OK, I guess it’s time I come out of hiding and make a confession: I’ve used an online dating service. And, if I found myself single and unattached again, I’d probably do it again.
I don’t know if the stigma around online dating still exists, but the inescapable fact is I’m terribly shy in person, especially with women. But I can write a little and when you read a little bit of what I’ve written, you get to know me pretty well. So the computer allows me to get past that shyness.

I saw the service I used reviewed on PC Magazine’s web site this week. It was pretty critical. Every other review I’ve heard about it gushed. And truth be told, in early September I was gushing pretty nasty things about it. I even told some people to stay away from it. It turned things around after a month. Maybe two. I can’t remember the time frame anymore.

The service is eharmony.com. I got that out of the way. Now let me tell you that if you heard about it on Dr. Dobson, which was the original source I heard about it from second- or third-hand, Dobson was gushing about it. Frankly I don’t care much what Dobson has to say about singlehood. Live 10 years listening to people ask you what’s wrong with you because you don’t have a girlfriend, and then I’ll listen to you. I’m not terribly interested in the opinions of this week’s fifty-something who got married in his early 20s on how to cure the disease called singlehood in the early 21st century. (Since when is it a disease anyway?)

Contrary to what Dobson’s gushing might have you believe, eharmony isn’t a magic bullet. Now don’t get me wrong: It does have potential. When one of my friends called me up all excited about it and he described its process, I was willing to humor him. It starts out with a psychological profile. I remember doing a psychological profile using a program called Mind Prober on a Commodore 64 in the late 1980s. It did a pretty good job of profiling me. It got a few details wrong, but I grew into those. Spooky, huh? So if a computer with 64K of memory, 1 megahertz of processing power, and 340K of available secondary storage could profile me, a modern computer could do just fine so long as the profiling algorithm and data is good. So I believe in computer psychological profiling.

Another part of the idea is that you interview thousands of married couples. Happily married couples who’ve been that way for a very long time. That’s a small percentage of people who get married. Take a large sample set, profile them, and you can eventually get an idea of what personality traits are compatible long-term. Nice theory. I buy that. I’ll definitely take it over guesswork.

PC Magazine expressed doubts over use of science in finding love. Considering the success rate of the traditional methods, I’ll take whatever edge I can get.

Here’s what happened with me.

PC Magazine’s reviewer bemoaned her lack of initial matches. I was the opposite. Christian males seem to be a rarity, or at the very least, highly outnumbered. But I think I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

It started off with a questionaire. It took PC Magazine’s reviewer 45 minutes to fill it out. I’m pretty sure it took me closer to an hour and a half. It’s important to consider the questions carefully and answer honestly. A lot of the questions were things I hadn’t thought about in a long time, if ever. By the time I was done, I felt like eharmony’s computer probably knew me better than most of my closest friends. It was that exhaustive. Some of the questions are about you, and some of them are about what you’re looking for. Again, it’s important to be honest. And specific. And picky. The important questions for me were about faith. I won’t date someone who doesn’t share that with me, period. It understood that. It went so far as to give me a list of denominations and ask which ones were OK and which ones weren’t. I ticked off all of the evangelical-minded denominations, then I ticked Lutheran, just because it felt weird to leave my own out. Then I un-checked Presbyterian, only because the girl who will always have the title of The Ex-Girlfriend was/is Presbyterian. We all have baggage, and that’s some of mine.

The system immediately found four matches. Over the course of 2-3 months (I don’t remember how long I stayed) it would find close to 20. I started exchanging questions with one of them right away. I don’t remember the exact process right now. I know early on you’d read a superficial profile of the person–excerpts from their interview. You’d learn things like where they’re from and how to make them smile. If you’re both interested in talking, you pick from a list of questions to exchange back and forth. The first set is multiple choice. One question I asked everyone, without fail, was “If you were going out to dinner with a friend, what kind of restaurant would you choose?” And there were four answers, ranging from a fancy restaurant to a greasy spoon. I wanted to weed out the snobs, which was why I asked that one. I think you got a second round, where the questions were still canned, but you got to write out your own answers, limited to a couple of paragraphs. (I usually pushed the limit. Surprise!) I don’t recall if there was a third, but if there was, it was a shorter-still number of questions, permitting a longer answer. When you got through that round, you entered “Open Communication,” which is basically e-mail, with no restrictions.

The first girl I talked to was from Defiance, Missouri, which is about 45 minutes northwest of St. Louis proper. As I recall, she was 30 and she worked in sales. She was really interested at first but got pretty cyclical. We’d talk a couple of times one day, then a week might pass. It didn’t pan out–one day I got the notice she’d chosen to close communication to concentrate on other matches. One nice thing about doing this online–rejection’s a lot easier when it’s not in person.

I can’t remember where the next girl I talked to was from. Across the river in Illinois but I don’t remember the town. She was 24 or 25, and worked in banking. We took off like a rocket. The first time we talked on the phone, we talked for three hours or something obnoxious like that. I had serious hopes for this match, until we met in person. Everything right had come out all at once, and then, everything wrong came out all at once. She found out I’m not as good at communicating in person as in writing. And she found out I can be distant. I had some red flags too. She seemed to want to move a lot faster than I would be able to, and there were personality traits that weren’t necessarily bad, but they just weren’t right for me. And I knew I would never live up to the expectations she had for me. I may be smart and I may be a nice guy, but I am still human. I felt pretty bad after this date. I stopped believing in the approach and took a serious look at what other options I might have.

Then along came the girl from Manchester, Missouri. She was a year older than me. She played guitar. She led Bible studies. She was a math teacher by trade. I was enamored before we even started talking. And it started off great. She answered every question with the response I was looking for. We started talking, and I thought we were going great. Then she got cold feet and started to withdraw. We talked on the phone a few times and it was pleasant, but she seemed to be big into rules and guidelines, whereas I’m more interested in learning the rules to follow and understanding them well enough to know when to break them. (The exception being 10 particular rules you never break, which you can find in Exodus.) We went on one double date. Once again I wasn’t as strong of a communicator as in writing, and I got the distinct impression she wasn’t very interested in continuing. I was questioning whether I was myself. I’ve still got her phone number somewhere but it’s been four or five months. I doubt I ever use it.

Meanwhile, the girl from Troy, Illinois came into the picture. She and the girl from Manchester were contemporaries, but the girl from Manchester got the head start. I’m pretty sure it was the guitar. She was a student, age 21. I was concerned about the age gap. That was the only question mark about her. Her answers to my questions were mostly the second-best answers. The questions she chose to ask me puzzled me a bit–I had trouble figuring out what it was she wanted to know about me. (With all of the other girls, it was plain as day what they were trying to find out.) We stumbled into open communication, talked for a while, and I still couldn’t get over that age thing. Finally she asked me, “I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but where’s this going? Do I ever get to meet you?”

So we met in Belleville, then went to O’Fallon, had dinner, and drove around O’Fallon for a couple of hours, talking. My eharmony subscription was up for renewal in a week or so. I let it lapse.

I won’t go into specifics because our relationship is half her business, and I don’t make it a habit to go putting other people’s business on my blog. For the first two months we dated, she got irritated with me once. I’m pretty sure that’s a world record. Most people are doing well if they only get irritated me once over a 24-hour period. Lately I screw up once or twice a month. Most couples I know are thrilled with just once or twice a day.

At one point I seriously questioned the relationship, even to the point where if I’d had to make a yes or no decision right then and there I would have ended it. But that’s not unusual and it’s healthy. And I’m used to being on the other end of that every couple of weeks.

The bottom line is, while we surprise each other, most of the surprises are good ones, and the bad surprises generally aren’t huge surprises. For about 25 years, the only women who understood me at all were my mom and my sister. She’s rocketed onto that list, and frankly, they all probably jockey for that #1 spot. Not bad for someone I first met in person in October. I think at this point my biggest complaint about her is that she doesn’t like mushrooms or olives. I’m sure she’s got bigger complaints about me but she keeps coming around anyway, so they can’t be too big.

I’m not going to say that eharmony is the only way to meet someone, and I won’t say it guarantees you’ll meet someone. I know in at least one case I was a girl’s only match, and it couldn’t have felt good when we flopped. It’s not a magic bullet, no matter what anyone says. I had 17 matches at one point and it still took three months to find someone I felt like I should be dating. Roughly a third were interested in me but I wasn’t interested in them, about a third I was interested in but they weren’t interested in me, and about a third had enough interest on both sides that we talked. If you’re looking for a date this week, you won’t find it on eharmony but you might very well find it somewhere else. And eharmony is definitely expensive.

But I was looking for something long-term, and I think I found it.

Like I said earlier, I’d go back. And that says something.