After filing for divorce a year ago and facing the harsh realization that I was not going to find any potential dates in the carpool line or at my local Whole Foods Market, I took the plunge and did something that every fiber of my being resisted.
I joined a dating website.
As I attempted to write my profile, I felt stumped by the basic questions. List your favorite local hotspots. Hotspot? The last “hot spot” I went to was the Limelight in Greenwich Village. It was 1992 and I was a freshman at NYU.
I don’t go to hotspots.
I schlep my children to karate and gymnastics, and in my free time I go to yoga and farmers markets. In fact, if I had the time, desire, or energy to go to “local hotspots” I wouldn’t be paying to be on this site!
As I posted pictures of the sexy, carefree, smiling version of myself, I tried to ignore the nagging feeling that shopping for romantic partners online is just wrong. No matter how common Internet dating has become, there is something so dehumanizing and demoralizing about the whole process.
But everyone, from my dad to my bikini waxer, urged me to ignore my trepidations and go for it. It’s the way things are done now.
Some time has passed, and I’ve had online interactions with more men than I’d like to admit, but getting things to progress to an in person meeting is rare. Most puzzling are the men who send poetic, reflective, witty emails that indicate they’ve pored over every detail of my profile. Their messages stand out from the masses of grammatically challenged and wimpy notes stating, “Your hot” (the typo left in for demonstration purposes, here), or “Hi, how are ya?”
Initially, I found their messages refreshing and exhilarating. Every hour, I’d click refresh and another enchanting sonnet would appear in my inbox.
“After reading your profile, I must admit I’m already in love with you. May I call you?” wrote an art professor who could’ve been Richard Gere’s twin.
“Sure,” I replied with my number.
Two weeks passed with no call. WTF? How is it possible to get dumped by a man I’ve never met?
Then I noticed a pattern emerging. A Cedars Sinai radiologist professed, “You’re like the beautiful butterfly that’s only been admired but never understood. I want to understand you.”
The Hollywood mogul wrote, “You are captivating. Please release me from the agony of not getting to experience you in person.”
The sexy firefighter exclaimed, “You’re ravishing and brilliant. After months on this site, I finally found my match! I need to meet you.”
But even this man who spends his days risking life and limb as a fireman couldn’t summon up the courage to pick up the damn phone.
Is it possible that the technological version of me is so gratifying that meeting me in person is unnecessary?
Or perhaps after a brief online interaction, these men have already gone through the entire cycle of a romantic relationship. In their minds, they’ve met me, courted me, fallen in love with me, made love to me, fallen out of love with me and moved on?
Or maybe it’s just a sport for them, with the end goal being the accumulation of numbers from women rather than an actual relationship?
Then it hit me: for these men, online dating is emotional porn.
They can effortlessly generate frothy emotion about a woman based on a few photos and a perfectly spun essay. After a few emails, they have a virtual girlfriend with zero accountability or emotional risk. It’s emotional masturbation for the emotionally challenged, insecure, little boys who I’ve come to believe dominate the online dating realm.
Even more interesting is the profiles of such men, which often contain that ubiquitous list of attributes including, “Down to earth, chivalrous generous, kind, passionate, tremendous integrity and character, extremely genuine, good communicator, great listener, low maintenance, plus a rare combination of artistic and corporate, secure and confident.”
This self-aggrandizing litany often concludes with something like, “Making a difference in the world in a positive way is important to me.”
Any time a man offers a shopping list of saint-like attributes on his profile, I immediately assume he is the polar opposite, because I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve met who truly embody the above mentioned qualities.
Furthermore, those who do possess such traits would rather chop off a limb then boast about them on an online dating service. So when I read, “loyal” I think, “cheater.”
And “chivalrous” equals “scumbag.”
But for the sake of research, I reached out the Richard Gere-esque art professor and sent the following message: “After our email exchange, I looked forward to speaking with you. I’m curious why you never called. I’d love to know what happened. I would appreciate your candor. I’m experiencing the phenomenon of men expressing interest in emails and then never following through with a phone call frequently on this site. I’m really curious what it is all about. Thank you.”
His immediate response: “Beguiling Jennifer… my apologies, my youngest just graduated. May I phone you this evening?”
“Absolutely!” I replied, wondering if I got it all wrong and he was actually a mensch who made a mistake.
Alas, that was over a week ago.
But then again, I should’ve read his profile more carefully, which contained promises of “emotional availability,” “compassion” and “honesty,” and known that there is no way in hell he would’ve had enough human decency to follow through on a commitment to make a simple phone call.
In a few days, my membership will end, and the jury is out if I’ll renew it or go back to trying to meet men the old fashioned way. I might even venture out to some of my “local hotspots” —if I can decipher what the means and where they exist.
But if all else fails, I know I can rely on the cute checker at Whole Foods to look me in the eye and smile when he says, “Thank you for bringing your reusable bags today.”
This very well may be the only authentic compliment I’ll receive from a man all day.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Wikimedia Commons