From colonel to Casanova at the click of a mouse

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The Independent Online

Here is a touching, and strangely illuminating, tale of love and optimism in the new age of heroism. Robin Solod, a woman of 43 who lives in Manhattan, had been looking for love on the internet for some time. Last November, it seemed that at last she had, as they say, hit pay dirt.

Her advertisement on the website (Robin is 6ft tall) received a reply from a 6ft 5in army officer who was serving in Afghanistan with the 18th Airborne Corps. Like her, Colonel Kassem Saleh was, he said, looking for love. Divorced 10 years ago, he had been without sex for so long that he called himself "the warrior monk".

He sent her daily e-mails. "He wrote better than Yeats," says Robin. "Better than Shakespeare. He totally intoxicated you with his feelings - 'Oh, baby, want to tell you how much I miss you... can't wait to get home to you'." He called her on his mobile and told her she was the most significant woman he'd ever met. "You're just like my mother," he said.

Back in April, he proposed over the phone and, dashingly, Robin accepted. A few weeks later, she read an interview on a local TV station's website with a woman who, like her, was waiting for her fiancé to return from Afghanistan. The fiancé's name was Colonel Kassem Saleh.

The busy private life of the colonel began to unravel at this point. It emerged that he had been corresponding with over 50 women whom he had met through various internet dating services - and were the most productive. He had phoned most of them, proposing to many of them, even sending out a number of engagement rings.

In reality, the colonel was 50 and married. Writing those "Yeatsian, Shakespearian" love letters had involved - a nice touch, this - cutting and pasting paragraphs from one fiancée's e-mail and sending them on to another. He was not even particularly tall. As the moment of his return approached, he told one woman not to be disappointed by his height - repeated parachute jumps had caused him to shrink by six inches.

Now, the serial proposer is facing military discipline, while a large number of unhappy women, mostly rather tall Christians, are sadly resuming their search for love. "We are not a group of stupid, naive women," one of them told The New York Times. "We are bright, intellectual, professional women. I can't tell you how much he wooed us with his words. He made us feel like goddesses, fairy princesses, Cinderellas."

Let us not rush to judgement here. Undeniably, Colonel Saleh was unspeakably caddish, exploiting the new yearning for heroes for his own bizarre purposes. On the other hand, it would be churlish not to admit that successfully to woo over 50 women from across the world - the logistics, the time, the phone bills - represents something of an achievement.

If examined in a forensic way, this story contains some lessons for men looking for love:

1. Write your love letters like a woman would. You may say that anyone who thinks that Yeats could have written, "Oh, baby, I want to tell you how much I miss you", is easy to impress, but Robin wasn't the only one to fall for his (or rather the other women's) prose.

2. On the other hand, play it butch. Even if you are unable to use the colonel's signing-off line, "I have to go into the hills to catch terrorists", it is worth emphasising the more manly aspects of your lifestyle.

3. Tall women are easy. They may appear to be looking down on you but, if you keep your nerve, you could be in luck - particularly if they happen to be Christian, too.

4. Surprisingly, the warrior-monk approach seems to play well. One might think that 10 years without sex might count against a man, but apparently not.

5. Do not lie about your height. The shrinking effects of parachuting may have worked for the colonel but similar lines - excessive jogging, an accident with a chainsaw - are likely to arouse suspicion.

6. The most startling revelation of all: it can actually be a good move to compare a woman to your mother.

The moral for women is, I fear, more straightforward. Men lie. But you knew that, didn't you?