Internet dating with dignity and other masterpieces of fiction (Part I)

It’s hard to come up with excuses for having a profile on a dating web site when “I would like a boyfriend” is not an option. And make no mistake, “I would like a boyfriend” is not an option. Besides flying in the face of smug coupled friends’ advice (which is sometimes “it happens when you’re least expecting it” but also sometimes, “you’re not trying hard enough,” and at times when you’re my 92-year-old grandmother, “YOU’RE TOO PICKY”), the admission of loneliness is, like bitterness, an unspeakable liability in singles markets online and off. If you’re going to cop to being anything less than breathlessly, garrishly “SINGLE AND HAPPY,” — a whole and complete person who loves herself and has mastered every manner of self-amusement and fulfillment — you may as well bring your selections for wedding cake flavors and invitation fonts to your first (and last) dates.

So when someone asks “Why do you have a profile?” it’s a long road around the socially unacceptable truth. I do a lot of bargaining with my infinitely divisible amount of finite dignity. It’s like Zeno’s Arrow, always traversing half of a half of a half of a half of the space between a bow and target. Once I’ve halved my thimble of dignity with some form of participation, there is still more to be parsed. And half of that to be parsed as well: Well I don’t really sign on often. Well I do but only to check messages. I don’t really reply to the messages. Except when I do, and…

I used to be fortunate because the internet-dating service which I have been on and off for a long time didn’t start off as a dating site. It started off as a humor site, features of which included the “Stinky Meat Project” and “Deliver the Dis” (yes this is my mature-adult defense), educational features and eventually, personal ads. But it has been years since it was anything but a dating web site and I’m back to stammering an answer to the question that always feels two parts inquiry and, until the stigma of online dating disappears completely, one part accusation: In the parlance of 80s teen films, what’s your damage?

Now my defense is what I call the Ron Popeil: My internet dating profile is merely a counter-top rotisserie popularized in infomercials on whose spits I set my chicken and forget about my chicken. What does it hurt to have one out there, especially when it’s free? FREE?! My god, can any of us really afford not to have an internet dating profile in this economy? I worked in high-end grocers long enough to know that people help themselves to far more shameful things than the promise of romance, if they’re not paying for it. Not that I want to liken my reasons for having a dating profile to those people who greedily devour a sample pizza of hotdogs, barbecue sauce, and blueberries; but somehow even stating that I’m simply answering the siren song of free stuff feels less shameful than admitting loneliness.

Unfortunately, even free things have a price. Just as sample foods on the last day of their code may give you heartburn (or worse), having an internet dating profile, which seems so often to be as innocuous as perusing a people catalog, can cause heartache. The online dating mythos has always implicated daters as having a flaw that relegates them to the domain of nerds who, at least socially, can’t function in the real world. Women are often assumed by men to be fatter and older than they appear in their carefully vetted glamour shots, and men are assumed (by me) to be shorter and less emotionally accessible. And even if not everyone who has a profile is too unattractive to be approached in traditional flesh-and-blood situations, the dynamic of online dating has unique complications that render attractive (maybe?) people unlikely candidates for anything more than a fun few rounds of drinks.

My observation (as a heterosexual woman) has been that online dating is a true example of an attempt at creatio ex nihilo: The creation of something from nothing. Whereas traditional relationships begin through mutual acquaintances, clubs, hobbies, academics, profession, or some other type of pre-existing investment (no matter how scant), online dating is the attempt to wave a wand at and enliven two straw dolls wearing only the clothes and scents and airs of the romantically viable.

Having apparently failed to exhale this divine breath of life into any of the dates I’ve been on, my presence in online dating remains active. And, for who knows how long, I will be stuttering explanations about my singleness and hope and desire. Why do it? Well, unlike my presence at a bar, it does not require that I wear pants. Pants are a total drag and I have long felt the further I can get without them, the better. And having fully conflated it with the idea of a Ron’s counter-top rotisserie: A mouthwatering, fully cooked liaison is only a few lazy turns on the spits away.

So why not?

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