Internet Dating

True love died tragically in a freak gardening accident sometime during the fall of 1996. Everyone knows that now; it’s common knowledge, taught in even the worst of our public schools. But even being fully armed with that information, there’s still a particular melancholy that comes in the form of a blindside hit by that linebacker named loneliness, one best expressed in a quote by legendary romantic sage William Shakespeare (or perhaps it was Jon Gosselin) who once said, “being single totally effing sucks, dude.”[1] It’s with that singularly perceptive quote in mind that I set out to end my bout of unintentional celibacy by using Al Gore’s greatest invention to find my soulmate-or at least get to second base.

That’s right, I decided to descend into the dark, seamy underbelly of Sacramento’s internet dating culture in order to finally answer that age old romantic query: How much love can you buy for $34.95 a month?[2]

I signed up for, the massive corporate monolith that claims over 15 million subscribers worldwide. To paraphrase the title of an Elvis Presley Greatest Hits cash grab/compilation, 15,000,000 Women Can’t All Be Wrong About Me. Surely not every woman is in the placebo group for my charming m©lange of arrested adolescence crossed with heightened social anxiety disorder, right?

The first step upon joining any of the big dating websites is creating an individual profile. This is the part of the process where lying apparently becomes not only acceptable, but rather encouraged. Either that or everyone currently drawing breath in the 916 area code unitarily agreed upon a mutual love of hiking in Tahoe, working out, wine tasting in Napa, and something called “yoga”[3], while I was consumed with such weighty endeavors as sleeping till noon, watching MTV reality shows, and eating my weight in processed Cheese snacks. Either way, I decided to break rank and to be as ruthlessly honest as possible in my profile in order to better separate the romantic wheat from the chaff.

Full disclosure: I spent an almost godless amount of time composing my profile. Pynchon spent less time knocking out “Gravity’s Rainbow” than I did writing and re-revising various grabbers for my headline before finally settling on the winner (“My Hive Needs A Queen”). Having never experienced online dating before, I was mesmerized by the cold precision from which I could just point and click my ideal desires in the opposite sex. What age range was acceptable to me? Would I date someone with children? Could I push past my aesthetic bias past my usual default settings of “slender” or “athletic” and entertain the notion of dating those who fall into the sad morass of “about average”, “stocky”, “a few extra pounds”, curvy”, and-god forbid-“full figured”? For someone who once earned a Cub Scout merit badge in Indecision the infinite series of choices almost caused my eyebrows to spontaneously combust.

Finally satisfied with my written profile, I uploaded photos of myself to give a face to my text. (Spoiler Alert: painstaking scientific research has shown that 99% of all online connections will be made just on the quality of the picture alone)[4] Sadly, just as in real life, physical attraction appears to be the barometer for which you will be judged online. Since it is the only element to make someone surfing through literally thousands of pictures of potential matches stop and read your profile, I cannot stress the importance of photograph selection enough. I chose pictures that featured me in a combination of poses somewhere between brooding Robert Pattinson vampire-chic cool and late-night Cinemax soft-core pornography. In military parlance this is known as the Shock & Awe strategy.

With my profile finally complete, I placed myself firmly in the hands of the thick-craniumed mega-geniuses who exist solely to program the supercomputer: I decided to choose my dates solely from the matches the website found most compatible with the personality information contained in my profile.

This is where it all went horribly wrong.

Let’s just say that the results were a little disappointing. And by disappointing I mean that in the way that the city of Hiroshima must have considered August 6, 1945 to be a “mild setback” for the local Department of Tourism. Not only did Match’s search engine apparently not share my same tastes in women, it also labored under the delusion that I would only be happy dating sweet Russian girls fresh from the Motherland whose profiles I found charming, mostly due to their guileless, phonetic approach to finding a future husband. “It is not so simple to speak of one’s self”, read the About Me section of one potential keeper. “I introduce myself like owl, this means I sleep away mornings and do very much work at the evening hours.” I labor under no delusion that I am as handsome as a young Bob Redford but struggling against the proletariat and a back strong from hours of toiling in the fields farming vodka aren’t major considerations in my idea of a partner. Will we fall in love? Will I play Boris to her lonely Natasha? Survey says Nyet. Dasvidania, my sweet Svetlana.

After three weeks of discarding dozens of potential suitors from my inbox, I narrowed it down to two viable candidates. I arranged to meet with both of them to see if the information superhighway could do a better job of my love life than drunk dialing ex’s who barely tolerated my existence. I figured that it was a coin flip at best.

My first match was a lunchtime meeting with a woman we’ll call “Heather”. I’m always suspicious of dates that take place during daytime hours due to the fact that the usual modifiers that make my personality sparkle-alcohol and impaired late night judgment-are in perilously short supply. Meeting for tapas on a day when the temperature was roughly the same as the heating tiles on the bottom of the Space Shuttle during re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere, my date selected the option of dining on the patio. This confused me as I value personal comfort above both safety and love and affection on my Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Sweating profusely in a manner that suggested that I was only minutes away from excusing myself to go to the restroom where I’d retrieve a small caliber handgun and burst from the potty blasting caps to avenge my brother Sonny’s tollbooth gangland slaying[5], a larger truth slowly emerged. From the moment that I joined Match the entire process was all about me, almost to a disorienting degree. What information would I chose to reveal? Which profiles did I find intriguing? It was almost like I was reviewing a pastiche of models for selection in an upcoming fashion show. Never once did it occur to me that I was the one who could be rejected. But sitting on the kiln/patio flop sweating all over my summer salad, it became painfully obvious that someone who was nothing to me but a series of zeros and ones only an hour ago was now judging me to be inadequate. As I reached for the check it had become apparent that I had just spend $34.95 to be rejected by a stranger. Not only was I still celibate, I was now paying not to have sex with women. This, kids, is what the ancient Egyptians called irony.

My second meeting was a dinner date at a small Italian restaurant with a woman who’d I’d exchanged around five e-mails with prior to our meeting. I was actually attempting to give this one the best possible chance of succeeding. “Claire” was a social worker who wasn’t single due to bouts with what my grandma liked to call “The Crazies” or any other sort of chemical mood imbalance, but rather just because of the vagaries of human chemistry. The initial meeting with Claire went well enough despite the fact that she suffered from what is apparently a pandemic in the world of online dating-she looked absolutely nothing like any of the 15 photographs of herself that she had posted on the website. Before our encounter I never would have believed that a human being would not in person in any way resemble actual photographic reproductions of themselves but sitting at the table, pushing my black spaghetti around on my plate, this was all I could think about. It consumed me. My head was starting to hurt from the aesthetic bait and switch. It was like agreeing to have drinks with Megan Fox, only to have famed character actor James Earl Jones show up instead.

This date, unlike the first, progressed nicely and had all the hallmarks of success: two somewhat intelligent adults who existed in the same weight class of attractiveness sharing quality adult conversation over a good meal. However this seeming success only serves to reveal the real, insurmountable flaw of Internet dating. Much like the thermal exhaust ports on the Death Star exposed it to a well-timed proton torpedo blast from a farm boy from Tatooine, the lack of pre-existing human sexual chemistry dooms online dating to be a hit-or-miss proposition every time. Claire was a very nice woman, and under almost any other circumstance a friendship would ensue. But when you give yourself over to the online world you’re paying to find love-not like. When you build someone up in your mind based entirely on their ability to look good on paper, only to find out in the first five minutes that they’re just another disappointment relegated to the reject pile of your dating life, well, it’s hard not to be deflated. And no matter how many e-mails are exchanged, or pictures poured over and studied like individual frames in the Zapruder film, the internet still doesn’t have a way to replicate the strange exchange of pheromones and half-truths that collide when two people come together through magic and the mysteries of the universe and try to spin it into something permanent and undeniable.

But give Bill Gates[6] some time and I’m sure he’ll figure out a way to do it. That dude is crazy smart.

[1] From Richard III or Jon & Kate Plus 8 Episode # 7: “Pancakes & Potties.”

[2] The territory of the Philippines excluded.

[3] I think it’s Swedish, possibly sold at IKEA, and more than likely requires multiple usages of an Allen wrench.

[4] By painstaking research I mean random statistical figures that I just made up twenty seconds ago while eating Funyons in front of my computer. Mmm — Funyons!

[5] Admittedly this analogy only works if inexplicably sets me up on a double date with Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo and Capt. McCluskey, an unlikely scenario that would definitely end with me receiving a full refund of my membership dues.

[6] Or perhaps those two dudes who invented Google for their eighth grade science fair.

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