Timing is everything.

JDaters happily corresponding with one another on the site’s online e-mail system shouldn’t necessarily take it personally if the other party recently stopped writing.

Well, maybe just a little bit personally. Maybe it was too early on in the “relationship” for the other person to fork over the $28.50 it now costs to respond.

That’s right, JDate has changed its policy.

No longer is it free to read an admirer’s message – nor can you even find out who wrote you. Until recently, if you weren’t a member, you could read the message, view the profile, reply on the site, participate in chat rooms and even make an initial contact by sending a “tease” (choosing from a selection of cheesy one-liners). Now nonmembers can still search the site and send a “tease” to someone, but that’s about it.

Why this new “pay to reply” policy?

“Ultimately, it’s going to provide our members with a better experience on the site,” says Matchnet.com spokeswoman Gail Laguna.

She explains that this new policy requires members to purchase a subscription in order to reply to e-mails and enter the chat rooms. Previously, members only needed to purchase a subscription if they wanted to contact someone.

Once she explained the chat room issues – some people would go in chat rooms to try to sell products or promote things, rather than to find a relationship – that part made sense. I’ve never been interested in chat rooms, so that doesn’t bother me.

But it still doesn’t make sense that you have to “pay to reply” or even to see who it was who wrote.

A friend of mine has been notified that she has 11 messages in her JDate in-box, but she’s not a member so she now can’t even see who wrote her – or what they wrote – unless she pays to become a member. That’s a big risk, considering they could all be variations of “I liked your profile, hot mama. Give me a call sometime” or “Hi, I’m not Jewish but I’ve always liked girls with dark hair.”

If this “pay to reply” policy had always been JDate’s policy, I would have given up a long time ago. Initially I may have paid, but finances and frustration would have caused me to cancel my subscription after a month or two. I’ve never been a member and, luckily, I took myself off about a week or two before this new policy was enforced.

Removing oneself from JDate may not seem like a big deal, but trust me, in today’s world of Internet dating, that signals a heavy-duty commitment.

Since I first started using JDate, I’ve always been hesitant to remove my profile, even when dating somebody. (I wasn’t active on it during those times and none of those “relationships” lasted more than three months.) A few times, I’ve been surprised to see people actively on JDate who I knew were living with somebody or even engaged.

But this time, it took only two weeks of dating someone I met on JDate before I realized that I wasn’t really interested in meeting anyone else.

About a month ago, I was looking through the listings and among the familiar faces, I saw someone new. He looked cute, so I perused his profile. He seemed intelligent, I liked what he had to say in his essays – and saw no spelling or grammar errors. Next, I blew up each of his pictures on my computer screen. In the last one, he was holding a guitar and had a dog at his side. That was it. I had to write.

Since I’ve never been a member, all I could do was send him a tease. I chose the least tacky one, simply “I loved your profile, what do you think of mine?” He wrote back the next day and we had nice e-mail conversations on the JDate onsite e-mail for a few days. When he gave me his regular e-mail address, I wrote him at that address, but didn’t hear back.

Being much bolder in dating these days, and recognizing that our e-mail rapport was much better than others had been, I decided to ignore the possibility that he stopped writing because he had already decided I was a freak, and rewrote him on the JDate e-mail. It turned out he didn’t get that other one.

None of this would have happened under the new JDate policy.

For instance, I still could have teased him, but I would have had to pay $28.50 to read his response. Sadly, I can’t say for sure that I would have done that – what if the response was negative or downright weird? Would it be worth it?

Timing is everything. When I told my JDate guy that it was the photo of him with the guitar and dog that propelled me to write him, he said he had intended to replace that photo with another, but broke his finger playing basketball that day and never got around to it.

This article first appeared in the Nov. 14, 2003 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.