Part Two–A Brief History of Dating in General and Mine in Particular, Which Will Not Take Long, I Promise
As I teenager, I was immature for my age, late to physically develop, awkward, shy, and prone to fits of nervous giggling in the presence of boys. So I wasn’t exactly a hot ticket to date. If my relationship history was a jailhouse lineup, it would look like this: two boyfriends who lasted about two minutes, both of whom were out-of-towners–Lil’ Stoner Boy, who lived in Peoria, Illinois, and The Denver Bronco, a football player from Broomfield, Colorado (more about them in future installments); El Rompecorazones, my first crush in college who dumped me because I was a virgin and I wasn’t quite ready not to be; lots of platonic punch-each-other-in the-shoulders buddies who I went out with for too many nickel beers, late-night pizzas, and occasional hijinks including the one time my friend Mr. Shenanigans dangled me over the third floor railing of a resort balcony just to see what that would be like, until an alarmed security guard broke up our fun; and then at 19 years old, I met Zippy, the boy who would become my husband by the age of 22. So, to review, before giving online dating a try, the chronicle of my romantic pursuits can be summed up in one single sentence, albeit a single slightly long-ish and mostly grammatically correct sentence.
My wise neighbor calls dating, “Learning the continuum.” When she found out that I was entering the online dating sphere and had no experience in this area, she talked to me about how she had approached the matter long ago in the age of dating services that had binders filled with potential candidates, their profiles typed on paper. “We each have our life experiences that, when put on a spectrum, create a continuum,” she said. “You and I are in the middle. Our lives have not been extreme.”
But if a guy was married, say, eight times, he would be positioned to the far right on the continuum. A never-been-married 59-year-old who still lives with his parents would fall to the other end of the continuum, on the far left. As you date, she told me, you begin to recognize where each person fits in and you start to understand the qualities and values that click with you and the ones that don’t, and they may be different than you imagined before you met this wide network of very human human beings.
Dating has never been easy for either gender but it’s particularly hard for women because of social expectations and constructs, including corsets. In her book “Labor of Love,” Moira Weigel describes how in the early 1900s in the United States, a woman who went out on a date in public could be arrested for prostitution because of something as simple as a man buying her dinner. According to the thinking of the times, something had to be exchanged in trade for that meal so, by God, arrest that hussy before anything untoward happens to that poor man! I hope, at the least, the woman was able to finish her dessert before being carted off to the pokey.
Over time, actual romance began to be linked with the activity of dating but there’s still a shadowy, unspoken sense of quid pro quo. You know, I scratch your back and you scratch mine. Or, rather, I buy you dinner and you have sex with me. Not that there’s anything wrong with that as long as it’s consensual and–because I once worked in public health–safe.
I was initially so skittish about dating sites that one of my best friends, who was a veteran of the online scene, suggested that I sign up for a matchmaking service that she’d found for me. She thought the service might be a good way to ease into dating through a human-vetted process rather than computer-generated algorithms. The matchmaker claimed that she only dealt with topnotch businessmen looking for “A Forever Relationship.” The men paid a five-figure fee for the service while the women paid nothing. Sort of like Ladies Nights at clubs with free drinks and no cover charge for the women, but way pricier.
I submitted a brief online profile and uploaded a requisite headshot that a friend had taken of me at a trail race and a full length shot of me taken during a road race. I received a follow up email from the service that asked for additional information about me because I might just be a match for one of the “Successful, Relationship Minded Clients.” Obviously I Could Tell That These Clients Were Very Important People, What With All The Capitalized Words In The Emails.
I filled out the application that asked for answers to questions ranging from smoking habits to food restrictions as well as animal allergies. There also was a short section about the type of man I was interested in, including body type. I answered “athletic,” although for other options I also considered “has a pulse most of the time” and “still breathes on occasion.” For three must-have traits I wrote “polygraph-grade honest,” “a sense of humor is imperative,” and “a love for the Meat Puppets would be a bonus.” And I answered “addictions” for all three deal breakers. I emailed the survey back and received another email that someone would be in touch with me once a match was made.
Later, when I looked at the service’s Yelp page, all the women reviewers who had used the service had styled hair, full makeup, and accessories like feathery hats and small, purebred dogs. They looked like they knew their way around a cocktail party, a black tie charity event, and a polo match, or at least a Kentucky Derby party. In hindsight, what man paying five-figures is looking for a middle-aged, flat-chested, flats-wearing, if-I-wash-them-can-these-running-tights-pass-as-happy-hour-leggings?, and sorry-I-gotta-be-in-bed-by-9-because-I-have-a-20-mile-training-run-in-the-morning me? In hindsight, that matchmaker truly knew what she was doing because a match was never made and I’ve heard nothing from the service since.
Next time: Part Three–Calling Hair and Makeup!