When Jane Coloccia set out to find her soulmate online, she had no idea that eight years and 200 dates later she would end up an expert on the topic, writing a book and setting up a course to teach the pitfalls of Web love.
Coloccia, now 45, was living in Manhattan and struggling to meet single, straight men when one of her friends met a man online and married him. She decided to give it a go.
Over the next few years, she was swamped with e-mails and instant messages from attentive men — some who told her she was beautiful, others who lied about their age, weight, hair and marital status, and one who became her therapist.
Learning along the way how to spot the liars, Coloccia has written a book, “Confessions of an Online Dating Addict: A True Account of Dating and Relating in the Internet Age,” tracking the highs, lows — and addiction — of online dating. She is also developing an online course on Web dating.
“I would go on three or four dates a week. One Sunday I had three dates — brunch, lunch and dinner,” said Coloccia, who has her own public relations and marketing communications agency. “It does get very seductive as it is nice to open up an email and someone to say you are beautiful and they want to meet you.”
The growth in the online dating industry has been massive and is expected to continue. Figures from market analyst Jupiter Research show revenue has almost doubled in the past three years to $1.04 billion in the United States alone and is expected to rise 16 percent a year until 2012.
Marriage, friendship or sex?
Coloccia said that at first, she was nervous about going to meet the men she was talking to online. “My impression before I did this was that the people online were weirdos, but that is just not the case,” she said.
But among the good people there were those who were dishonest about themselves and their reason for being online — as there are always creeps in any bar.
Coloccia said married men, for example, tended not to post a photograph of themselves, would not give a cell phone number and tended to send instant messages late at night.
Some men were just after one-night stands. Others would post old photographs when they were slimmer and had more hair.
“When I met one man for a date, he was bald and fat, and his photo must have been from 20 years ago. I told him he looked different, and he explained it by saying he was wearing glasses and just had a haircut — but that was the end of that,” she said.
How not to waste time
She was once pawed on a first date, stood up on another, but over the years Coloccia said she honed her technique to ensure she did not waste time on men that were not suitable.
First dates were usually over coffee, with dinner only booked once the man proved to be likeable. She set geographical limits that knocked out the men in Russia, Malaysia or the U.S. West Coast.
She tells would-be daters to question people thoroughly before a meeting and to read their profiles well. She advises steering clear of free dating sites, where married men and the ones purely after sex tend to congregate.
Coloccia has been with her current boyfriend, Victor — whom she met online — for 18 months.
She said there is no stigma attached to online dating anymore, but it can be addictive. Her therapist even wrote a section in her book about how the ability to build a fantasy life online can be hard to leave.
“Find out why people are there. People date online for a lot of reasons — some are lonely, some just want to IM [instant message] and never meet, some want friendship, marriage or just sex,” she said. “But it is not a real experience unless you are prepared to get out from behind your computer screen and go live it.”