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My Internet Dating Experiment

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By Kat Richter

The idea for my experiment came to me, as all great ideas do, over margaritas at Xochitl in Society Hill.  "I have a week left until my 25th birthday," I lamented to my friend, a fellow graduate of the small liberal arts college I'd chosen despite its deplorable male-to-female ratio.  I hadn't been on a date in over six months.  My last boyfriend--my London boyfriend--was long gone and the City of Brotherly Love had failed to yield any worthwhile replacements.  By Jane Austen standards, I was a spinster and even though I knew it was futile to measure my love life against a fictional assemblage of nineteenth-century balls and love letters, I couldn't ignore the fact that the majority of my girlfriends had gotten married and moved to the suburbs. 

"You should try Match," my friend suggested.

Match?

As in Match.com?

No way.  Online dating was for socially awkward losers; my friend and her new hunk of Bad Date.jpga boyfriend were the exception.

 "I don't think so." 

"But there are so many interesting guys out there," she urged.  "Don't anthropologists like meeting new people?"

She had me there.  I doubted that I'd find my soul mate on the internet but I'd been living in Philadelphia for almost a year and my social life was basically non-existent.   It occurred to me if I took the ethnographic approach to cyber chemistry, I could date my way to both scientific enlightenment and a proper boyfriend.  By the time we finished our drinks, I decided to treat myself to a three-month subscription to Match.com for my 25th birthday.

That was eighteen months, 75 dates and 30 men ago. 

With a copy of the Royal Anthropological Institute's Code of Ethics at a my side (and a cursory knowledge of what worked and what didn't work on Sex and the City), I devised a personal code of conduct to see me through my little research project and agreed, after seven first dates, to meet an eighth prospect from Match.com at a bar just of Rittenhouse Square.

At just a month into my "Great Date Experiment" I didn't know that a profile without a photograph comprises an automatic red flag, or that an almost-50 year old looking for a mistress of the twenty-something variety won't actually tell you he's looking for a mistress.  Nor will he tell you that he's already married or old enough to be your father; you'll have to deduce these things on your own.

Math has never been my thing (especially after a glass of Chardonnay on an empty stomach) but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that "10 years since I got divorced" plus "15 years since my folks died" equals "Get me the heck out of here!"

It was at this point--the point when my date finally confessed to being 49 and not 39 like his profile said-- that I learned what it feels like to chug Chardonnay and subsequently came to understand why people don't generally do shots of wine.  I've always been "mature" for my age but at 25, I had no interest in playing Center City mistress and afternoon plaything to a middle-aged sugar daddy who already had a wife waiting for him in the suburbs.  I made a hasty exit and considered giving up on my experiment all together but I still had two months left on my subscription.  Besides, I hadn't even begun to explore the prospects over at eHarmony or Plenty of Fish, and an anthropologist is only as good as depth--or in this case, the breadth--of her data.

I decided to start throw my hat back in the ring.  I dated a successful Center City lawyer who took me to the Union League and an ambitious financial analyst from Northern Liberties who surprised me with a bouquet of exotic flowers on our third date.  I scheduled double headers, where I'd meet one man for lunch and another for dinner, and eventually I got so comfortable interacting with the opposite sex that my luck in the real world began to improve as well.

Did I end up finding the love of my life online?  Not exactly--my longest relationship lasted only a few months--but my experiment yielded several unexpected results.  First, when you date so many men that need an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of them, it's easier to recognize your modus operandi and break the bad patterns that lead to toxic relationships.  Second, I fell in love--not with anyone in particular, but with the city of Philadelphia.  There are few better ways, after all, to explore a new city than to date a bevy of men who are eager to show a girl a good time.  Finally, I met someone, not online but at a friend's wedding, and if I hadn't spent the past 118 months conducting "fieldwork" I would have never had the confidence to ask him to dance in the first place.

So yes, the rumors are true.  Sites like Match.com and eHarmony are full of socially awkward folk and middle-aged "creepsters" but conventional wisdom would suggest you've got to kiss a few frogs before your "research" starts to pay off. 

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