9.12.2006

Down the Rabbit Hole

From time to time, I wander through my computer-housed address book to remind myself of friends who have drifted into the creases of my mind. I fire off an email to say ‘hi’ or to set up plans.

But sometimes I hit upon an unknown name. Henry? Who the hell is Henry? No address, no email. Just a first name and a phone number.

Faced with this mystery man, I force myself to admit that I’ve been participating in far too much disconnected dating over the past few years, mostly courtesy of online introductions.

I started out as the typical Internet dating newbie, sheepishly typing out phrases like, ‘I never thought I’d be doing this…’ or ‘I’m just giving this a try…’ or ‘Just looking around…’ And I was polite, responding to every letter that came my way.

I’m sorry. I’m just not comfortable with the age difference,’ I wrote to the gentleman in the sixty plus category when I had just nudged across the border to forty. When he took offense, I offered up my single mother since she was closer to his age. That ended our communication quickly.

Over time, I grew frustrated.

To the one who explained he was on a strict schedule where he sat down to work at 6 p.m. and continued to work until dawn and slept most of the day, I explained, ‘I need to have some overlapping wakeful hours with my mate.’ He thought that our differing schedules would allow me plenty of undisturbed hours to write. I thought we’d never actually see each other while conscious.

Finally, I became unyielding.

I’m sorry. I fear death by traffic,’ I wrote to the man who lived more than sixty miles south of me, reachable only by the 405 Freeway, a freeway often referred to as ‘the parking lot’ amongst Los Angeles dwellers.

After four years of on and off Internet explorations – and still seeing many of the same faces I saw when I first embarked, which definitely qualifies as discouraging (which I’m sure is how others feel when they see my smirking mug) – I recognize that I’ve changed, transformed much like the rotting piece of fruit neglected in the bottom drawer of a refrigerator.

In analyzing my demise, I tally what I warmly refer to as…
“My First 13 Stages of Online Dating (with notable repeats)”…

1. Shame
2. Optimism and enthusiasm
3. Mini-affair disguised as possible relationship
4. Disappointment
5. Self-delusional pep talk and another attempt
6. Mini-affair
7. Disgust
8. Proclamation that I will never online date again
9. Dry spell and self-assured ‘this-time-it-will-be-different’ return via a new site
10. Mini-affair
11. Proclamation that I will never online date again
12. Dry spell and sheepish return to dating site
13. Major disappointment in form of bad dates, bad responses, no responses, any of the above
Peppered through all these phases are more dreadful dates than I care to admit, including the one who commented that he heard chewing sounds when I ate (I subsequently polled my friends who assured me the noise I make while eating falls into acceptable levels), the one who confessed suicidal tendencies over our first cup of coffee (I was only hung up on him on and off for three years), the one who expressed disappointment that I wasn’t taller (I seduced him via one extremely suggestive follow-up email), the one who was open to a relationship as long as we confined it to one night per week, and the one who sent me a lengthy caustic email following a date where I told him I didn’t think it would work between us.

I’ve blocked out many more. The heart and mind can only take so much. I admit I displayed poor judgment in many of the abovementioned examples, but hey, I’m only human.

Or I was.

I finally arrived at Stage 14 of online dating – The Evil Transformation.

I send the perky first email, which may lead to a couple back and forths. Sometimes a red flag sneaks in. Sometimes I get an impulse, an uncomfortable sensation.

And I disappear.

If we’ve met, I find a gentle way out. If we haven’t, I vanish. Without a word. Without warning. I disappear over little things. After a restorative night’s sleep when I awake with clarity realizing that I’m communicating with a guy I suspect I have nothing in common with, where there’s no attraction, no geographic opportunity to successfully achieve a relationship. I vanish due to common sense and due to no sense. I vanish in disgust and despair. I vanish because I can, with no repercussions, aside from witnessing my own decline in common decency.

I can’t help it. Really. I‘ve been pushed over the edge by too many false starts, too many false promises, too many misses. It all can make a relatively normal person go nuts.

Nonetheless, I apologize. I didn’t mean to become one of them.

One minute he was sending me ten emails a day. The next, he was gone. No explanation,” numerous friends have told me in variations of these words as I nod my head with understanding.

I hear the unexplained disappearance is the second most common complaint about Internet dating, trumped only by lying and the misleading photo, which I consider to be the same thing. Some justify the behavior as being part of the game, that the Internet is the Wild West. But by saying that, we just make room for a decline in civility.

And the thing is, as much as I can joke about the misconnections, poke fun at others’ behavior which is really a way of poking fun at myself as well, I see how this journey has hardened me, has made me feel a little less hopeful for connection. I see how when I slip from optimism to disappointment, I add a layer of armor to better protect me the next time around. Yet in adorning this armor, I also grow less sensitive to others’ feelings. I let my hurt justify my bad behavior.

I don’t want to be that person anymore. I’d rather slide through this life with irony and grace, maintaining a sense of decency. I'd rather be laughing. And if I ever – shoot me first – return to online dating, I pledge to better behavior, to not disappear, and to tell you about all my bad dates.

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8 comments:

Neil said...

Don't tell me that you work as a PR person for E-Harmony?

Although you do hear about some success stories, it is a little sad that so many people have such horror stories about "dating" online. On paper, it seems like a perfect way to get to know others without the stress of hanging out in bars. Maybe we should just go back to the old-fashioned arrangements by Yentl the matchmaker.

Spill The Beans said...

I actually liked online dating ALOT. But I was a chronic "fader." For the most part, I never put up a profile, but paid for a subscription and contacted the people I was interested in. Of course, a number of them faded on me (the worst was when a guy and I had a long e-mail exchange, then he requested a pic, I sent it, and never heard from him again). Ouch!

But to me, fading was what I liked, I never had to meet anyone face to face until i felt ready to do so. Coming off of infidelity, that distance allowed me to pace myself.

of course, i had bad dates. But I also met the chef online. ;) So, I guess it worked for us.

The trick, it seems like, to me, is to not take it too personally, to cut your losses as soon as you realize it isn't a good fit, to go out with a good variety of people, to realize that dating is a number's game and it can take time to find a match, and to have fun with it. The biggest thing, though, is to not do it so little that you never really catch the hang of it, or so much that you start to view the other gender as an eternal smorgasbord with yet another entree coming up every minute.

The people who worry me are the ones who do it month after month, year after year, and who get really, really jaded about dating that way.

Rrramone said...

Having never experienced it, I must say I find it (and your post) fascinating...

Stay positive. It's the only way. :-)

rachel said...

After boyf and i broke up for, I think, the third time, I tried it, then when we broke up finally recently, I logged on to see what had changed. The same faces were there, some 9 months later, the same people. I logged off in horror. Don't be demoralised, it's crap shoot after all

Eileen said...

I thought of leaving a post saying I was Henry and I was devasted that you forgot me, but couldn't pull it off. Thanks for coming by my site- Come back, frequently, bring a few friends....

Cover Your Mouth said...

You know that annoying adage about "it" happening when you're not looking? Somehow, I think it applies to online dating as well. I was on the Onion personals for about three months, met a couple one-daters, a couple four-daters with a makeout, and overall no one I'd ever introduce to my friends. Then J started emailing me and we talked on the phone and though I had proclaimed (even to him) that I would never date online again, I agreed to hang out as friends. So we did for about two months and then we made out. That was three years ago and we're still plugging along in the non-cyber world. If the Onion had the ad budget of Match.com or Eharmony, I'd sell our story for cash in a minute. I guess the moral of this comment is: don't give up on Internet dating completely, just keep your expectations low and you might get surprised. God, that's depressing. Sorry.

Spill The Beans said...

Hey, Dee Zee, in reference to what Cover says above, I ALSO met my boyfriend on the Onion personals (my personal ad was with nerve.com, his was with the onion, but the pools are merged, and also include members of bust.com). I'd try that site, I really really liked their style of personal ads.

ecm said...

The list was great!