Q and A With… Sara Susannah Katz

After three years, the author of the hugely popular “Single in the Suburbs” column found love. Here, she shares her thoughts on the experience and about online dating in general.

rom her very first date to happily ever after, we’ve followed Sara Susannah Katz through all the twists and turns of being single in the suburbs. Now that her column has come to an end, we asked her to share her insights and advice about online dating.

What surprised you the most about online dating?

I guess I thought of online dating as a chilly and über-modern way of finding romance in our digital age. I was surprised by how it really is a very old-fashioned way of meeting someone (and I mean old-fashioned in a good way). Like in a Jane Austen novel where people get to know each other
I was also surprised at how perfect online dating was for me.
through letter writing, except now those letters come in the form of emails. You can tell a lot about people by their writing, and not just whether they know how to spell; I’m talking about things like self-awareness and sense of humor. I also think that writing is a more accurate reflection of the true self than physical appearance. You can really fall in love with someone through his or her writing. Not that appearance doesn’t matter, but I don’t think it should be the most important thing.

I was also surprised at how perfect online dating was for me. At first I was thinking, Oh God, how pathetic. Then I realized that it was just an ideal solution for me for a million reasons — mostly because it helped me get to know someone before a face-to-face meeting. And whether that meeting ever happened was entirely up to me. I liked having that kind of control.

How did you maintain your motivation after a string of bad dates?

I stayed motivated for the same reason I’ll play 20 rounds of solitaire in a row even if I keep losing: I’m an optimist. I always think that the next time around will be better.

If you could do something differently — whether it’s with the way you worded your profile, the photos you posted, or the way you handled emails — what would that be?

I’d have more pictures of me having fun instead of a bunch of head shots. Pictures of me laughing, camping, riding my scooter, crafting, anything to give a sense of the “real me.” As for emails, I probably would have been more definitive with the guys that weren’t right for me. The thing is, I really hate hurting people’s feelings (probably because I’m so sensitive myself) so I tend to let the back-and-forth emails go on longer than they should. If I could do it again I’d just write a simple response, like: “I’m flattered by your interest but I’ll have to pass.”

Is it wise to take scheduled “breaks” from online dating? If so, should you pay for a longer subscription and just periodically hide your profile?

That makes sense if you can afford it. But when you find The One, remember to cancel your subscription. Oh, and hide your profile before you cancel, too. Otherwise The One might think you’re still looking, and that’s not cool!

Do you think having children or being the age you are made online dating more difficult than it would be for, say, a woman younger than you? What about men?

Good question. My guess is that older men, with or without kids, have a wider pool to choose from but I expect that’s typical in our society, especially for guys with money. Ultimately it really didn’t make it more difficult because 1) I’m not interested in the kind of person who insists on dating a younger woman; in fact, I am disgusted by
For me, browsing profiles is like browsing through the Etsy web site.
people like that and 2) I’m definitely not interested in the kind of person who has an aversion to kids. So in a way, online dating provides a handy filtering system. The same goes for people who are only interested you if you’re skinny or built like an athlete. Yeah, it’s shallow, but I’m thinking, I’m glad you put that out in the open before I bothered contacting you. Or (God forbid!) that I actually ended up getting naked with a man and discovered that cellulite makes him nauseous. Could you imagine?

What “hacks” (tips and tricks) would you suggest for people who aren’t getting any emails or dates right away? For example, at what point in the process should you ask for help or consider changing the way you’re presenting yourself?

Ask a brutally honest friend to assess your profile and pictures. I’m saying brutal for a reason; i.e., NOT the kind of friend who tells you how good you look when you know for a fact that you look like crap. Get a photographer to snap some new pictures of you but not the kind who does passport pictures and high school yearbooks. With a little research you should be able to find someone who can take expert, flattering-but-casual photos of you at your best. There are plenty of books and relationship coaches out there, but I’d start with a good, trusted and, above all, honest friend who can tell you what you’re doing wrong. If that person has had some success with online dating, even better!

Did your experience change your view about being single in midlife? If so, how?

Until you try online dating, it’s easy to assume you’re a divorced loser all alone in a world of blissfully attached-at-the-hip couples. Then you go online and discover that you’re not alone and you’re definitely not a loser. Suddenly it seems like the world is full of possibilities and it’s just incredibly exciting. Simply logging into your email account every day can be a thrilling experience because of the messages from people who saw your profile and were interested enough to contact you.

A lot of people are afraid of online dating because they worry about friends, family and coworkers seeing them online and making judgments about them. What advice would you give to those people?

I definitely understand the concerns, especially if you live in a smallish town like mine where the norm is two degrees of separation, let alone six. You should follow your gut and do what feels comfortable.

On the other hand, if you can buy a car, do your banking, apply for jobs and find a doctor online, why not find dates? If you’re really self-conscious, you always have the option of leaving out your picture or not posting a visible profile and just searching for a bit. But I think that takes some of the fun and excitement out of online dating.

However, the question raises a bigger issue, one I’ve wrestled with my whole life: Should you really care what anyone else thinks of you? What would life be like if you made decisions based on what’s really right and good for you rather than what others may think? I mean, so what if people see you? Maybe they’ll be inspired by your example and post their own profiles someday.

What would you say to people who think it’s scary to meet strangers through the Internet?

I’d say, let me introduce you to a handy little tool called a search engine. If someone says he’s a surgeon, it shouldn’t be too hard to verify that information with a few keystrokes and a click. Do your research beforehand. And there’s all the obvious advice: travel in separate cars, meet in a public place and don’t invite anyone over for after-dinner drinks at your house. There’s no guarantee that you’re not hooking up with a nut, but that goes for traditional modes of dating, too.

Technically, you DID meet Ethan online — just not through an online dating service. Do you think that traditional methods of dating are more or less effective in today’s modern world of being super-connected 24/7?

I don’t even know what traditional methods are anymore. I can’t imagine going to a bar (yuck) and nobody ever offered to set me up on a blind date, which seems equally unappealing to me. I suppose I could have attempted one of those techniques you hear about, like flirting with someone in the frozen foods section of the supermarket. But honestly, I can’t imagine anything more efficient and effective than going online.

People might think that paying for a subscription to any extra service, even online dating, isn’t a good investment while the economy is still recovering. How do you feel about that?

Online dating isn’t that expensive when you think about all the other ways you could be spending/wasting your money to meet people — going on cruises, joining local professional groups, spending hundreds of dollars on dead-end drinks and dinners (which probably applies more to men than women). And don’t forget that your time is valuable and you waste less of it when you go the online route.

Do you consider your online dating adventures to have been a positive experience?

Absolutely. For me, browsing profiles is like browsing through the Etsy web site — it’s just a ton of fun and very tantalizing. Some of my dates were pretty good and a few were lousy, but I wouldn’t give up any of them because I always learned something about myself… even more from the bad dates and dead-end relationships than the good ones, to be honest. It gives you a chance to refine what you really want — and don’t want — in another person. So it’s all good.

Sara Susannah Katz is a writer in the Midwest. Her novel, Wife Living Dangerously, is now available. In addition, Katz currently writes The Devil Wears Dockers, a new online serial about working for a boss from hell. Click here to read the “Single in the Suburbs” column from the beginning.

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