Month: April 2019

Online Dating: How to Spot a Scammer

Online Dating: How to Spot a Scammer

Unfortunately, people with ill intent come with the online dating territory. Yes, you will very likely encounter fakes, phonies, and scumbags who are out to take advantage of you. Did you watch Dirty John on Bravo? Yikes! That was a master class in how online dating can go horribly wrong, and sadly a true story. So yes, bad stuff can happen in the online dating world.

In seventeen months of online dating, I’ve encountered several fakes. Every online dater has, I’d guess. While this is not a pleasant situation to find yourself in, you can beat them at their own game. I’ve identified several red flags that might help you recognize these ne’er do wells and stop them in their tracks.

Online dating scammers will often:

  • Have a very sketchy profile, with entire sections left blank or with one or two word answers. If your dating site has questions or tests to more accurately match you with potential dates, scammers will rarely complete these. A real person will put some effort into their profile.
  • Have just one photo on their profile. Often this photo will look a little too perfect (more on photos later).
  • Tell you they aren’t on the dating site very often and then ask for your email address so you can communicate outside the dating site. They usually won’t ask for your phone number because they don’t really want to talk to you—they want to sweet talk you with written words, and that is best done with email. And they know that it’s only a matter of time until the dating site finds them out and kicks them off, but if they have your email address, they’re golden.
  • Claim to live in your area but they’re out of the country right now.
  • List “widowed” as their marital status. If not widowed, then they will have a sob story about how their last relationship ended, usually involving infidelity, abuse, mental illness, or something else equally dramatic.
  • Say they have a master’s degree or PhD because they want to impress you, and an advanced degree sounds more impressive than an undergraduate degree.
  • Use a certain key phrase in their messages. I don’t know how to explain this one, exactly, but every single fake person I’ve encountered has used this phrase when they respond to my message: “It’s nice to read from you.” The phrase most of us use is, “It’s nice to hear from you,” so “It’s nice to read from you” has become a red flag for me. It just sounds…odd.
  • Pay you effusive compliments and talk about how special you are compared to the other people they’ve communicated with.
  • Often they’ll use endearments very early on, calling you “baby,” “honey,” or “sweetheart.” Maybe it’s just me, but I reserve these tender words for someone I know pretty well, so this one always makes me suspicious.
  • Claim to be “falling in love” with you after three or four messages.
  • Ask very little about you and your life—even when you invite them to.
  • Say little or nothing about where they supposedly live. Often they will claim to live in your city but they never talk about anything local. They ignore questions you ask about their neighborhood, favorite restaurants, places they enjoy visiting, etc.
  • Give inconsistent details about themselves. For example, the worst fake I’ve encountered told me he was a Libra but when I asked his birthday he said September 1. Astrology is one of my many interests and September 1 is Virgo, not Libra. This same person was an only child in one message, but somehow gained a brother in a subsequent message.
  • Use irregular spelling and grammar (known colloquially as “scammer grammar”).
  • Ask for money. They’ll work up to this one, waiting until they’ve had adequate time to ply you with compliments, adulation, and sweet nothings. Once they think they have you in their trap, then they’ll ask. Usually they’ll tell you a convoluted tale of woe (a common one is that they’re in another country and their passport and all their money was stolen) and that they desperately need money (your money) to solve the crisis.

What you can do:

  • Most importantly, listen to your gut. That niggling feeling you get when you read their messages is telling you something.
  • Carefully scan their profile for inconsistencies, odd language, and other red flags as I talked about above.
  • Check out the supposed “details” they give you, such as where they work. The worst scammer I’ve encountered claimed to own a multi-million dollar construction company and he actually created an entire website to support his deception. I looked at the website and noticed right away that it was created with Wix. What large corporation creates their website with Wix? That was a huge warning to me that I was dealing with a fake.
  • Pay special attention to their profile picture. Does it look a little too perfect? It may be a stock photo, and that’s a dead giveaway that you’re dealing with someone less than honest. Use a reverse image searching service such as Google, or TinEye. These services allow you to upload a photo and search for matches on the internet. That’s how I finally caught the aforementioned scammer. This is an amazing resource to have in your back pocket!
  • Do not give out your email address. Tell them you prefer communicating through the dating site—and then stand your ground. That said, it’s very easy to create an email address that you use only for online dating. You can even change your name in the settings of most email programs so you aren’t disclosing your real last name. I’m not encouraging you to give out an email address—I’m just saying that if you must give one out, there are safer ways to go about it. Do not under any circumstances give out your real email address or divulge your last name.
  • If the person you’re communicating with asks you for money…RUN! Never ever ever send money to someone you’ve never met. Ever.

All this said, please take heart! The majority of people on dating sites are real. Most sources I found say that ten percent of dating profiles are fake, which means that ninety percent are real—and that’s a pretty high number. But please take care, especially if the person you’re communicating with seems too good to be true, because they probably are. And always remember that until you’ve met someone in person, they are a complete stranger.

Stay safe out there!

Photo courtesy of Elena Zidkova | Dreamstime.com

Have You Found Your Calling Yet?

Have You Found Your Calling Yet?

When I was in college and wrestling with what I wanted to major in and thus, what I wanted to do with my life, I had well-meaning people tell me I needed to find “my calling.” If I found my calling, they said, everything would just fall into place. I took such comments to heart and earnestly set on a quest to find that mysterious “calling.”

It was clear from the comments I heard that a calling was a job—or more accurately, a career—and if I found my true calling I would know in my heart that what I was doing was “right.” I would wake up thrilled and excited to go to work every day. The added bonus was that I would also be making a positive impact on the world.

And so I searched, stayed open to the signs, and continued my quest. In college I explored psychology, law, teaching, sociology, business, and political science. Nothing felt right. Nothing felt like a “calling.” I finally gave up and settled on majoring in my life-long love—English.

Of course once I declared my major, I got countless comments along the lines of, “What are you going to do with an English degree? Teach?” Um…no. English is what I love. Isn’t a calling about doing what you love? But those comments planted a seed of uncertainty in me. Still, I persevered and graduated in just over four years.

Post-college, I landed a job at a nonprofit organization doing a little of everything. My writing skills were in high demand and soon I was writing grants and marketing materials. Graphic design quickly followed because I was highly creative and seemed to have a knack for it. I got a promotion. I used my creative skills daily. But I could not let go of the idea that what I was doing was not a “calling.” I just had an ordinary job, I told myself—health insurance, retirement, a regular schedule. This couldn’t possibly be a calling, could it? I convinced myself that some perfect career was out there waiting for me and I had somehow completely missed the boat. I needed to find my calling before I got too old to enjoy it.

And so I set out on another quest. I read career books. I talked to family and friends. I went to career fairs and information sessions on lots of different careers. I discussed my “inferior” job in therapy and agonized over how I would ever find my true calling. I felt such urgency because I just knew that once I found it, everything would be perfect. In the middle of all that, I wrote a successful two hundred thousand dollar grant, but I wasn’t even able to celebrate because I couldn’t shake the feeling that what I was doing was wrong.

I was so unsettled that I began looking for a different job. If I couldn’t find my calling, maybe my calling would find me. Before too long I got a new job at the same pay and much less stellar benefits. But the job was more focused—marketing and communications—and that made me feel that I was closer to a calling. But still something felt wrong.

Despite that, that job led to fifteen years of promotions, new jobs, and an even more focused specialty. Eventually, I landed a job I absolutely adored – the one I now believe I was working toward my entire adult life. I am creative and engaged all day, every day. I am never bored. My work is respected and admired. I have a great deal of freedom. And I work with some amazing people.

And now, six years into this job, I have let go of the idea of a calling. I no longer believe in a true career “calling”—at least not for myself. Once I released that notion, everything began to fall into place. I felt much more satisfied with life. Now, as I look back on my adult life, I realize that every step I took along the way has led me to the place I am now—the place I belong. I now know and have seen that everything happens for a reason and I am exactly where I need to be at this moment.

Sure, some people have callings. They know from a very young age that they want to be doctors or artists or scientists or teachers and they never waver from that.

But for many of us a calling is much broader than that, and not necessarily about a job. In truth I now believe that we all have many, many callings of all different kinds.

My calling was to quit my minimum wage job and go to college, even though no one else in my family had. My calling was to have a child and be a mother. My calling was to write and publish a novel. My calling is to walk in the woods as often as I can. My calling is to go to Hawaii every few years. My calling is to write this blog. My calling is to volunteer. My calling is to create. My calling is to heal from my painful childhood. My calling is to always try my best to be kind and compassionate (I don’t always succeed). I have gotten “calls” to do all these things. So in actuality, my calling has found me.

You see what I mean? Jobs are to make money so you can live. If everyone waited around as they searched for their career calling, our society would fall apart. We need bank tellers, sanitation workers, grocery checkers, mail carriers and so many others for the world to operate efficiently. While they may not have been called to that job, perhaps they’re fulfilling their calling in another way. We need all of us, doing what we do, to create the beautiful and varied tapestry of the human race.

If you’re one of the lucky ones who gets a “call” to do a specific job or career and then you get to do it, that’s amazing. But I think there are many, many ways to fulfill your various callings. Listen to your heart and move toward those activities, interests and people that call to your soul.

And so I am finally at peace with who I am. I know I’ve found my calling—to be me and to do what I do as only I can do it. To be true to myself and to use my strengths and talents—that has been my calling.

I wish someone had told me this many years ago, but at least I know now.

Writing that all-important first message

Writing that all-important first message

Last time we covered how to create a kick-ass dating profile that will get you noticed. This time we’ll talk about the next logical step—writing that all-important first message to someone who interests you.

Okay, so you’ve gotten your bearings on the dating site, you’ve been looking at different profiles, and you’ve found a couple people you’d like to know more about. You need to write some messages!

First it’s important to know how messaging works on the site you’re using. Depending on whether you have a free or paid membership, messaging capabilities may be different. Some sites offer free messaging, but many don’t. If you aren’t able to message other users, you absolutely must figure it out. Why? Because being able to send and receive messages is critical to success on any dating site. Messages are the equivalent of going up to someone and engaging them in conversation. That’s how relationships are started—not through sending out random “likes” or “smiles.” So figure out messaging however you need to, but do figure it out.

Now that you have messaging capabilities, it’s time to get to work!

My most important piece of advice: do not send a first message that says “Hello beautiful,” or “How are you doing, sexy?” That will get you exactly nowhere. Those kinds of messages are a dime a dozen, plus they sound a wee bit creepy. If you walked up to someone and said, “How are you doing, sexy?” they’d probably roll their eyes and walk away. And they’ll do the equivalent of that on a dating site. I can make an educated guess that these kinds of messages will get you a response about five percent of the time.

Strange or awkward first messages also will land you flat on your face. These might sound cute, funny or clever to you, but to the person on the receiving end they just sound…well, strange. The strangest one I’ve received of late – “I’m not a drinker but I see that you are. I don’t care if you drink, as long as you’re not an alcoholic.” Awww. Be still my heart! That’s a great example of what NOT to say (needless to say, I did not respond). There will be plenty of time later to talk about more serious things, but for the first message you need to keep it light and stay focused on the positive. If you’re truly enthralled with this person, you should be able to find something to say that’s interesting, upbeat and even a little playful.

Remember – this is your chance to shine and stand out from the crowd. Focusing on someone’s looks or their alcohol habits won’t do that, believe me.

So what should you write? First and foremost, read the person’s profile. I cannot stress this enough! Read the profile, read the profile, read the profile. You are gathering critical information for your message. Are any of their interests similar to yours? Do they mention pets, sports, or a favorite movie? Do they talk about travel or perhaps a love of reading? Do the two of you share political or religious beliefs? Do you like the same music? ANY of those topics will make a better first message than “Hello beautiful” or warnings about alcohol use.

Better yet, identify two or three things that intrigue you about their profile and write a message about all of them.

You also need to give them something to respond to. I was communicating with a man for a while and his messages amounted to, “Happy Tuesday!” or “Thank God it’s Friday!” Okay. But what am I supposed to say to that? “Happy Tuesday to you too.” Bye-bye now.

So ask a question, tell them an interesting fact about yourself, comment on something you noticed in one of their photos. Give them something to grab onto so they have a topic or question to respond to. That’s how you get a conversation going. Saying “Happy Tuesday” and nothing more leaves no opening for them to run with.

Your first message should be relatively short (but not too short—aim for about 75-100 words) and demonstrate that you have read their profile and you’re not just sending out thirty identical messages to see who responds.

Once you have the topic of your message down, start writing. And yes, there are guidelines on this part too. Most importantly: use punctuation and do a spelling and grammar check before you send the message! You would not believe how many messages I’ve gotten that have no punctuation—no commas, no periods. Nothing. These messages are like a vomit of words and they tell me all I need to know about this person. Quite frankly, I shake my head and then delete these nonsensical messages, not giving them another thought. Punctuation is crucial to an articulate message. And spelling and grammar errors are a serious turn off. You have spell check on your phone. Use it.

So craft your message using the guidelines above. Then read your message—and then read it again. Read it a third time just for good measure. Once you’re certain that everything is in order, then you can send it.

If you need a little extra help to get you started, here’s an example of a good first message:

“I really like your profile and I want to know more about you. You love music just like I do, and we both have dogs. I saw the picture of you and your beagle. I have a lab and her name is Sadie. What’s your dog’s name? I noticed you have photos of New York City on your profile. I love NYC and I’ve been there twice. What’s your favorite thing about New York? I love your grace and confidence and I’d like to get to know you. My name is Michael, by the way.”

Why is this a good message? Because you mentioned three things that this person clearly likes (music, dogs, and NYC), thus demonstrating that you took the time to read their profile; you built a bridge between the two of you by pointing out your similarities (again, music, dogs, and NYC); you paid them a subtle compliment; and you asked two questions, thus giving them something to respond to—all in just under 100 little words. Oh, and you used punctuation. Although I can’t guarantee a response (whether or not you get a response depends on a lot of factors), you just increased the likelihood of a response by a significant margin over the lazy “Hello beautiful” message.

So read the profile, craft an articulate, thoughtful message, and sit back and wait for the response to come back.

Try it, and do let me know if you’re successful.

Advice for Men: How to Create a Compelling Dating Profile

Advice for Men: How to Create a Compelling Dating Profile

I’ve been doing online dating for well over a year and, while I can’t call myself an expert, I’ve made many observations. But wait. Maybe I am an expert, because, let’s face it, anyone who has tried nine different dating sites, interacted with close to two hundred men, and looked at more than five hundred profiles, is an expert, isn’t she? So I am an expert, and I have what I hope is helpful advice for all you men out there who are swimming in the turbulent waters of online dating. Some of this stuff should be common sense but…well, clearly it isn’t. So here goes.

Guys, take a decent picture of yourself! And that means not sitting in your car, in the bathroom mirror with the toilet in the background, or with other people in the picture (it’s bad form to post someone else’s photo on a dating site, plus no one should have to wonder which one is you, or who the woman is that’s next to you in the photo). Your profile photo is how you first grab someone’s attention, so make it count! If your main profile photo is turned on its side, taken from far away, too close, too blurry, or you look like you haven’t showered in three weeks, your prospective dates will move on to the next guy. Trust me on this.

And I see so many profile pics of men who aren’t even cracking a smile. Seriously, some of them look as if they’ve just lost their best friend. Smiles and eye contact are how humans make connections with other humans. And making a connection with another human is what you’re trying to do, aren’t you? I hope so, or why bother? A genuine smile can transform your face, make you look approachable and friendly, maybe even make you look younger and more handsome. Genuine smiles grab people’s attention. So take a deep breath and SMILE. Practice in the mirror if you have to, but get it down.

Once you have the smile mastered, put on a nice shirt in a flattering color, comb your hair, stand up straight (Yes, stand. Please don’t take a selfie while sitting in your recliner or lying on the couch.), focus on your head and shoulders (i.e., your face), look right in the camera, smile, and snap that picture. Keep on snapping until you get a good one. Try different angles. Try different smiles. Keep on snapping. Ideally, you should have ten or even twenty photos to choose from. If you can’t decide which one is best, show your photos to a trusted friend and get their opinion.

And you know that fancy phone you pay top dollar for each month? Guess what? It has a selfie function. It also has a timer. So you can either take a photo of yourself with the selfie function, or—if you want a full body shot—you can prop up the phone to point at you (books work well), press the timer, get in position, and snap your picture. This means that it is completely unnecessary to take your photo in the bathroom mirror. Yep, it is absolutely, positively, completely unnecessary to take your photo in the bathroom mirror. Please don’t do it.

If you really want to get serious about getting a good full body shot, buy yourself an Echo Look, available from Amazon. This nifty little machine will take a full body selfie in the blink of an eye—no books or bathroom mirrors required. Yes, for real. I have one so I know.

And this next part should go without saying, but clearly not everyone got the memo. No dick pics. No guns, knives or other weapons. No photos of you in your Spider-Man costume. No pics of nothing but your torso. No memes. No pictures of inanimate objects. Any of these will have very limited appeal, and some of them will get you kicked off the dating site in short order (I’m a moderator on one of the sites, so trust me on this one). Any dating site requires that your main profile picture be of you, which means your face. If it’s not, someone will report you and you will be removed. Period.

Once you have a good photo of yourself, upload it. If it appears tilted on its side, FIX IT! No one can see you properly when your picture is sideways, and this looks silly and amateurish. Why is this important? Because you want them to see YOU. So please don’t post a sideways pic. If you crop the photo on top and bottom, sideways pics won’t happen. So crop the photo and upload it again. Keep cropping until the picture displays right side up.

Once you have a good photo of yourself, move on to the written part of your profile. You don’t have to write a novel, but you do have to say more than, “I’m a simple guy looking for a simple girl.” You think I’m joking, but sadly I am not. I know it’s not the most romantic idea, but think of the written profile sort of like a job interview. How are you going to stand out among all the other candidates? You’re going to stand out by crafting an engaging and insightful written profile. Think about who you are. What’s important to you? How would you describe your personality? What qualities are you looking for in a partner? What qualities will you offer a partner? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? What do you value? Write about that. Aim for two paragraphs— or even three—all about you. Be honest, but not too honest. At this point in the game, no one needs to know that you have six fingers or that you still live with your mother. If you make a love connection with someone, there will be plenty of time to share all your quirks and imperfections.

And lastly, please take care with spelling and grammar in your profile—errors can be a real turn off.

Read through what you’ve written, and then read it again. Better yet, show it to a friend and have them critique it. Tinker with it until it’s perfect.

You now should have all the elements of an effective dating profile, and you’re well on your way to finding someone fabulous. Do let me know how it goes for you.

NEXT TIME: Writing that all-important first message.

In Over My Head: Online Dating

In Over My Head: Online Dating

I never would have dreamed twenty years ago that one day I would be dipping my toe into the waters of online dating. And actually I’ve dipped more than a toe—I’m up to my waist by now. In truth, I’m in over my head.

Twenty years ago my future was decided. I was coupled. A child was planned (although not yet conceived—that happened a couple years later). A house was bought. A dog was adopted. Domestic bliss had commenced.

But alas, life isn’t always so neat.

Twenty years hence, I was finally forced to face my deep unhappiness. My child was now on the cusp of adulthood and making plans for college, and the thought of an empty nest—and daily life without my child as a focus, a diversion, a buffer—filled me with dread and profound sadness. Was this the “empty nest” life I wanted to live? My answer was a resounding no, and I knew I could not do it anymore. I did not love, care or respect enough to continue to carry on the charade.

You see, the relationship had been marked by painful, damaging conflict for as long as we’d been together. I’m not talking garden-variety arguments here. I’m talking screaming matches, slammed doors, carefully chosen words meant to undermine, unbalance, and inflict pain, and frequent fights that took days, or even weeks, to get over. Some of them I have never gotten over. Each conflict hurt a little more than the last, and tore another tiny piece from my heart. We were two respectable, intelligent, caring people who loved each other, but neither of us could see the other’s best self. We simply were terrible for each other, and we always had been. My beautiful, tender heart was being annihilated, piece by tiny piece.

And so I ended it.

As a newly single person I knew I wasn’t ready for another serious relationship, but I also knew I was emotionally lonely. I wanted to start getting out there and meeting people. I wanted to find someone semi-special to spend time with while I figured out my future. But how would I possibly meet anyone? I was no longer twenty-five. At fifty-something, everyone would assume I was married, and anyone I encountered I would also assume was married. You can’t just walk up to someone and say, “Hey, are you single? Would you like to go out sometime?” Well, actually you can, but such an approach is just not my style as it invites rejection and embarrassment. I knew I wanted companionship, but what could I do?

“Online dating,” a friend told me. “Join a dating site, make a profile, and see what happens.”

I concurrently laughed and recoiled in horror. An online dating profile? Me? But I began contemplating the possibility. I researched different dating sites. I looked at other women’s profiles. I read articles about online dating at mid-life. I poked around the multitude of dating sites out there. I wrote sample profiles for myself. And then I took a deep breath and…I took the plunge.

I created a profile on one of the well-known sites. A week later I created another one on a different site. Things began to roll. My inbox quickly got bloated. I sifted through many “likes,” “smiles,” and “winks.” I read scores of decidedly weird or unimaginative messages. I wasn’t sure what to do. Was I obligated to answer every message I received, no matter how strange? “No,” a male friend and fellow online dater told me. “If they clearly haven’t read your profile, if they don’t have a picture on their profile, or they seem weird, just ignore them.” I took that advice to heart and I began to answer only the more genuine, intriguing messages. Soon I was chatting back and forth with several people who interested me. One morning I woke up and realized, I’m an online dater.

Now, more than a year later, I’m an online dating veteran. I’ve had a profile on nine different sites (although I’m down to two now). I’ve observed the ebbs and flows. I’ve encountered the fakes. I’ve been ghosted and breadcrumbed. I’ve been disgusted as well as charmed. And I’ve met several people in real life, on real dates. And…

Ultimately, it’s been a whole lotta nothin’.

Lots of anticipation, only to realize that those people who seemed so cool and attractive in their messages really weren’t in real life. Lots of dashed hopes. Too much disappointment.

My confidence, patience, and courage have taken a serious hit. I have become more distrusting, less hopeful, and uncharacteristically cynical. I don’t like that. And every day I ponder the question – Are there any kind, emotionally healthy, intelligent, honest people out there? I’m beginning to wonder.

And yet a new friend told me recently that she did online dating for five years before she found “The One.” Five years? Am I possibly that patient and intrepid? Ugh. I don’t know. But even so, I was encouraged that it worked out well for her, in spite of the fact that it took five years.

Right now I am just looking for someone I like and who likes me. Someone who wants to date casually, watch a movie, trade flirty texts with me once in a while, go out for dinner and drinks, talk. Someone who isn’t, in reality, married, or living with their mother, or fifty miles from me, or single parent to eight kids. I thought finding such a person would be easy. What I’ve found is that finding such a person is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Eventually, I want to find “The One,” just like my friend did. I am a romantic at heart and I still believe in true love. But I’m not sure I believe anymore that “The One” will be found online. In all honesty, I’m not sure where I will possibly find that person. In today’s world, we are all oddly connected and yet disconnected at the same time, which makes it difficult for any of our personal or professional connections to progress beyond the superficial.

My takeaway after sixteen months of online dating is that it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s hard. It’s demoralizing. It’s unnatural. But my friend’s story proves that sometimes it does work out.

And so I am committed to sticking with it…for now. Stay tuned, and do let me know if you have any tips. I could use them.