Hookin' Up

A guide to getting what you really want for Valentine's Day.


So for the last six months you've been sitting at home on Saturday, watching ABC's "Big Picture" show, darning your socks, and wondering where all the honeys are. Believe us, we understand. Been there, done that.

But there's hope for all of us. We're not guaranteeing anything, but just think of the Web as a 24/7 convenience store of cuties. Post a personal ad online and you won't have to worry about missing your soulmate because you left the party early. Once your ad is up, you can either sit back and wait or let your fingers do the walking.

To put Internet dating to the test, the Flyer solicited the help of several singles. These brave souls submitted their own ads -- and surfed the ads of others -- in hopes of finding someone to spend Valentine's Day with. With only one week to go before the big day, here is their advice on Internet dating and unconventional real-world romance.

DAY 1: Get a Leg Up

Nerve.com is the Internet's premier online dating hot spot -- or at least it's the one we used. It's simple, but beware -- Nerve has no use for cowards. If you want to browse the ads you've got to post one yourself, which means filling out the questionnaire.

The questions are fairly probing and somewhat humiliating. Example: "(fill in the blank) is sexy; (fill in the blank) is sexier." All that's missing are cheesy Herb Alpert background tunes and a voice asking, "Bachelor number one, If you were a ferocious, carnivorous beast, what would be your favorite place to make whoopie?" Nevertheless, once you've posted your ad and gotten past all the self-loathing the task provokes, you'll find that you're not alone in your embarrassment. Case in point: Under the "My most humiliating moment " question, a staggering number of online posters wrote, "Right now."

Here are a couple of tips: Post a picture with your ad. If you don't include a picture, don't expect any responses. And don't post any annoying cartoon drawings in lieu of a photo. You may think the drawing makes you seem clever, but to the online dating consumer it will only be seen as the act of someone whose looks are suspect. The Internet is a harsh, shallow, and impatient place. It's okay to be less-than-hot; it's not okay to expect anyone to give you a chance if you don't put your face on the line.

Which brings us to what you should put online. On Nerve, one question asks what you're looking for in a relationship -- friendship, dating, a long-term relationship, or play. Play, as one of our participants discovered after posting an ad saying she was looking for it, is adult-type fun. If you say you're interested in Play, people who are passing through town may write you in hopes that you, and not a chambermaid, will freshen their towels.

A good rule of thumb on the Net is to be what you want. If you want someone intelligent, at least try to sound intelligent. If you want someone to laugh with, cut up a little in your ad. And even if you really are only looking for a little hide-and-seek, you don't have to spell it out in graphic detail. Have some self-respect. One of the saddest ads we saw was a woman who wrote that the reason to get to know her was she was "really good at giving blow jobs." Even if you have no other redeeming traits, geez, try to keep some of the mystery alive.

DAY 2: Get Busy

The responses are rolling in and you're clicking on the vaguely descriptive screen names of your respondents ("johnboywalton," "moanshine1," "slow_and_low, spectateur") to check out their ads. Some are an obvious no. Take "scales" for example: This 37-year-old Hoboken, N.J., native posed with his guitar and without his shirt, revealing thick whirlpools of black chest hair -- a perfect complement for his Tony Iommi Black Sabbath coif.

True, the photo rule worked against "scales" but it doesn't take a Vogue editor to know that if you haven't updated your look (or shaved your chest) since 1986, a pic that's not too revealing is your best bet.

If you didn't post a picture (and your love match didn't either), you could find yourself in the same trap as one Memphis dater. After communicating online with a would-be soul-mate who also lived in Memphis, he decided to initiate an in-person meeting. Only when he arrived for the rendezvous did he discover that the soul-mate was a co-worker -- and a co-worker he hated, no less.

DAY 3: Get Picky

It's Day Three and you've gotten some serious bites on your line. It's time to see which fish are too small to keep and which ones you're going to try to reel in.

You've got "new kid in school" cachet and you're not getting any work done because the IG (Instant Gratifier -- Nerve's answer to instant messaging) keeps blinking to say you've got a new suitor. Slow down, Hot Pants. Now's no time to get easy. You don't want to waste your time chatting with a zero (remember, there are only four days left). It's time to get picky -- and ruthless.

The upside to online personals is you don't have to keep telling the 45-year-old divorcée at the bar that you really don't want to go back to her place. You don't have to send any drinks back or say, "It's not you, it's me." If someone doesn't sound, or look, like your type, all you have to do is ... nothing. It's guilt-free rejection.

Read the ads carefully. One of our daters was absolutely smitten with one fellow, so she responded. But on further inspection of his ad she noticed one well-hidden detail -- he was married and just looking for a little side dish.

Others try to hide their real age. Be wary of someone who places broad parameters in the age field. Example: Another dater got a response from "sexy42" who said he was looking for someone between the ages of 18 and 65. We're all about staying open-minded, but really -- that's just creepy. Equally disturbing, another fellow, whose headline description was "pro bank robber and pussy worshipper," posted a picture of himself posed with his approximately 4-year-old daughter. How, umm, touching? Ugh.

Remember that the person online could be anyone: serial murderer, Brad Pitt, someone you know. If you are trying to meet someone in your city, you no doubt know some of the same people. It's not exactly six degrees of Kevin Bacon; more like two degrees of online dating.

Need horrifying proof? One of our intrepid online daters was contacted by an employee of a certain local daily newspaper. Said employee graciously backed out -- which was probably smart, considering this article -- after learning the true identity of the dater.

Another thing to consider on Day Four is face time. Some of our daters found that people were more likely to respond to their ad while they were actually browsing the personals. Did it have anything to do with the blinking light next to their ad that signified they were online? Who knows? The point is: the more time you spend online, the better.

DAY 4: Get Cash

Money may not buy you love, but it will buy you credits, and on Nerve without credits you get no satisfaction. The site lets you browse others' ads to your little heart's content, but if you wanna chat with that fine fox it's gonna cost you. By entering those magical digits on your favorite credit card, you can buy credits -- your pass to that virtual tunnel of love. The credits allow you to contact your wanna-be-sweetie by e-mail or by instant gratifier.

Now let's say you're just above the poverty level or saving for a new couch. You could either wait and let all the beautiful babies come to you or you could call them "collect." If you wait and they contact you, you get a free ride into the aforementioned tunnel; they're picking up the tab.

The collect option is an interesting one; all you, as the "collect caller," can do is click on one of several choices, things such as: "I liked your ad. Look at mine and then write me back." And that makes things complicated. One of our daters got a "collect call" from someone she described as "perfect; he's perfect, in every way." He had clicked on the generic "I liked your ad" option so she checked his out and decided she liked his ... a lot. We practically had to use a bath towel to wipe the drool from her mouth. She desperately wanted to write him, meet him, and have his babies, but one problem ... she didn't have any credits. Soon enough, she convinced herself that with his movie-star good looks and financial-broker mind, he must be a "ringer," someone sent from Nerve to con people into buying more credits. Now, had she ponied up the money, she could be touching his washboard abs right now, but she didn't. So she's not. All because she's a cheapskate.

If you are really strapped for cash, there is a way to foil the system. However, Nerve doesn't recommend it. If you include contact information such as your phone number or an e-mail address, possible Casanovas can romance you while bypassing Nerve entirely. That's the upside. The downside? People can bypass Nerve to get in touch with you ... and in this computer-generated world, it's sort of the equivalent of writing, "For a good time" and your number on a bathroom wall. The best solution to save other people some dough -- they still have to come to you, after all -- is to set up a Hotmail account or some other free e-mail provider before joining Nerve and giving out that address.

DAY 5: Get Creative

Now it's time to update your ad a bit. Just as you wouldn't let yourself languish at the bar, you can't let your ad languish in the big bin of personals. You don't have to change much; the ads are listed with the most recently submitted ones first. So, just by re-submitting it you'll be at the top of the list again and will attract more attention and responses.

One of our daters was trying to update her ad when her computer crashed and the ad was saved with the exact same information she had used before but was moved to the top of the list. The next day she got several new responses. Another dater took a much more aggressive approach, changing her headline from "Bored Girl Writes Personal Ad" to "The Last of the Red Hot Lovers." This change resulted in 10 responses on the first day.

There are people who cruise through the Nerve lists daily, so they may have seen your ad a few times before but were not intrigued enough to respond. Consider, as Emeril Lagasse says, "kicking it up a notch." Add a little steam to your questionnaire answers and you could find yourself with a fresh crop of potential dates.

But if updating yourself online doesn't seem to be doing the trick, it's probably time to get more creative with your real-life approach. Last week's Flyer is an indication of the lengths some are willing to go when traditional methods fail. A back-page ad was taken out by "10 Fabulous Women" who were sick of waiting quietly for Mr. Right to come riding up. We're not suggesting that everyone take out an ad in the Flyer (of course, our advertising department wouldn't mind) but now is the time to think outside of the box.

If your creative juices aren't flowing, try using a real-life dating service like Lunch for Two. These "hearthunters" set up lunch introductions for upscale professional adults. An initial 90-minute appointment with the service includes a psychological profile, completion of an interest questionnaire, and a detailed information sheet (to weed out the ax murderers). Questions cover areas such as finances, intellect, and education. Subjects such as religion and children are also important. The information is processed and five or six compatibility matches are usually found. Clients choose from the matches and a blind lunch is set up at an area restaurant. After chatting it up over chicken and pasta, the client must report back to the Lunch for Two czarinas, Darcy Winters and Dee Conn. If this person sucked like the sound of an oncoming tornado, not to worry. The company provides up to three introductions in its $200 Cupid Special.

But be warned, this service is not for the faint of heart. A match for you could take a long time, so drop the act and broaden your parameters.

Day 6: Get Physical

By now you've (hopefully) found a few possibilities online -- or somewhere. With one day to go, there's no time for idle chatter, you've got to turn up the heat. If you want that anonymous somebody to stop being so damned anonymous, you've got to make yourself more enticing. What you're shooting for is breezy and flirty but definitely interested. Stop chatting about what you do for a living and the kind of music you like and turn the conversation to something much more memorable. It's time to get a little dirty.

So when the person on the other end of the keyboard types, "You're really great to chat with," respond with "Thanks, but I'm much better in person." Do not, however, cross the cyber-sex divide. If you notice your chat-mate is moving into porno territory, put the brakes on. This is much easier than you might think. If he/she types, "Where are your hands right now?" you can kill the mood by simply responding, "On the keyboard, moron" and then signing off. See? Easy.

Back in the real world, you're almost out of time. You can't afford pride anymore. It's time for last resorts. This is when you have to get physical, and by that we mean -- you have to go to the gym.

Whoa, Body By Jake. We know it's too late for you to get in shape. If you wanted to use your stunning physique to attract the opposite sex you should have started around Thanksgiving. But the gym may be your last chance to find a date.

We've found the downtown YMCA, the Poplar/Highland French Riviera Spa, and the Cordova World Gym to be particularly effective "meat markets." The French Riviera is so aware of its reputation that the club has taken to posting signs on the walls stating that women must work out with their entire chests covered. Sadly -- or happily, depending on your point of view -- the policy hasn't exactly been scrupulously enforced.

If you are so averse to the gym that you won't go there even to meet people, try going retail. Want a man who knows how to use his hands? Head on over to the Home Depot. Our daters have been there several times -- strictly on home-improvement runs -- and have had some nice chats. Want a woman who plays the guitar? I'm hearing Amro Music in your future. But for one-stop shopping, don't underestimate the power of the mega-bookstore. Do what you've got to do. There's only one day left.

Day 7: Get Trashed

If our little dating experiment didn't work out for you, well, we're sorry, but we never said satisfaction was guaranteed. The dating world is full of Mr. and Ms. Wrongs. Which is why, if you can face one of your own past Wrongs, you should stage a Valentine's Day "Trash or Treasure" party. Everyone brings their exes, the ones that they couldn't make it work with, in the hopes that someone else will see something in them they like and a trade can be brokered. You couldn't stand the way your ex picked her teeth at the table? Maybe your slob friend won't mind so much. Your trash could be someone else's treasure.

Sure there will be complications -- jealousy or possibly a love octagon -- but at the very least, you get to go to a party instead of sitting at home wondering which restaurants deliver and watching HGTV.

Mary Cashiola has a relationship advice column on The Memphis Flyer's Web site; Janel Davis conned her mate into matrimony last year; and Rebekah Gleaves watches Blind Date a lot.

You Don't Send Me Flowers

How to put a song -- or 20 -- in your Valentine's heart.

by Chris Herrington

You can keep your candies and flowers. Like the protagonist in Nick Hornby's novel (and John Cusack's movie) High Fidelity, I've always subscribed to the notion of courtship by mix tape. With that in mind, here are 10 matching pairs of songs -- some you know, some you've probably never heard of -- that could put your noble romantic pursuit over the top.

10. "Then He Kissed Me" -- The Crystals/"Be My Baby" -- The Ronettes: Phil Spector's two greatest "little symphonies for teenagers" convey the youthful thrill of new love in a manner nothing in contemporary teen pop can comprehend.

9. "I Will Dare"/"Favorite Thing" -- The Replacements: The first two songs on this American indie band's 1984 album Let It Be. The first is post-punk Prufrock -- frontman Paul Westerberg measures his life in cigarette butts, but he answers T.S. Eliot's eternal question in the affirmative, daring to disturb the universe if only The Girl will meet him somewhere -- anywhere -- tonight. The sloppy sugar-rush of "Favorite Thing" is the thrilling sound of misfits reaching for the brass ring. It's mighty sweet when the boys croon, "You're my favorite thing" in unison on the "bridge," but is there anything more romantic than hearing these born losers chanting at the end -- to themselves? to the girl in question? -- "Think big!/Think big!"?

8. "Think It Over" -- Lou Reed/"Question" -- The Old 97's: Wedding proposal songs that totally avoid sap and sentimentality, which is probably why they're so obscure. Both are also, understandably, wary and nervous. Reed's protagonist wakes his intended early in the morning with an offer to mull over; the Old 97's' takes her for a long walk in the park with the message, "Someday somebody's gonna ask you/A question that you should say yes to/Once in your life/Maybe tonight I've got a question for you."

7. "I Want To Hold Your Hand" -- The Beatles/"I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" -- The Ramones: Gleefully romantic doppelgangers, issued roughly a decade apart. Proof that simple guitars and modest proposals can often say more than flowery prose.

6. "You Send Me" -- Sam Cooke/"This Magic Moment" -- The Drifters: No music is more romantic than classic soul, because no other music had singers so capable of consistently finding the life in often banal lovey-dovey lyrics. But on these two great singles, elegant lyrics are put over by even more elegant singers. Sam Cooke may be the only vocalist ever for whom the old line about "singing the phonebook" really applied, and the Drifters' Ben E. King uses his deliberate, delicate phrasing to find the romantic drama in Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman's great song.

5. "Let's Get It On" -- Marvin Gaye/"You Said Something" -- PJ Harvey: Before and after. Gaye's epic is, of course, pop's most convincing sexual come-on. But Harvey's lesser-known gem may be the music's finest depiction of the cliché "post-coital glow." Like Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie's great lovemaking scene in Don't Look Now, sex here is a marvelous memory, as Harvey lingers with her lover on a Brooklyn rooftop.

4. "Don't Worry Baby" -- The Beach Boys/"When Something Is Wrong With My Baby" -- Sam and Dave: Because love isn't all hearts and roses, here are two impossibly delicate hymns of romantic reassurance, from two acts unrivaled for the vocal care that went into their records.

3. "My Heart's Reflection" -- Yo La Tengo/"If I Could Build My Whole World Around You" -- Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell: Yo La Tengo is no household name, but over the course of the band's decade-plus career Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley have made their successful marriage Topic A and have produced more meaningful music on the subject than anybody in rock history. Over the prettiest guitar noize you'll ever hear, Kaplan wraps sex and love and commitment into one big, bold thing, while Hubley pushes it along with her insistent Sister-Ray beat. Gaye and Terrell were never married, of course, but as the greatest duet team rock and soul has ever known, they offered a similar sonic testament to romantic give-and-take, and "If I Could Build My Whole World Around You" makes this feat explicit.

2. "Valentine's Day" -- Bruce Springsteen/"If I Was Your Girlfriend" -- Prince: These two records have nothing in common except their singularity. Springsteen's simultaneously frightening and invigorating essay on marital commitment may be the most profoundly adult love song that the kiddie music known as rock-and-roll has ever produced; Prince's gender-swap may just be the most profound. On the former, the man who was "born to run" just races to get home. The key to the genius of the latter is that it isn't just a simple gender switch -- he doesn't want to be his girlfriend, he wants to be his girlfriend's close female friend and to share in the easy intimacy that exists between women. "Would you run to me if somebody hurt you?/Even if that somebody was me?" he asks, then they get down to business -- and imagine what silence looks like.

1. "I've Been Loving You Too Long" -- Otis Redding/"For Your Precious Love" -- Jerry Butler and the Impressions: Possibly the two most monumental soul ballads in the proud history of the form, these yearning, pleading, loving testaments admit to a pain the other songs on this list don't really touch, but that only makes their expressions of ardor more intense. The latter's churchy gravity and waltz-like tempo made it the perfect choice as the processional to my wedding; I wore out a vinyl copy of the former in high school, just to hear, over and over again, Redding's slight pause after the first syllable. These records are cathedrals -- play them loud.

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