So she is gone. She is not coming back. And my heart is still resting fragilely in its chest cavity like a vase that’s been broken and carefully glued back together. A vase just waiting for someone to bump against the end table on which it has been placed, sending it tumbling to the floor where it will once again shatter into a million pieces.
With this in mind, I decide it is a good idea to give this whole Internet dating thing a go, yes, totally a good idea, what possibly could go wrong, because if at first you don’t succeed, pick yourself up and cry, cry again. Because the best way to get over somebody is to get under someone else, they say, and they say this much too often for it to be untrue. Right?
I make a profile on one of those dating websites.
The website asks me a series of questions about myself, which I half-heartedly answer as succinctly as possible. I’m the Hemingway of online dating.
Interests: films, books.
Six things you could never live without: never is a big word.
What I’m doing with my life: This one is tricky, because I’m not sure if the website is either A) getting a bit passive aggressive or B) run by my mother. I leave it blank.
Instead, I upload a couple of pictures, trolling the depths of my social media profiles, my hard drive, my camera for the photographs that highlight, in vivid color, the best parts of my physical appearance and wishing I had turned to the left just a little, or hadn’t spilled that ketchup on my shirt or had opened my eyes because that one would have been perfect.
Now, apparently, I will be “matched” with females based on the approximately 150 words I have typed into small white boxes. And let’s not forget, of course, the website’s top-secret compatibility formula. It is totally legitimate. Millions of happy couples, grins all around, butterflies in your stomach, that sort of thing.
I begin to send out messages – Hi, I’m Adam, hyuck, hyuck, hyuck, nice to meet you, you look friendly, do you like me, please, I beg you, you must like me, we both The Shawshank Redemption, what do you know — with the desperation of a sailor trapped in a crippled submarine. Messages like distress signals, pinging off into the depths, in desperate hopes that someone, please, for the love of God, anyone, will respond – a 37-year-old Malaysian, a 25-year-old Californian, a septuagenarian nun, a cocker spaniel.
I sit back and really think about the ramifications of digital love, about these people with whom I’m voluntarily communicating, about how my standards have fallen, immediately, upon the creation of an online dating profile. This is minor league stuff, for players who can’t handle the world of real-life, professional dating. This is pathetic. This is creepy. This is borderline predation. This is me. I am one of them. I have literally joined the club.
A few days later I hit a target, somehow, through something or other I said, and I meet Miss America, who, based on her pictures, is pretty enough, and doesn’t seem to be an axe murderer or a man in disguise. I hope. We meet. She looks like her pictures. She does not carry a butcher’s knife. She has dimples (wrinkles?) that form little parentheses around her mouth and mousy brown hair, and a slender, former cheerleader’s frame.
Now, here’s where this gets tricky.
Miss America is lovely, really, she is. But it’s about fourteen seconds into this date when I realize she’s not for me – that moment, I think, occurs when she starts lip-synching a popular Top 40 pop song while simultaneously maintaining eye contact in a Japanese restaurant. Not that there’s anything wrong with lip-synching, or singing, or music, or even Top 40 (though this is debatable), I find it genuinely unnerving, and my skin is crawling a bit, and what have I done, don’t you know, Adam, that you have so much more you could be doing right now, like watching a movie by yourself, or reading a book, or bonking yourself on the head with a ball-peen hammer.
We are now at my apartment. First it was more drinks, maybe one too many. Then it was a kiss in a crowded bar. Then it was the back of a taxi and now we are here.
So she turns to me, casually, like she’s known me for years, like we’re an old couple who knows how one another take their coffee, and says, “What’s on your mind, babe?”
You might not have meant anything by it, Miss America, surely you didn’t, but when you said this, the only thing on my mind was to make sure you were never in the position to call me “babe” again, because I am most definitely not your “babe” and did not intend to ever be your “babe”, much less anyone’s “babe,” and it was just an entirely inappropriate comment, which, much like your lip-synching, sent shivers down my spine and made me want to run, which I definitely could not have done, because we were in my apartment, and I did not know you very well, and, had you been left to your own devices might have stolen my television.
That was last time I saw Miss America.
About a week later, I meet Manchester.
Manchester (from England) is also a very nice girl. She is pretty, and she talks my ear off during dinner (which is not necessarily a good or a bad thing).
Now, before things get out of hand, I am a man of average A) height B) weight and C) looks. I am over-privileged and falsely entitled. I deserve much, much less than anything I have ever received. I believe women and men and races and sexualities are equal. I believe no one is better than another. I am not a misogynist nor self-loathing nor an overtly good or bad person. I think I confidently float in the purgatorial neutral zone of humanity.
I do, however, have the tendency to be overly judgmental, critical, and slightly mean-spirited (especially so if I am hungry.)
But this doesn’t stop me from noticing things. And once I’ve noticed something, even a small something, I am oftentimes able to process this small something into a much larger something, and sometimes that something is much too large to look past.
Additionally, I have never once denied the fact that I am a raving lunatic.
Anyway, Manchester and I watch a popular television comedy. During the course of the program’s twenty-odd minutes, she incessantly points out absurdities as though she’s catching typos in a newspaper.
“There’s no way a doctor would do that!” for example.
And of course there’s no way a doctor would do that (he’s, like, making crude comments or something, no bedside manner at all, that rascally doctor) but that’s the way comedy works, sweetheart, it’s about the absurd, the irrational, the illogic, and though I’m not trying to be condescending or supercilious or anything like that – and although I definitely am coming across as such – I just think it’s better if you head home now, because I’m feeling very tired.
So I’m back at the computer, awash in the screen’s blue glow, the lights out, alone, scrolling through faces, faces, endless faces, their pouted lips, smirks, and dentist-whitened smiles.
A message lights up my inbox. She is Dutch. I have never met a Dutch person. This is like interacting with an endangered species. The elusive Northern hairy-nosed wombat sends its greetings!
Dinner plans ensue.
Will she wear wooden shoes? Will she have braids? Will I have to kiss her on the cheek in strange European greeting? Please, Dutch Girl, don’t make me do that. I will just die if I have to do that. Will there be that in-and-out tango of do we hug or not?
Maybe I should just gently pat her on the head.
Or you know, now that I think about it, even better idea — I should just turn around. I could go home, get some dinner, forget all about the date that was, the date that would have, in all likelihood, ended in disaster – shame and rejection and sleep lost in labyrinthine mental scenarios of I-should-have-said-should-have-done.
But no, I keep going, and there is Dutch Girl, copper hair and a nice smile, and she sticks out her hand, which is of regular size, to shake, and I almost faint from the relief. She is not frightening, and she does not call me pet names, nor does she question the nature of fiction.
Dutch Girl smokes cigarettes and she curses, and is very, refreshingly human, as we sit on little plastic stools and drink bottles of beer.
She has crinkles around her eyes. Her shoes are not wooden.
I leave later that night, happy enough. Not in love. Not full of hope for the future. Not really thinking anything. This is no love story. That isn’t the point.
Because for now I go home. I go back to the computer, to the faceless faces of unknown women, to their self-portraits taken in bathroom mirrors; their exposed, flat stomachs; their long, tan legs; their contact lenses that turn brown eyes blue and seem to mimic the symptoms of Graves’ disease; their perfectly applied make-up. And I click through them, imagining potential futures – conversations and laughter and arguments and love.
I click and I click and I click.
I wade through the muck and the mire, without even really known what I’m searching for. It would be ridiculous to look for love. And marriage? There are easier ways (and different websites) on which to go wife shopping.
I suppose if I’m honest with myself I know what I seek. But these are strangers. And you know what comes out of sex with strangers. AIDS. Herpes. Long visits to doctor’s offices. Tearful conversations with therapists. Regrets. Pain. Unfulfillment.
But for now, it’s enough. And Ashley flits by, replaced by Naomi, replaced by Sarah, replaced by Aeoy (who inexplicably goes by Jessica).
Messages sent, cast into the abyss.
Nothing to do but sit back, put your feet up, relax, and wait for a bite.
Now isn’t this fun?