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For divorcees, modern-day dating is a whole new experience

In my last column, I talked about the sacred institution of marriage. This week's topic: what to do if the marriage doesn't work out. There are two options. One: Find a cave, renounce both material possessions and your clothes, and find either enlightenment or a wicked case of eczema, whichever comes first.

Two: Dating.

Things have changed a lot since I was last in circulation. Used to be you met people at work, through friends or at clubs. In the old days, back when David Letterman was quirky and desktop computers weighed 800 pounds, the Internet was barely a gleam in Al Gore's eye.

But things have changed. Now, everybody and his granny has Internet service. Internet dating services have become de rigueur.

There are several ways to Internet date, some of which cost money. Sites like eharmony.com don't allow gay people, and generally push marriage and permanency in a big way. There's a photo on the site of some white-haired guy bearing the title of "doctor" who dishes out advice, but I have a feeling he's one of those "doctors of theology," and is not an M.D. at all. They tend to match you with people from far away places like Bugtussle, Alabama. So lots of the time, getting together for coffee isn't even an option. I never figured out, exactly, how these connections are supposed to work. E-mail? Phone calls? I think you have to have tons of patience to make a service like this work out. And if you're just looking to get laid, or even just hang out with someone a little bit, this site isn't for you.

Another pay site, which is better, is Match.com. At first, they send you loads of "89 percent compatibility matches," who fit almost all of your criteria, but within about a week, you'll be getting a lot of 77 percent matches. These matches will generally have two arms, two legs and a head, making for 70 percent compatibility, the other 7 percent being made up by the fact that you both like pancakes. Inflexible people don't do well on this site.

And, of course, the real problem with all of these sites is that people write their own profiles. Everybody likes thunderstorms, walks on the beach, romantic dinners at home and cuddling. There are hardly any genuinely relevant sections on the questionnaires like, "In 100 words or less, describe your personality disorder and its prognosis." Or, "The last time you got out of rehab, how long was it before you found yourself in a bar again?"

Then there's the part where they ask you to describe your body type, but gosh darnit, they don't set any parameters. In my view, anyone who has to purchase more than one airplane seat when flying alone should not be allowed to describe his body type as "stocky."

Craigslist has a dating section, and it's free. I've met some nice people on Craigslist, and I have also gotten some boffo descriptions of genitalia. I tend to delete the latter. Everybody's got a wotzit, and if it is a man's only sterling quality, it's probably easier to motor down to the local sex shop and pick up a dildo. They don't talk so much, rarely have criminal records and almost never turn into stalkers.

But the fastest and most efficient way of dating in the modern world doesn't require computers at all. It's called speed dating. With speed dating, you pay someone $40; he then rounds up a bunch of desperately lonely people and sticks them in a room together. They go around to different tables and talk to prospective dates for seven minutes. If you like your date, you bend over and offer him your estrus-engorged rump, but only if you're a baboon. If you are not a baboon, you give him your phone number. If you don't like him much, you let him know by dashing from your barstool the very second that time is up like a rat out of a flooded sewer pipe.

If you like one of the speed-daters, the next step is setting up a coffee date. My hard-hearted friend from Los Angeles says that if within the first 10 minutes of a coffee date, you realize you don't like the guy, you should pretend that the cell phone in your pocket is on vibrate, and that you just got a call. Then you say, "Oh, that's my agent. I have to go to an audition." I reminded my friend, "I'm not in show business."

"Then tell them your water heater exploded. The point is, you don't have to spend a whole hour. Nobody expects that anymore."

I informed her that, well, maybe that's true in the big, cold city where you live, but here in Tucson, we just don't treat people that way.

"Not only that," she said, "in real life, water heaters hardly ever explode."

True.

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