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The profiler: how I learned to flirt online where not everything is as it seems

The profiler: how I learned to flirt online where not everything is as it seemsThe great thing about getting older is that many of life's mysteries become a little less baffling, especially when it comes to men. Time and experience have rendered me fluent in the language of Flirt. I know now that if I give a man the right kind of half smile across a crowded room, he'll scamper over like a lapdog looking for a treat. And all those male mannerisms I could never decipher before are so much clearer. Too many sly grins and looks over his shoulder, and I know my date's got something to hide, like a wife and two kids.

But just as I got this figured out, along came online romance. It was bad enough trying to determine if a keyboard generated wink or smiley face from a coworker meant something. But after being urged by my girlfriend, my hairdresser and the woman I met standing in line at Blockbuster, I realized it was time to learn some new techniques.

Just as flirting at a nightclub requires mastery of a certain kind of communication, success online starts with knowing how to read and write a profile--a few hundred words of personal information that everyone who joins an online dating service is asked to provide. Most dating sites ask for basic facts, such as height, race, occupation and what you're looking for in a relationship. And there's usually a quirky question or two ("describe your most humiliating moment") where you can show a little personality.

Profiles are billed as a way to tell potential suitors something about yourself. But if you ask me, the real goal is to catch someone's eye. Writing an alluring profile is the cyber equivalent of wearing high heels and a push up bra. The more attractive you appear, the greater the number of people who contact you, raising your chances of getting whatever it is you were looking for when you logged on in the first place. There's plenty of time for honesty later. Initially, it's about the law of averages.

As any advertiser can tell you, the best way to pique a man's interest is sex. But be judicious. A male friend told me he spied a woman online who called herself "Crazy4sex." "Are you kidding?" he said. "I wouldn't touch that with a ten-foot pole." A suggestion is all you need. Case in point: I wrote a profile in which I listed my profession as journalist. Then, as an experiment, I changed my occupation to exotic dancer. Suddenly every time I turned on my computer there'd be another E-mail: Heal Read your profile, like your style. Want to chat?

The same principle applies when disclosing your age. Most men like the idea of dating a younger woman. However misguided, that's what they like. So for maximum effect when creating your profile, shave enough years off your actual age until you're seven years younger than the men you're interested in attracting. (Unless, of course, you're looking for a man over 50, in which case you'd do well to slice off a few decades.)

Keep in mind that men will read your profile looking for secret messages. If you write "open-minded girl," he's reading "Sex!" If you claim to want an "honest relationship," he's thinking you'll be okay with him messing around with you, his ex-wife and a few of his neighbors. If you say you "want to experience all life has to offer," he'll envision you, your sorority sisters, your cousin and a set of twins in a hot tub.

If men are quick to see the promise of sex where none exists, they are also happily oblivious to their own shortcomings. You need to read their profiles with a discerning eye. If a man says he has an "athletic build," it means he ran track in high school and is now 40 pounds overweight. If he says he's looking for his "soul mate," it means he won't like you, you're not good enough. And, according to a good friend, if a man writes enthusiastically about his sexual prowess, he's staggeringly inexperienced. Men write not what is, but what they wish to be.

Of course, this is the bad news. The good news is you can meet a lot of interesting people online. There are some very lively lawyers, engineers, writers and construction workers out there just looking to connect. And once you get through the initial computer meet and greet, you'll find yourself on familiar terrain: face-to-face with a man, dressed in your push-up bra and heels.