The topic came up a few weeks ago, when a friend mentioned he met his last wife and current, very foxy girlfriend via online personals. I was stunned that the flirtatious, compelling, mischievous fellow who befriended me on the Metra platform would need or choose to sift through profile pages for a date. At any rate, the pump was primed, the process legitimized and the assignment timely. Sure, what the hell? I’ll give it a shot.
I logged in, agonized over a photo and headline (odd, considering this was just for kicks) and jotted a few notes on the personality test administered by the site. What struck me most was how clinical the whole process was; after determining my personality type—incidentally, a more accurate measure than my astrological sign or the free online Briggs-Meyers tests I was hooked on two years ago—I indicated the desirability of certain traits and habits on grids and slide rules. This was scientifically calibrated navel-gazing—even the color scheme of the site was institutional white.
It seemed like things would get a lot less sexy from there. The service provides a handful of suggested matches each day. If I wished to contact another single (does that word make anybody else think of cheese?), he would receive an email with a link to my profile. If he returned interest we each would go through another battery of questions, some generated by the site, some provided by us (should we choose), further refining our personal interests, life goals and so on. Pass level two and you move on to level three: direct email contact. If that goes well, the couple may meet—at a designated public place the service would help select via the patented First-Meet system—and the rest, as they say, was up to fate. My five matches popped up. At the bottom of each profile I was asked, “So, are you feeling the HEAT?” Beneath, another slide rule, indicating temperature.
I thought about how my boyfriend and I started dating (sorry gents, this was strictly research-based). How I first met him in a group, through friends. How I didn’t have the nerve to say a word to him that night but thought of him with groundless excitement for days. How I’d gotten his number from a mutual friend and cold-called him. How (on the unbelievably sound advice of the friend mentioned in paragraph one) I called him a second time when he hadn’t responded. How, when he called back, I lost sensation in my limbs for hours. How all this makes a fairly good story. And how absent that personal tale was from this process. What do you tell your friends? “I’m a Negotiator/Explorer and he’s a Negotiator/Builder, so we should have engaging conversations. That is, if the Relationship Essentials line up and we make it to First-Meet.” Why had this approach to finding romance caught on?
The next day, I opened my email and there it was: the reason—the swaddling electronic embrace of assurance, the unique validation bequeathed by the mirrored room that is the Internet. In twenty hours, twice as many men had expressed interest in me. The subject line assaulting my in-box like spam: Toms, Jasons, Wills, Brians, Jeffs, one Bruce, even an Arvo, all interested in me! The dating site seemed very excited on my behalf; each announcement came with an equally enthusiastic exclamation point at the end. I didn’t want to look at any of the profiles, just envision this mob of dashing men anxiously awaiting my reply. Scrolling through my in-box, I felt flattered and, yes, desirable.
But it didn’t take long for the anxiety of confluence to set in. Okay, so forty-two…wait…forty-three guys were interested in me, but how does that stack up against the averages? Facebook had me programmed to understand virtual human contact as a quantitative measure. Should I have chosen certain buzzwords to attract traffic to my profile? Can I run analytics on this please? I was clearly as technically and temperamentally ill-suited to online dating as I am to blogging, tweeting and any number of unpleasant-sounding Internet-based activities. I wish you luck and love in your search gentlemen; my profile comes down today. (Sharon Hoyer)
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