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Online dating assistants help the lonely and busy


(Nathan Daniels for The Washington Post)

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Ask Jared Gordon, the 30-year-old editor of A Bad Case of the Dates, a blog that collects dating horror stories, and he'll tell you the practice is awful: "It is! It's awful! You're misrepresenting yourself. You're lying about yourself."

In Gordon's mind, it's tantamount to having someone else write your college term paper, or putting a picture of a more attractive stranger on your online dating profile. "You're going to fall in love with someone because of their honesty," he says. "And some people might say, 'Who has the time to write a profile?' But if something is that important to you, you make the time to do it."

Richard knows some perceive it as callous outsourcing, but he feels he's being represented authentically by his Virtual Dating Assistant. "These guys are really good at getting to know who you are," he says. And he adds that the one time he confessed to using the service, his date didn't seem to mind. "Once you have chemistry with somebody and they know you're a genuinely good person -- that's really all that matters," he says.

Mark Brooks, founder of Online Personals Watch, a site that tracks Internet dating trends, says this type of outsourcing is an ethically questionable form of "misrepresentation." Still, he expects the field to grow.

Professional matchmakers often charge $5,000 or more a year and have a limited pool of matches. Online dating sites are populated with countless singles but can require more attention than some users are willing to devote. "It may look like instant gratification, like you dive into the pool and instantly come up with a fish, but it doesn't really work like that," Brooks says. "You've got to tap, tap, tap on the keyboard quite a lot to get anywhere." (One site, OkCupid.com, found that a third of all first messages garner a response, though that doesn't mean they are positive or that they lead to dates.)

But for many, it's not just their time that's at stake; it's also their egos.

Luke Chao started having his receptionist send online dating e-mails for him after realizing that there was not enough administrative work for her at the hypnotherapy clinic he manages. It was a win-win, he thought, because "online dating is tedious -- you have to send out 100 messages to get 10 responses. You have to go through 10 conversations to get one date, and that's just the first date." (Dianne Nubla, who writes Chao's e-mails between her other tasks, says it's "a good diversion" that she doesn't mind.)

Chao, a 27-year-old Toronto resident, was soon dating one or two new women a week. In truth, he says, he has the time and writing ability for the task. But by having Nubla take over, he's sidestepping the worst part of the process: being routinely rebuffed.

"Most women you e-mail don't respond. Some look at your profile and don't even read your message before deleting it," he says. "That's just the nature of the game -- intellectually, I know that. But still, emotionally, I do feel a little small pain of rejection every time that happens."


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