This is my fifth go-around with online dating. Through online dating I met my husband, who I later had a daughter with and still later divorced. After he and I separated I came out of the closet as bisexual, and I used online dating to have my first relationship with a woman. Online dating led me into a disastrous rebound relationship that lasted 15 months. It has led to easier and better sex than I would likely find while grocery shopping (the place I do most of my checking-out, no pun intended). And it has, at times, led me into near manic preoccupation with a search for company and belonging.
I’ve dated through Craigslist, OkCupid, Eharmony, The Onion, and looked around on plenty of other sites. I even once tried an old school newspaper ad, years and years ago. Through all of that, I also met people at parties, bars, support groups, and through friends. But the variety of available people, and the ease of striking up conversations, continues to lure me back online. And, to be honest, I have a slight preoccupation with trying anything new and weird. Okay, maybe it’s not so slight. The Internet gets me introduced, fast, to people I would have a hard time finding in the real world. Within hours, I can be lying in a new person’s arms hearing stories about how they paid money to have their balls electrocuted (true story). For an insatiably curious person like myself, the world of online dating is like a Wonka Factory, except instead of amazingly weird candy I get access into our amazingly weird inner worlds.
Match.com appeared in 1995 as the first dating website (as we know them today). I was 20. I had never owned a computer. I’d been in a relationship with Gabe since I was 17 and wasn’t thinking about who I’d spend the rest of my life with, just that I was madly in love. By 23 I had my first computer, but no Internet. Gabe and I were living in a tiny town of 2,000 in Northern New Mexico. I had a job as an apprentice for a cute and quirky woodworker named Jim. Jim lived in his woodshop. He had built a little hole in the wall above the table saw and he crawled in there to sleep at night. His ventilation system was broken, so he was constantly covered in a light fur of sawdust. Desperately lonely, he hit on every female below the age of 60 who entered his shop.
Once it was established that I was not going to leave my boyfriend for him, Jim and I became friends. He owned a catalogue filled with photos of eastern European and Russian women who were making themselves, or somebody was making them, available as mail-order brides, and he looked through it regularly with equal parts longing and trepidation. Sometimes he would find one he really liked, and carry her picture over to me for approval, which I never gave. I was a bit mean about it, I suppose, but I really didn’t think that ordering a young stranger from overseas to be his wife was a good idea in any way. I lost touch with Jim, but I bet that once Internet dating arrived in Taos, his life changed significantly.
Gabe and I moved to Portland when I was 25. Three years later, we were broken up. I was terrified to break up; we’d been together for 11 years. I didn’t know if I would ever find anyone as good again, and my therapist assured me that I might not. Her words were something like, “You have to decide between being with Gabe and being alone.” Which was sort of silly because my main reason for breaking up with him was that he didn’t want children and I did, desperately. Being a mom was my #1 ambition in life, for reasons I’ve never been able to adequately describe. I knew I wanted to find someone to have children with. So I left. And it wasn’t hard for Gabe because I had become so critical and unhappy that the air around me was toxic. I never seriously considered that I wouldn’t find someone who was a better match for me. How hard could it be?
This brings us to May of 2003, one month before my 28th birthday. I had been with Gabe since I was 17. And though we’d broken up a few times, and dated other people during those break ups, I had never experienced any sort of quandary about where or how to meet people, but I felt eager to experience being with somebody new. So I started looking. I was a massage therapist at that time, and my professional ethics prohibited me from dating clients. Being a fairly shy introvert, most of my free evenings were spent drinking wine and writing at home, alone.
Once it became apparent that I wouldn’t find a mate through work or my social circles, a couple of my coworkers suggested I take out an ad in the local paper. Now, I know this sounds crazy, but it was actually something people did back then. There weren’t many online dating sites, but there was the back page of the newspaper, and people wrote little advertisements showing off who they were in a few words. I decided to try it. I wrote something whimsical about having curly hair and looking for someone to help me paint the town red, and submitted it for publication. The next step was to set up a voicemail account through a number the newspaper gave me. If people wanted to respond to the ad, they would call the phone number and press the code at the bottom of my ad. They would hear my message, and then leave one for me if they wanted.
The entire thing felt just plain WRONG to me. Advertising MYSELF in the NEWSPAPER for DATES?? I felt pathetic and vulnerable. But also, I admit, curious. I can’t remember any of the messages I received. What I do remember is that Gabe called me to say that he had seen my ad, and it was the only one that caught his eye. He called the number, not knowing it was me, entered the code, then heard my voice. He said something like, “It figures. I don’t think I’ll try that again.” I felt embarrassed and shut my account down. I didn’t think I would try it again, either.
After that fiasco, I turned to the next obvious place to find dates: bars. I hardly ever hung out in bars while I was with Gabe, but bars quickly became the place I could easily and casually spot single, attractive people. The problem with meeting people in bars, as we all know, is that you often find people who spend a lot of time in bars. Sure, that might be your thing, but at 28 it was no longer my thing. So I was overjoyed when, a few weeks later, I met Eric.
Eric and his friend were out shooting pool at a pub where my sister and I were eating with some friends. We started talking, laughing, he asked for my number, and then he left me a message later that night saying how much he’d enjoyed meeting me and looked forward to having a date. We dated for several months… and then it crashed and burned, like it usually does with me.
Here’s what I saw during my first week of dating Eric: Tall, mysterious, deep, intelligent, divorced dad who had misjudged the love of his life and was now waiting to find ME while working at a college and just being generally smart and slightly sporty. Here’s what I saw during my last week of dating Eric: Big, overly moody, possibly psychotic, maybe even sociopath, failing single father who had scared his wife away with mood swings and was now waiting to possibly kill ME while failing at his dead end career and just being generally odd and slightly creepy.
Yeah, well, turns out I have a type.