My Fling With Online Dating

Clicking on the web page to the dating site felt like swinging a door wide open to a party where I recognize no one. It was a simultaneous rush of thrill and fear unlike any roller coaster. The adventure would be in the promise of meeting so many new people at once. Every connection a blank slate of opportunity! The fear? At least I’d know a roller coaster would be breathtakingly fun. Statistically, safe. I’d get off wanting more, glad I went on. But this? This was 100 percent unpredictable. It was anyone’s game and after being married for 28 years, I didn’t even know how to play it.

What bothered me the most? There was no telling how long that unpredictability would last. That’s the part that elicited dread in me. I wouldn’t ride a roller coaster forever, after all. There was something about the idea that I could be on this ride for a looooong time that was already making me nauseous.

To make matters worse, I was cruising TV channels last night to unwind before bed and just saw my first episode of “Snapped”; a lady and guy meet online and hit itfd off. (Encouraging!) They have seven amazing years together and then… the unthinkable. (Insert scared shitless emoji face).

I tell myself I am overthinking. Unpredictability is a hallmark of life. Risk is inherent in breathing, eating, getting in the car. Deb has been my best friend for as long as I can remember. She continues to caution me against entering the world of online dating.

One of the most famous psychology experiments of all time yielded the concept of schema; the idea that everything we experience is perceived in the framework of an endless amount of data which is accumulated from birth and stored in the subconscious. It acts as a reference point for the background knowledge we need to make an instantaneous decision. Malcolm Gladwell called it a “blink” decision. While we make it spontaneously, he suggests that it is entirely trustworthy. It is the brain’s “auto-pilot” version of how it thinks the world should work. This strategy is at the heart of online dating choices especially if you are anything like me and want to find Mr. Right sometime before you hit retirement. The volume of people looking for a partner online is unprecedented. The competition and the fact that many candidates participate in multiple sites mean racing against the clock is something of a given. 

Buyer Beware

If you are new to online dating, beware; you will get flooded with pictures of potential matches in your inbox. While that prospect may sound thrilling, of these dozens that pour in daily, you will get tired, even fed up.  After the novelty and excitement of potential romance becomes another chore of sifting through strange faces in a crowd- and reaching this point usually takes oh, about three days; you will sit unenthusiastically, your heart heavy with doubt, your chin requiring the support of your palm, your dominant hand pressing “decline” quicker than you toss away junk mail. You will click ceaselessly to find that needle in the haystack. The routine becomes habitual- almost addicting- and feels like a race that can be won only if you sift through enough portraits and arrive at the screen where that magical, fortuitous gaze stares back. 

You may be a purist at heart; you may be thinking that you’re not so superficial as to judge a book by its cover; you’re seasoned, focused and you know what kind of man you’re looking for. I agree with you 100 percent. It would be shallow, to have made it through the teenage years and still want to meet someone just because of their appearance, (Right?)

I dismissed so many because they looked too “perfect”, and it wasn’t strictly their face or physique, but an energy they conveyed. If appearances count for anything, “Stephen” was my type. He had this Ben Aflec look about him, chiseled jaw, brown eyes with a gaze just deep enough to look into your soul and convey, “I’ve been looking for you….” His  nose was proportionately perfect for his face, and the hair…! The dark locks were coiffed in such a way that it was not aiming for perfection- a stiff, every hair in place look, but it wasn’t trying too hard to look messy either. No, this stud had an air of, “I just roll out of bed this way baby”. And it was that energy, that message of perfectly imperfect that turned me off. Some profiles emit a vibe that is disingenuous and in that “blink” second when you fit rst lay eyes on the face, you sense it. This is the type of profile you may find yourself surprised to pass up, but pass by it you will because your schema has enough data to gauge who is real and who is faking it. 

The real ones just put themselves out there. They present themselves in the backdrop of their everyday lives, which is the most authentic thing any of us can do. While perusing my dating site, I came across a guy who appeared to be posed outside of his home. He stood near the entrance of a long windy driveway, a rustic, well-kept home behind him, a woodsy backdrop suggested a rural setting. (This, by the way, is my dream setting. I want to end up in the mountains.) But in an instant, the green light in my mind transformed to a flashing“Road blocked” sign when I noticed motorcycles perched around the house. Motorcycles are not in the “turned on” part of my schema.

Periodically, you’ll click too fast. In your haste, you’ll realize that you just absentmindedly dismissed an attractive one, but unless you caught his screen name-and even that isn’t always a guarantee- you’ll most likely never find him again out there in the populous of cyberspace. And when you’re deciding whether to give up for the day or for good, up pops Albert Einstein; the guy whose first impression is so offbeat that he renews your spirit, adds some comic relief. This experience makes you feel o.k. about the $30 bucks the site charges every month because it is incredulous to you that this guy is for real. 

How Albert Einstein Saved My Online Dating Search

“Al” was a lifesaver, a genuine incentive for me to continue my search, a distraction. Not only did this guy have a genuine resemblance to Einstein, (in and of itself funny), but it looked as though someone tried to “update” the icon by flat-ironing his hair!! He was the muse I needed to continue. He took the gravity out of the reality; I was 50, divorced, and didn’t even know how to give a hand job! 90% of the faces who were bobbing around in my “carousel” looked scary as hell. The Doors song, “People Are Strange”, kept echoing in my head. The other five percent I tried to rationalize…  the other five? They were nice-looking, wrote witty remarks, some even texted me nice messages; so, why didn’t they fit my schema”? Why was my instinct to “X” them out? …

What I had going for me was sheer determination which derived from the fact that the clock was ticking-and fucking louder than ever- if crows feet were any indication. If I was ever to follow through with an absurd idea, now was the time. 

What’s in a name?

I click onward and come face to face with “Droopy”; he didn’t even include a profile picture so…what girl would be curious enough to open that one??! What sends a stronger first impression than a name? Just check these out: Hellomyonegodgodess; (WTF?) ReallyWitty; (and you have to tell me that??) The Nerdest; (did he mean Nerdiest, or just Nerd?? Aren’t nerds good spellers, in general?) Disco Biscuit; (thanks but I won’t be taking a bite), Humble (no pic-aka “Ugly”, (sorry-not-sorry be transparent!); Outdoors1, (looks like he hasn’t gotten off the couch in years.) MexicanoCrazy; (decide for yourself); CovertlyChill; (gonna use this one when teaching oxymorons in my English class next year…is he hyper and hiding his chill underneath all the energy?? Whaaaa???) Along with the last contradiction, Renaissance Caveman…; TripleDogDareYou; (Hmmm…he either loves the movie A Christmas Story a little too much, or he’s had such a tough time getting a date; either way not looking good!)

There is always the cop-out of taking the dating site name for the screen name, which just screams creativity and wit, doesn’t it? “AZooskMember”; there were of course several with this handle. The one in particular that made me chuckle literally looked like Buddha! Imagine, Buddha or Jesus on match.com…

“Surfandturf” is next. The image of these two words evokes a rugged type; am I right? This guy was literally dressed like an FBI agent in his picture, and not a sexy one, like men in black with a tailored suit, skinny tie and wayfarers, or James Bond in a tux and bow tie; No, he was more like  Inspector Gadget without his raincoat. Next emerged “LittleMac”. Now I’ll apologize for the references my schema offered here but just picture gang member, rapper or… both?  Next in line: “gr8guy4u”; well if you have to tell me that…? Still, I press on.

“PizzaMan1” Is he going to night school? Wait, this guy is in the 45-50 age range AND he looks high in his picture! My face transforms to the emoji with frightened eyes.

When I think I’ve seen it all when up pops up a guy who took his profile pic in a public bathroom mirror. ???? Was this the place he just mustered up the courage to finally take that selfie and make his account? Really? NO better ideas or places you visit than this? I pause on his screen because I am trying to decide whether or not I feel sorry for him. Then I decide I am defeated for another day; dating site 1, Sandi 0. When I get an unexpected spark to press the “next” button one last time, I am treated to an image I never knew I’d see: a man making duck lips in his picture! I didn’t even note his name because I was so taken aback by the shot. I never knew a man to make kissing lips for a photo. I’m confronted with my own naivete

The merry-go-round of faces and names was beginning to feel more like a harrowing ride through a haunted house. The ridiculous personas created the giggles on this ride, and when it was least expected, a startling image would pop up and create that downhill shriek! 

Consider “ BadBoy” . I’ve no trouble with the name as a parody, but the guy actually looks like someone you’d never want to meet in a dark alley at night; scared the shit out of me, which brings up the obvious fact that hey, these are strangers, after all. And every once in a while on this quest, I can hear my mother’s voice echoing, reminding me that while this is ultimately a noble pursuit, I have to have my wits about me. Let’s admit it, we will be choosing someone, based on how they look in their picture and appear in their description. And while a picture may paint a thousand words, the image may, in fact, be a lie. 

And then there was Lenny.

“Free Spirit, Old Soul. Architecture, interior design, fine carpentry. Working with my hands. *Beach and mountains like everyone on here *

The most noticeable thing from his thumbnail picture was his high white hair. “Lenny”. His name evoked images from that novel we had to read in high school. I wouldn’t expect much from a “Lenny”. My 10th grade English teacher’s voice echoed in my mind; “Although Lennie is among the principal characters in Of Mice and Men, he is perhaps the least dynamic.”  Something baited me to click open the profile anyway; lo and behold, his Hemingway persona had a certain charm to it; chiseled bones framed by a manicured beard and jovial eyes…his words were sweet and direct:

San Diego. Baja California, carne asada burritos, fishing, golf, standup jetski. My intelligent pets. Any kind of animal and Vermont!”

So there is hope.

Changing Seasons

NHTSA issues school bus safety warning | Three60 by eDriving

     The bus I rode to school had a Mickey Mouse face painted on the front of it. I can still see the iconic grin and the roaring yellow transport which screeched to a halt where I waited on the corner of Park Avenue every morning. I was nine then. Life felt like a chaotic ride on a merry-go-round; flashes of faces were either smiling at me, chattering, or chastising. They ushered me in this direction or that. It was and still is quite a blur, but certain scenes are frozen in my memory like a paused video screen. One is the image of that gargantuan bus looming at me as I stood before its belching doors, alone and vulnerable on my street against a backdrop of changing seasons. Another is a beehive of activity at school one morning in late spring. In my mind’s eye, the classroom is monochromatic; the only distinct details are rows of colorless desks and a carpet where children gather around the teacher at the start of class.

     A dozen or so students rush about; I’m guessing we were putting lunch boxes away. “Where’s Bobby?” Deanna Standring demanded. (She was the one that tricked me into showing my underwear to her on the bus.) Her keen inquiry was probably fueled into investigation by the whispers of  adults who came and went.  Once on the carpet, our teacher went through her usual routine, but her sweetness was tinged with uncertain eyes and a guarded tone. She told us delicately that Bobby wasn’t in class today but was sure to be back on Monday.

     Later that evening Debbie Cahill and I had a sleepover. As the sun faded into dusk, we each lay in a twin bed on her second floor drifting in and out of ramblings like the curtains that swelled and fell with the breeze. The open windows framed the tops of the trees in the woods across the street. More vivid is the muffled refrain to which we finally fell asleep that warm spring night. “Baaaaaah-bby……..Baah-by.  Bobby?” A chorus of intermittent voices rang out. Tree limbs swayed violently in response like arms flagging some signal. This is the calm which lulled me to sleep that warm, spring night in 1977. I’d wake up the next day, naive, ignorant, playful… but Bobby never did.