DEAR SUSAN: I have to weigh in with my Internet dating experiences. After my divorce, when I felt ready to date, I signed up at Match.com to see what it was all about. I had no preferences about height and weight, but I did specify no smoking and asked for an age limit of 10 years older or younger than I was. I was so very nervous; I hadn't dated since the Carter administration. But my online dating experiences helped give me confidence, confidence to meet strangers and go on dates with them. Some online introductions died at the wink stage, some after an email, some after a phone conversation. The rest I met for coffee, but none of them got past the second or third date. Of my longer-term relationships, one was a chance meeting and lasted four months, and the other is in its fourth year and counting. But if I hadn't practiced dating, which helped me lose my fright, I'm not sure this could have ever happened. As I gradually became more confident, I became readier to meet someone special.
It reminds me of something I learned in a sales seminar: First thing, make a list of three categories. The first one, A, is for people you're pretty sure will say yes. The B group consists of people who may say yes. C is made up of people you're pretty sure will say no. My suggestion is to get your practice on the C group. I don't mean to imply that everyone online is the C group, but it was online practice with men in that category that prepared me for the success I had in real life. I truly hope this helps someone else. — From the "Single File" blog
DEAR BLOGGER: Your experiences help us understand the weird world of online dating because you detail for us your gradual growth, from (very) nervous neophyte to seasoned smoothie. Your maturation took a while because you were so new at the game, but you stayed with it and went toe-to-toe with its slights. (That's a lesson in itself, a tribute to your persistence.) Then you describe your judgments of the men you were meeting as you winnowed out the undesirables by their online responses, by phone conversations and by in-person meetings "for coffee." Through it all, your better sense prevailed, even as you resisted discouragement. You never gave up! You stayed with the process, learned its valuable lessons and are passing them on. The main one is to have a high throughput of social interactions. That can be done online, through friends and by participating in common interest groups. And then there's always the chance encounter, the random happening that becomes a life changer. Possible, but the odds are low. And yes, online dating sites can lead to happy endings. Your experience will surely help many other women and men in the same position. We're all grateful.
DEAR SUSAN: The advantages of being married, even in these "concept of marriage as outdated," are overwhelming. Most important are the legalities involved. Children — their visitation, custody and medical decisions — should be foremost. Who in his right mind could disagree with that? Then there are other issues, decisions to be made regarding property, bank accounts, paychecks, rented or cooperative apartments or houses. Need I continue? I think not. Then there's the personal satisfaction of introducing your life partner. Nothing gives me greater happiness than saying, "I'd like you to meet my wife." That magic word, wife, conjures up images unimaginable with any other term, especially "significant other." — From the "Single File" blog
DEAR BLOGGER: My mother and I have this duel on a regular basis. And admittedly, I don't always have a snappy retort that makes sense. Moi: More and more often these days, when two people make a long-term commitment, they decide not to marry. And there seem to be fewer reasons to get married. They can have a family life, have children and live as a family, all without a marriage license. Way back when, they would reap the strong disapproval of their parents, their community, their children's teachers and other pillars of the community, but that disapproval doesn't seem to be so vehement anymore. They can have it all and still keep their single status. All current research confirms this, Mom.
Mom's comeback: If two people are prepared to weather the storm together, to assume parental responsibilities and risk occasional boredom, why on earth don't they go all the way and get married?
At this point, I pass the ball to you. If all those other conditions are in place — and they are for many couples living as committed mates enjoying family life, only not as signatories on a marriage license — what are the reasons for not marrying?
Have a question for Susan? Send it to her in care of this newspaper or online at www.creators.com.