Romance and Rejection, Navigating the Social Scene Online

They say that timing is everything in life -- and with Internet dating, good timing may be calculated at a rate faster than you can say, "would you like to go out with me?"

With thousands of potential dates to choose from and inboxes filling up with winks, messages and introductions, one delayed move can spell the end of a potential romance.

"If the person hasn't responded to your mail right away, you've written them off," said Connecticut-based businesswoman Sheila M. Welsh. "You don't have the chance to develop any relationship because 'forget you, I've got a whole pool to choose from.'"

Welsh learned that lesson the hard way. As a marketing executive who is frequently on the road, in between the great dates she's enjoyed, she's faced rejections by bachelors who considered her too slow in responding to their e-mails. "They don't want someone who isn't going to be there," said Welsh.

That type of snap decision can make online dating confusing for even the savviest of Web surfers, as singles sort between profiles and quickly decide if they will give a new suitor a chance for a romance.

"Yeah, you really have to develop a thick skin for this type of stuff if you're going to do a lot of it," said Baltimore resident Dan Binebrink. He's been online for six months, and wasn't prepared for the experience initially. "You'll send e-mails out to people and you'll never hear from them again, "said Binebrink. "It's hard to not take things personally sometimes."

Put on a Happy Face

With the ability to click through dozens of profiles in less than an hour, the swift technology that's helping people connect can also lead to missed opportunities, as decisions are made simply on one's presentation.

"I'm sure I've passed by a lot of guys … or they may have passed by me because I didn't look good in the picture," said 28-year-old Ruthie Kalai, who moved to New York City three years ago and has had mixed experiences online. She's had some great dates, but is concerned she would be able to better discern the appeal of a guy if she first met him in the real world.

"I could see somebody in person and they may not be the best-looking guy but there's something about them that makes me want to get to know them," said Kalai. "It's hard to not be superficial -- it's so tempting to look at a picture and judge the guy first."

Binebrink has been getting more familiar with the online dating experience, and is certain he would not have had the chance to get out on some dates if his profile didn't stand out. He used his professional graphic design skills to add a twinkle to his smile for his online profile when he saw what the other guys had to offer. "Half these guys have to take their shirts off or flex their biceps," said Binebrink.

"It's fascinating to see the types of photos that guys put online," said Welsh. "There's something about guys on motorcycles." The 45-year-old also noticed "lots of cat pictures," from men trying to show their softer side.

She admits she felt some pressure from her married friends to give the online dating world a chance, and has used eharmony and Match.com for the past two years. But when she first went online, Welsh was confused when she was only getting responses from men in their upper 60s, which was not her desired age range.

"A girlfriend of mine read through and said 'you sound like an old man, you like to play golf, you like old movies and a perfect Sunday for you is watching football and you drink scotch,' " said Welsh. So she went back to the drawing board, updated her profile and now she's getting responses closer in age.

Winks, IMs And Prolonged E-mail Conversations

For most people, it takes a lot less courage to ask someone out over e-mail than in person, thus avoiding that sweaty palm-inducing moment that occurs when you want to approach an appealing stranger.

And if writing a personalized e-mail is still too daunting, the dating sites let you send a wink or a flirt to a stranger including a pre-scripted message to pique their attention. But if the recipient does not like what they see -- brace yourself for an instant response that might say no thanks. And if you've had a date, and want to call it quits, you can just as easily e-mail that rejection.

"I think e-mail is great and it's also horrible at the same time," said Kalai. "It's made it easy to confront somebody not face to face, but at the same time, someone can just break up with you in an e-mail."

"That was pretty rough," said Binebrink, who recalls being let go over the Web. "That's a cheap way to do it -- at least give me a call."

All of this creates even more options and potential for confusion about dating, which is already fraught with miscommunication and anxiety for the single folk.

"As kids we didn't learn this stuff because this wasn't around," said Kalai. "And then the whole Internet world came about, and timing and text messaging … I really do think that there is a different etiquette of how it should happen."

Too much e-mailing can stall a relationship or raise expectations, which Kalai encountered after a blissful month of e-mails from one suitor. "It was a disaster because we both built up this expectation of what it could be. So now I try not to e-mail too much," said Kalai.

Binebrink has seen his friends falter online after getting stuck instant messaging and e-mailing with women.

"People tell me they'll go back and forth for months -- get them on the phone! This is online, how many of the last 20 spams do you remember getting? You don't care about that," said Binebrink. "I just think too many guys beleaguer and stall … you gotta run it like a business that's what I've been doing."

He's also fine-tuned his strategy a bit since he encountered that first wave of rejections. Binebrink said e-mailing women on a Saturday or Sunday morning can prove fruitful if they were out on the town the night before. "A lot of these girls are online because they met so many losers at bars and they're frustrated," said Binebrink. So he thinks he may get "a little better response," if they see his note.

If that doesn't work, Binebrink's now better prepared for online rejection: "The best way to deal with rejection is just to have another five girls lined up"