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. 21

    Steve said “My guess is that she had a problem with you starting off the relationship with lying,”

    That may be true but it didn’t stop her from making out with me the 6 hrs following telling her. And oh yeah…isn’t it a lie if someone’s Bi-sexual but they don’t mention it in their online profile. Let’s ask the ladies this one….lol

    How many of you ladies would consider being lied to if you show up on a first online date and the cute guy trots out in between
    sips of wine “I had a relationship with a man last year” ???

    Out of curiosity why is MY lie bigger than hers ? The bottom line is she just WASN’T attracted to me and the lie was an easy out.

  2. 22

    JB: Is bi-sexual even an option on profile forms? I’ve only tried Match, and it doesn’t ask you to state. It simply asks if you’re looking for a woman or man.

    To me, lying about anything factual would be immediate grounds for ending it, no matter how much I got along with someone. Lying is an attempt to manipulate someone. Period. I wouldn’t stand for it.

    Yet it’s also okay to reserve some disclosures for a short time. Not all topics are appropriate for first dates and even 2nd dates. I don’t think heavy topics should all be addressed up front. Just don’t lie when asked!

    One last thought on men who’ve not been married. I don’t see anything wrong with that at all! Maybe it’s because I’m in Northern CA, where’s it’s perfectly acceptable to not marry. No big deal!

  3. 23

    This is a perfect example of the pitfalls of online dating. We have all become so accustomed to online dating as the end all and be all of ways to meet other singles in this modern world of ours that we seem to have forgotten that the most sought after quality in another is that warm and fuzzy feeling we get when we realize how special they are. This impossible to label quality is impossible to find online and will never be found by those who resort to a firm list of must haves before they will ever meet a person. Which, brings us to a fabulous, healthy way to approve like as a single person: get out, have fun, surround yourself with other singles, and you will meet people who tickle your fancy!

  4. 24

    Tasty – for some getting out there in the single world works just fine. But for me, I’m a single mom who works full time, have 3 kids at home, one at college, take classes myself and there isn’t time for me to go hang out a trendy restaurant. Sometimes it’s midnight before I get time to myself. Online works for those who don’t have the options you do and it’s not only possible, but probable, that some of us can find the one for us in the online world.

  5. 25

    Shari’s right, online dating is a haven for single mom’s. Millions of single moms all over the world who “don’t have time to go out to meet people” because they have kids. You know what I always say to that ?
    If you don’t have “time to go out and meet people” you WON’T have time to “date” people once you meet them. Believe me I’ve dated hundreds of them and rarely did it last more than a month.

    Online dating has changed the dating scene so much that I know women who don’t even go out anymore because it’s easier just sitting at home in their pajamas and ordering a new man every week like it’s a pizza !

  6. 26

    I think you’re right about the 2 yr. age thing being just an excuse to break things off. Though why she would do that after having a great time hanging out/making out with you for 9 hrs. is indeed a mystery. Maybe she got back together with the woman she had been seeing, or met a new one? Who knows?

    Dating a bi-sexual is not something I’m comfortable with, so yeah I’d like that info up front, personally. I haven’t tried internet dating yet, but it would be one of those weed out things for me if it were in a profile.

    As far as age & marital status goes, I’m 46 and never married and can see how fibbing on those things might be tempting. Particularly, I’m tired of answering the question “How come you’ve never been married?” My answer lately has been: “Because I’ve been lucky!” Since I have a grown son, most people I meet just assume I’m divorced anyway.

    I think some people get spooked by unmarried people over 40 because it’s not the norm, despite any number of reasonable explanations. Come to think of it, I’ve never dated a man over 40 who’s never been married, so if I met one I’d probably ask him the same question! Though coming from me, it would be something we could smile/snicker about together.

  7. 27

    “I think some people get spooked by unmarried people over 40 because it’s not the norm”

    …I actually think it’s because people have their predisposed opinions about 40+ single never-marrieds. Like ‘why aren’t they married” – as if something is wrong with them.

    Of course you can’t generalize but I found that dating men over 40 who haven’t been married has been a whole different experience than dating those who have been – in terms of how to treat a woman, knowing what they want, committment-oriented, etc. Still, I try to keep an open mind and give someone a chance, I’m just smarter about what to look for up front, regardless of age/height/hair color, legnth of nose, shoe size, blah blah.

  8. 28

    I think you can always take your chances and write to them anyway, but assume that your response rate may not be as high as you’d like. Anyone can make a blanket statement about men who don’t want to date women who have been divorced, but I don’t believe the reason is all that specific. Not articulating this well, but the gist is that each man who doesn’t want to date a woman who is divorced (or thinks he doesn’t enough to make it a preference in print on a dating site and one that screens potential mates at that) has his own, personal reason for thinking and feeling the way he does. You may or may not find out what that reason is if you choose to contact him. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. But I also believe it might make a difference what the bias is on the other person’s part. If it is a big thing – one that might be for moral or religious, or health reasons, then that person has a pretty strong leg to stand on based on their beliefs. I have read profiles where a man won’t date blondes or women with blue eyes. In my book, that lets me out – unless they contact me (as I have blonde hair and blue eyes). I will also cop to getting very peeved when I hear from a man who is 20 years older than my stated top age, is a smoker and lives in Timbuktu. I personally don’t feel comfortable with anyone over 10 years older (unless is a friend – I have friends from age 23 to 102 and I am 36) in a romantic situation (I also still get mistaken for being in college : ( ), get really ill from smoke, and have not had good luck with long distance love. Certainly not with both people starting on separate continents. It can work if you were together and then moved. To me I would have thought these were relatively non-negotiable unless the person was within a year or two of the range, or lived 60-75 miles from me. Still within reasonable, though not preferable, driving distances. I also feel that you should try to reply to any communication you receive. I found I was spending a ton of time sending polite no-thank-you’s to men I wouldn’t have heard from if they had paid attention to what I was looking for. I also agree that we tend to rule too many people out by having a bunch of stipulations and should also keep an open mind. I guess my advice is to go for it, but with a discerning eye and mind towards what else does and doesn’t match up. It could also be perceived that you just didn’t read carefully enough or that you didn’t care about something important to him and contacted him anyway. I hope you get way more positive results than negative whatever you decide. Online dating is a good thing, but it isn’t easy and it is something of a crapshoot since we all come with likes and dislikes and wants and needs that can be disparate with what someone prefers, even if we wish it weren’t so. How you feel is how you feel and vice versa. Sorry for the long winded post! Good luck to all.

  9. 29

    My personal stance on dating someone that is bi is that it stands to reason that someone in the whole deal is not getting full disclosure. This is an assumption on my part and not a slam against the poster who said is bisexual – If a man or woman is sleeping with both men and women, then usually one of those genders (or both) isn’t aware that he or she is playing on both sides of the fence and that is a big enough issue that the only way someone should be doing that is if ALL parties involved know about it and are ok. Being bi, or gay or heterosexual is a pretty big part of who you are and we all want to be with people who are compatible with who we are. As a hetero female, I can be friends with a bisexual or gay person (and am), but it doesn’t gel with who I am and what I want out of life and from a partner. I didn’t read the whole post, so I don’t know how the other person lied. But lying is lying and lying by omission is still a lie when it isn’t something like not telling a guy who has cats that you’re allergic to them or just don’t like them. I don’t agree with lying about a person’s age either, or whether or not you are employed. But I also may give out tmi sometimes and too soon and am working on that.

    To Steve: Hey there!

    I thought you answered your own question pretty well. And gave the majority (if not all) of the reasons women tend to shy away from a man over 40 that has remained unmarried. But since I am reaching 37 soon, and have also never gotten hitched (and am pretty sure there is nothing really wrong with me) and my brother hits 40 soon, and he too isn’t married – I have to assess whether my assessments and assumptions hold water in looking at someone else in a similar boat/vein. I think as always you look for clues to who a person is, and to where and why they are where they are in their life, do look for REAL red flags vs. perceived ones, and then try to make up your mind mostly based on an individual basis but still giving credence to your personal, known deal breakers. Also know what they are and why they are so for you and follow your heart. I am thrilled to find out there are still people with integrity who don’t lie – in their jobs and in life. I was told to drop one of my degrees off my resume and take stuff out so I’d look less experienced. To me that is also lying of a sort and I won’t do it. I am honest with employers and I think it makes me less desirable in some cases.

  10. 30

    You don’t want someone who has declared the no-marriage clause. It’s an immediate sign that the guy is immature emotionally and cannot handle a woman’s “past.” He assumes she’s got “issues” and “baggage”–and he may be right. I have talked to hundreds of guys online over the years, and they are invariably afraid of taking on a previously-married woman IF they are afraid divorce = harpy. These kinds of men see a divorce as an emotional liability (like if you, as a guy, told me in your first email to me, I drink a little too much). Now, having said that, I have gotten countless emails from guys who do not meet my criteria; some I talk to, some I don’t. But I know myself well enough to know what will work for me and what won’t, and my criteria are pretty broad. I go for the “whale” approach–bring as many in as possible and then sieve them out over time. Guys have the balls to contact women even when they know they don’t match their criteria–women can as well. But what I’ve found is that guys are ruthless about their criteria, whereas women are much more forgiving.

  11. 31
    Maddie Cartoonist

    Re: why I’d never (again) date a “never-married” man:

    I did so once, briefly. He was fun and interesting. But he was also very immature, irresponsible, he had ridiculous and impractical approaches to money & his job. On the other hand, I’ve been married, have kids at home. There was no way in heck he understood my life/concerns. He didn’t even understand why my kids had to come first for me. So, beyond the surface fun, we had no basis for a relationship.

  12. 32

    Most men end up narrowing it down to any woman with a pulse that’s not obese who will return their email ….lol Sad but true …

  13. 33

    “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?”

    Aside from the Mensa thing, I am sorry, but it’s a really sad state of affairs if the percentage of men who can spell and write is “infinitesimal”. That’s an extremely basic requirement in my book.
    BTW, pretty much my entire social circle fits all of her criteria. Again, not the Mensa thing as such (I don’t think any one of them would ever care enough to join), but all my friends are highly intelligent people.

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