By Jan Mercker
When Leesburg-based photographer Kathy Kupka jumped into the online dating scene as a 69-year-old widow, it was an eye-opening experience.
Kupka documents the ups and downs of the online dating scene using her favorite subject matter: dogs. Her new photo book “Online Dating is Ruff” is a tongue-in-cheek look at the vocabulary and pitfalls of online dating—with plenty of cute pups.
“It’s not for the faint of heart,” Kupka said of her 10-month foray into the world of online dating. But her experiences have given her plenty of fodder for a charming and hilarious guide.
When Kupka lost her beloved husband Rich (her “Mr. Wonderful”) to cancer in 2012, she waited seven years before putting herself out there again.
“I always said I didn’t need to date again. I have a huge family, I have a lot of friends. I do not need to take a chance,” Kupka said.
But the young widow realized she missed companionship and someone to share her favorite activities like dinners out and dancing. With encouragement from her sister and brother-in-law, she decided to give online dating a shot. But she realized she had no clue how to get rolling. With help from a friend who became her online dating mentor, she set up her profile.
“I had no idea, and she knew the ropes,” Kupka said.
Kupka tried seven different dating sites within 10 months and found a steep learning curve. She had some great conversations but also plenty of not-so-great dates.
“After my first two bad experiences, my friend said, ‘We’re doing a book,’” Kupka said.
That friend, Jeanette Burkle, is the book’s designer and editor.
Kupka said she quickly learned to meet for coffee on the first date, giving her the option to keep things short if needed.
“If you go for dinner for lunch, you’re stuck for an hour or two hours,” she said.
At the end of the day, Kupka found plenty of fodder for her book, which cleverly matches the expressions and poses of her canine subjects with the topic at hand. “Online Dating Is Ruff” offers a primer on dating lingo, including catfishing (creating a fake identity for scamming) and dogfishing (using someone else’s dog in your profile pic—yes it’s a thing). There’s also ghosting (cutting off communication without an explanation) and zombies who make a surprise return from the dead after ghosting.
Kupka cleverly tackles the topics of profile pics and the exaggerations and outright lies that often make their way into daters’ profiles. To create the book, Kupka used some shots she had in her portfolio and others she shot especially for this project, carefully pairing the pups with the theme, including some hilariously downcast pugs. Dog parents signed model releases of course.
Kupka launched her photography career in 1998 after a long career as an administrative assistant in the corporate world. She said her late husband, Rich, encouraged her to follow her passion, and she enrolled in photography classes at Northern Virginia Community College. She started with shoots of families and children but shifted to dogs in the early 2000s after getting her beloved cockapoo Buddy.
Shortly after launching a thriving photo business, Kupka was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. After beating cancer, she started doing what-to-expect presentations for cancer patients. To add some humor to her talks, she added dog photos to her discussion of side effects from treatment.
“Everybody laughed,” she said. And that was the origin of her first book, “Cancer Is Ruff,” which has since sold 1,400 copies.
Kupka, who lives in Leesburg with her Catahoula mix Sandra, said she approached dating in her 60s with a different attitude than her dating years as a younger woman.
“I have more confidence now and if somebody doesn’t like me—fine,” she said.
Kupka adds that the guys she met online weren’t always nightmares or scammers. Sometimes there just wasn’t a connection—and that’s OK.
“I met some nice people for coffee, but sometimes either he knew or I knew there was no connection,” she said.
And after 10 months, just as she was getting ready to throw in the towel, she found romance and companionship with her partner of the past year.
“He’s a good cook and he’s willing to dance,” she said. “We have a lot of fun and we laugh a lot.”
Kupka has a few pieces of advice for online daters of any age.
“I’ve learned if somebody is nice, you should give them a chance,” she said.
As a professional photographer, Kupka added that putting a little effort into your profile pics is always worthwhile. And at the end of the day, giving dating a shot is 100 percent worth it.
“Definitely try it. I don’t look back and think, ‘Oh I never should have done that.’ You definitely get to meet interesting people,” she said. “It was an adventure.”
Kathy Kupka’s “Online Dating Is Ruff” and original greeting cards are available at local retailers including Vintage Magnolia in Purcellville and Leesburg, Etc! Round Hill and the Gateway Gallery in Round Hill. The book is also available at Amazon.com.
For more information on Kupka and her books, go to kathykupkaphotography.com.