A conversation today with the big JC * inspired me to re-post my former foibles with online dating. Funny how the world works, eh?
I feel I should precede this project with a poem. I’ve only ever written one that I like, and, outside of high school English classes, I’ve only ever written two poems.
The first one was when I was 15. This was about the age where I started sneaking out to drink beers with friends, and one late night, about 1 in the morning, I stealthily unlocked the front door of my parents’ house and plopped my fanny on the couch to drunkenly watch MTV. The late night programming was ‘alternative’ and after a few gothic videos, I was feeling forlorn enough to put my feelings down on paper. Reading what I had written with the clarity of sobriety the next morning, I could only say I felt good about recognizing my complete lack of prosaic talent early in life. It was all typical teenage angst, full of ‘How Black my Soul is Painted, like Mystical Tar, I will always be Alone’ type of nonsense, and I decided right then that poetry, like the accordion, is only for those that can.
My second poem, years later, has a straightforward quality that the first lacked, and is unencumbered by the very concept of prose, which is probably why I like it. It is based on real-life experience, entitled ‘Ex-Girlfriend’. It goes thusly:
I saw my ex-girlfriend the other day.
You know, the Crazy One?
And if it weren’t for that giant stone pillar
She would have seen me, too.
I am thirty-one and lonely, and so I’ve decided to start dating. Not ‘going on dates’, I have technically done that before, but dating, actual intentional dating. I’m not entirely sure what this means, but I think it has something to do with a larger, more informed picture of the dating world, a more mature outlook, and a cool, clearheaded practical approach to finding someone with the same values that would be willing and happy to share them with me. It sounds terribly boring, but- as I’m getting older, and terribly boring seems to be what my peers strive for- I feel compelled to follow suit.
“Terribly boring” is an inaccurate way of summarizing my dating experience. “Terribly boring” reduces my dating experience to seemingly little or no experience, and that is false. It’s just that at my age, anybody with similar experience knows that there are certain types of “Exciting” that you must avoid. These types of “Exciting” seem to attach themselves with certain types of experience as well. Like my friend who dropped a jar of mayonnaise at age six in the grocery store and subsequently got cussed out by a passing elementary teacher and henceforth can no longer eat mayonnaise, I can no longer have certain types of sex, listen to certain types of music while having sex, or even watch certain movies which led to certain types of sex that I am reminded of every time I have to see them. I have become peculiar. It’s almost like an anti-fetish; I’m up for anything, except what’s on this list of no-no’s, here it is, please call me if you fit all of my anti-qualifications.
And so I’ve joined a dating service. An internet dating service.
The idea sprung from a discussion with friends over brunch, in the most innocuous way. A friend was talking with a friend, and she offhandedly asked,
“So, what do you do when you aren’t responding to emails?”
It occurred to me right then that this was the perfect webspeak equivalent of a bad pick-up line, something you might say to someone you might meet face-to-face when you are more accustomed to socializing on Facebook. I decided it was time. It was a perverse notion, I’ll admit, but so be it- I would catch up with the rest of humanity and online date.
Before I begin here, I should let you know I chose the most generic of the generic dating services. It’s not Facebook, it isn’t Match.com, it ain’t even Friendster. I’m a schoolteacher, after all, and the potential for bedlam- should students find my profile -is too horrific to even consider. I elected an old fashioned website.
I hear there are sites on-line that are strictly for casual sex. No pretence, no one looking for a ‘relationship’ allowed. We meet here, we get super-freaky, and we go home without even learning each other’s first names. I am intrigued, I want to learn more, I want to have super non-committal sex. I could handle it; I’ve done it before, and sex without strings can be wonderful. I think. It sure seems like it could be, and It worked once before, right? That one time in college?
The problem with hook-ups is that they are really exiting the first time. Hugely exiting, and you think they will be as exiting, or close, forever. That’s the part about getting old, and seeing things for second, third, umpteen times. They become tired, lose a little glory, and, perhaps, with a little hindsight, they may not have been the brilliant idea you thought they were in the first place. Despite these early mistakes, you hope that someone else made them as well, a kindred damaged spirit, and perhaps they use personals as well. If folks can use the internet for a specific purpose like “Tired of pathetic husband, looking to find 3 well-hung black males to show me a good time” or “ My sex crazed wife wants piles of *** from a *****, which I will then ****off, while you tie me up and call me a d*****”, surely I can find someone with the odd aversion to raw tomatoes and a penchant for watching CSI, right?
I put up a personal ad on (Unnamed) Personals. I have a hard time being too serious about this, not so much that I’m afraid it won’t work, but rather what to do if it does. I envision the next 100 dinner parties, and the inevitable “So how did you guys meet?” and the accompanying uncomfortable pause that follows the conversation killer “on-line”. So to actually sabotage this effort early, I put up a goofy photo with a goofy written profile so I don’t have to feel terrible when no one replies. I fill out the questionnaire, and press the scary-no-going-back-anybody-can-look-at-this ‘send’ button. I haven’t even started, and I’m already having commitment issues.
After about a week, I check my Inbox and, surprise, I have no new messages. I feel I should take some action, so I start flipping through my ‘Matches”. There is one girl whose profile starts of saying ‘Ok first off I’m fat, so if you don’t like big girls, don’t even bother.” The rest of her schpeal is similarly blunt, and I am amused. For her photo, she stuck her face right in the camera and smiled. It should be noted that she had slipped in a pair of ‘Billy-Bob’ plastic hillbilly teeth, the kind you find in supermarket toy machines. I scope through her other pictures and find that despite the self-deprecating humor, she is actually quite attractive, and so I decide to contact her. Granted, she’s and inch taller than me, and about 8 years younger, which may make me look like a pedophile, but, too late, I’ve decided. I soon find out that while you are allowed to post an ad for free, you actually have to pay to use the service. This is not unreasonable, as it is a service after all, but I’m a little put off by the idea, as it seems like paying for love. It’s not, but the microscopic and completely invalid parallel that could be drawn to prostitution makes me feel uneasy and desperate. I can, I find out, send what is known as an ‘Ice-BreakerÓ’, a list of one line greetings, pre-written. I select the one that says, “You have a beautiful smile. Let’s talk.” I’m hoping she gets the joke.
Predictably- predictable because who the fuck would think a canned greeting would be so cleverly selected to match up with the teeth- she doesn’t get it, and I suspect I might be living in my own head too much, which also means that while I may consider myself ‘clever’, I’m actually a bit obtuse. I get no reply.
The next time I open up my Inbox, I am surprised to find not one, but three new hits. The first and third are ‘Ice-BreakersÓ’. Number one boasts the headline “Loves to work with children.” I don’t remember putting down on the questionnaire that I was a teacher, but I figure that must have done it for her, as we have little else in common. She is also looking for someone taller than me, like most. I’m beginning to receive confirmation of what I had long suspected was true: women dig tall men. This does not bode well for me. She also doesn’t include a picture, something I am suspect of. I don’t think, or at least I like to think that I don’t think that looks are a reasonable basis for selecting someone to hang out with. We are all a little ugly in one way or another, and those of us that aren’t tend to have personalities similar to celery. Unfortunately, it’s the anti-fetish. You don’t have to be beautiful to turn me on, but the lack of picture encourages a lack of faith. No one can be that ugly. Or can they? I don’t reply.
Strike Three (First Out):
The second is an actual email with an actual email address to reply to, and I am excited. Someone thought my profile was interesting enough to send a real message, and I open it with small hope and anticipation. I probably shouldn’t do this, but considering the circumstances, here is the message:
<>Hello my new friend!!!
<>I to find your profile on http://www.personals.yahoo.com and I have decided to
<>write to you this letter. I very much would like to get acquainted with you
<>closer. I have decided to write to you because you to me most of all another
<>loved. I would search such for the person who might understand and love me.
<>I want to find mine the satellite in life for the one whom I might expect at
<>the most difficult and difficult moments. I want to get acquainted with you
<>closer. I to search such for the person with that whom I my future life might
<>incorporate. I the first time get acquainted thus, and very much I want it,
Blah blah blah.
Someone used the online translation service and didn’t pay for the $29.95 version.
Strike One,(1 out)
The third message in my Inbox bears the headline “Love to Ride my Bike”. I’m intrigued, as I am an avid cyclist. She’s pretty in a sorority sort of way, the kind I can recognize as a generic American sort of pretty, but not the sort that I am attracted to. She also gets a lot of thumbs-down for anti-fetish; If ‘sports-nut’ were listed under hobbies, I could take it, but it doesn’t fly well under ‘television preferences’. Also in that category is “Reality TV Freak”, and although I’m not fond of TV but watch it anyway, I really have a problem with reality TV. If reality TV were real in America, it would be a close up shot of people watching TV. Fuck it, though, I guess I’ll send her an ‘Ice-BreakerÓ’ back. They don’t seem to matter anyway. She chose “Hey, how are you doing?” In reply I chose “I bet you say that to everyone.” No reply.
Strike Two, (1 out.)
It’s clearly necessary that I have to buy into the membership if this is going to go anywhere, which it ain’t. And that’s OK. Rooting around through profiles, I find one that actually sounds kind of interesting. She’s an attractive lady, either Indian or ABCD (standing for “American-Born-Confused-Desi”- an acronym used by the sons and daughters of Indian immigrants, ‘desi’ being the Hindi word for ‘Indian’) . I decide to take the plunge, to become an active member, to actually pay for the services rendered, so that I can send her the email. This now feels a little weird, like I am officially socially inept enough to need a dating service. It shouldn’t. People spend more money and time than I have at the bar on a Friday trying to hook it up, while I get the use of this service, and it is a service, for an entire month. It’s just that before I could beg off, say that this whole thing was a lark, a bit of fun, but now that I’ve shelled out actual dough, I am officially involved. At any rate, I sign up, write a brief, noncommittal email, asking a question or two and being generally ‘clever’, or so I think. I wait two weeks. No reply.
Strike Three (2 outs)
While I am fiddling around with someone or other’s profile on a random Wednesday evening, my housemate strolls in and pokes her nose in my business. I tell her what I’m doing, and she immediately commandeers my laptop and starts sorting through various profiles and sending them ‘Ice-BreakersÓ’ on my behalf. I think she sends out three, although truthfully I bail from the room and let her do her thing, because if I don’t, I am liable to become finicky and (truthfully) embarrassed. Only one ever replies, with an ‘Ice-BreakerÓ’ that says ‘Sorry, but I’ve met someone else…”. Oh well, at least she had the decency to inform me. As I had nothing to do with these particular selections on the jukebox, I’m only counting this as one collective strike.
Foul Ball (2 outs)
( a few weeks later…)
I’m returning from a bike trip, and I’m hoping a thing or two happened with the ole personals. Sure enough, I got two hits. Upon examining the profiles, however, I am unimpressed. Both have written fairly generic statements about themselves, of course they are seeking a man who is into honesty and not a game-player, and I’m very sure you are a sincere likeable human being who enjoys theatre, long walks and candle-lit dinners. Who doesn’t? I don’t reply.
Do you have to shackle up with someone for life, find your Soulmate, in order to become blissfully fulfilled? Is it OK to mess around a bit without becoming officially committed? Other people don’t, my Aunt whom I love and respect included. Maybe this mating business isn’t for everyone, and, despite the current paradigm, it may actually be possible to be happy and fulfilled on your own. Truthfully, I had suspected this for a while, as some of my most fulfilling spiritual moments were spent with me and my brain, working things out in a way that made sense to me and me only. In a small way, I feel less than a true manly-man, that perhaps if I had secretly elucidated the secrets of the universe, that I should’ve created a family to share this inner wisdom with. Things don’t really work like that, though. I teach teenagers in public school, so I am painfully aware of the disillusionment of the parents of adolescents. Do I even want kids, a domestic lifestyle, a minivan, a mortgage and a sullen kid around the house? Do I just want sex from time to time? I’m not so sure, now, but, like a parent, I started something I need to finish.
COMING SOON: On Sex and the Single Teacher-The Sequel.
*Jennifer Cogley. Who’d ya think I meant?