Wednesday, August 20, 2008

eHarmin’ me dot com…

There were five bar stools between my future ex-girlfriend and me. Absently stirring her drink, she stared at the TV behind the bar and yawned. The condensation ran down my pint and soaked into the pressed-pulp bar coaster. The coaster had had more to drink than me and it was then in my boredom I decided to test a theory. I had acquired a two-page questionnaire earlier in the day. I slid off my stool and walked toward her counting down the bar stools as I went. She was an early 20’s student athlete type who looked like she might enjoy dinner and a movie with the right person…

No one does that anymore – dinner and a movie. I think more people would if everyone didn’t expect that everyone else liked the hip, trendy bar scene so much. It’s like there’s a silent understanding that my date won’t like a movie and dinner if I could have taken her to a club or a bar. I say bullshit. Every woman I’ve talked to says some of her best memories are of the simple dates. I’m not talking about married and might-as-well-be-married couples, either. Married date-night is different; where the cautious analysis of your date and scud-shot conversations are replaced with familiarity and comfortable colloquy; or in some marriages, silence...

The college newspaper had published an article about an upcoming on-campus dating service. I contributed to the paper from time to time and had an op-ed piece in the works. I had acquired the paper in my left hand from a psych major I knew working on the new service. Every college campus I’d ever been on needed a dating service like it needed training on how to pour beer, have sex, or show up on 2 hours sleep. I thought it was a stupid idea, and there I was about to wreck my chance at getting lucky proving it. I gripped the paper in my hand tightly; nervous it would go awry; that I’d upset her and ruin a shot at a nice relationship – or at least a nice time. I considered putting my paper away and being myself; doing what I’d always done and talk to her face-to-face… three stools to go…

eHarmony, Match.com, swingerslane.com, and others of their ilk present a unique social challenge to our society. OK, maybe not that last one… there’s probably no good way to break that ice. In addition to being a huge waste of time and money, match sites give people an excuse not to interact in person with strangers. Follow me… I want to go out and enjoy myself in a sports bar watching Notre Dame beat the socks off whomever they’re playing. While I’m there I like to hang out with my friends and maybe a few strangers drinking pints and playing darts. Since cell phones, and mainstream Internet access, everyone communicates within their own little clique for pre-arranged meetings. The meetings still may be in a bar full of strangers, but more times than not, it’s at someone’s house. Don’t get me wrong; I’d be lost without my Blackberry. But at what cost to our society do we embrace this technology? Match sites allow people to converse and ask each other out without ever once interacting in person – it’s kind of like setting yourself up on a blind date.

She saw me approaching and shifted on her bar stool. She tipped her head and tugged nervously at her earring. I felt really uncomfortable with myself. I stood one stool away from her and put the paper on the bar. I asked kindly if she would mind completing my compatibility questionnaire and returning it to me before she left. She squinted at me with incredulity. I smiled. She smiled back. I raised an eyebrow, handed her a pen, went back to my warm Guinness, and waited.

She wrote for 10 long minutes. When she was through she put the paper in her back pocket. She walked over and told me I couldn’t have it because it wasn’t fair that she didn’t have a questionnaire on me. I told her I was sorry and to forget it. She laughed, sat down, and we bought each other many drinks. I never made that deadline on the op-ed piece. We dated for a year and then remained great friends for two more; then one March night she died. Her sorority sisters found the paper in a shoebox. It had my name on it so they gave it back to me…

If you want a date go out and ask somebody. Stop allowing match services to pigeonhole our society and limit our choices to truncated groups defined by answers on some questionnaire. Stop allowing these services to tell us “looks don’t matter,” that “personality is everything.” You can’t see a great personality from across the room. Stop allowing them to retard you by requiring you to snipe at partners from afar. Contrary to what they want you to believe, it is not a good thing to be able to screen people before you meet them. As a matter of fact, I believe it puts you at greater risk of hooking a nut.

But, alas, I could be wrong. Maybe having some computer quiz telling you what you like is the way to go for those of you with low self esteem, poor self image, agoraphobia, diarrhea, or whatever other excuse you muster to avoid talking to that stranger in the room. Maybe those people who advocate online matching have a point when they applaud all the marriages that have been created by people making a “connection” on these sites… OK, as long as we’re making up statistics – how many marriages have they destroyed? Which have there been more of: rapes or happy unions? Bet you won’t see those stats on a commercial…

After her death, it took me a few days to read her responses on my questionnaire. Not one single answer was a “hit.” If it had been a website or dating service, they would have kept us away from each other. We had nothing in common on paper, yet never had one maladroit moment. Nothing in common on paper, yet everything in person; and her impact on my life has been profound. The March edition carried my op-ed even though the campus dating service had long been defunct.

1 comment:

  1. No comments on this post? Kinda makes me want to say hmmmmm.

    I like the "it’s kind of like setting yourself up on a blind date" line...never really thought of it that way.

    Don't get me started on statistics...you can make them say anything you want if you play with the numbers and have a good attorney to back you up.

    ReplyDelete