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Guide leads black women through web of online datingAll is not lost. Or so Thelma Russell tells us. Russell, a 50-something African-American woman who works for the county, is the latest authority on online dating. Her self- published guide, titled The New Love Connection for African American Singles: A Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Friendship, Love & Marriage on "the Net," has fallen into my hands.

I don't know whether a copy of the slim book was sent to me, but I got a call from Russell's daughter, Tahja Star Harden, pushing the publication. The notion that women who grew up being taught not to even telephone men are now getting into the online dating scene piqued my interest.

After all, a lot of single women of a certain age have given up looking for Mr. Right -- anywhere.

No, I've never visited an online dating site. Even when my only company for the evening is the On-Demand channel and a bottle of wine -- I'm not tempted.

But Russell assures me women my age are meeting men via the Internet. Online dating isn't the "taboo" it used to be, she said.

I met her Wednesday in the lobby of Cook County's 69 W. Washington building. Russell isn't unattractive, but she doesn't have the looks that usually make a man's head swivel. Yet, she claims to have met and dated several interesting men via the Internet.

"I think the secret is having the patience to use online dating. People are so much into going out and looking at the person and sizing them up," Russell said. "The Internet is a little different. You have to e-mail first. Then you start calling. If you connect pretty good on the telephone, the person will be anxious to meet you."

Few books for African Americans

Online dating services can cost anywhere from $10 for a monthly membership to $1,900 for a two-year annual membership, according to Russell. The money might be well-spent.

"Forty-three percent of black families are maintained by women with no spouse present," she said.

In the long run, that can make for a lot of fractured dreams and tortured budgets.

A divorced empty-nester, Russell said she came up with the idea of writing a guidebook for Internet dating because there were few books on this subject that target African Americans. At the time, she had been going to clubs and trying to meet men through her friends.

"That never worked. I've been divorced a long time, at least 10 years," she said. "I hadn't been finding guys that I felt were really compatible. Some of the guys I met were younger."

She began her online dating experience by visiting Web sites such as eHarmony, Lavalife and single sites at BlackVoices.com.

"I met a very nice guy, but he had two young kids," she said. "He was busy running around to soccer and music lessons with his children. My girls were already grown. We contacted each other about three times and just sort of fell off. You have to expect that. Someone may sound good on the phone, but when you meet, you may not have the physical chemistry."

There were other dates, Russell said, including a man from New York who took her to lunch while he was in town on business. That match didn't work out because she didn't want a long-distance relationship.

"I don't have the money to jet set back and forth," she said.

The author met the man she's now dating on Lavalife.com. They had their first date earlier this year -- the weekend of Valentine's Day -- and have been seeing each other ever since.

'Lose the attitude'

"I'm telling you there are nice, professional men online looking for quality women," Russell told me. The guys our age are on the Internet. They don't have time to go to clubs. Some of them don't go to church, and because people have to fill out a profile, you can be more selective.

It sounds good, but judging from my e-mails, there are a lot of weirdos hanging out online, too.

"'Suppose he's an ax murderer,'" Russell said. "I hear that all the time. Listen, I had a sister-in-law who got murdered, and she met that guy in her neighborhood. You have to be skeptical."

Russell warns those new at this game to "lose the attitude" and to get used to "rejection." She also reminds us that "honesty is still the best policy" and that some people online are "broken hearted" and want a "quick fix."

In other words, the same rules that apply in the slow lane apply on the information superhighway.

"I wrote the book because I wanted African-American singles to feel more comfortable with the process. I want them to know that this is a good way to broaden their horizons," she said.

"Women love this book. A lot of us are not married, and we want to get married. We want to be a family. It gives us hope."

You can order Russell's book at wwwl.onlinedatingguru.com.

NOTE: I goofed. The prayer vigil for Cedric Coy Langston (Olloway) Jr. is 6 p.m. Saturday at 5054 W. Huron. A memorial service will be at 3 p.m. Sunday at New Gideon M.B. Church, 5106 S. Western.