#46 About Online Dating

Once upon a time people read New York Magazine’s personal ads for fun. One guy in our office entertained us by reading them and explaining the underground language. Like “professional woman” probably didn’t mean lady lawyer. But generally that magazine section was the granddaddy resource in the NE for dating.

In the late 80’s after I’d been on my own for a while I tried those ads. It was a clumsy experience of renting a PO box, scurrying to check it every day.  I don’t think I ever advanced to talking to anyone on the phone.

Jump ahead decades after being on my own yet again. I took the technological leap that so many had done before me. It was advertised as the more common way to meet. So I researched which online service would be oh so right for me. For this unattached writer, region of the country wasn’t a priority. I was pretty close (I thought) to selling a screenplay that I was told would buy me that little house on the beach in Oregon. So either coast was preferred, but not necessary.

I looked at the two major dating sites. Just seemed that there might be some sort of logic behind one. Okay EHarmony.

Here’s the drill. First there was a personality test, supposedly for that perfect match. Then I picked my favorite activities. That’s a tough one because at a certain age, it seems to be mostly what you used to do.

Then I had to describe myself. What adjectives would I use? What came to mind was “loyal as a bird dog” but it’s a Katharine Hepburn line. I would have liked a man who knew that. I don’t remember what I put but I’m dead certain I didn’t do much to sell myself and was resenting having to do any of this.

Then there were pictures. I’ve run from cameras since I was able to move without falling down. As a toddler there are mostly pictures of the back of my head. As an adult, and I’m not proud of this, I seriously threatened to break cameras if they were aimed at me. There are so many evil things I could hate in this world and don’t. But I do hate pictures of me.

I found some from the 80’s. This was about oh mid 2,000’s. How much could I have changed? I was playing golf with a friend and he agreed to take an up to date snapshot. I had my hair doing close to what I wanted it to do. Only he waited until after the 18th hole on a hot day and my hair was doing nothing anyone would want it to do. My expression was anguish, pain and the rosy glow was sweat. At least it was recent. I also found a super cute picture of me at about three in a snowsuit. But they rejected that. They had standards. I did put up one photo of me from my one and only skydive. That’ll show them who I am. Then I clicked enter.

Have you ever seen the movie War Games, when they’re in the war room and the computer is out of control and about to blow up the world? Well that’s how fast the email activity happened. There’s a whole lingo attached. The activity has words like winks or nods. I guess that means they’re sort of interested if you’re sort of interested, but only if you’re sort of interested at exactly the same time that they’re sort of interested. Like how men try to find out if you’d go out with them, but they want to know first if you would go out with them before they ask you to go out with them, so they never ask you and then consider you an unapproachable bitch.

All this winking, blinking and twitching goes through the EHarmony dating site.  And that leads to emailing through the site. Assuming you’ve winked or twitched at the same time.

I read all the warnings. Some of the excellent rules include never give your actual email. Never give your name until absolutely ready. And if you want to email outside the service, get an additional email account for only this purpose. Never give your home phone number. If you progress to talking on the phone, and frankly voice is important, then use a mobile phone, which you could, if necessary, cut off contact with a weirdo by smashing it with a sledgehammer or throwing it into the river. If you progress toward meeting, meet in a public place. And never meet for more than one hour the first time.  Also buy a wig and a mask. No, I added that.

So it started. Winking began, I replied. I think that for the first round there were a few required questions back and forth. Now say you get 20 or 30 or 40 of these a day. It becomes your life. And I was determined to be polite. I wouldn’t dare just ignore someone.  I was sleep deprived.

A lawyer in Florida did his required questions of me, which were absurd. Not funny ironic absurd. He asked if I were a sandwich what kind would I be? I wrote something sarcastic back and he wrote that I was without a doubt the stupidest woman he’d ever known.

There was someone near here who was eager to meet. And when I tried to follow the rules, he was more eager and downright scary.

I emailed a guy for a while from Montana. A musician/construction worker.  I think he mostly did construction. He seemed laid back, a free spirit. So laid back he was slurring his words on the screen if that’s possible.

There was a guy in Baltimore, about an hour and 15 minutes from here who said I was out of my mind if I thought he’d travel that far to meet me. He went to the trouble to write that.

There was a nice guy from D.C.. We wrote back and forth for a while, then progressed to the phone. He was smart and had a great job and was approaching retirement. And was a teensy hard of hearing. We agreed to meet halfway in Gettysburg. Though we didn’t have the chemistry required, we kept in touch and shared our stories. I encouraged him to write his down, because he’d been at this for a long time.

I borrowed part of one of his stories for a screenplay. He had advanced to talking with one woman he kept inviting for jazz concerts. Finally she wanted to meet for a last minute dinner. He agreed. But it turned out to be a big family gathering. He was seated across from her at a long table. And after a few drinks she stood up at about 6 feet (He was about 5’7”). She, covered in snake tattoos from neck to toe, reached over the table and planted a sloppy kiss on the guy. Then she ignored him. Turned out her ex-husband was there and she just wanted to piss him off. Men have stories too.  He was a nice man and some women were really mean. He moved to Florida. We exchanged Christmas cards for a while.

Back to my search. At first it’s kind of fun, in spite of the snarky guys. There’s that little attention thing that goes on. Tiny possibilities.

For a while I wrote back and forth with a man who was a sheriff in Colorado, or something official. He was sweet. And if there’s one quality I finally need in a man it’s kindness and he seemed capable of that first of all. I don’t remember if we advanced to the phone. It doesn’t take long to fall off the rule list and use your own email because remembering to check another account gets to be a drag. Then you forget, and you piss people off because you haven’t responded. Colorado was going to be in New York, which is an easy trip for me. But he never made that happen. He was very shy about his appearance. Maybe he was just doing this for some sort of pretend dating. Many do. Maybe he was in jail. Some are.

I was out in California and Washington that summer so arranged to meet a pilot on my way north. He showed up in dirty shorts and some race track t-shirt. Now I wasn’t dressed like Princess Grace but I made a tidy effort. He talked about all his campers (I’m fine with that) and his machine shop (fine with that too, my father was a machinist). I was driving up to Port Angeles, and he offered to fly his plane up there and take me to the San Juan Islands for lunch. I had never done that and was tempted. But being in a small plane at 10,000 feet with a total stranger didn’t seem so smart. Of course I never heard from him again.

On that trip I talked with the humorous German contractor who lived on Vancouver Island. It’s just a ferry ride to Port Angeles to meet. He made no effort.

Then there were two others from out west. One had homes in both Nevada and California, a retired pilot. There is a pilot theme because I never quite got my own license. His emails were delightful, self-deprecating and glib. Qualities I appreciate. He made me chuckle. But the pictures he posted were all from a distance. He looked trim compared to his giant van, but what did he look like? I asked for more of a close up.

All my friends married for 30 or a hundred years, were fascinated by this process. So one friend was with me when his new picture arrived. It was one of those giant photos that fills the screen with anticipation from the top down, and when it got to his face we both gasped. He was trim and not bad looking at all, but he had what we could only describe as a snaggle tooth. I was not deterred. His emails were so delightful.

He and I advanced to talking and he, the former pilot, arranged to fly out and meet me and visit his childhood home in New Jersey. (Reading this you should be seeing red flags right now. Remember the rules?)

So he flew into Newark where we would meet. He reserved separate rooms at a hotel that I had a miserable time finding. We had dinner where he brought a bottle of wine all the way from California. It’s possible I may have asked if he thought they didn’t sell wine in New Jersey.  

The next day I was driving him to his childhood home and to the graves of his parents. We were meeting for breakfast in the morning. But instead he wanted to get on the road. He was annoyed when I stopped at a drug store for a cookie.

When I was about 23 I learned to drive in New York in rush hour traffic. It’s second nature. But his knuckles were white and he kept fake braking and holding on to the overhead handle.

After many mishaps we found his childhood home and I urged him to knock on the door. Most of the time people are thrilled to meet anyone who grew up in their house. Ridiculous he said and nearly ran back to the car. I remained cheerful.

I drove him to the cemetery, more mishaps finding it. Then we drove past his prep school. He had not warned me that none of this held happy memories. This was a drive down nightmare lane. His was a “conflicted “childhood. The humorous guy I had corresponded with was still out west and he sent Mr. Cranky Pants instead.

Then I was driving us into Manhattan. It was a different way into town than I knew but I managed. You just point toward the really tall buildings. When I changed lanes he screamed (I’m not kidding) that I was trying to kill him. I remained cheerful.

He had reserved rooms in a downtown hotel so I maneuvered us in that direction. He wanted to see Ellis Island and I knew where to park. I grabbed my purse, locked the car and led us quickly to the ferry. He was pissy. Could it be over my parking in a garage? Security men went through all purses and it took 10 seconds for me to put everything back. That pissed him off too. He never spoke to me again for the rest of the afternoon. I wasn’t sure if he was still annoyed over my trying to kill him, or the parking garage or security opening my purse.

He walked away from me on the ferry. He either walked ten feet in front of me or ten feet in back of me on the island. He had wanted to find his family name, which fortunately I don’t remember. First there’s the wonderful wall with names, and many different registries, and people there to help. He would do none of these things. He wanted to catch the ferry back. Okie Dokie. I remained cheerful.

I drove to Ground Zero and let him out to take pictures. No longer cheerful I was half hoping a semi would veer in his direction.

I got us to the hotel. He took the one decent room. I took the odd one. We were to meet in the bar later to go to dinner. While I was changing I got a call from someone in L.A. about a screenplay of mine and it was good news. I was floating. So I scurried downstairs to Cranky Pants. He was furious that I was a few minutes late. He had already had a couple of drinks and had no idea where to eat. I suggested a place nearby which has my favorite food in the world. It’s a crab joint that serves Dungeness crab and if ever I needed something nice it was then. I was in my favorite dress feeling great. I told him I had just gotten good news. He said nothing! At the restaurant everyone we came into contact with was kind and joyful. Maybe they just all seemed so nice compared to Old Cranky Pants.

It was an awkward dinner, but nothing and I mean nothing was going to keep me from my favorite food or feeling good about my news. I think he had more to drink and was again annoyed that I didn’t.

What I haven’t mentioned is that this was planned to go on for another couple of days: A tour of New York. I’m the only person I know stupid enough to be in this spot. Over dinner I said it didn’t seem to me that I was quite his type and he reiterated loudly that I had tried to kill him. So after that exchange, here’s exactly what you would not expect. In the cab on the way back, he tried to give me a neck rub.

I think I skipped the elevator and ran up the stairs to my oddly shaped room trying to figure out how to get out of the rest of this dream date.

My phone rang early in the morning. It was Mr. Cranky Pants informing me that there was a bad weather system coming in from New Zealand or Madagascar or somewhere and his daughter was worried about him in bad weather so he was flying out that afternoon. Is it possible? Could it be? I did a happy dance on the bed.

We were meeting downstairs for brunch. Apparently knowing that he too was escaping put him in a better mood. He actually said something resembling a compliment. We cabbed to Central Park. And sitting there, once again my frank mouth opened. I said that I could picture him with a very different type of woman, making sure he knew that I knew he wasn’t having a good time. And here’s the really really odd part. He was shocked.

We cabbed back to the hotel. I paid my bill. He was pleasant, wanted to pay part of the parking. I demurred. Damned if I was going to let him share the cost of a lousy time. We actually had some ice cream. Now that the pressure was off he was pleasant again. And thinking back, I’m pretty sure he had been married 4 times. FLAG! I then dashed across the street for my car and my drive back to Pennsylvania. We never communicated again. No, knowing me I probably sent an email appreciating his making the arrangements and thanking him for screaming at me in the car.

There’s more.

A couple of weeks later I got a piece of mail with no return address. But it was either Nevada or California.  Inside was a blank sheet of copy paper with a little soft leather pouch stuck to it. I didn’t know what it was, but it sort of resembled a creepy teeny scalp. No note. No signature. I wrote and said that it was thoughtful but asked what was it? And the meanest answer flashed back. It was a pouch for fold-up glasses. Apparently I asked about it when he was here, so he sent me one.  But I swear without glasses in it, possible scalp. He called me an idiot.

Today when I see the EHarmony guy on TV, it’s like Mr. Whipple commercials back in the 70’s and 80’s. Those commercials grated on me so much I never bought Charmin.




3 Comments on “#46 About Online Dating”

  1. ray manlove says:

    soul bearing, your honesty is more then refreshing, It’s entertaining and thought provoking at the same time. You open up and it hust pours out. We should talk over lunch. Just for fun… or should I say shits and giggles. Seriously, you got me through the toughest time of my life.. by being a friend..
    rare and of great value. Thanks E!

  2. E This was so funny and yet so sad. What a crazy life! I’m sure this will touch a chord with many people. Great work! A

    Sent from my IPad

  3. Beth Hill says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this with me Elizabeth. You are wonderfully engaging easy to read writer. I know that anyone who has done much online dating can plug in to various aspects of this. Don’t fret, you aren’t the only one who hasn’t always followed the rules. 🙂

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