- The Washington Times - Friday, February 14, 2003

Think of it as the modern Valentine's tale gone awry: Girl meets boy online, and digital sparks fly. But when girl and boy get together in person, it turns out boy isn't exactly who he says he is in fact, he is 10 years older, 50 pounds heavier and has the conversational skills of a parrot.
With so many online dating resources nowadays, delivering Cupid's arrow should be as easy as a click of the mouse. But while the Internet has reaped its share of success stories, it certainly has created more than a few online dating disasters.
Case in point: "The man who listed himself as 'very good-looking, 5'10", and well-built' turned out to be a scrawny, balding nerd with bad skin who was maybe, maybe, 5'6"," writes "Jane" on the catastrophe-laden internetdatingstories.com. "And he had the nerve to greet me with the warm and fuzzy 'I thought you'd be thinner.'"
This is the kind of nightmarish experience the founders of a new online dating service are working to eliminate.
Just a few months old, greatboyfriends.com is based on a new kind of gimmick designed to filter out the dating duds: Every eligible man on the site has to be recommended by a woman in his life.
The idea of having "a woman's stamp of approval" on available bachelors came to Elle magazine's advice columnist E. Jean Carroll, who for years had been wading through piles of man-seeking mail.
"By far, the No. 1 question I get is, 'How do I find a man?'" Miss Carroll says. "After 10 years of this, it occurs to me that so many of these women are also saying 'I've just broken up with a terrific guy because we just didn't click.' And I think, hey wouldn't it be great if they could recommend these men to other women?"
So Miss Carroll who said she advised women against online dating for years and sister Cande created greatboyfriends.com so women could do just that.
Besides pictures of eligible men, the site's content is peppered with Miss Carroll's signature over-the-top touches: It claims men are rated by the "Better Boyfriends Bureau Investigative Unit" and female users are greeted with the enthusiastic "Hello, you superhuman beauty" when they log on.
The site comes along at a time when the Internet rules the dating scene. More than 16 million visitors 10.3 million men and 6.1 million women tried online dating sites in 2002, said New York-based Jupiter Media Research.
Since greatboyfriends.com's introduction, more than 3,000 single men have been recommended by their exes, friends, co-workers, sisters and, in a few questionable cases, mothers. Most women also agree to serve as "acquisition advisers," which allows interested women to e-mail them for more details about the guy.
The trade-off for the female sponsors is simple: Once a woman posts a recommendation for a man on greatboyfriends.com, she gets a free month of membership to troll the site for an eligible guy of her own. If she posts pictures of both herself and her sponsored guy, she gets two months free. The monthly fee is normally $20.
Shirley Gherson, 25, an Internet dating veteran who has been on several nightmare dates herself, decided to sponsor her friend Scott Hampton (screen name: Ssinfullygood), a 30-year-old administrative assistant at a pharmaceutical company. The two dated briefly last year, split amicably and remained friends.
"There are so many times when a relationship ends with no hard feelings," says Miss Gherson, a speech therapist from Westchester, N.Y. "You realize the guy would be perfect for another woman you know, but offering him to the other person is taboo. It comes off as 'Hey, want my garbage?' This site now makes it OK to look through other women's garbage their ex-boyfriends."
The first step was creating a fun profile aimed at attracting Mr. Hampton's type of woman. Besides a personal endorsement that included his astrological sign, description of his ideal woman and reasons why he would make a great boyfriend, Mr. Hampton had to be rated in the categories of Boy Scout, male ego, handsomeness and ring-buying ability.
The hokey-yet-revealing answer choices include "He could be a Boy Scout if he met the right woman" and "He can afford a small, but stylish, diamond engagement ring."
Although she has found it a little challenging, Miss Gherson thinks she has Mr. Hampton's profile just right but with disappointing results. In the few months he has been posted on the site, he has received only two messages. "I'm not sure this site attracts the type of woman who'd be interested in me," he says good-naturedly. "As far as diversity goes, I'd have to say it's a little vanilla."
For now, greatboyfriends.com patrons tend to reflect Miss Carroll's clientele base: the upscale, fashionable readers of Elle magazine and the Brooks Brothers-wearing men in their lives.
But part of the site's appeal is that the sponsoring woman writes the profile for the guy a great relief to anyone who has tried to construct their own confident-but-not-conceited personal advertisement. With that pressure off, a new pool of potential Internet daters opens up.
"The most important thing about the site is that these are guys you wouldn't normally find on the Internet," says sponsor Carrie Jablonski, 26, a law student in Boston. "Because they don't have to put themselves up there or write their own profile, they're more open to trying it."
Although it is possible for a determined guy to try to sneak himself onto greatboyfriends.com (and they have tried), the Web site's staff is intent on keeping it strictly legitimate.
Soon after a guy gets posted, a staff member reviews the recommendation and investigates if she suspects anything funny. Miss Carroll herself has been known to call the sponsoring woman to check up or just to say how fabulous she finds their guy. She estimates they have removed about 800 men from the site because they weren't up to her standards.
"We only want the absolute best men," she says. "If a guy doesn't have a job, he's off the site. If it's not an absolute great recommendation, he's off. If I just don't like him? He's off then, too."
That is not to say there aren't still a few dubious dates on the site, including men posing with babies, men pictured shirtless and men who definitely need a few style tips. But for the most part, the site's eligible bachelors come off as successful, well-balanced guys who just happen to be adored by the women in their lives.
The early success has Miss Carroll eagerly planning her next project: greatgirlfriends.com, set to debut soon.
Rather than leaving the nominating to the guys, the site will allow women to sponsor other women as well. "We're not stupid enough to think that guys will write long profiles about their ex-girlfriends," Miss Carroll says.
If Miss Jablonski's nominee, her friend Richard Wilmot (screen name: Hot Harvard Soccer), is any indication, the new site also will be a success. Since she posted his profile three weeks ago, Mr. Wilmot has received more than 60 messages from interested women. His problem isn't finding a date for Valentine's Day it's deciding on one.

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