Late one night, Pam left her boyfriend’s apartment after what she thought was a wonderful romantic evening. “We’d been out to dinner and had made love twice,” she recalls. But when she realized she’d forgotten her watch and popped back into his pad five minutes later, she was shocked to see that James, whom she’d met on an online dating site, wasn’t feeling as warm as fuzzy as she was. Glancing at his computer screen as she passed by his desk, she couldn’t believe what she saw: He was back on the dating site, checking out other girls’ profiles. “He must have logged on the minute I stepped into the elevator. He couldn’t even wait until I was out of the building!” says the 35-year-old. “Since I’d started sleeping with him, I’d taken my profile down. He had not only not taken his down, but was actively searching for new dates!”
Not surprisingly, the relationship soon took a nosedive — but not before Pam nearly drove herself crazy checking the status of James’ profile from her own computer on a daily basis. All too often, his profile showed those four words many online daters have come to dread: Active within an hour. “If we hadn’t met online, this would never have been an issue. There would have been no way for me to figure out if he was checking out other women,” she says. “But with online dating, it’s all too easy. The information is there, and I can’t help it — I look.”
Active profile = playing the field?
Pam is hardly the only online dater struggling with too much information. “There’s a lot of espionage occurring on these sites. People can check up on each other in ways they can’t in real life,” says Michael Lasky, coauthor of Online Dating for Dummies
. Some online daters actually welcome the info, since it’s a great way to gauge the interest level of someone you’re dating while avoiding the awkward “are we exclusive?” talk. When Erin, 26, felt vaguely uneasy about a guy she’d met online and been seeing for four months, a quick look at his profile helped her confirm her hunch, fast. “I found out that not only had his profile been active, he had even updated it since we’d begun dating,” she says. “I even think his revised profile had a reference to our relationship. He’d often call me a ‘drama queen’ and his new profile stressed a desire for ‘no drama.’ Needless to say, I immediately stopped seeing him!”
Why profiles stay live
While Erin’s realization helped her make a decision about a relationship, other online daters aren’t so sure what they should do with the information they uncover. “Just because a profile’s active doesn’t mean he’s sleeping around,” Pam points out. “Plus, you’re embarrassed to bring it up, because you don’t want to look like you’re stalking your date.”
Indeed, not everyone who keeps their profile up is on the make. Victor, 28, is happy to be exclusively dating a woman he met online three months ago. But he admits that he still likes getting the occasional email from other women. “It’s always flattering to get that first email from a girl,” he says. “I just respond by saying thanks, but I’m seeing someone.” Victor also confesses that he’ll do the occasional search, “at that six-month point, when things get stale,” he says. “I’m not seriously looking, but I do like to get a little peek.” Lasky points out that Victor’s behavior isn’t really so different from anyone who’s dating off-line; just because you’re seeing someone doesn’t mean that you immediately put blinders on. “This is nothing new,” he explains. “Do people who aren’t married consider the possibility that there’s someone else out there for them? The answer is yes.”
How to cope — and broach “the talk”
So what do you do if you find out your new love is still logging on? Experts agree on only one thing: This is tricky terrain. “Informing a new love that you’ve been stalking his or her profile and demanding that it be taken down probably won’t get the results you want,” says Lasky.
Maybe the best way to handle it is by broaching the exclusivity talk, with no mention of profile-checking — that’s how Pam plans to handle the situation with the next guy she meets online and dates. “I’ve been emailing this one guy I met online for a couple weeks and am going to meet him on Friday,” she says. “I’ve vowed to myself that if I really like him, I won’t check to see if his profile remains active. It was so painful last time I don’t want to repeat that experience. Instead, if we start dating, I’ll ask him if he feels good enough about me to take his profile down. If he says no, then I’ll move on. If he says sure, then I’m going to try my best to take his word. Relationships require trust, and I’m willing to take that leap of faith.”
Sara Droman is a freelance writer.