Should I Write to Someone Online Even If I Don’t Meet His Search Preferences?

Hi Evan,

I am brand new to the online dating scene and wanted to get your opinion on something…

I have noticed on many men’s profiles that they are seeking women who have never been married (older men included.) While I can understand that (to a degree) I find that when I “match” all of their other criteria and would like to communicate with them, since I am divorced I have not been communicating based on their preferences.

It seems that these men are limiting themselves especially when they have no idea why a person may be divorced in the first place.   It seems like preemptive discrimination, if you will.

Thoughts? Advice on whether I should communicate with these guys or is it a waste of time?

Thanks so much!


Dear Heather,

This feels like a perfect time to dust off one of my favorite online dating concepts: that you’re as valuable as your options.

In short, you can be as choosy as you’d like to be, as long as you have an endless supply of people from which to choose. Once you start eliminating everyone from contention, and there’s no one left to date, you’ve effectively priced yourself out of the market.

As always, I’ve got some anecdotes to back this up.

You’re as valuable as your options.

Client #1 is a 69-year-old woman who is struggling to get attention online. We rebrand her on Yahoo with new photos, essays, and an empowering technique with which to write to men. Even so, it’s a tough go, mainly because there are 3 times more single women than men over the age of 65, and half of those guys wouldn’t consider a woman their own age.

Anyway, a 67-year-old man writes her a note. He’s in good shape, successful, and, most importantly, interested. She scrolls down his profile to check for common interests.

“Oh, no. He’s into aviation. I’m more of a stay-home-and-knit kind of woman. I’m not going to write back to him.”

Client #2 is a 56-year-old man who was widowed last year. He’s extremely wealthy and wants a beautiful woman to share in his life of luxury. He writes only to women who are drop-dead gorgeous and at least fifteen years younger. Many of his emails are to women across the country, who have thousands of wealthy men in their own cities from which to choose….

Client #3 is an ethnic minority who has a lot going for him. He, too, wants to date a very beautiful woman. Except he refuses to write to any women that are his own ethnicity. He only goes for Caucasian women, the majority of whom aren’t interested in a man of his race.

All of these clients are effectively pricing themselves out of the market. Or at least narrowing their options considerably.

Criteria only serve to limit us, and yet few of us are willing to compromise.

None of them are bad or wrong or unreasonable. They want what they want. We all do. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that we all engage in some form of preemptive discrimination. Except we don’t call it that. We call it “having preferences.” I’m quite sure you have them as well, Heather. And I’m quite sure that you’re discriminating against a guy who’s perfectly suited for you — just like these guys are doing to you.

And lest you think I’m talking down – I’m guilty as everyone else of this:

One woman wrote to me on JDate, but was six years older than me. I ignored her. Six months later, I met her in real life and fell in love.

Another woman who dazzled me at a party revealed that she never went to college. She traveled, started working, and became successful in her career by the time she was 22. I never would have met her on Match with my “bachelor’s degree” search criteria.

And my current girlfriend? A prime example of someone I would have passed up online — older, Catholic, and Republican. 11 months later, we’re an obvious match made in heaven.

Open up your search criteria to “Any” for every category, unless it’s a DEALBREAKER.

When I work with my private clients, I HIGHLY encourage them to open up their search criteria to “Any” for every category, unless it’s a DEALBREAKER. Hey, you’re allergic to smoke, you don’t have to date a smoker. You’re a devout Mormon? No need to browse the 14 Jews in your state. Everything else should be kept open, for the reasons I’ve detailed above. You wouldn’t believe how many Mr. and Ms. Rights pass in the night because she’s looking for a guy over 5’10” and he’s looking for a woman under the age of 50.

These criteria only serve to limit us, and yet few of us are willing to compromise.

By the way, our refusal to compromise is the very reason that people lie online. That’s right. I’m blaming all of us with our rigid criteria. While WE want someone to give US a shot – even though we’re likely shorter, older, or fatter than we’d like to be – we never give a break to anyone else who falls outside OUR desired standards.

So short men discriminate against heavy women.

Heavy women discriminate against heavy men.

Heavy men discriminate against old women.

Old women discriminate against old men.

And around and around we go….

You’re not wrong to feel that these guys are being unfair, Heather. By the same token, there’s no value in trying to convince them to give you a chance. As long as they feel they have other options, they’re going to exercise them. If a guy can approach hundreds of never-married women online, he doesn’t need to write to you, a divorced woman.

You need to accept the fact that just because YOU find someone desirable doesn’t mean that they have any interest in you. And you can bang your head against the wall and complain that it’s just not fair, but people have choices. You can’t twist someone’s arm into giving you a chance — anymore than anyone can do that to you. Seriously. If a 62-year-old man from Des Moines wrote to you, you’d brush him off without a second thought. But what if he saw something special in you? What if he were positive that if you only gave him a shot, you’d fall for him? What if he kept trying to convince you that you were making a huge mistake by not considering him? That’s pretty much what you’re doing when you say, “So and so should give me a shot.” You’re expecting someone to break his own rules, the same rules you wouldn’t break for someone else.

Which brings me to perhaps my favorite online dating story of 2007.

54-year-old male client tells me recently about the most electric date he’d ever had. The chemistry was palpable; they talked all night, laughed a bunch, and made out in the car afterwards. As he brought her home, she decided she had to confess something.

MOST people lie…because others discriminate against us.

“I’m not really 54,” she says.

“That’s okay,” he says. “How old are you?”

A brief pause.

“It’s okay, you can tell me,” he reiterates.

Another pause.

“Let’s just say I’m in my sixties,” she says.

Let’s face it: those two crazy kids NEVER would have met if she had been honest. Which is why she lied. Which is why MOST people lie. Because others discriminate against us. And that’s why the average woman in her 40’s is twenty pounds heavier than she claims online, and the average man is one inch shorter.

I know this is a long diatribe, but I can’t state this enough.

Give others a chance, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll give you a chance.

Give others a chance, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll give you a chance.

But as long as we have these arbitrary search criteria, we’re severely limiting our options.

You’re allowed to drop these guys a line, Heather. Just don’t expect very much in return — no more than a short, old, guy from Bangladesh should expect to hear back from you.

If you want to maximize your online dating experience — to get the highest percentage of people to write back to you — my Inner Circle group coaching is your best bet.

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  1. 1

    Heather, I can’t imagine why anyone would have a preference against divorced women, assuming kids and psycho ex-husbands aren’t involved. The divorce rate has been holding above 50% for decades. It is absurd to dismiss that many people as being losers.

    Maybe that is a thoughtlessly chosen preference by many men and not a true deal breaker.

    I would go ahead and email these men, but make it clear that you are divorced. If they aren’t interested, they just will not write back.

    The only thing you have to lose is your time

    Good Luck

    1. 1.1

      I have to agree, lots of men skip “divorced” profiles, unless it’s recent or embittered I don’t see the problem, personally my age (40’s) if someone hasn’t been married it’s a red flag, I give preference to divorced men. I was married and divorced more than 20 years ago (as a teen), the marriage was very brief, a mistake, and I have been living as “single” my whole adult life, yet my reverse matches go from over 600 matches down to 44 if I put divorced on my profile (which I no longer do and considering the ration of single to divorced profiles and the marriage statistics I’m guessing I’m not the only one). Thing is a lot of separated people list themselves as divorced (as I found out) and it’s likely the men have discovered this too, that’s why they’re screening it out.

      Personally I think unless someone is adamant about something in their profile it’s ok to bend (by a very small variation) and message asking them to clarify their position. I also think it’s fine if they aren’t biting to try a different pond, maybe a different area or age group (I now also search up to 5 years younger and interstate – where I will be moving – and have substantially more and better matches for both AND they are looking for me), lack of options in one place doesn’t have to mean settling for a man you can’t stand just because he’s all that’s left or tripping over other women in a stampede for a man who barely rates as average and the attention has gone to his head.

      1. 1.1.1

        ..forgot to mention different dating sites across the net, I just recently opened an account on a different site to my regular one and some of the exact same men who would not even view my profile on my usual site were in my inbox the day I signed up, they came to me. I know I’m not coming up in a lot of searches because I’ve met people on the same sites as me and we both complained about the lack of good matches, we each had no idea the other was on the same site, I didn’t see them there and I was looking.

  2. 2

    In regards to what Evan had to say about only being as valuable ( dating-wise ) as your options, I think online dating sites give people the illusion of more choices since those sites have so many people on them.

  3. 3

    I don’t know where I’d be if I only approached women that I fit their “criteria”. And frankly, I think some people set their preferences a little on the rediculas…I’m 49 and if there is a woman that is 46 and says she doesn’t want anyone above 48, well guess what…I’m writing her. Sometimes they write back, and sometimes they don’t. That’s the way it is anyway. I say give it a shot, we all like the have the options available to us. But I would venture to say that most of the time, unless you are WAY out of their listed preference, it is just a screening mechanism anyway, an effort to not get as many wacko’s and nutcases. In the end it wouldn’t matter, because if there is something on your profile they like, they will recipracate weather you fit the profile or not. In short, they (in my case meaning women) will let some things slide, like maybe I have a bald spot and they really like a guy with a full head of hair, but in my profile, I seem funny, so mabe she give it a try and see what I’m like. I do think though that women are a little more forgiving than men are, being a slight bit less visual. Problem is, all a person has to go on, their first screening if you will, is your photograph. And if there is just one thing that someone finds not all that attractive, your gone. As Even would say, we are always looking to trade up.

  4. 4

    “Pricing yourself above the market,” is such a great line. The majority of my friends, both men and women, go dateless for YEARS because of that. As much as I think my friends are the most wonderful people ever, they only want to date someone close to a 10. And um, well. My friends aren’t 10’s in the “market place.” The market is what it is. It’s sad that there are so many lonely sexless people everywhere, who would rather go without than date someone who’s of equal market share.

  5. 5

    Well for me, if I see someone I am interested in, I send an email.
    What’s the worst that can happen–he doesn’t respond or says no, nicely if I’m lucky. I remember one guy I wrote who was quite tall and I am quite short. I was off his height by an inch. So I wrote him and just asked ” How important is the inch?” Guess what, I’m dating him now. Personally I don’t think you lose much by taking a chance.

  6. 6

    The short answer is, yes, contact them and don’t worry about it.

  7. 7

    This is one of Evan’s top articles. I liked this part: “By the way, our refusal to compromise is the very reason that people lie online. That’s right. I’m blaming all of us with our rigid criteria. While WE want someone to give US a shot – even though we’re likely shorter, older, or fatter than we’d like to be – we never give a break to anyone else who falls outside OUR desired standards.”

    I agree that it is just more inviting if you leave your options open on your profile. If you write that you are excluding people for whatever reason, you don’t come off as very personable. I realize that some people don’t want to waste their time, so it is a difficult call. And yes, I admit I do have my own criteria.

    That being said, I struggle with trying online dating. So far I haven’t because I don’t want to lie to someone I’m going to meet, just so that I can meet their criteria. Why would I have to lie? My main problem is that I’m 41 – and I know that limits my options in a big way. I pass for early 30s in person, and frequently have dated younger men who think I’m younger upon first meeting. They get attracted to me initially. I always honestly break the “bad news” about my age when they ask me. That hasn’t caused anyone to leave me, but I don’t think it would work online. They’d rule me out right away when they read my age. If I lied to get my foot in the door, I would think that would make a man think I was a liar.

    As for excluding someone divorced – I don’t think that’s right, even though I know it is going to happen. I think the only thing one can hope for is that the man doesn’t get a lot of response to his profile. This would force him to change. If he still gets a response, then there is nothing much anyone can do.

    I suppose the man does this because he doesn’t want to deal with an ex, baggage, kids, etc. He forgets that there are all sorts of divorced people. Some don’t have kids, and some have moved on, and have no contacts with their ex.

    Personally, I’d be afraid to write to someone who is divorced if they explicitly said they didn’t want anyone divorced.

  8. 8

    I think the brief answer is that you approach it with basic common sense, keeping in mind some criteria are more important than others. For example, if his stated age preference is 25-35 and you are 37, go ahead & write. If he states he doesn’t want kids and you have 2 kids, it’s probably not a good idea to write. Keep in mind that much of the criteria are guidelines, not absolutes. However, be aware of absolutes when you see them…(only date within religion, want kids vs. no kids). I think you have to respect ethnic preferences if stated (but that’s just me).

    My $0.02…

  9. 9

    I’m a divorced woman who met a fabulous man on a dating website. I didn’t fall within his criteria of never married and childless (as I have both) however, I dropped him a clever note in which I immediatley establsihed, “Look, I don’t fall within your quantitative criteria for a match but I think we might be agood match in other ways.” Pooceeded with a funny anecdote about our common bonds and voila…her ewe are 8 months later and still dating quite exclusively.

    You might get some responses from men who still say no thanks but it’s kind of like the lottery. All you need is just one guy to be a match. and Grandma always said you gotta kiss (or browse, in this case) a lot of frogs to find your prince.

    Good luck to you!

  10. 10

    Gee with the divorce rate over 50%, I’d think there would be a very large number of divorced people participating in on-line dating sites–an ever increasing pool as people get into their 30’s and beyond.

    Maybe those who’s requirements are to never-have-been married have issues you wouldn’t want to deal with anyway, who knows?

  11. 11

    “And you can bang your head against the wall and complain that it’s just not fair, but people have choices”

    Actually, people MAKE choices. They only think they HAVE choices. This is why they’re still single looking for a 10 and why, in my opinion, online dating has helped confuse the dating scene even more by played into people’s unreal expectations. Most married people I know settled down with someone who wasn’t their original ‘type’.

  12. 12

    Based on my own dating experiences online in years past, the main reason men specify “never married” is that they don’t want the particular baggage that comes with many divorces — kids/custody issues, women who have been abused or cheated on and are still damaged/bitter from the experience, and jealous stalker-type exes. If you had a “starter marriage” that was a non-starter, say, and have none of these issues, find a sweet and funny way to state that when you write. “The ‘baggage’ from my two year marriage could fit in a thimble, no worries there.”

    Re Evan’s article, I have a friend in her 50s, never married… her list of criteria were outrageously exclusionary. He has to be Jewish, preferably nonpracticing; be thin/fit; be as intelligent as she is (she’s in Mensa); be a very articulate guy who loves to talk, and can write well and spell and punctuate properly. Okay… what infinitesimal percentage of men would fit that profile? One married professor in Philadelphia, MAYBE. I told her she absolutely had to drop some of those requirements or she would never find a guy to call her own.

    I always thought smoking was one of my absolute dealbreakers. Can’t stand the smell, I’m allergic, and I watched a favorite uncle die of emphysema, slowly suffocating over the course of a decade as his lungs turned into black curtain lace. My now-husband stated he was a “social smoker” on his profile. I figured, okay, that means he bums a cigarette at a party three times a year. I gave him a chance. Well… he managed to hide his pack a day habit from me for almost four months. By then I was crazy in love with him and that particular dealbreaker went by the wayside. He said he knew I would never give him a chance if he put “smoker” on his profile, so he fudged the reality a bit. And it’s worked out fine. He’s very respectful with his smoking around me (i.e., he doesn’t smoke in the house, in the car when I’m with him, or anywhere else near me), and I’ve come to realize that smoking is a habit that can be broken; it’s not an inherent unfixable trait about a person (like a mean streak or lack of generosity or hidden bisexuality or alcoholism — all of which I’ve had to deal with in various relationships). For me, it’s not a “buyer beware” situation. I know he’ll quit someday. Probably around the time I lose those thirty pounds he’d prefer that I lose… but guess what? My weight wasn’t a dealbreaker for him, because again, it’s a fixable bad habit, not something inherently flawed in me as a person.

    So examine those dealbreakers carefully, folks. You might find there are far more important search criteria that should define a long-term relationship.

  13. 13

    I definitely think you should spend 5 minutes writing the person, even if you don’t meet one of their guidelines. Heck, I’m an atheist and I once wrote a devout Christian who said she was looking for a Christian guy. I explained in the last line of my email that if she was fine with my religious beliefs, I was fine with hers. We exchanged a few emails and it kind of died off for other reasons, but not anything related to her criteria.

    I have a few white lies in my profile, just to make it sound a little better. I said I took dance lessons last year, when in fact it was 3 years ago. I also say I live in a town adjacent to the one I actually live in, because it’s a little bigger and cooler (hey, I do live right on the border, so it’s not THAT untruthful). I cut people some slack, as long as they don’t lie about the big things (i.e. kids, weight by about 50lbs, and age by about 5 years).

  14. 14

    “…..reason men specify never married is that they don’t want the particular baggage that comes with many divorces ”

    again, another generalization that prevents guys from being in a relationship. You don’ have to have been married to have baggage.

    And I disagree that if you’re divorced you should explain away your baggage in your profile – why apologize? If a guy excludes someome because of this it sez more about him and his maturity level.

    The reality is that the older we get the greater the chances of encountering someone who’s been married. I’m in my late 30’s, never married, but lots of LTR experience. One guy I dated (met on line) told me that he was impressed that I’ve at least had LTR’s because it shows that I have a track record. Granted he was married before and also understood what it means to have a track record.

  15. 15

    This is a great topic ! The facts are I’m 47,never been married,no kids and occasionally have a cigarette when I drink. If I put THAT honesty in my profile believe me I would be considered LESS desireable by a great number of women. So instead I put I’m 44 because I can easily pass for it and for some reason to a 38 yr old woman “45” is a cutoff point. I’ve also started putting I’m “DIVORCED” because most women over the age of 40 don’t take a guy that hasn’t been married seriously. When the truth is I could of easily been married for 7 yrs or 2 weeks 15 yrs ago and then I could say I’m divorced like everyone else my age thus eliminating that as a dealbreaker “ohhh he’s never been married forget him”..LOL The smoking thing is obvious and it’s no big deal I don’t smoke around anyone that doesn’t like it but as we all know it’s the #1 dealbreaker in the singles scene just barely edging out numbers 2 and 3 axe murderer & puppy killer…lol Don’t even get me started on the “height” or “weight” thing ladies. Does a woman who’s 5’4″ HAVE to have a man who’s 5″11″ ?? Puhhleeeeezzz !!

    Yes, I take a chance “fudging” my profile a little and most times when I meet a woman and she actually likes me and is attracted to me none of those little things matter much. But unlike Evan’s story about the women in here 60’s making out in the car my one story didn’t end that way.

    I met a 41 yr. old woman online 3 yrs ago. She emphatically stated in her profile she would only date men WITHOUT children even if they were out of state or over 21. No problem here, I don’t have any. My profile at the time said I was 43 but I was 45. Her age requirements said 38-45 again no problem. We met for a pizza and she tells me she’d had a relationship with a woman “last year” for a bit. Interesting but certainly not a deal breaker. We hit it off and made a date for the following Sunday to play tennis and watch football because SHE was a fan like I. Just make a day of it. She showed up we kissed hello..smiles all around. On the way to tennis I told her I WAS 45 not 43. She said it didn’t bother her. We had fun playing tennis, kissing in between games etc..went to lunch,came back home watched the game, made out a little all in all spent about 9 hrs together. Laughing,eating,kissing etc…..Best first date I’ve ever had ! We made plans to see a play later that week. I call her 2 days later and she say’s “I changed my mind I decided it DOES bother me that you lied about your age by 2 yrs and I don’t want to see you again. I was devastated. I emailed her and said “if your not attracted to me that’s cool but I’m not stupid enough to believe that anyone would pass on someone they’re attracted to because they lied about their age by 2 yrs.” “And oh by the way I don’t remember reading in YOUR profile that you were bi-sexual. Another funny note was that she was fraud investigator for a bank….YIKES !! …LOL

    The moral of the story is chemistry is chemistry and even if don’t fit someones exact requirements you may have nothing to lose by contacting them and even meeting them but their’s still no guarantee’s of a happy ending either way.

  16. 16

    whatever happened to “confidence is sexy”, and doesn’t that include being honest in your profile?

  17. 17

    JB Dec 22nd 2007 at 03:15 pm 15

    I call her 2 days later and she say’s I changed my mind I decided it DOES bother me that you lied about your age by 2 yrs and I don’t want to see you again.

    I agree with you 100% that 2 years is not a significant difference. I would bet that she didn’t find that to a serious problem either. My guess is that she had a problem with you starting off the relationship with lying, not that you were 2 years older.

    Nobody likes being lied to, even if it is a white lie and by the time most women enter your age range they have been lied to a lot and about very significant things. Lack of honesty ( even if they are not honest themselves ) is a big deal breaker older women in the dating scene are hyper-vigilant for.

    I liked an earlier suggestion someone made. If you don’t fit someone’s criteria in an online age, send a nice letter describing how you are a good match and then mentioning a humorous/diplomatic way that you are [b]SLIGHTLY[/b] outside of their criteria, but that you hope you can still get together.

  18. 18

    JB Dec 22nd 2007 at 03:15 pm 15

    I’ve also started putting I’m DIVORCED because most women over the age of 40 don’t take a guy that hasn’t been married seriously.

    So men do want divorced women, because they are somehow damaged goods and women don’t want men who haven’t been divorced, presumably for similar reasons. Oy! 🙂

    I haven’t thought about this issue a lot and I find it interesting. If this thread isn’t too stale yet I am hoping some women might chime in with reasons why a woman might pass up an older, never married man.

    Why is it a deal breaker. Is it the assumption that an older, never married man, never married because

    – never fully grew up in some way?

    – he was and still is emotionally wounded? has baggage?

    – he is difficult to get along with?

    – he was too busy pursuing a career or something else and that is a sign that he is still too busy?

    – he may be fine, now, but since he lacks experience in how to be in a relationship he will be more trouble than he is worth?

  19. 19

    I have seen so many good analogies comparing dating to job hunting.

    In my field many people flat out lie on their resumes about having skills that they don’t. They think that can learn the skill on the fly. To me, that is a recipe for stress that I don’t need in my life. While I will phrase my qualifications so sound more attractive, I make it point to never use descriptions that are likely to lead to false impressions.

    When I get to job interviews I point this out to the person interviewing me, telling them that if they hire me they can always count on me for an honest appraisal of a problem and a solution.

    I try to avoid white lies when I am dating for similar reasons. If there is a question I don’t like I will try to diplomatically say that I don’t want to answer it this early in a relationship. If the question comes back to me later I try to figure out why the woman is asking the questions. I try to address those concerns and answer her honestly while selling/reselling myself

  20. 20

    For Steve –

    I think there are a lot of bad assumptions as to why people who are in their 40’s have never been married. I have to admit to holding onto a few of them myself. But then 4 months ago I met a man online, 40, never married, in fact in a family of 4 siblings ranging from 47 to 38, none ever married, and it made me wonder. But I put aside the thoughts of a guy who’s never grown up, or is socially inept, or maybe a bit psychotic, and did what BeenThruTheWars did – I gave him a chance. I can’t say where this will go, but it’s interesting enough that I’ll keep riding the waves to see. Maybe people in their 40’s have never been married because they weren’t ready, or hadn’t met the right person, not because there’s anything “wrong” with them. But how do you know that unless you give them a chance?

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