Learning How To Research People Online

Attending college isn’t just about getting an education—it’s also about taking advantage of online courses, internships, and network development. Here’s how to keep your exposure to the world of online education high.

Maryanne Roller is a news writer, print, web, and TV commentator. Along with being a frequent contributor to Radar, she has authored two novels and many nonfiction works for a wide variety of media outlets, including Smithsonian. As an essayist and essayist-on-file at Salon, The New York Times, City Arts, The New Yorker, the Daily Beast, The Washington Post, and Whores magazine, she regularly appears on ABC Radio, National Public Radio, and This American Life. Since 2006, Maryanne has been writing the New York magazine’s “Notes From the Front,” a blog that tells the stories of real people in the news. She has a blog in Slate. Maryanne lives with her husband, Amy, and her two boys in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of two novels, titled Army City: A Study in Peril, and The Last Things: A Memoir.

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Back in 2009, when writing about the Avian Flu with my New York Magazine colleague Emma Carmichael, we started our notes off with, “Have you ever found yourself on a dinner date with someone you met online?” Over the years, we’ve attended too many dinner dates with people we met on sites like Plenty of Fish, MeUndies, Tinder, OKCupid, Match.com, Coffee Meets Bagel, Second Cup, and a few more. But never has someone with a name on a site asked us out as a date.

More: 5 Guys You Should Date Who Live Where You Never Will

When we write about dating on the Internet, we talk about what it’s like to “know” someone online, or what it’s like to simply “know” a person and go on a date with them. I’ve never met anyone I met online. I’ve only heard stories from people. Maybe it’s because I write about it, but even in the book I’ve written, I’ve never gone on a date I’d told friends or family about. We are writers. I am aware that we make lists of things to ask men who want to date us and list dates of both short and long-term duration. While I have done these things, I always worry that I will find myself digging into the bones of my date’s anatomy, revealing every date to strangers before I’m ready to reveal them to him.

That said, online dating has made me a better writer, better at choosing conversations to participate in, better at trusting my intuition in knowing which matches for me are better than others, better at gathering as much information as possible before choosing a date.

It took about six months for me to learn how to draft a reply to an email. I scrolled the email in my inbox and typed it out. At first, I made the note to myself that it was late in the day to be doing this, but still, a response arrived. I loved my date’s description of himself as “a sweet and supportive storyteller.” A cute quote about him was already attached to the email. I brought up my two boys. We discussed dogs. And eventually, he wrote back. The response was so well-written that I immediately asked if he would be willing to get coffee. He wrote back saying yes. But the week of our first meeting was bad, and it was over by 6 p.m. We ended up talking online and holding each other’s hand as we walked home. On Facebook we told the story, and people from all over the world wrote in. Eventually we met for a second date and were married two years later.

Lately, the writing-versus-dinner-date debate has circled in my head. I’ve created a bit of an obsession with getting my response to emails right. I’ve reviewed my pace, and I’ll sometimes acknowledge my friends, who are often there when I don’t have time to respond to email. The best part is when we discover we have a common ground and can go off to dinner. The public tweet and Instagram of our journey to meet new people never fails to bring forth support from commenters.

Most of the time, I don’t respond at all to emails from people I don’t know, just because the conversations are usually boring. I’ve only answered a handful of emails from people I already knew, mostly out of curiosity and also because I enjoy the online community so much. Maybe one day I’ll consider a date before dinner, but I doubt I’ll ever find myself having written a response that turns out to be a better date experience. Until then, I keep writing my stories of online dating — writing about the dating parts of our lives — for myself and my friends.

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