He is a firefighter. She is an attorney. Both have been married twice and are seasoned vets of online dating. Michelle Y. Talbert of Washington, D.C., and Ricardo Kingsbury of Maryland didn’t waste time heating things up when they met online earlier this year, a week before Valentine’s Day. The attractive pair loved, laughed and parted ways by Easter. Lucky for all of you, they came together long enough to write a book, Don't Do What We Did! A Conversation About Online Dating with an Ex-Not-Quite Couple Who Met on the Internet, their self-published guide to online dating. It’s a conversation between Talbert and Kingsbury, who together have nearly 20 years of off-and-on online dating experience. Don’t Do What We Did! is also interwoven with anecdotes about their own relationship and includes interviews and stories from friends and loved ones who also tried cyberdating. EBONY.com caught up with Talbert and Kingsbury to find out more about looking for love online.
EBONY.com: How do you determine which dating site might work best for you?
Ricardo: You need to determine what you’re looking for, because there are sites that are strictly for sex and hookups, and sites that promote long-term or love relationships. Then there are sites that cater to race or religion, if that is something that is important to you.
Michelle: There are also sites that cater to LGBT community members. So logistically, you need to understand what you’re looking for. Then, once you narrow that down, determine whether you want to spend money. There are free sites and there are paid sites; your budget and how long you think you’ll be online can impact that choice. Finally, people who live in certain geographic areas may need to find sites that have people who are located near them, if they want to actually meet people in person.
EBONY.com: People assume that if you do online dating you’re a "loser", nobody wants you or you’re desperate for a date. What would you say?
Ricardo: I strongly disagree. Actually, I did think that way a little in the beginning until I logged on and saw some of the same people online I was meeting in the clubs and in the grocery stores. I think it was more of a taboo, but in the past three years or so it’s become more accepted. There are definitely attractive and well-established people online. I don’t think anyone thinks you’re a loser because you’re dating online. In fact, more and more of my friends have asked me to help them create profiles.
Michelle: I think people still feel a little funny if they think their colleagues or clients may see them online. To those concerns, I say, for them to see you, they have to be online as well! I’ve found that people may not advertise they are dating online, but once they are involved in a relationship, they are quite happy to share with everyone they met online.
EBONY.com: How much of your true self do you reveal on a dating site, and how soon?
Ricardo: I don’t think you should reveal too much in your profile, but just enough to make someone want to get to know you better. Even after first contact, you shouldn’t reveal everything via online communication. Too much information too soon can hurt the possibility of letting the person get to know you before you give [him or her] all of the ins and outs of your life story. Things should unfold honestly but naturally.
Michelle: There’s the opportunity to share a bit about yourself in your profile summary or bio. It’s important to understand that the communication is unilateral and doesn’t provide for tone, such as a dry sense of humor or sarcasm, so it’s important to show your personality but be mindful that your words are open to interpretation. I think it’s best to keep the profile information to a minimum and then interact with people on a case-by-case basis, sharing information mutually, conversationally.
EBONY.com: Should you use a picture? Some folks are afraid people they know will see them.
Ricardo: Unless you have something to hide, why wouldn’t you want to use your picture? Typically, if I don’t see a picture, I think that person is married, has something to hide or is otherwise involved.
Michelle: Like I said earlier, if people are seeing your picture, it’s because they’re online, too! I’ve met people who have top-secret clearances and use their pictures, and others who don’t. I’ve had people say that if I message them, they will send me a picture. My profile blocks people who don’t have pictures. I just feel that if you can’t put your picture up on the site, then I’m not the person for you. I do believe that most people who don’t have pictures up are likely married or have interacted (typically with an adverse consequence) with people on the site and they are hiding.
EBONY.com: What caused the demise of your union?
Ricardo/Michelle: Neither of us was totally honest with each other about what we were looking for online. Ricardo said he wanted to have a relationship and Michelle said she didn’t, but over time our roles reversed. In each case, we didn’t set the expectations appropriately because we weren’t honest or in tune with what we really wanted.
EBONY.com: What kinds of people do you find on dating sites?
Ricardo: I’ve met all types of women, from around-the-way girls to the professional woman. From my profile picture, I attract all types of women; I’ve met lawyers, doctors,businesswomen.
Michelle: I’ve met doctors and lawyers as well as blue-collar workers. I do believe that being in D.C. or other major cities may provide opportunities to meet people online that are reflective of the surrounding community. I meet people who have traveled around the world and others who have never left the area. There’s a broad spectrum of people online. Again, even across sites, I’ve seen people on a pay site and then have seen the same people on free sites.
EBONY.com: What might people be surprised to learn about cyberspace hookups?
Ricardo: Building intimacy is so easy to build online,and then when you meet, it’s really easy to hook up. Intimacy through words and electronic communication is built much more quickly than when meeting traditionally.
Michelle: That they are very common. I think people feel that people, especially people of color, are conservative, but the reality is that hooking up occurs much more often than people think.
EBONY.com: What are a few do’s and don’ts that are a must with online dating?
Ricardo: You must put up a picture that honestly portrays you as you are from head to toe—CURRENTLY, so there’s no guessing. Also, in the profile be brief but precise in your description of yourself and what you’re looking for.
Michelle: As women, especially, we must be serious about our personal safety. I learned that sharing your cell number can permit someone to find out your full name, and in some cases, home address. Also, when meeting someone, make sure that you have a “safety.” Someone who knows the name, license plate and/or phone number and e-mail address of the person you’re meeting. I also think you should remember that your profile pictures can draw people to you for the wrong reason—such as putting up pictures of your possessions, jewelry, home, vehicles and even overtly sexy pictures, if you’re not seeking a hook up.
EBONY.com: People are trying to hook up on Facebook and Twitter. What do you think about that?
Ricardo: I don’t see anything wrong with it. Online presence is online presence. People find other people attractive in real life, so just because you’re on a social media site that isn’t geared specifically toward dating doesn’t mean you can’t express a romantic or physical interest.
Michelle: The issue is really whether the person is open to receiving the advance, but again, it’s no different than meeting someone in the grocery store and expressing an interest. The keys are to be sure you’re not invading someone’s personal space and to know when it may be necessary to stop the advance if it is unwelcomed or not reciprocated. Just because communication begins electronically does not mean you should cast aside common sense and interpersonal skills.
EBONY.com: Why do some people choose online dating?
Ricardo: It’s very convenient. You can sit in the comfort of your home and talk to from tens to hundreds of women without having to buy drinks or go through the typical rigmarole of small talk or staying in a conversation you’d rather cut short but don’t want to be rude. Online, you can cut uninteresting communication quickly and move on to someone else, and typically, there’s no adverse consequence because everyone is doing the same thing.
Michelle: You can control the flow and timing of communication. For a busy person, it’s great to be able to have a connection and correspond when it’s convenient, at least early on. I can log in at any hour of the day or night and reply to messages or scroll through pictures and profiles and send messages if I so choose. Also, I feel that I’ve met people, including Ricardo, I would never have met were it not for being online.
EBONY.com: Anything else you’d like to add?
Ricardo: From my online dating experience, I have learned that honesty is the best policy. And it may sound cliché, but it really makes the dating experience easier and more fulfilling for both parties.
Michelle: It is key that you determine what you’re looking for before you log in, and if what you’re looking for changes, let the person or people with whom you’re involved know. Additionally, don’t be inflexible. You may be surprised if you’re willing to be open to possibilities something amazing can happen—and it may not be romance!
Don’t Do What We Did! is available in paperback and for download to Kindle at amazon.com and to Nook on barnesandnoble.com. Additionally, signed paperback copies are available through the Web site michelletalbert.com/don’t-do-what-we-did/.
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Senior Editor, EBONY Magazine