Let me say this right off the bat, this is not going to be some woman-bashing rant, Neil Straussian celebration of misogyny, or state of the union address by the president of The He-Man Woman-Haters Club. These are merely the observations of an artist and writer, of his ill-fated experiences in the trenches of the online dating Ardennes Forest. The idea of it is sound. After all, we are a global community, a mobile society of really busy people who have no time to exist in the real world after our grueling work week. We can’t wait to get home to the inner sanctum of our online community of virtual friends where everyone has a perfect life (as evinced by the pics posted daily of said perfect life and perfect family and perfect kids and perfect family pet… okay, the dog’s not perfect. It chewed up the perfect sofa, but no matter). And sure, the online world has its problems, but they’re nothing that can’t be solved with a well-placed Rumi-quoted meme superimposed over a sunset or a funny post about cats doing the darndest things followed by pics of what you had for dinner. The comfort of community! And on the off chance that someone appears to churn up these placid waters and rock this perfect boat there’s the dreaded and ignominious “unfriend” button. And if worse comes to worst: “BLOCK”.
So it is with this mindset that we venture forth into the 2-D world of online dating. With the limitless horizon of the Internet before us we are at first overcome by the sheer expanse of possibilities. So many choices. Oh boy! A Denny’s All-You-Can-Eat Buffet! And unlike real life where we see people about whom we know absolutely nothing (except that they exist in space and time), in the online world we know practically everything about them. We know their biographies. We are offered extensive lists to peruse of their myriad likes and dislikes. And what could be better? After all, that person who just walked by in three-dimensions, we have no clue what kind of music she likes or what food she eats or that she is politically middle of the road or that she works hard and plays even harder and that her kids are her life and she loves to have someone make her laugh although she hates drama and sushi. Why would we even want to know that person? They are nothing to us, a blank space, whereas this woman we met online, OMG! We like so many of the same things and we are within each other’s acceptable age range and we like camping and skydiving and those little pics of her she posted are so attractive I just know we could be soulmates. So we send her a message and hope for a reply and when we don’t get one we’re disappointed, but then: “Who’s this?” we exclaim. Another woman appears and this one seems even more amazing! And world of wonders, she writes us back and we feel a connection that is undeniable. We exchange twenty emails and numerous texts a day, we talk on the phone for hours each night and we share everything about ourselves, but then two weeks go by and we realize we have yet to even meet for a cup of coffee. We broach the subject and she says that she is savoring this beginning between us, and we smile because we believe that we know this person better than we know our friends and family. After all, we don’t send our friends and family countless texts and emails each day, we don’t talk each night for hours on the phone about the deepest, most personal things. But then another week goes by and we still haven’t met and we broach the subject again, but this time she gets irritated. She says we’re rushing things; that we’re needy and clingy and we need to chill. And we’re put off and confused so we take a deep breath and decide to go on the offensive. We tell her (forcibly now) that it’s high time we meet. And she executes a tactical retreat and says there’s this thing with her kids this weekend (her kids are her life you know. It’s in her profile) and then her aunt is coming to visit from North Dakota and then there’s that work thing she has to attend and she has to get the aluminum siding pressure-washed and we realize that in real life, in three-dimensions, we are number 117 on her to-do list. Surely a potential soulmate would show a bit more enthusiasm, a tad more alacrity! So we try a flanking maneuver to surround her. This time we insist that we meet, and she sighs as if it were a fait accompli and she brings out the ultimate weapon: “This isn’t going to work,” she says. “Too much drama.” And with mouth agape we realize our defeat. And what had been innumerable texts, emails, and untold hours of phone chats becomes that painful, echoing, hollow void of being ghosted. Poof! Gone. Like that. “What just happened?” we ask ourselves, as three weeks of our life vanished.
And when our friends ask us, “How’s things with So-and-so?” we let out a deep sigh and tell the tale. “What a crazy person!” they say. And we nod in disappointment and then take a deep breath. Hope springs eternal, right? And we gather our forces and go once again unto the breach. Over the top through machine gun fire and mortars, snipers and poison gas, and this time we do meet on the dating minefield. We meet for dinner and it’s then that we fall into one of the many categories of what’s called “The Chinese Menu” of online dating (if I may mix my metaphors).
A. We see her and we think, “You don’t look like your pictures (in a bad way). How am I going to get out of this?”
B. She see us and she thinks, “You don’t look like your pictures (in a bad way). How am I going to get out of this?”
C. We see her and we think, “Meh.”
D. She see us and she thinks, “Meh.”
E. We see her and she sees us and we both think, “Meh.”
F. We see her and we think, “Yes! OMG! She’s ‘The One!’” but she thinks, “Meh.”
G. She sees us and she thinks, “Yes! OMG! He’s ‘The One!’” but we think, “Meh.”
H. We see her and we think, “Sorta Meh, but she DOES have a nice body. I wonder if she’ll be a f***buddy…”
I. She sees us and she thinks, “Sorta Meh, but he DOES have a nice body. I wonder if he’ll be a f***buddy…”
J. We don’t like her that much but we end up having a one-night stand that makes her feel sh***y the next day and she ends up thinking we’re a d*****bag.
K. She doesn’t like us that much but we end up having a one-night stand that makes us feel sh***y the next day and we end up thinking she’s a d*****bag.
L. We like her but we can’t really see ourselves falling for her in the long run so we date for a while and have a few laughs although in the back of our mind we’re still keeping our options opened. After all, “The One” might still be out there somewhere. There are new matches online everyday!
M. She likes us but she can’t really see herself falling for us in the long run so we date for a while and have a few laughs although in the back of her mind she’s still keeping her options opened. After all, “The One” might still be out there somewhere. There are new matches online everyday!
N. We see each other and we both think, “OMG! This is ’The One’!” And we start seeing each other and all we do is think about each other and everything seems amazing and we tell all our friends and we think about a future and we cancel our online dating membership and we become Facebook friends but then after a month or two we realize she’s actually an evil psychopath with Cluster-B Personality Disorder and we unfriend and block each other and then it’s back to the drawing board. (And of course this is just my personal experience and most likely not representative of the online dating experience as a whole.)
O. O is for Optimism! This is that once in a lifetime thing that just works out. Hey, I had that once, it could happen again! Dum spiro spero—while I breathe I hope…
P. P is for Probability. Unfortunately the odds are better at meeting a psychopath (another P) than the love of our life.
And it’s not that we can’t meet a psycho out in the world. It’s just that crazy people seem to gravitate to the online realm. And the thing that gets me is if someone says hello to us in real life we ignore them and mutter to ourself, “What’s up with that guy? Weirdo! Crazy person! Freak!” Disturbingly, we have become beyond guarded and downright suspicious of those we encounter in three-dimensions, whereas we’re willing to lend utter credulity to those we meet online, these people who may or may not even exist.
So with this in mind what is there to do? The world of online dating is the only game in town. It’s nearly impossible for two people to meet anymore in real life. My answer: I have no idea. But I do know that we are social creatures, we homo sapiens, we human beings. We need the community of others as friends, companions, lovers, and loved ones. We need the 3-D world, this place where we learn about each other in stages, in bits and pieces, where we see how we exist in space, how we occupy the space around us and how we move through life. And we realize that we are real human beings with all of our flaws and imperfections, not the idealized photoshopped representations of our online better selves, our 2-D personas looking for other 2-D personas. The problem, ultimately, is that sooner or later we have to make our way back to three-dimensions.