No college degree, no dates?

I've been a longtime lurker and am a huge fan of your column. I've been struggling with a question for some time now and I think this forum would offer me just the kind of feedback I need to help me make a decision.

I've recently dipped my toes back into the online dating pool and an old concern of mine has resurfaced. See, I don't hold a college degree, and online dating websites invariably force users to check a simple box denoting their level of education. My fear is that I'm being routinely overlooked by potential suitors who default to searching for dates who have college degrees. The mentality I've found when casually asking around among my (mostly college-educated) friends is that "educated" men very much prefer to date "educated" women, and the detailed Q&A section on a particular dating website reflects this, so I'm pretty sure my concern isn't unfounded.

Now, to put my situation in perspective, in addition to being a friendly and slightly nerdy girl-next-door type, I am a very smart, successful, financially independent woman in my early 30s. I have a solid middle-management career with a major corporation, my own apartment, a reliable car that is paid off, as well as great credit and zero debt (a rare side benefit of not having gone to college is not having to repay student loans!). My lack of a college degree is not at all a reflection of a lack of intelligence, responsibility, or work ethic. Instead, it's the product of a family situation that left me financially independent at a very young age and unable to afford college. People who know me at all are shocked to learn that I don't have a college degree, and once I explain the circumstances, they tend to be very understanding.

As I get older and worry more about missed opportunities, I find myself wondering whether fibbing and checking the "college degree" box on online dating profiles would be justifiable under the circumstances. (I would come clean upon meeting a guy face to face.) I know that the right guy won't hold my lack of a degree against me, and I know that there are plenty of guys like that out there -- I'm just concerned that those same guys are innocently ruling me out within the online dating pool. I also think it's worth noting that my job keeps me very busy, so I lean pretty heavily on online dating websites to help me meet single guys my age.

Maybe I'm making too much of this, but all signs seem to point to this being a considerable barrier in my dating life. For what it's worth, in the past I've dated men with a variety of educational backgrounds, from those who have only taken a few college classes, to fellows with PhD's. What do you think, Meredith? Should I fib online and explain myself when I meet a guy in person? Or would the guys I meet be justified in being angry at me for lying about this? And do your readers think that my worry is unfounded?

– Undereducated in Somerville

You shouldn't lie, UIS. If I were a nice guy who asked you out and you revealed a fib like that on our first date, I'd throw up a yellow flag. Maybe a red one. I'd be put off.

Sadly, you're dating in a world that has us judging potential partners based on the boxes they check. And you live in a town populated by universities. I mean, you're probably right down the street from Tufts and Harvard and Lesley and MIT and .... the list goes on.

My advice is to be clever on your profile and cross your fingers. What else can you do? Most people have a box that they wish they could check (or didn't have to check). Other people feel this way about their salary or their divorce or their kids. You wouldn't want those people lying to you, right?

Also, just because you're busy doesn't mean that you're allowed to stop looking for men in the real world. You can lean heavily on these sites, but you have to force yourself to do some in-person mingling. Ask friends to consider setting you up with other friends. Maybe find the time to join one club around town so that you're meeting guys with a similar interest, not a similar degree.

Don't check the box unless it applies to you. Sorry. I know it's tempting.

Readers? How difficult is it to date without a college degree in a college town? Do you skip over profiles based on boxes left unchecked? Is she allowed to lie in this situation? Thoughts for this LW about what she should put in her profile to compensate? Discuss.

– Meredith