Dear Chuck,

How can I break myself of my online romance addiction. Even when I meet a great person, I come home and sneak a look at the profiles of others on the online love site, thereby, creating a setting for "cheating" on my potential loved one! Am I a horrible person?

Unsettled in Love
New Haven, Connecticut



Dear Unsettled in Love,

This online behavior maybe OK, but you could still be a horrible person for some other reason I may not be aware of, so just because I say you are not one won’t necessarily make it so.

It sounds like you have met someone online, but like so many other successful cyber-daters, you are tempted to continue trawling even when you have snared something in the net of romance. Though you may be relatively happy with the person you have entrapped, would you have found someone even better had you just held out a wee bit longer? Have you settled for less than you deserve? Is the actual love-of-your-life online at this very moment, and unless you make your move, any chance for a life of happiness will be forever lost? Are you a louse for considering this? And finally, would be it possible to look and not get not get caught? You, my fickle friend, are not the first person to ponder these ethical questions.

On a purely statistical basis, supported by both the laws of probability and common sense, someone considerably better is certainly out there. Think about it. There are probably 100 million adults of the opposite sex in the contiguous United States . Add to that a rather large population of singles in Europe who still tolerate Americans. Consider relocating to South America, Africa, or some province in China and you have increased the number of waders in dating pool by a few billion, and if you are not too picky about gender, the total you just came up with can be immediately doubled. So with the titanic number of choices out there, there are no doubt millions of prospects much, much better than the one person you happened to email on that particular evening you went online.

Many people, possibly you included, have jumped into relationships way too quickly, because they were a bit bored, lonely, or maybe just a little too desperate for some carnal attention. One unobjectionable date may have led to another, since getting together again seemed so much less pathetic than sitting at home alone watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, a program where even the most repulsive criminals and deviants seem to have boyfriends or girlfriends. Put together a string of the tolerable dates, and the next thing you know, you wake up one morning to find you have surrendered a dresser drawer to someone else’s undergarments. It is at this epithanic moment, staring at another’s neatly folded nether garments that you realize that the selfsame person who wraps his or her pelvis with these is not really the person you hoped to end up with.

This is often the point when, as a recent online dater, you wonder who could have been eagerly waiting on the next page of eligibles, and how life, and your underwear drawer, might have looked a little different if you had just scrolled a few profiles ahead.

Many people in relationships consider upgrading, not alike a traveler who voluntarily gives up an adequately posh Business Class seat on an overbooked flight, hoping to be bumped up to First Class on the next flight, to one of those fully reclining cocoon seats on an internationally configured wide body jet, replete with vibrating footrests and a personal TV monitor. The fantasy of paté platters and little silk slippers is so tempting that a passenger may forget that it is possible for the next flight to be totally booked as well, except for a seventeen inch wide middle seat between a screaming child and an obese man who has condition where he sweats too much. Secretly pursuing the Internet for a new relationship has similar risks in tossing away a perfectly good relationship only to end up with the human version of a seventeen inch seat, but even greater risk if you curiously do some comparisons window shopping and get caught. It is hard to explain to someone with whom you are sharing an “excusive relationship,” especially one with mutual “groin privileges,” why he or she saw your profile still up and active on a dating site, though you may be able to deflect the interrogation by asking what your mate was doing online when he or she just happened to stumbled onto it. It is even harder to explain your actions to a loved one who has been quietly standing behind you for the past 10 minutes watching you review profiles and writing down screen names on your "To Do" list. You will further need to explain that this "To Do" lsit is innocently just like a conventional "To Do" list and it does not mean that you intended to "do" these people.

Sadly, dating sites are designed to promote cheating, appealing to our purely financial self-interests. Most start by offering a 30-day membership, and while the month-at-a-time rate may be a bit pricey, you can easily justify the $25-35, since you have spent so little on dates, movies and dinners of late, and at the present time, do not see that changing. Further, you can cancel at any time and make no long term commitments, which seems consistent with your dating patterns already.

But to ensure continued cash flow, the dating sites advertise a much reduced fee if you are willing to sign up in advance for a year or more. The longer you stay single and dateless, the more financially rewarding the membership becomes.

I do not know if these services fully grasp the depressing message that their deep discounts convey, to wit, either (1) their service is so shoddy and the quality of available men and women is so low, it may take upward of a year or more of your time before you happened to unearth someone you will find the least bit tolerable, or even worse (2) you are acknowledging up front by accepting this annual contract what a pitiable, unwanted miscreant you are, and you are fully aware that you may have to wait until everyone else on the site has a been taken before anyone would choose you, so you might as well be practical and take advantage of the “Perennial Loser Discount” they are mercifully offering. If they ever come up with a lifetime membership program, you hope they will let you know.

Should you pay for the 12 months in advance and find a find a suitable mate early on in your membership, you will not be credited for unused time, and the clock, just like a parking meter you leave with time remaining, continues to tick off whether you are there or not. Online dating companies bank on you being so distracted by newfound romance and getting sexed for the first time in a while that you will completely forget about the unused balance you are abandoning.

Sadly, if the relationship doesn’t work out and you come back after your unused months have expired, you will have to start paying all over again.

In theory, it might be more profitable and principled for these services to offer a cheap first month and raise the fees a little for each subsequent month. The more desperate and sexless members are, the more they might be willing to pay. From an ethical perspective, this rate schedule seems fair, because the chronically “unchosen” take up valuable bandwidth and make it so much harder for members to access the more attractive inventory.

After my last relationship ended a while back, I enrolled on one of these sites, lured into a full year subscription by the ad hype that showed the fiscal benefits of amortizing my loneliness over 12 months. As fate would have it, I met a woman after about 4 weeks, She was unlike any woman I had ever previously met, combining intelligence, wit, and charm. She was well read, incredibly attractive and a successful physician who volunteered extra time working with bedridden children. A savvy investor and a marathon runner, she was both financially and physically fit. Politically, she hated the same people I did, had similar leisure time interests, and most important, seemed to like me. But I had to write her to say that I did not think it prudent for us to continue dating, that indeed life is about timing, and I still had about 11 months left on my membership.

The online dating world is crowded with individuals in relationships who, like you, are just browsing, wondering about any opportunity to trade up. So do not feel you are the only cyber-sleaze logging on in secret. Perhaps a good 30 percent of those checking out profiles these days are men and women who are already seeing other men or woman, but are a little curious whether they can do better. Many live the fantasy that the next profile may reveal life’s soul mate, and that all other relationships including the one they are in, might heretofore be considered “just practice” or possibly even hazing.

New people enter the dating pool every day, including novitiates who have moved from other areas or those who were in relationship for a long time, but have recently broken up. People in the latter group make fine candidates because they were apparently good enough for someone else for a long time, and know you are not picking someone that no one else has ever wanted.

In any case, you are not alone peeking onto the site and wondering if you could have done better had you scrolled through a few more pages.

Some say it is a duty to yourself to keep your eyes open and that checking the listing for new arrivals is cautiously pre-emptive. For all you know, the person you are now involved with may only be dating you until someone better comes along.

I hope this help