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Sometimes online dating is confusing

Date: 2007-05-05

When we are left to our own devices, things can get ugly -- and I'm not talking about the blind date you met online. But there's strength in numbers. So let's band together (with me as your guide) and talk about the hilarity and insanity that is the Baltimore dating scene.

As a single, sometimes hapless 24-year-old, I don't claim to be an expert. But I am a good listener and I have some relationship gurus on speed dial.

And this being 2007, I'm not just a columnist, I'm also a blogger (baltimoresun.com/baltamour). This week, my online readers have already started the conversation, weighing in on the madness and sharing their thoughts and experiences. (Keep it up, guys.)

So where do we start? We can't talk about dating without talking about pickup lines. But as we sink deeper into the digital world, have classic lines like "What's your sign?" been unseated by the automated Facebook "friend request." We all know video killed the radio star, but has instant messaging killed the come-on?

Christan Marashio, founder of Moxie in the City, which offers classes and workshops on dating, sex and relationships in cities across the country, thinks so. She says that technology has hindered our ability to connect, even down to that first hello. Increased reliance on technological communication dulls our emotional ear. Only in face-to-face communication can we get a "true sense of tone," she says.

"We need to go back," she says. "It's supposed to be about expressing and communicating emotions."

Is it true? By hiding behind our laptops, are we losing our ability to relate?

Even scarier still is this: We can even let our cell phones do the coupling (and uncoupling) for us.

MobileFaker, a new subscription cell-phone service, offers pickup and rejection lines and fake numbers you give out to people that you're just not that into. You can even schedule a phone call to get you out of a bad date.

Pickup lines like "Do you have a number of a taxi? I have an early meeting and don't want to wake you in the morning" can be selected using an application on your cell phone.

Launched in January and offered for $4.99 a month, MobileFaker lets you "fake your way through life," says Cindy Mesaros, senior vice president of marketing for Bellrock Media and the mastermind behind the service. "It's about turning your phone into a weapon."

I'm wary of the service. Dating's hard enough without easy access to tools for digital deception. But Mesaros insists that it's not to be taken seriously. "It's a new way to make people feel more comfortable," she says.

But what makes people feel most comfortable may be common sense. When it comes to pickup lines, the dating pros tell us what we already know but often fail to do: Be natural. Smile. Make eye contact. Try something funny.

Easy for them to say. They never seem to run into The One during a quick trip to the store when they're clad in bleach-stained sweat pants and having a really bad hair day.

Faced with such a scenario, it's often easier to get it wrong than right.

Susan Rabin, director of schoolofflirting.com and author of Lucky in Love: 52 Fabulous, Foolproof Flirting Strategies, One for Every Week of the Year, shares the worst line she's heard: "Oh, I love your earrings. Can I see them on my bedside table tonight?"

As for me, I was out recently in Bolton Hill when a twentysomething hipster sized me up at the bar. "You're gorgeous!" he said. "You have all of your teeth!" I think he was joking. My friend insists he wasn't.

And guys, we women have a word of advice for you: Whatever you do, hold the waterworks.

Alyson Gilbert, 25, of Baltimore says a guy known to hang out downtown uses tears to get girls. He walks around, looking forlorn and crying softly because he says his girlfriend left him.

As soon as a woman shows him attention, however, he perks up and asks for her number. "He tried it on me," she says, "and I was like, 'You're the guy that cries!'"

Maybe we should take pity on Crying Man. After all, we're all just trying to connect. We only fail when we are not genuine, when our fear or laziness -- or our desire to hide behind our laptops and BlackBerrys -- leads us to lines that really don't fit anywhere.

I'm not going to insult you, Baltimore, with a lame line that you've surely heard before. Instead, I will just keep it real: I've seen you around and I think we could have a good time getting to know each other, sharing our war stories, our dating disasters and our relationship successes. We could learn a lot from each other. So I leave you with one question: What are you doing next Saturday?





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