Online Dating Horror Stories

Internet dating has become an extremely popular way to meet people, and has indeed brought a lot of lonely folks together. But not every date turns out like an eHarmony ad. So in observance of Valentine's Day, we consulted readers, friends, a few experts, and a number of sites (notably Craigslist Personals) to gather the funniest, strangest, and most horrific online dating stories we could find. Lonely people, broken hearts, false claims, dashed expectations, doctored photos, bailouts, and no-shows--it's all part of the online dating experience, and we unearthed a little of everything.

"Beth" from Portland, Oregon, posted this note at an online dating site:

Online dating can produce some of the worst dates ever. The last guy I went out with brought a sock puppet--a sock puppet--on our date and tried to talk to me with it. To be cute, I think. But it freaked me out. Seriously. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but no sock puppets, please.

The old mid-date disappearing act has taken on a whole new utility in the age of Internet dating. Exhibit A comes from "Jill" in the San Francisco Bay Area, who posted the following on Craigslist:

I get an ad from a guy roughly my age who has a hot bike, and some pics showing he's fairly attractive. We e-mail back and forth a bit, he says he's definitely looking for the same thing, and finally we agree to meet at a coffee shop. The only thing I recognized was the bike. He resembled his pics the way Stuart Little resembles Mickey Mouse. His teeth were black, absolutely disgusting, and he had a cyst beside his left eye. He had to be 10 to 15 years older than me.... Not only that, but I got the distinct impression that he personally knew where a few bodies were buried.

I couldn't help it. I gaped. Then I couldn't look at him at all. I flipped the pages of the magazine I had brought in case of a no-show and glanced at him periodically, wondering how the [expletive removed] was I going to extricate myself from this. So he says he's going to get a coffee. And goes inside. That was his first mistake. Leaving my coffee and magazine, and barely taking time to snatch up my purse, I put my cell phone to my ear like I had just received an emergency call and literally hauled ass down the street to my car before he came back out. Karma says I am going to pay for that. Fine.

Caroline Presno, dating expert and author of Profiling Your Date: A Smart Woman's Guide to Evaluating a Man, says online daters are sometimes perceived as unable to meet people the old-fashioned way, and so are somehow "damaged goods." She recounts this example:

An attractive, 30-year-old female teacher was really looking forward to her first meeting with an attorney she had been e-mailing for a while. But on the date, before the waitress even brought the water, the guy said, "So let's get down to it, what's wrong with you?"

Jayne Hitchcock, a cybercrime expert from York, Maine, tells us she's now engaged to a fellow she met on while doing research for her book, Net Crimes & Misdemeanors. But, she says, she had to kiss a few frogs before finally finding her prince.

On some online dating sites, Hitchcock says, if a member wants to express attraction for another member after reading their profile, but without going to the extreme of sending them an e-mail, they can send an electronic "wink." "I was inundated with winks and messages in my True inbox," Hitchcock says. "I am not kidding when I say 'inundated.' Over 2000 members viewed my profile. Of those, at least half were winks." Usually, though, what the winks actually mean is: "I saw your picture and I think you're hot, but I'm too lazy to read your profile and it costs me nothing to just shoot you a wink on the off chance that you think my balding head is sexy, or that you're a nymphomaniac."

You'd think the anonymity of online interaction would make it easier for guys to come off as smooth and in control. But the opposite is often the case. That same anonymity seems to give some men a license to be rude perverts. "One guy came right out in the subject line of his message and let me know he wanted to meet me and do 'bad things' to me," Hitchcock reports. "Another claimed he was a real cowboy in New Mexico and wanted to have sex with me bareback on his horse. Oy."

From Russia With Love

Loneliness can be exploited, as some lonely hearts in the United States have found out. The Web site of the U.S. embassy in Moscow has some good advice for Americans who think they've met their online match in Russia, and run into trouble. From the Q&A page, here are two of the issues that can crop up in such intercontinental romances.

The individual I'm writing to says that s/he needs $1,000.00 to show for "pocket money" or the airline won't let him/her board the plane. Is this true?

(The Embassy responds that this minx from Minsk isn't required to "show" one cent to travel.)

I think I have been scammed. I have sent this individual $2,000.00 and now I find out his/her visa is a fake. How do I get my money back?

("Tough ****," the Embassy replies, in effect.)

For some longtime Internet daters, the names, facts, faces, and interests of responders to their profiles begin to run together. And the limited creativity of many dating-site members doesn't help matters. "John" from Chicago posted this "Open Letter to Girls":

Stop. Just stop. You're pissing me off. First of all, your screen name. Stop putting "sassy" into your screen name. Stop putting "citygirl" into your screen name. When registering, if you tried to use "cubfan" as your screen name and it came back telling you that you'd have to settle for "cubfan57836," that should have been your first clue that you have picked a disgustingly unoriginal name. You are not clever enough to think of something good, therefore you should not expect to be coupled with someone who is. Speaking of Cub fans, stop saying you love sports and that you "act just like a guy."

And the same is true of the men. From Jayne Hitchcock: "I started to whittle the list down by deleting those with eyebrow-raising or just plain sad screen names, such as variations on 'loverboy,' 'mr. romantic,' 'lonely guy,' 'lonely one,' 'kiss me,' 'true love MD,' 'huggy bear,' 'party man,' 'sexy upndown,' etc.--I am not making these up--and subject lines such as 'Hi Beautiful,' 'Wow!' 'Hi Baby Pretty,' 'Hey there, cutie,' and 'Me wink; you reply.'"

The Onion's Online Dating Tips offer this suggestion: Set yourself apart by choosing a descriptive user name like SocialRetard342, CuteFaceFatAss, or RohypnolLarry.

"Sarah" from New York also boiled down her online dates to a few distinct types. Here's one from her Craigslist post:

No. 6: Mr. EZ-Pass (Key Phrase: "I'm just a hop, skip, and a jump away from New York City.") He convinced me that the distance would not be a problem, that he came to the city often, so I said okay with some reservations. Getting together for date #1 was an Act of Congress; he went on and on about the train schedules. Then he cancelled out on date #2. He led me to believe that he lived someplace close in Jersey like Hoboken; turns out he was in Jersey alright...the part of Jersey that's near the Pennsylvania border.

People of all shapes, sizes, and socioeconomic backgrounds are looking for love online. Here's a post-date tale from "anonymous" at

I am 40 to 50 pounds overweight, but I was honest about it. This man was 5-feet-9 and weighed in probably about 300 pounds. But okay, my idea of a bit [overweight] and his idea of a bit may vary. So I wave at him and over he comes. I felt bad that I had sat outside, because even though it was a mild day and there was an umbrella, he was soon sweating like a donkey. And the charm, wit, and humor he had on the phone was ... gone.

He mumbled and fidgeted, but kept looking at me like I was a glass of water and he was on the tail end of a long walk through the desert. So I did it. I am so ashamed of myself, but in retrospect, what else could I do? I was sure every other blind date had coldly dumped him. And I knew he was a nice guy, just not the guy for me. I deliberately set out to gross him out. I started to laugh too loud at the unfunny things he said. And then, and I can barely type this, I actually put my hand in my armpit, pulled it out, and sniffed it.

What about me? Here's my own (actually my only) interesting online dating experience. I was in school. In a new city, Chicago, lonely, and very cold. Her name was Bonnie, and her picture on looked cute, even dainty. After a few chatty e-mail notes, we set up a meeting at a yuppie beer joint in Lincoln Park. I arrived first, sat at the bar, and ordered a beer. Those moments before your date shows up are priceless--my mind started racing a little, I could almost hear a low drum roll. And there she was--she walked in, sat down, ordered a beer. The tattoo on her neck wasn't visible in her online picture. She looked a little rough around the edges, Bonnie did. Tough, actually. She was about my height or a little taller, and she was built--and I don't mean built in a girly way, I mean she looked like she could bench press about twice my weight.

She ordered another beer. And another, and another. Her cool, detached attitude soon turned boisterous and aggressive. She lapped me several times beer-wise, and didn't seem to notice, while peppering me with questions about past relationships.

After about an hour I'd seen and heard enough. When I smoothly begged off, claiming a study group meeting, she just looked at me blankly--then, I thought, a little menacingly. "Oh, so you're going to get up and leave now, huh," she said. I thought I saw a vein pop out on her neck. After a long pause, she said, "You know, I think I'll walk outside with you." While I put my coat on, she just stood and watched, leaving her coat, bag, and beer at the bar. I felt the cold blast of the door swinging open, heard her walking behind me. My heart was beating fast as I stepped onto the sidewalk. I braced myself for a wallop and turned, but she was already lighting a cigarette. Without looking up she said, "See you around."

True Confessions of an Online Dating Addict

Don't get the idea from this (admittedly somewhat sordid) collection of tales that online dating is all desperation, despair, and disappointment. It's not. For some people it works so well that it becomes a problem. Consider the story of "Shannon" from Washington D.C., as she described it in a Craigslist post:

At times I tried to stop the madness. I'd take down my ads, I'd tell people I was taking a "break" from dating, I'd arrange to see the same guy several times just to keep me from going on new dates. But always, inevitably, I'd log in just to see who was out there, what new ads were posted in my absence ... and I'd get reeled back in.

Soon, wasn't enough. I branched out to Nerve and Yahoo, even Jdate (not that I'm Jewish). As a result, I started having more dates than free evenings. I became an expert stacker. My performance at work started to suffer. Between arranging dates and answering e-mails, I rarely finished my projects on time. Plus I started coming in late, hungover from the prior evening's activities. And I started taking long date lunches, because my evenings were already chock-full. At that point, my dating itself started to suffer. I started losing track of which one was the human rights lawyer and which one hiked Mt. Everest, which one grew up on a farm in the Midwest, which one liked to make curry, which one was divorced and which one had been in the Marines. My ability to combine witty banter with piercing intellectual observations and shy but come-hither glances (the ingredients, I knew, of a successful date) was plummeting. Slack-jawed, bleary-eyed, I could only listen with faux enthusiasm and nod at appropriate intervals to their monologues.... My entire life was now spent dating, or on the computer, arranging the next date. There were times I woke up and I couldn't remember whom I had gone out with the previous night, nor whom I was supposed to meet that night. And I could no longer rely on just first names--there were scores of Robs, and Daves, and Mikes, and Johns, and Steves, and Jeffs. I had to make up nicknames for all of them, and designed a spreadsheet with relevant details of each to keep track of it all.

Happy Valentine's Day, everybody.