by Agnes Krup | bio

The other day, I ran into my ex-husband on an online dating website. At first I almost scrolled by, but I was drawn to the curious tag line in which the poster likened himself to a famous actor — the same actor my ex had always greatly admired. I scrutinized the thumbnail photograph more closely. Only then did I realize it was him.

He looked very handsome, dashing even, in an obviously self-taken photograph set against the cream-colored drapes of our former bedroom. His hair shone as blond and artfully tousled as that of his deceased idol, and he was sporting carefully shaved stubble. He had also shaved four years off his age. Needless to say, he was angling for women “between 30 and 40.”

I was stunned. Not so much by the posting itself — twice over the past years, over a period of a few months each, I had posted profiles on dating services. Rather, I was surprised that I had never run into him before this.

Instead, I had been contacted by any number of other men who professed themselves to be eloquent and educated, well-mannered, fit and sane. I had unenthusiastically gone on dates, sitting through what felt like endless job interviews with men who, on second look, were bitter, angry at their ex-wives, without much of a sense of humor, a few pounds heavier and a few years older than they had let on in writing.

Nothing ever came of any of this. They either disappeared or became obnoxious, in which case I chose to disappear.

The best possible outcome, accomplished a few times, was a more or less honest short phone call or e-mail in which we would tout each other’s good qualities and wish each other the best of luck. Never did I feel any sparkle, any attraction beyond a sense of dutiful politeness. And thus I had decided quite some time ago never to expose myself to the humiliation of online personals again. It’s just not for me.

I have friends who thrive on the experience, who relish the online spark and even the subsequent date, the notion that everything is possible. I, for one, prefer to stay home with a good book.

You have every right to ask, then, what brought me back online this time. It was a slow Friday evening and I was, in the spirit of full disclosure, idling away the last hour in the office by browsing some blogs on Huffington Post and Salon. I guess it was a recent e-mail from an old online suitor that inspired me to click on the link to the personals. This man, a nice enough guy, had been trying to get in touch again, citing “friendship.”

He was one of those who had admitted on the very first date that he was a few years older than his profile had suggested. I remembered how pleased he had been with himself, his honesty for setting the record straight so quickly — perfectly acceptable online dating etiquette by most users’ standards. He had also turned out to be one of the “disappearers.”

So on that Friday afternoon in the office, I played around a bit on the site where I had first encountered this man. Anyone could run a very basic, limited search without joining. I typed in gender, age range and zip code radius. Fifteen tiny photographs with very minimal information showed up. And among them was my ex, one of the 15, out of eight million New Yorkers.

I certainly had not expected to come across his profile now. Hadn’t his girlfriend moved in with him only days earlier? At least that was what I had gathered from my 8-year-old daughter’s rather minimal description of the changes to his household. Worse, if this new posting was so visible to me, wouldn’t his girlfriend see it, too? Or wouldn’t at least one of her girlfriends see it?

And what about the actor whose name he was invoking? Charismatic and talented, he also had a reputation for tantrums and for being a sort of a sex maniac, not to mention other addictions. Did the invocation of his name suggest that my ex hoped to create a similar image of himself? Or that he hoped to get across his sophisticated taste for artsy European movies? While an affinity to this actor might have been a quirky and alluring trait in a man in his early 30s, what did it say about someone who still adhered to the same image on the eve of his 50th birthday?

The post-it sized profile suggested that my ex had posted a total of two pictures. I clicked to see the other one and was instead directed to a dialogue screen inviting me to sign up. I returned to the profile and clicked on his screen name, another oddity — it was the last name of a girlfriend of mine on whom he had had a crush some years ago. Again, I didn’t get anywhere but was invited to join the service.

I frantically started to fill in the blanks with fictitious information: man seeking man, born in the mid-70s, wrong zip code. When asked to create a user name, I entered the name of the kitten my family had gotten when I was 9 years old, only to be informed that the name was already taken by another user. I erased the entry and stared at the blank fields for a long time. Then I went into the office bathroom and leaned against the cool tiled wall, trying not to throw up.

I already knew more than I should. I had absolutely no business spying on my ex. I was already disgusted with myself.

This is why I really hate being on the internet: it brings out the worst in you. You mistrust, you second-guess, you pry. You go online to see if someone you have met in person still has his profile up. You check whether that person has checked whether you still have your profile up. You look at who’s looked at you and wonder why those bastards, after seeing your magnificent write-up, didn’t drop a note to invite you out to dinner. (After a lonely glass of wine on a Saturday night you may actually shoot a couple of them an e-mail asking that very question, making a complete fool of yourself.)

You don’t realize anymore that your behavior is as childish and dishonest as everybody else’s. That you are turning precisely into the lying, deceiving, scheming person you have vowed to stay away from on the internet as well as in life.

And yet, shortly before midnight on that same Friday, I checked back on my ex, still not signing up to the actual service, but running the same broad search on the pop-up portal. I just couldn’t help it — like when you can’t help finishing that big bag of potato chips.

This time, there was a green sign flashing next to his name: “Online Now!” I closed my eyes. I pictured his girlfriend, asleep in the master bedroom. I pictured my daughter, asleep on the lower bunk of the bed in her room, with her father’s girlfriend’s daughter in the bunk above her. How apprehensive she had been of this weekend, the first with the prospective stepmother and stepsister at the house — a temporary arrangement, as she had informed me, giggling with barely suppressed hope: “They may stay for one month or two or three. Or perhaps forever.”

So overwhelmed she had been with excitement and anxiety that she had even broken through her usual protective silence and told me about her worries of having to share her room. She had wondered why the extra bedroom, serving as her father’s study, could not simply be converted into a second bedroom for the older girl, for one month or two or three or forever.

Now I knew why. I realized someone was sitting in that extra room, at the computer, fishing for dates online, pretending to be younger and blonder and more single than he was. And at this point I did indeed go into the bathroom to throw up. Afterwards, I sat on the rim of the bathtub for a long time, holding my daughter’s rubber duckie.

Yes, I know that there is a lot of pretending going on out there. I am aware that many people, especially men, simply go onto the internet to lead a fantasy life, one they never would act out in our unglamorous physical world.

But I could not help but wonder how long it would take before one of the women asleep in my former husband’s house would feel disappointed, deceived, hurt: The girlfriend who existed in the real world from which he tried to escape, the young daughter whose well-being happens to be at the center of my world. Or, perhaps, it would be the other woman who would get to feel the pain — the one online, responding in kind to the smart, sophisticated, sexy profile of a man who is not quite what he wishes he were, setting herself up for disillusionment and potentially worse.

That woman, I knew, could be me, any day, with any man out there posting a fantasy of himself.

I turned off the computer and crawled into bed. This time I was certain I wouldn’t check back. There is so much sadness behind these internet profiles and such a great need for pretense. In this particular case, I happened to know part of the story behind the façade. In all the other cases, I prefer not to find out.

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  • Anonymous May 11, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    It was very surreal to come across this posting. It was also ironic to
    read your description of how online dating can turn you into a scheming,
    nosy person. I confess that’s what brought me to this blog.
    Let’s just say I’m 99% sure that I dated your ex-husband. I met him through an online dating website. The timing of this post, the dates and the information here was very illuminating, because he was definitely passing himself off as single. Very much so.
    Anyway, I’m sure I’ve freaked you out by finding this – google plus a
    couple of other search-type engines yield a lot of information about
    a person – I still think it’s good you posted this.
    Seriously, If he’s still out there fishing for dates, I really do hope
    anyone else who dates him finds this post too.

    Reply
  • Aoife January 29, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    Agnes,
    I’m writing this here because I understand that you’ll see it first before it’s posted (I hope that’s correct); I’ll leave it to you whether it is or not.
    I was one of those disappointed, hurt girlfriends of your ex. Almost two years ago, I met him. He said he’d never done any online dating; he was dismissive of it and cast it as tawdry. In my naivety, that immediately raised my estimation of him.
    I had let an online profile go fallow but was continuing to get weekly “matches” in my inbox that I couldn’t get discontinued. Two months into my relationship with D., after he’d promised the moon, etc., I got one of those matching emails, and instead of simply deleting it, as I usually did, for some (intuitive?) reason, I opened it.
    And his picture was first in the list.
    Needless to say, that was the end of things. I was overwhelmed by my disappointment in him. But I have to say he taught me something that I hadn’t quite learned in my 40 years: a whole new level of self-protection, and I suppose I have to be thankful for that.
    I could say more–I liked your daughter very much– but I won’t here.
    Just this, you have my respect, support, and best wishes,
    A.

    Reply
  • Carolyn Hahn January 28, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    I guess I should add–in case you hadn’t guessed–that nothing is perfect. But one I don’t have to worry about is that I have a man who is looking around to see who’s next, who’s cuter, who’s this, who’s that. I stopped playing games, I accept myself more now, so I’m more realistic about who is out there.
    Suggestions for personal ads — you want to be clever, and you want someone clever, but don’t confuse clever with having a heart. Don’t respond to “winks” or any interest from someone with no picture up — the person is hiding/in a relationship. No matter how charmingly flirtatious such a person is — unless that’s what you want — been there, done that, too — um. What else…I feel like the world’s most grizzled veteran of online dating. But this was my first attempt to be real, lest I spend the rest of my life alone (which wasn’t awful, but this REALLY worked — beyond our wildest dreams). It was so worth it — but so hard to do when you’re hurting in any way, because (as I recall), the whole thing feels so prickly.
    But…funny analogy about Agnes not being able to stop spying anymore than one can eat the whole bag of chips … and yet, what do we do after we eat the whole bag of chips? Hate ourselves for being big slugs? OK, yeah, for two seconds. But the next day — dunno about you — but I just try to eat better, take a walk, and start fresh. And let the pathetic sociopathic exes of the world have their day, trying to be younger and blonder than they are, hoping nobody will catch them being merely human.

    Reply
  • Carolyn Hahn January 26, 2008 at 8:26 am

    Oh, Agnes…this is so sad, mainly because your daughter is involved. Otherwise, who would care — the man is hopeless.
    As for the whole online dating thing, been there, felt that. It is tiring. In the spring of 2004, I forced myself to try again. I put in an age that was only a year or two younger than me and up to ten years older (I didn’t want someone who wanted someone younger. Period. I also didn’t want someone who might still want children, because at 45, I didn’t).
    I put in a geographic range of ten miles, but no height, no money, no educational requests. I was looking for someone who could make me laugh, who would make me chicken soup when I was sick, who would be “a real boyfriend.” Past experience had taught me that this person would not be found in a bar, or by searching for someone xx tall, with dark hair (only), a journalist (type A in particular), etc.
    So I looked to see what came up, and found a couple. I skipped over the one who was a poet slash social worker because I work in health care and want a break, but in one, there was this man sitting on his desk at work. I could already see from his profile he was 3 inches shorter than I, but I could also see he was…different. For example, in all those weird nerve.com questions that could be tmi, he had twisted the questions around. “Which celebrity do you resemble most?” “Carlito Cravat, the inventor of the clip on bow tie, ” he wrote. “Five items you’d find in my bedroom?” He wrote “How about the five items in my junk drawer at work?” and then went on to list “packet of dried oatmeal, Frank Sinatra CD I meant to give my mother, DA Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back, another packet of dried oatmeal…” I just started laughing, and emailed him to say we seemed to have an odd symmetry in the contents of junk drawers at work, and to contact me if it sounded like we might have some things to talk about.
    For the record, I had a terrible picture of myself up (I was practically cutting my own hair at the time–don’t ask) and for all I know, he didn’t like the picture, but he liked the phrase “odd symmetry in our junk drawers,” and we met at the zoo in Central Park a week later. Where, I might add, he was wearing a very nice outfit and I was wearing jeans and a t shirt with a map of the subway.
    The plum blossoms were falling all around us, and I’d already had a week to get used to THE HEIGHT THING, and to the fact that he had a Chicago accent (we spoke on the phone, and in my mind, I did not like Chicago accents, but I told myself to STOP LOOKING FOR THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE).
    We got married 6 months later at City Hall and then took our friends to lunch at Balthazar, where we just celebrated our third anniversary. Total cost: one buck to respond to his ad on nerve.com (I’ve since given away the subway map t shirt and gotten better haircuts, and he actually does make really good chicken soup).

    Reply