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I made one fatal error: I lowered my age in the profiles

I've been a member of a dating Web site for almost two months. I wrote a heartfelt magnum opus of an introductory essay and answered questions with brutal honesty. The photos I posted are so current I don't even need a haircut yet. I don't pretend to love sports or to know the names of players to get men's attention (actually, I do love sports and could talk about, say, LeBron James until the cows come home.)

But I made one fatal error: I lowered my age.

According to my profile, I'm 38 - a full six years younger than I actually am. My rationale for such wild exaggeration was that many men in my age group cut off their desired dating range at 39. They have no problem backing the lower end of their range into the 20s. But there's something about "40 and above" that makes men hit the delete key - hard.

It's not that I'm uncomfortable with being 44. I even relish telling this to guys with whom I play pickup basketball. I'll smack-talk if they don't guard me, if they think I'm just some female on the court to fill a spot or look pretty while dribbling. After I hit a bucket or two from the top of the key, I'll say, "Well, are you going to guard me now?" Most eventually accept me as the worthy opponent I play hard to be.

But the dating world is different. I'm not proud of posting a fictitious age, but my reason was simply to stay in men's search parameters. I have a rule to confess my real age within five minutes of meeting.

Most men are shocked. They usually need a moment to take it all in, as if I'd just said I'm a felon out on parole.

"You don't look 44," they tell me, but in the backs of their eyes I can see the calculations clicking.

If the guy is in his 30s, I can tell he's running the numbers to unveil the new age difference. If he's 40 or older, I usually sense a little disappointment, as if he thought he'd landed a wild salmon, but ended up hooking a rubbery grouper.

These are the same men, however, who may have posted their real ages, but have shown up on dates shorter than they say, with less hair, heavier, or older than they look in their online photos. I've come to expect and accept this, and am actually shocked if anyone bears an uncanny resemblance to the guy grinning with his golden retriever in his backyard.

Am I a bad person? Should my dating Web site be alerted to such flagrant age abuse?

According to men I've dated: Well, yes. They felt misled and have strongly encouraged me to change my age, or at the very least, to leave it at the top as 38, but then revise my poetic introductory text to divulge my real age and explain why I lied.

The irony is that by the end of the first date, virtually all the men seem to forgive and forget and ask me out again.

In Hollywood, where age for women also matters, it's practically the norm for leading men to woo women half their age. So why should the story line play out differently in the world of online dating? Maybe because people could connect as individuals based on interests, good conversations, or just simple animal magnetism.

I'm not looking for an Ashton Kutcher, and I know I'm no Demi Moore, but lately I've been made to feel like Angela Lansbury.

Actor Christopher Walken once said, "We are aging but still rampant."

That's how I feel: We are all aging, and some of us are downright rampant. Maybe that's a good change for my profile: 44-year-old single female. Honest. Aging yes, but still rampant.

Teresa Leo is a writer who lives in Lansdowne

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