, I go to A.A. and he does homework with the kids. We fall asleep in each other's arms each night, four years from the start of the journey, utterly amazed.

-- Liesl Thornton, Milwaukee

Heaven: Love at first streetcar

I put a picture up. I'm a girl. Lots of replies. A surprising number of them were even articulate.

Over 10 days I enjoyed a number of conversations. One correspondent suggested coffee. Remembering the horror stories I had heard, I set some ground rules: a coffee shop out of my neighborhood, a one-hour time limit, no last names, no telling them where I worked, no discussion of follow-up meetings in person.

I lined up four coffee dates for that Sunday. One -- "Moviegoer" -- had a conflict and wanted to meet earlier in the week. I picked the coffee shop across the road from my therapist, just for a thrill.

My first Internet date. I was anxious and confused and exhilarated and nervous, and feeling pretty damn stupid. He was late; I'd given him bad directions. Two-and-a-half hours later he tore himself away from our conversation because he had to walk his dog. We'd clicked. It was simple. It was lovely. He was charming, smart, genuine, cute, funny. We laughed about my ground rules, realizing we had waived every one of them. We exchanged e-mails that night. He sent me a picture of his dog. We quickly arranged a second date, for Sunday dinner.

Being a good Internet dating soldier, I went through with my other dates Sunday afternoon. Bachelor No. 1 was your classic geek. Bachelor No. 2 was a chiropractor -- nice man, deeply boring. Bachelor No. 3 told me he was a photographer. It turned out that's what he did in his spare time: "I manufacture and sell lubricants," he told me (no, not for cars).

Clearly, I wasn't going to click with everyone. Clearly, there are men looking for women online who are boring, geeky and even creepy.

I was sitting on the streetcar on the way to meet Moviegoer, waiting at the subway stop to pick up transferring passengers. I glanced up to see Moviegoer walking toward me. He sat beside me.

We've barely been apart since, and are planning our wedding.

-- Kate Atherley, Toronto

Hell: I give up

Everyone has a friend of a friend who found true love on the Internet and is now living happily ever after. Worth a try.

I wrote my profile and ideal match, giving it careful thought. I wrote straight from the heart and said things like: "I believe there are no answers, only questions," and "It's the negotiation not the outcome that's important." I got no response so I exchanged my posted picture for one where even I think I look like an airhead. I changed the profile to: "I am smart, pretty, tall, slender, athletic, nurturing, funny, youthful, sensual, financially independent, loyal and always interesting."

The e-mails poured in.

A first online match date is like nothing I've ever experienced before. The sizing up begins from the moment appearances prove acceptable so that within hours you're trying to decide not just where you'll live, but what color the living room will be and how you'll be spending your holidays. After careful pre-screening I accepted four dates.

The first guy wasn't bad, but he already had his life planned out. He was going to live in his house for the rest of his life. He had been diagnosed with a pre-diabetic condition and was fanatic about diet and exercise. I paid for coffee.

The second was a consultant. He wasn't 57, as he had claimed online, but at least 70 and counting. I got hung up on his age spots, his rumpled suit, and four wisps of hair he tried to comb over his bald spot. It was like trying not to stare at roadkill.

The third was sweet but fatally flawed. He burst into a big, open-mouthed horse laugh whenever I said anything even remotely funny or clever. It wasn't pretty. I couldn't imagine a future with him without Prozac.

The last date was a sad case. Ryan was a self-described cheating husband, a lousy father and miserably unhappy with his life. As we finished our coffee he asked: "You aren't going to see me again, are you?

"Probably not," I said as gently as I could.

With that, I resigned my online dating membership.

-- Mary Stahl, Silicon Valley

Limbo: Shop til you flop

My online dating experiences don't fit neatly into a heaven or hell dichotomy.

I started browsing for men in early spring and now it is dark winter. Since then I have met about 20 men and exchanged intimacies with a number of them. And that's been good. I have had fun. I have learned that many men are attracted to me. And I would not have met these men in real life. I don't meet any unattached men near my age (mid-40s) in real life.

But I am no closer to a relationship than I was before the Internet was invented. What to do?

Online dating commodifies human interaction even more than our culture already does. You meet a potential partner but there could always be someone better -- younger, sleeker, bouncier -- on the next page. Maybe it makes men even less likely to commit than they already are. I don't know. Maybe it's just me.

And what is it with people lying about their age? Guys who were 45 six months ago are now 42! Do they think no one will notice?

Please, people, let's at least be honest. OK?

-- Name withheld, New York

By Salon Staff

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