How saved me from my fears

A Next reader emailed me recently, wondering about online dating. Is it safe, she wondered? Which sites are best for midlife singles? Would I share my experience, now that I’m out the other side and happily partnered up?

To tell the truth, I’m a bit of an evangelist for online dating. Not only because it’s how I met Douglas, who is now my husband, but because the overall experience was, for me, very affirming. I’m glad to share my thoughts about it.

I’ll begin at the beginning.

I met my cartoonist husband online. Illustration by Douglas Coffin

It’s true: I met my cartoonist husband online.

I started checking out in 2009, before my divorce was final. I’m a little embarrassed to admit how desperate I felt at that time, how afraid I was of the possibility that I might end up alone. I had visions of myself as an eccentric old crone with too many cats, living in a shabby third-floor walkup, frightening the neighbors with my outfits.

“Poor rejected thing,” they would murmur to one another, pulling their small children close as I shambled by. “I hear she was once the Maine Journalist of the Year.”

This was absurd, of course. Not the idea that I might not ever enter into another intimate relationship — that was entirely possible — but that I would be brought so low and become a dysfunctional social outcast just because my marriage had ended.

My marriage, my family and our home together had been essential components of my healthy self-identity for many years, it’s true. But I also had a meaningful career, hobbies, friends, commitments, supportive adult children and a roof over my head. I was 56, educated, healthy and solvent. Compared to a lot of women who go through an unwanted and unanticipated divorce, I was in pretty good shape.

Still, I was terrified. I felt compelled to look for a new partner. Maybe it was just to see if it could be done, if I could still conjure up that old, come-hither mojo after all the wear and tear of a 28-year marriage and raising two sons. Or maybe it was the honest self-knowledge that I am a better, happier, more productive person when I’m in a healthy relationship. In either case, since there were few eligible men in my social network I could imagine dating, much less getting serious with, online seemed like the best place to look.

I spent a few long, wine-fortified evenings with my computer, filling in the questionnaire and crafting a short personal essay about myself and the kind of man I hoped to meet. I tried to be honest about everything — my age, my weight, my shortcomings, my dreams — without being too hard on myself, too dead-serious. I was careful not to say anything that would make it easy for someone to figure out who I was, where I lived or where I worked.

I had to choose a user name. “Insomniac” came to mind, given my chronic lack of sleep in those days, but it was already taken. Feeling clever, I altered it to “Insomainiac” to reference my Maine-based identity, not thinking that it might confuse and alarm potential suitors. I located a few recent photos in which I looked pretty good but still like myself — nothing tragic, suggestive or revealing. And one Saturday evening, after tossing back a glass of Chablis and paying a modest membership fee, I loaded it it all up to the site.

A few things happened right off the bat. First, within a few hours, I received a small flurry of inappropriate, sexual messages on the protected Match messaging system, which doesn’t use members’ private email addresses. I was not surprised at this and just deleted anything distasteful. That stuff died down pretty quickly, thankfully.

I got a few virtual “winks,” too  — shy, nonverbal hiyas from men who couldn’t quite bring themselves to send actual words. I ignored these, too. I needed an articulate, confident, assertive man in my life, not someone who needed coaxing, or therapy.

Within a day or two, I started receiving more serious messages from men who seemed genuinely, if casually, interested in me, whose profiles matched my own. I got brave enough to write back, and even initiated some contacts myself. I’ll write more about this phase of my online experience later this week.


Meg Haskell

About Meg Haskell

Meg Haskell is a curious second-career journalist with two grown sons, a background in health care and a penchant for new experiences. She lives in Stockton Springs. Email her at