15 August 2013

Dating Mr. Online

Once Upon a Time there was a beautiful and kind young lady and a charming and nice young man.  The lady was a busy career woman and lived a very large city and sometimes it's just, y'know, hard to meet people.  The man was really a very nice guy.  He just hadn't met the right woman to appreciate his…erm…niceness.

Then one day, they both created online dating profiles, met up, got married, and lived happily ever after.

I can't help it.  The story just doesn't have the right ring to it.

Rewind one year.  Subject: me.  The usherette at the wedding of one of my high school friends.  I am currently sporting a lovely silver gown that is all wrong for my skin tone, ordering a whiskey on the rocks, and the bartender is asking me if I have "Bridesmaid's Blues."  No, Mr. Barkeep, I was not depressed or jealous, I replied, choosing to laugh rather than get offended.  I was simply relieved that a seating chart crisis had been averted.  And my shoes were killing me.

A novel thought, though.  Did I have the so-called "bridesmaid's blues?"  The curse of the single friend, the bane of all singletons.  I looked across the room at the dance floor, where the bride and groom were slowly revolving to something romantic beneath shimmering lights.  I was genuinely happy for them, and pleased to say that as a friend, I whole-heartedly approved of my friend's choice of husband.  He was good, kind, decent, and he adored her.  I couldn't ask for much more for one of my best girls.  And, I frowned slightly, sipping my Jack Daniels, they met online.  And slowly the little wheels in my brain began to whirr and click and ding.

The internet, I realized, was not the dark, depraved cesspool of predators I had been warned about as a child of the 90s.  Don't get me wrong, there's still plenty of depravity, but I also refuse to believe that I am the only person on the internet not lying about her identity.  And well, if I am, dear friends and readers, then you are all the most convincing, nicest bunch of 45-year-old male stalkers pretending to be "kids" my age that I've ever met.

Meanwhile, as my friend was dancing with her cyber-husband, my mind began to reel off the names of several close friends I had known over the years to delve into online dating, both successfully and, well, less-than-successfully.  Women I both trusted and admired had intrepidly ventured forth into this world entirely unknown to me, and a lot of them, if nothing else, were having fun doing it.

So why not me?  Within a week of returning from my friends' wedding, during which time I met absolutely no potential prince charmings, I set up my online dating profile.  My chosen arena?  eHarmony.  I—I decided—was a mature, serious woman, and I needed a mature, serious dating site.  eHarmony, I felt, was the site for those looking for true compatibility, genuine companionship.  It was the site of real seekers of honest relationships, and I was definitely a real seeker of an honest relationship.

…until approximately 10 days later when I deleted my account.  In eHarmony's defense, it wasn't the website's fault.  In the men's defense, it wasn't my matches' faults either.  The only thing to blame was my own neurosis.  I guess you could say I chickened out.  A week in and I found myself having to set aside an hour or more of my day to "deal" with my dating account.  Long e-mails had to be carefully read, analyzed, and delicately addressed.  A series of multiple choice questions from a various assortment of contenders had to be considered.  A long list of "matches" (the result of an extensive personality exam) had to be sorted and, well, let's be honest here: judged.

On the one hand, I was relieved that my mother's forebodings about online dating had been disproved.  "For women it's slim pickings, like one or two matches and they feel pressured to at least give those one or two a chance.  For men, though, there's lists of women, an entire smorgasbord."  Her word, not mine.  But still, on this particular site, at least, I felt that I had not only options, but options I didn't mind narrowing down.  It was just that as soon as I determined that I really wasn't into these couple of guys over here, I received another e-mail informing me that I had 27 new matches.

Although it was time-consuming and a little intimidating, it wasn't the mass of men I had to sift through, vaguely wondering if I had at any point accidentally eliminated my soulmate, that scared me away from eHarmony.  The trouble was that it had been a mere 7 days, and men with whom I had shared barely more than an e-mail were already asking to meet up with me.  Perhaps the modern, sophisticated, and slightly less flappable woman could handle this.  I, however, was simply not ready.  I had expected things to go more slowly.  Several e-mails, perhaps even a phone call, and then, finally, after a few weeks, the first date.  Clearly, I was not cut out for the online dating scene.  Let the other women have these bachelors on a silver platter, I decided.  I will choose the challenge of every day life, the risk of never meeting someone in exchange for the possibility of that incredible story, that first meeting when you have no idea what's to come.  There's some excitement in that initial attraction, not being sure if the other person is feeling it, too.  And the not knowing, although a deterrent for many, is part of what makes everything so interesting.  Is this person single?  Is he attracted to me?  Will he ask to see me again?  What is he looking for from a woman and how well does he match what I'm looking for in a man?  To its credit, eHarmony allows you to eliminate a lot of the uncertainty that causes so many problems for women, but as a lover of stories, I find I prefer the unknown.

But has that stopped me from giving the online dating world another chance?  Surprisingly not.  I'm on a different site this time (more on that another time), but once again I find myself unsure whether internet dating is right for me.  Still, I would most likely recommend eHarmony to a friend.  The site is well structured, and if you're not panicky and flighty like me, it might even help you find that special someone.  Or at least a special someone on the road to the special someone.  You never know.  My only warnings are these:  It is expensive, but the good news here is that unlike free dating sites, you know that the people on eHarmony are serious about finding a relationship.  But here's the big schtick: When I signed up for my account, there was a deal going for 6 months that meant I got a reasonably decent discount.  So that was what I signed up for.  When I deleted my account, or tried to, I found that eHarmony did not discontinue the charges to my credit card.  When I called customer service for help, they point-blank refused to cease charging me for the subsequent months, during which time I never once logged onto my profile.  Their grounds?  "You might decide to use it again."  I think I can make that decision for myself.  Perhaps I should look at it from the perspective that I agreed to 6 months, but what I couldn't help thinking was "What if I met someone and didn't want to keep looking?  You're going to continue charging me for a service that I no longer require?"  It disturbed me that the dating site's goal was clearly keep members rather than help them find someone.

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