“Plenty of fish in the sea” occupies a cliché status among romance sayings. But when Robert James began online dating after divorcing in his 40s, he quickly found the old maxim true—an ocean of sophisticated, interesting, and yes, good-looking, women were interested in the line James cast.
Two decades after his last date, James saw similarities in the dating game but the roles reversed.
“In 20 years, people get more mature, but many also become more anxious in trying to find someone. I was surprised in my experience, because sometimes the women chased me,” said the author of the new online dating book, “Next! The Search for My Last First Date.” “At first, dating is kind of new and fresh, and you're kind of bright-eyed and optimistic but then you realize that finding the next love of your life isn't that easy, and you're going to have to kiss a whole lot more frogs than you thought.”
In “Next,” James chronicles his experience in the brand new world of online dating and offers tips of the trade for men and women in their 40s and 50s. Those looking for the new or first Mr. Right can consult James’ guide to cut through the pretense and find out what a man—not a boy—is thinking. In his stories he covers all the essentials for online profiles, first dates, and safety.
The past stigma associated with online dating is rapidly fading. Fifty-nine percent of all internet users agree with the statement that “online dating is a good way to meet people,” a 15-point increase from the 44 percent who said so in 2005, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project.
Dating has moved online for the same reason everything else has—it’s faster, more efficient, and allows you to connect to people you never would have encountered through traditional means. As of 2013, 11 percent of American adults—and 38 percent of those who are currently “single and looking” for a partner—have used online dating sites or mobile dating apps, according to Pew.
But just because more people date online, doesn’t mean they are doing it well. People need a little help. In fact, Pew says, women are twice as likely to ask men for assistance in creating that perfect profile.
That’s where James comes in. Through his light-hearted, yet poignant entries, James gives insight to the male dating psyche in how to succeed in online dating culture.
Like most things in life, James says honesty is the best policy. How you represent yourself on your profile, the phone, or in person are vital in achieving dating success.
In dating profiles, for example, honesty means more than posting a picture of yourself—it means including a recent photo of you today.
“A person can make the best profile, with the best pictures, and on paper they sound great, but eventually when you meet them you’ll know they were using 10-year-old pictures, or were 30 pounds ago, or exaggerating on their profile,” he says.
Sure, this is a superficial aspect, but lying from the outset sets a bad precedent.
“If there isn't some base of honesty, you'll meet and find something other than you're expecting or looking for. If you're just looking for someone to go out with and have a good time, who cares? But, if you're looking for someone to start a relationship with, I don't want to start one with someone who is lying to me from the beginning.”
James also cautions against judging a book by its cover.
“People aren’t always who you expect. I met a singer in a church band who wanted to get frisky in the parking lot,” he says. “Looking through the websites, some women who seemed really interesting often turned out to be crazy; I met one woman who danced in her backyard at full moons, sober, and another who said she saw dead people. After that, I realized what I was really looking for was a woman, not a girl, and someone with similar values to me, someone who appreciates a gentleman – someone normal I could introduce to my mom.”
The stories in “Next! The Search for My Last First Date” feel as if they are from a Julia Roberts romantic comedy, but, James assures, they are also true.
“Some dates I really thought I was being ‘Punk’d’, or was on ‘Candid Camera’,” he says. “You can’t make this stuff up.”
What is drawing more and more people to online dating is the customizability. Less and less people have to pretend to want something they feel their potential partner may want.
“Most women do want to be in a long-term relationship. I think that women more often than not will say that they're looking for something casual, and there's nothing wrong with any of that. I think deep down, though, most women don't actually believe that,” author Amy Webb told “New York” magazine.
If people seek to keep it casual, all you have to do is advertise it as such, James says.
“Think that there's a difference between dating for entertainment, versus dating looking for the love of your life. There are people out there, men and women, who are just looking for someone hot, or someone with a fat wallet, or someone to wine-and-dine them, or someone to entertain them,” he says. “They're looking for something non-committal, or just a good time. I think that someone who is seriously looking for a partner, they look past a lot of the more superficial things a party-person or a serial dater might look for.”
James hasn’t yet found Mrs. Right, but he hasn’t given up either—and he says neither should you.
“The quantity of my dates goes down, and I start to really focus on quality. What people should know is that dating is work, and having a relationship is work, but the ultimate prize is worth it,” he says. “I believe there is someone out there for everyone, sometimes it just takes longer to find them.”