Dating is a mess. It can sometimes feel as if a big gob of conflicting and tentacled emotions have attached to us, twisting their ways around the mechanisms of common sense, squeezing out any rational thought. We humans can sometimes confuse that inner fluttering of intuition—telling us to run—for something more like the excitement that comes in those first stages of love. We confuse sudden increases in libido with loneliness and seek out relationships when all we need is a quick and satisfying roll in the proverbial hay. We make assumptions and demands, ask too many questions right away and very often end up disillusioned.
Online dating is supposed to make this all easier. Lists of deal-breakers and quirks and expectations should filter out those who are better suited far away from us, in places like frat houses, jail, NRA conventions, church. Accompanying photographs show us whether the person is tall enough, stylish enough, happy enough, adventurous enough or creative enough to take out in public or to procreate with. Online dating should be awesome. But really, it’s not.
After years of reluctance around answering personals in the back pages of my local alt-weekly while humming the desperately awful “Piña Colada/Escape” song, I finally embarked on my first blind date years ago with a guy I met through Friendster.
Joe, as I’ll call him here (because I can’t actually remember—or have mentally blocked—his name) lived in Berkeley, owned his own house, collected art and was well-traveled. Most importantly, he had good politics and was easy on the eyes. He could construct clever sentences and our online correspondence was lively and interesting. Our first phone conversation was brief, as we decided we’d save all of the “good stuff” for our coffee date the following week.
We met in a nearby town that neither of us frequently visited. As I walked into the cafe I knew in an instant that we weren’t a match. All of my hopeful expectations disintegrated as he immediately launched a verbal attack against his ex-girlfriend, non-vegans and old people, while complaining of his hearing loss; the result of too many nights behind the turntable at Oakland raves. His whole body had a mild shake to it, a possible side effect of his high volume caffeine consumption or his unprocessed rage toward the world. “Now that I don’t drink anymore, I am pretty miserable and tend to over-caffeinate,” he scowled. Dude never smiled. He never made eye contact. And he didn’t even open the door for me as we walked out to say goodbye on the street.
“Look, if you’re not interested that’s fine, I don’t care. Just don’t lead me on and play games,” he warned in a tone that was a little intense for a first date. I’m pretty sure he had body parts in the trunk of his car.
I never saw or heard from Joe again.
Viewing my date with Joe as a fluke, as just one weathered stepping stone on my path to love, I put myself out there again. And again.
Interested in dating outside the incestuous circle of my smallish town, my naïvety and I moved on to seeking potential matches in other cities through the more straightforward and expansive world of Craigslist. I’d answer ads after using very specific search words like “activism”, “reading”, “travel”, “PJ Harvey”. And as a general rule I would avoid any post with 420, FWB, XBOX, STD or “Asian under 25yo ONLY” etched somewhere into the headline. I also hid from men who posted NO DRAMA OR GAMES in their ad titles, as the ads were not only poorly written but often contained self-portraits snapped in seedy hotel bathrooms or photos of shirtless, waxed, yolked-up bros flexing next to red Kawasakis. This, of course is fine for some women. I just tend to prefer my men a tad bit less douchey and maybe posing with a book, rescue animal or on assignment with National Geographic instead. Also, for my own physical well-being, I avoid the intense cologne situation I assume these guys have going on. I also steer clear of NSA, which is not short for NASA scientist. What it really means is, A) Lives with parents so you can’t sleep over, or B) Lives with girlfriend/wife so you can’t sleep over.
A friend experienced in online dating reminded me that on the other end of the spectrum, men who say they are into “healthy living” usually show up at a first date wearing orange Turkish birthing pants. And beaded vests. Craigslist has no happy medium.
Aside from skimming the Men Seeking Women section and exploring my interest in dating women (I was usually only contacted by men named Chad and Robbie who wanted to watch two women having sex), I even cruised through the Missed Connections section. You know, sometimes I’d get “the eyes” at a bar or bookstore or something and I’d look to see if said flirt was missing me. But, as I’ve learned through the years, no one ever posts Missed Connections that read:
Seeking the funny, smart mom with confusing hair, carrying two pounds of nutritional yeast and a case of coconut water through Oliver’s Market while arguing with her children about her decision to purchase the non-dairy ice cream instead of the carton of Breyers that they wanted. I bet you have a great personality. Let’s chat!
So, despite Eddie Murphy’s rendition of Buckwheat’s “Wookin Pa Nub” tapping in the back of my mind, reminding me of the absurdity of what I was doing, I moved on to the big leagues.
Joining OK Cupid felt like cracking open a big, wonderful piñata packed full of new and spectacular party favors. The site was bursting with men and women from all walks of life, paired together with their most compatible matches through some kind of genius, super power rating system. The search engine allows users to seek out potential mates within specific parts of the world, within specific age ranges and even lets users select height, astrological signs and income range to weed out the crazy Scorpios, Capricorns and Pisces in the mix.
At first, the possibilities seemed endless. There was the writer who I became good friends with. The radical political science professor who took my friend and I out for drinks and dancing. The MIT graduate turned chef with great taste in music who burned me the perfect hip-hop mixed CD. And my personal favorite, the celibate South Asian vegan Buddhist film maker who I think I accidentally married at an ashram while receiving rose water blessings and hugs from my guru. Our first date consisted of meeting at a natural food store to nosh on wheat-free organic treats from its cafe before moving on to skip rocks along a remote southern tip of the San Pablo Bay. Last I heard, he was expelled from a monastery, planning to sell his few belongings in order to move to a secluded island north of Japan, where he would bake bread and isolate himself from the temptations of the material world. We made a pact on our platonic wedding night, he and I: we will never taint our bond by marrying atheists or republicans.
It was all fun and games in the beginning. Then things went downhill, fast.
Aside from the awkwardness of spotting exes or friends on OK Cupid, there was the ex-boyfriend who created a fake profile, contacting me up to five times in a twelve-hour period in order to coax me into… something. The really angry, high-needs single dad who wrote me a scathing email when I didn’t take his call while at work. The jerk who called me an ugly, self-involved bitch—via text message—for canceling our date to stay home with my sick kid. Another Buddhist-slash-intellectual with no sense of humor who constantly told me how much he hated white people. And the endless string of men who’d solicit dates while posting pictures of recent romantic vacations with their girlfriends on their Facebook pages (note to dudes: we all have access to Google). They all appeared flawless on OK Cupid’s big pink screen. Yet aside from most of them being gainfully employed as college professors or artists, the common thread woven tightly through them all was the serious lack of commitment. I’m not just talking commitment as in none of them wanted to move in with me and raise my kids and pay my bills, I’m talking about the constant flakiness, the inability to make a decision about where to meet, the consistent blowing off, changing plans or canceling at the last minute. And the double dipping! If your significant other doesn’t know, you can’t call it polyamory!
I know, I know, men have complaints, too! What I’ve learned is that aside from lipstick-smeared duckfaces, one male friend says his biggest peeve is that most of the women claiming to be down to earth are the neediest, most high maintenance chicks out there. Also, men aren’t usually looking for a “partner in crime”.
“But the fun and appeal of online dating,” says yet another male friend at a recent impromptu online dating roundtable discussion, “is that its not supposed to work!”
Despite knowing a small handful of couples who have found their little sweetie coochie-coos online, I think that maybe this friend is right. Maybe just like everything else in my generation, online dating is just one of the many avenues through which to fulfill a quick, insecurity-fed need for validation. OMG he totally OK Cupid-winked at me! I’m pretty! Or I’ve got so many chicks online, dude, you don’t even fucking KNOW. Maybe it’s just there for the countless thousands of newly single men and women to find easy rebound sex. Or maybe it’s a combination of things. Throwing all of the eligible members of the annoyingly laid back west coast Slacker Generation into a website that feels like a big, silly video game full of sex questions might simply intensify the already apathetic, non-committal vibe that any of these factors alone are already saturated with. It’s too much gunk to wade through, too many crossed signals to pick apart and interpret, too many greasy dudes on Kawasakis and not enough smarties cozied up with helpless little rescue animals.
Or maybe, quite possibly, it’s just me.