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I went on Match dot com not to find someone but to rid myself of silly romantic illusions. It worked exquisitely.

Remember last year when that film clip was making the rounds of the Internet, the one about a black man taking his white girlfriend to his ex-wife's house and then sticking around to deliver some diatribe to her and her neck-rolling friends about how hard, angry and bitter (not to mention money-grubbing) black women had become, so no wonder all the brothers were going white? The little clip had a lot of sisters way up in arms, but it just made me laugh, so ridiculous and far removed from the truth did I find it. The whole myth of the super-hardened black woman I simply do not understand.

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Oh sure, I know some sisters who play it off well. They talk tough about not wanting to be bothered with some trifling whatever, about having "hand" in the relationship, about kicking his sorry ass to the curb for this or that but trust me – it's all a front. These same women call me at midnight, heartbroken because he's wandered off. Or call me at noon giddy and girlish over having finally met "The One" though we both know there is no such ridiculous thing.

I know black women who have met and married, in a matter of months, 50-year-old babies with debt up to their eyeballs and the audacity to demand she give up a hard-built career to be home in time each evening to put some hamburgers on a plate. I know black women who defend men who tell them, in loving moments, that their butt is too saggy or their breasts too small or their hair too short. I know black women who get off the turnpike at the wrong exit every day for a week, trying to catch up with some sweet-talking operator who once smiled their way.

I know these women–not that I'm among them, mind you–and they are anything but hardened harpies, anything but black widow spiders casually wrapping up their males for a tasty snack. What they are, really, is a bunch of starry-eyed romantics. What they are is a bunch of saps, suckers with their hearts on their bell sleeves and what they need is not softening but toughening up! Vulnerability be damned!

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Okay – maybe they don't need toughening. No one needs to harden her heart any more than the world naturally will, but I do know some black women who could stand to become more, shall we say, discerning. It would certainly save them some heartbreak. Not that I'm among them or anything.

And so, in service to my sisters, in an effort to devise the most efficient Course Toward Discernment to offer them, I joined Match. I would treat it like a science experiment: hold some variables constant while changing others, take notes, remain objective and unemotional.

Done properly Match.com is like an entire decade's worth of dating experience shoved into a few, short months. If you married early, if you settled down at a tender age and now find yourself out in the dating world, Match is definitely for you. You can race through the seven stages of romance — giddiness, companionship, creeping boredom, disillusionment, anger, breakup, chocolate cake – in the space of a week, all without having to leave your house or shave your legs.

Lesson One: Let Them Come To You.

I post my profile – short and simple – toss up a picture and forget about it, having decided not to care too much or knock myself out. Within minutes of posting, though I receive what Match calls a "Wink" from some guy whose member name is something like Totallyawesomedude.

Lessons Two and Three: Judge A Book By Its Title and Pay No Attention to Winks.

I cannot take Totallyawesomedude seriously and so delete him. Moreover, if a man cannot bestir himself to send a short email it is not a good sign. Some sociologist should really study this wink phenomena; I receive dozens of these things over my time on Match, some from men as far away as Texas, California and even England. Do other women respond to these things? Do they send them themselves? Are these men serious, or just playing some kind of game? Are they like kids in a candy store, unable to keep themselves from fingering all the Snickers and Baby Ruths though they know damn well they haven't got the cash to buy?

Toward the end of Day One I receive a very nice email from a white man who says he knows he's too old for me but just wanted to send along his compliments. I check his profile; he is, indeed, too old, and also probably too white. Although I have checked "any" in the ethnicity requirements just to see what would kind of fish would swim into the net I am mostly interested in meeting/learning to discern black men. But having already written about this subject (see, New York Times, September 2007, hysterical reaction of readers toward) I won't belabor the point.

I send the guy a nice thanks-but-no-thanks email and go back to my life. A few more winks over the next few days but no emails, and so finally, out of boredom, I actually open one of the winks and check the profile.

Lesson Four: Hide Your Own Profile Before Looking At Others.

This is because Match, for some dastardly reason, shows you who's peeked at your profile. Why would you want to see who has looked, and then rejected, you? Why would you want to leave a similar trail?

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At any rate, this guy who winked looks vaguely interesting (although white) so I hide my profile then check his out. It begins, "I'm a vegetarian, I don't watch TV and I don't smoke."

People who go around bragging about not watching television (or not letting their children watch) always make me want to break out into the American Idol theme song, which I don't even know but which I want to learn for that purpose if nothing else. And if this guy's holier-than-thou declaration was not enough I see that he is 45 and has never been married.

Lesson Five: Consider Only The Widowed or Divorced.

Naturally this lesson applies only to women of a certain age, looking for men of a certain age. I have yet to meet a man – black, white or brown – over the age of forty who has never been married who is not broken in some serious and probably unfixable way. [Send your howling cards and letters here.] I don't mean damaged; we're all damaged: scratched up here, dented there, lumpy where the patch was made. No, I mean broken – or possibly just mal-manufactured on the assembly line. Egg or chicken, chicken or egg, it all amounts to the same.

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If you decide to disregard this advice – and you will – proceed cautiously. The man in question will be charming, intelligent, funny as hell. You will swoon to talk to him. Don't bother asking why he has never married; he'll bring it up himself, and be defensive. Don't get into it with him, just smile and nod and go along for the ride. It'll be over soon enough.

A corollary to this lesson is to be careful too of the multi-married. I had a brief email back-and-forth with a tall (good), white (eh), writer (good) who had been married twice and who listed his current status as separated. When I expressed hesitation around this unsettled point he responded with a long, convoluted email in which he described his most recent marriage as "toxic," himself as too trusting, too talented and far too kind, laid out his plans for "self-healing" (daily yoga and meditation and trips to a Chinese herbalist who promised he would learn to forgive) and informed me he didn't want to know about my own "marriages" but did want to hear about my kids, since that was "who you are." As a helpful example, he included five paragraphs about his own progeny.

A rule of thumb regarding the multi-married: divide the number of years over thirty years old by the number of marriages and take the results. Fifteen is okay; under twelve, be careful. Anything under ten: run, run, run.

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After the initial flurry of activity, things settle down. One morning I get an email from John. What John looks like I do not know because there is no photo.

Lesson Six: No photo, no chance.

There are only two reasons a man does not post his photo on a dating site: one, he thinks himself too unattractive to compete and two, he's married. But let's be real – how many men really think themselves unattractive? Even when they are?

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I read John's email; it sounds like something written by a marketing firm. "Hi, I m a SWM, 52, 6'2", 200lbs, brown hair and eyes, considered attractive. I work professionally for a financial firm and enjoy lots of different interests, cultural and otherwise, including concerts, theater, museums, movies and travel. A sense of humor and a love of dessert are attributes I find attractive!"

From this I calculate the chances of him being married at roughly sixty percent, and the chances of him being a tool at close to one hundred. Delete.

The following day another no-photo, this one bearing the subject line "Lightning Strikes!" My finger hovers over the delete button when I chance to read the top of his profile and see that he is black. Well, I guess I can spare the time to read his email. He correctly identifes not only the novel from which I've taken the passage in my profile, but the complex emotions and themes being explored therein. Well, I guess I can read his profile. No harm in doing that, after all.

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He is 6'7 inches tall, divorced, a world traveler who speaks Italian and has his kids living at home. My heart begins to skip but I force it to settle.

Lesson Seven: If Something Sounds Too Good To Be True ….

Instead of deleting, though I risk an email exploring a bit further the novel in question and then asking why no photo on his site.

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He responds, "I just thought a photo was not necessary for conversation between like-minded souls. Even had you not provided a photo I could tell from your words that you were a sensual, sensuous, passionate, intense woman who loves deeply and wants to be loved in the same way."

Well. I respond. "How nice, and reassuring! I was worried because most men who don't post a photo are married and don't want one of wifey's single friends stumbling over the pic."

Hello? Hello?

Over the next few weeks come a wave of winks. One from an older white man with dreadlocks. Um, no thank you. One from a brother whose profile begins, "I consider myself a very confident person. Some people say I'm self-absorbed." Hmm. If people tell you to your face that you're self-absorbed and you include that tidbit in your profile …..

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A few nice emails. One from a white lawyer who seems kind but looks like Jerry Falwell. Another is from a brother who puts his height at five-foot eight. Since I'm five-ten – and since most men lie about their height – I politely decline. (Yes, shallow.) A third from a man who gives a third, and valid, reason for not posting a photo: he teaches high school. He does send one along with his email and I open it: he looks like the gym teacher I had in junior high. To all these I respond with a short thanks-but-I-don't-think-we're-compatible email, which feels awkward but more kind than simple silence. The right thing to do.

As the third week ends and the emails slow down it occurs to me that perhaps my reasoning has been flawed. After all, if I'm a quality person and I'm simply sitting and waiting for others to come to me, aren't other quality people doing the same? Maybe the only ones out there trolling are the less-than-desirables. If you want something in life shouldn't you go out and get it? Isn't that what strong black women do?

Lesson Eight: Go After Them

I decide to upgrade my energy investment a bit. I will spend, max, fifteen minutes conducting a search and if I find anything interesting will send a brief email and forget about it, not caring whether the person in question responds or not. Stunningly this works. The man in question responds, wittily. For two days we write back and forth, talking about movies and musicals and basketball.

Lesson Nine: Get Out of The Virtual World

But when I suggest we meet for coffee he gets wacky. Instead of responding to my invitation, he sends along cute things said by his three-year-old. "Watch out for the undertoad!" Etc. This is charming at first. Then, not so much. Then, not at all.

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Lesson One, Reinforced: Let Them Come To You. You don't have the time to waste.

What I found most fascinating about Match is seeing how easily people reveal themselves, seeing how much we all give away without intending to. The 48-year-old man who jokes not once but twice about being immature ("to play the sax well you need to start as an adolescent, which still gives me plenty of time, hardy har har"). The writer who describes himself as modest, but sends page-long emails boasting about his writing, who some agent compared him to, how good he is at photography ("something I do well and for which I'm paid well to do"). Hiding in the anonmity of the Internet we think we're putting our best foot forward, shining up the exterior for maximum curb appeal, when really the back door stands wide open and folks can see all the junk stacked within.

Or maybe we reveal the flaws to avoid surprises later on. A friend says: people tell you who they are all the time; we just don't listen to them. So loud are the drums of desire and yearning, of wanting to be loved, in our ears. And maybe that's for the best.

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The battle of the sexes rages on in America, particularly between black women and men. {See: the latest Essence.} But this battle is one neither side can win without also destroying itself. As Alice Walker asks, how can we blame one another for being human?

Lesson Ten: Be Discerning But Open, Sisters. Doubt When Needed, But When Possible Give the Benefit of the Doubt.

Gird your heart but not too tightly; leave a little room for expansion and surprise.

Kim McLarin is a regular contributor to The Root.