Modern Mating

When Technology and the Sexes Collide

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Money Matchmaker

I helped pay for a boob job. Only it wasn’t for my breasts. They belonged to a 43 year old mother of five from Vancouver, Washington whom I had never met. But after reading about her situation, I couldn’t help myself. “Kool-mom” had written up an enticing, humor-filled loan request on, a website that merges the worlds of internet auctions and personal loans. I was so eager to help make her “dream come true”, that I bid on her request repeatedly. “Why should this adorable homemaker and decorative artist have to live her life without a bust? I don't. Let’s fill out those A-cups!” I thought. And the mostly male lender community agreed that this was a worthwhile cause.

Kool-mom eventually garnered 95 bids. Towards the end, it was like an eBay auction as eager bidders competed to loan this woman money at increasingly modest rates. Kool-mom’s final loan was for $6,000, and it was paid by 39 lenders including $50 from me. Her APR was 8.43%, well below the financing charges available through plastic surgeons and better than the 19.9% she could obtain through many credit card issuers. So long as she doesn’t default, Kool-mom’s lenders will receive 7%, a rate that handily exceeds money market returns.

This is America's answer to micro-lending, and my piece on it was published today in the Wall Street Journal and again here, in its Startup Journal. If financial polygamy sounds like fun, it is. Fortunately, when you get involved with lots of strangers in this manner, there is more potential for heartburn than Chlamydia.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

When Charlie Sheen gets lonely

In today's New York Daily News there was a delicious gossip item about how Charlie Sheen finds dates. In the wake of his separation from Denise Richards, Ben Widdicombe reports that Sheen has been using the dating site to meet women. is one of the many social networking/dating sites that caters to the prosperous and their hangers-on. The site claims that its "clients include CEOs, professional athletes and doctors, lawyers, investors, entrepreneurs, professional models and cheerleaders, engineers, and movie directors, just to name a few." And it bills itself as "the best and largest place in the world to meet successful, beautiful friends and singles for dating, fun, great emails, or a relationship that may last a lifetime."

The site is milking its Sheen connection, noting on its homepage that "If the site is slow at this moment, come back early morning or late night. It may be due to the recent publicity about a major Hollywood celebrity having found a match here." Some of that delay may be due to me. Upon learning that Sheen had a profile, I spent an hour paging through profiles trying to find his. Widdicombe had given a bit of a hint, saying that Sheen's username "starts with an M and ends with a Z." Unfortunately, I struck out. Perhaps, in the wake of public scrutiny and in the wake of an increasingly ugly divorce, Sheen pulled his profile. is the kind of dating site that will appeal to a very specific population. The men look like the kind of guys Candace Bushnell called "modelizers." If they aren't a "Mr. Big" already, they aspire to become him. They're well-groomed, into their success, not afraid to specify their income (about half the members specify a range of annual income -- i.e., $200K+, $500K+, $1000K+), and looking for, as one of the members,"Docteur", says, someone who "augments me professionally."

The women are consistently attractive, with many of the photos having the composition and style of a professional head-shot or a trip to "GlamourShots." Unlike the men, the women rarely include their income information. Clearly, the "millionaires" on the site are expected to be the men.

The profiles don't invite many words, and only a minority of members go beyond a few sentences. But when they do write, they write about themselves, rather than what they're looking for in a partner. The intrinsic narcissism of the participants in can't be ignored.

The site celebrates a narrow, financial view of dating and partner selection. A transactional, my money for your beauty kind of deal. That Charlie Sheen, who has admitted to paying for sex and who has enjoyed the company of porn performers, should find this a comfortable forum is not surprising. Money is the common bond for all participants in, and some intimate transactions are more overt than others.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Social networking for jet setters

For those who disdain mingling with the hoi polloi, there’s a social networking site that fits the bill. Conceived during a boar hunt by Erik Wachtmeister, a former investment banker and the the son of a Swedish ambassador to Washington, was founded to cater to the networking needs of the elite. Nicknamed “Snobster”, aSmallWorld claims almost 75,000 members culled from the jet-set. The site has tweaked its membership criteria several times, making it increasingly difficult for someone new to join.

Unlike on Friendster or MySpace, where signing up is straightforward, it is first necessary to be invited to participate by an established member of aSmallWorld. The site says it is “designed for those who already have strong connections with one another,” and if you don’t happen to know someone who is already a member, the site also advises that “you simply need to be patient.” You know, while you get to work at knowing a better class of people.

However, if you happen to know the odd supermodel who’s willing to invite you in, you’d better be prepared to comply with the strict, but mostly unwritten, rules of participation. No flame-wars. No pestering celebrities like Naomi Campbell, Paris Hilton or Quentin Tarantino. No unwelcome business pitches. Because if you run afoul of the rules, you risk being banished – without notice -- to Complying with the code is worthwhile, however, if you want a place to find out about polo ponies, air charters, and maitre d’s, aSmallWorld is an excellent place to connect with fellow Eurotrashers, who can keep you apprised of the best places to get contraband Cuban cigars in New York City, and who can direct you towards the hottest nightspots in every corner of the world. And without these kinds of connections, your quality of life may truly suffer.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Keeping ahead of the con artists

Physical proximity – known to social scientists as propinquity – was always one of the most important factors in mate selection. After all, you had to first meet your potential mate before you could consider dating them. The Internet, with the proliferation of chat and dating sites, makes location far less important. Relationships that begin on the Internet can arise between people in different cities, as Sue experienced, or even in different countries.

The same Nigerians who send us unsolicited emails in hyper-formal language where we are offered the opportunity to earn millions of dollars, but only if we invest a “small” amount up front, have turned to lonely hearts scams to augment their revenue streams.

Theresa Smalley was a victim of such a scam. While trying online dating, she received an email from a man who claimed to be an American working out of the country on a construction job. They connected, and wrote each other often. One month into their relationship, on Valentine’s Day, she even received a box of chocolates, a teddy bear and a helium balloon that said “I love you.” Though Theresa had never met her paramour – he promised to visit her when he returned to the US from his job site in Africa, though no trip had yet occurred – she had become smitten.

The relationship progressed over several months, with the emails increasing in frequency and emotional intensity. Then, a problem arose where her friend was unable to cash the money orders that his employer had given as payment. Theresa cashed two $900 money orders and then wired her friend the money. Theresa’s bank later got in touch with her when it discovered that the money orders had been doctored. They had been purchased for $20, but had been modified to read $900. Theresa was on the hook for the amounts she had received when cashing the money orders.

This kind of scheme is elaborate and time-consuming as it requires cultivating a level of trust and compatibility. Fortunately, due to the investment required by the scam-artists, it remains uncommon. Unfortunately, it is a growth area. There is even a site – – where there is a database of sweetheart con artists where anyone who has been swindled can input information like names, email addresses, physical descriptions. If there have been other complaints about a particular swindler, the information is shared among any victims to try to shut down the con-artist by demonstrating a pattern of fraud.

Sweetheart scams have been around forever, and the scams will continue to evolve in tandem with the technologies that enable strangers to become friends. Fortunately, the Internet now provides a central forum where isolated and embarrassed victims may speak up and help others. Predators should be on notice.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Shallow ponds is a shallower, prettier version of Where other sites try to be playful and amusing, VanityDate is tailored towards those who like the idea of inclusion and exclusion based on such overt attributes as appearance, and such hidden attributes as wealth. To connect with members of, prospective daters must first be deemed sufficiently attractive by the existing members of the site, and if the dater isn’t good looking, they must be rich instead. The site is unapologetic about its approach, saying:
“Welcome to, the world's most judgmental, shallow dating website. At Vanity Date we have a vision of creating the largest database of the world's most good looking, rich and superficial people. Now, this doesn't mean you have to be a super model, but you have to be a so called 7.0 and above to be allowed full access to the database or be talented and have an income over 200,000 dollars per year. Leave a bad taste in your mouth? If so, then we have accomplished our goal.”

The site even encourages people who are offended to email them at The site also directs the outraged to view an official response from the CEO about their complaints. The official response is similarly in-your-face as it is a picture of a beautiful woman snarling, with the tattooed words “bite me” visible on her lower lip.

The pricing scheme at VanityDate is unusual. It is free for women, and $40/month for men. It’s clear that the female participants expect to be judged primarily on their appearance, while the men, who provide the financial support for the enterprise, have considerably more latitude.

The site even offers a premium dating service called “VIP Match”. It is a traditional matchmaking service which incorporates image consultation and relationship coaching. The fees are exceptional, however. A “silver membership”, which entitles the member to two introductions a month for a year, costs $10,000, while a “platinum membership” promises unlimited introductions at a cost of $20,000 for a year. Once again, it is only the men who pay. The only things required of the female participants are that they be beautiful and that they “want to meet wealthy men for potential romance.” Implicit, of course, is that the women are judged on their looks and the men on their wallets., which began in London, brings more humor to the task of separating the bland from the spectacular. Its goal is to “network upwardly mobile, attractive, ambitious people together, be it for business, friendship, relationships and ultimately love.” Existing members get to determine whether prospective new members make the cut by voting them in or out, and at a cost of ₤250 (about $440 USD) for a lifetime membership, only those serious about meeting gorgeous people will apply.

Surely, there are better ways of finding a good looking date?