When you're hitched, it feels like missed opportunities are piling up. Everywhere, there are fountains spewing adorable men: men with sultry accents, men who seductively massage your neck at the salon, men who tell you how smart and sexy you are while your boyfriend bitches about how you never clean the kitty litter. And then you're single, and suddenly? Everyone is hideous, married, a hippie, or illiterate. All the people you were dying to screw have suddenly evaporated or conveniently discovered they have no further interest.
Even during the depths of this dry spell, I never dreamed of taking out a personal ad. I'd always thought the personals were for, as one initially skeptical personals-user said, "desperate loners with disfigurements, roaming from ad to ad looking for their left half." That's not me.
But I was a) so bored/desperate, I could puke, b) driving myself insane with evenings of fruitless dick chasing, and c) advised by my friend Brandon--my suave, multiple partnered, dating idol--to try meeting men through the online personals. When he goes to new towns, he hooks up with chicks, gets drunk, sucks face, whatever. I'm shocked. I'll try it.
YOU'RE YOU-- BUT NOT YOU
I figure, if this paper is going to blab on and on about how great their online personals are, someone on staff should try it--and at this point, I'll try anything that may result in heavy petting. When I filled out my first personal ad, I was completely honest. The form involves telling the world how tall you are, how much you weigh, etc., plus a list of more subjective questions that expose your personality (what you find sexy, what you read, what music you listen to, etc.). I'm sarcastic, I don't bullshit around, and in general, this results in men responding to me less than sexually.
My male friends talk to me with the door open while they're taking a piss. Recently, an old friend was being all touchy, and just to be safe, I said, "If you stay over tonight, we're not hooking up."
His response: "Dude, whatever, that would be sick. That would be like hooking up with my sister."
Being a "dude," I can accept--but it's a problem when I'm trying to get some booty. What can I do when the dating pool is so shallow? Most people have three methods of meeting new people: through work, through friends, and through friends of friends. So I'm screwed there. However, when I go to other towns, it's like I've suddenly had a Jenny Jones makeover. Away from my posse and stated persona, people hit on me, and I have high statistics for getting action. Going on this information, the personals should work for me. Immediately, your relationship with this new person is implied to be sexual, and they don't know a thing about you other than you have brown hair, recently read Valley of the Dolls, and like to have sex four times a day. You're you, but without any baggage.
One of my rules about men is that I will not date anyone who makes me watch a DVD on their computer. Ludicrous? Yes, but highly effective in weeding out the wrong ones. Finding people's quirks online is actually quite easy. Because they answer a long list of questions, you get a sense of their priorities, grammar, sense of humor, and their pursuits. It's easy to tell if you dislike someone, but harder to tell if you like them.
For example, I can tell right away if the guy is a big sap. He'll talk about how he wants "someone to love," which means he's expecting way too much from online dating. He just read Lord of the Rings? Please. Has S&M bondage gear in his bedroom? Nope. Uses the word "cum"? No siree. Does not make me laugh. Forget it.
KATIE? MEET HUMILIATION.
Inevitably, all my friends and coworkers become embroiled in my online experience. They all have advice, and even help me search for viable candidates. Julianne discovers my first victim, whom I shall call Andrew McCarthy. He is a sarcastic 29-year-old whose picture looks good, but is shorter and skinnier than my usual type. He's clever and funny, however--which, even in the short run, is still most important.
I respond to his ad. We email. He seems really nice, and I'm totally psyched. We agree to meet at a bar. I warn him I'm going to bring Julianne along because I'm nervous--which is an understatement, because I am extremely nervous. As it ends up, Julianne is also bringing her friend Josh to the bar, which I fear might overwhelm Andrew, but oh well. I arrive at the bar alone to meet them.
When I walk in, my friend Marie is sitting at a booth with her boyfriend.
"Hey guys," I say. "I really wish you weren't here right now." After Marie informs me how rude I am, I tell her I'm meeting my personals date.
Marie's idiot boyfriend starts yelling, "Ohhhhh, you're meeting a personals guy here? What does he look like? What did his ad say?" After I tell him to shut the hell up, he continues to humiliate me by screaming the word "PERSONALS" 50 times in a row.
Julianne and her friend Josh show up, asking if Andrew has arrived. He hasn't, and I'm growing increasingly anxiety-ridden. Then another couple I know walks in. We talk, but I act preoccupied, hoping they'll go away. I see someone who I think is Andrew walk in and get a beer. He plays pinball.
By the time my friend Katia walks in to scope out the date, it seems everyone at the bar is super intrigued and giggling, which makes me feel like a freak. And then I do something very bad. Spazzing and embarrassed, I hide in a booth until Andrew finally gets tired of waiting and leaves.
Yes. That was pretty dicky. But I can't imagine introducing him to the entire posse and them just staring studying our interactions. (Hint: Do not meet personals dates in trendy hotspots.)
Julianne's friend Josh tells me Andrew didn't look like my type, anyway--which is a pretty presumptuous statement coming from someone who just met me. Two hours later, he tells me not to fill out anymore personal ads--he'll take me out himself.
AM I OKAY?
While the social stigma of internet date-shopping seems to be lessening, and the pool of daters is definitely worth looking at, it still seems I don't know forced. That's why I decided to consult an expert. I asked clinical psychologist/relationship therapist and board-certified sex expert Bill Winkler if the personals are a healthy way to meet people.
"A lot of people who use the [internet personals] are computer literate, busy, and find it efficient to use the internet to maximize their contacts," he says.
"However, there are other people that use the internet who have additional psychological factors--like feeling uncomfortable meeting people in everyday life, and somehow looking for protection in the anonymity the internet provides. If you look at 50 names and pictures on the internet, you're not risking anything psychologically. I think [people] should think of the internet as a screening tool. Once you narrow the field, you should meet the people in person. Then, after you meet someone, it's a return to real life."
For some reason, Andrew has agreed to get together with me a second time, despite the initial blow-off. It's a half hour before the date--and once again, I'm petrified. In fact, I'm too scared to go. I make the mistake of confessing this in front of my tyrannical boss, who actually threatens to fire me if I do not meet with Andrew. He follows this up by saying, "God! Even Adolf Hitler wouldn't blow off a blind date twice in a row!"
I leave the office in tears, kicking trash on the way to the coffee shop, calling my boss an asshole--before realizing that without the major chew, I wouldn't have gone.
Andrew shows up on time. I force myself to be take-charge and ask if he wants to go for a walk. I can't imagine making get-to-know-you chit-chat in a room full of people.
He's cute, totally nice, pretty short, and has an '80s style about him. Immediately, there is no romance here. I don't know if it's because we don't have a spark, if blind dates are too clinical, or because we're trying too hard. We talk about our lives; we both party a lot, we're both hungover, we could easily be friends. We part ways after an hour.
I say, "email me or something," but if he feels the same way I do, I know he won't, and he doesn't. I'm sort of relieved, but I also feel that if I'd met this person in another situation, we could have been friends. In this scenario, you either "make the connection," or forget about it.
Regardless, I'm totally proud for showing up, because I'm a complete confrontation wuss. Unless I've had six drinks, it's much easier to talk about doing something than actually doing it--which is why personals dating is nearly killing me. My life has been spent turning red and running from men I'm interested in. For two years in high school, I couldn't even go into TCBY because my crush worked there. I sent my friends in so I could ask them how he looked.
Even now, I'm too chicken to walk by the shop where an old co-worker (the hottest, most perfect man in the entire world) has coffee, every single day. I'm incapable of speaking to him. I figure if it's meant to happen, he'll drive by and talk to me.
After the date with Andrew, I put up a fake ad, because I'm not getting as many responses as I'd like. My new name? "partygirl7." This time I stress that I want "no strings attached sex"--which means actual physical contact, not cyber-sex. In real life, I'm nowhere near this aggressive. I respond to the question: "Where would you be if you could be anywhere?" In a hotel bed with two gorgeous men, a mirror on the ceiling, and a big pile of cocaine on the coffee table.
Lots of men respond to this ad. One has a dark and perverted side he'd like to explore. Another is in his 50s, and writes an incomprehensible mess of dialogue that includes the sentence "I am a serial killer."
I want to go out with the dark, perverted guy in order to be adventurous, but I think I'd be baiting him, which could be bad. So I ask Dr. Winkler if the diluted ability to read someone is a danger of internet meetings.
"Judgment is a multi-modal phenomenon," he tells me. "All your different senses lend to your feeling of safety or [someone else's] credibility. Anytime you eliminate the opportunity for sensory input, the reliability of decision-making goes down. Is this catastrophic? Not if you meet the person in a public place for coffee. I just wouldn't do anything to put myself at risk."
I decide that perverted guy is too risky--but I still wonder what "dark things" he was talking about.
IT'S WHEN YOU STOP LOOKING
I accept a date with Rolf--a new guy who responded to my partygirl ad--and I'm starting to feel like these meetings are superficial and retarded. Does he look hot to me, do I look hot to him, does he drink beer, do I drink beer, do we both like to screw--it's so premeditated. I'm less nervous this time, but I'm afraid Rolf will want to talk about sex--considering I acted like a dominatrix nymphomaniac in my ad.
I feel like crap, because even though I'm doing my best to take the process seriously, I know I can always tell myself the "I'm just writing a story," excuse. Plus, for the most part, I've lied about who I am. I'm making judgments that these people are hard-up--but how is that any different from me going to five bars in one night hoping something "exciting" happens?
It reminds me of that Todd Solondz movie, Storytelling. It's partially about this lazy loser who wants to make a documentary on high school kids and the pressures of getting into college. Instead, he ends up focusing on one pathetically confused student who he exploits and ridicules because it's easier and funny. I feel like that's what I've tried to do with the personals--find a story that's easy and funny. Trouble is, it's anything but.
ONCE AGAIN, I'M THE JERK
I get together with Rolf at a local bar populated by people in their 50s. He is very attractive and nice and better than me at pool. He doesn't act weird or sex crazed. I feel the same about him as I did with Andrew. I'm attracted, but don't feel the rush of excitement you get when you flirt, or realize someone likes you.
He says I remind him of the girl from Ghost World, which is endearing because my friends tell me that about once a day.
I'm apprehensive about telling him I'm writing this article, but if I don't, I'll feel like a manipulative bitch. So when he asks if I've met anyone cool through the personals, I respond, "sort of" and tell him about the story. He gets mad and says I can't write about him. He then says I'm sneaky, and at the very least, I should have bought his drinks.
Later, he gets over it, and agrees to answer some questions. I ask him why he decided to try the personals.
"About six months ago I got out of a four-year relationship," he says. "It was heavy. Anyway, it's kind of strange after being with someone for that long. It hit me the first time when I went grocery shopping by myself. I hadn't done that in a long time. I went out with my friends and had fun, but I realized I don't know how to pick up girls at bars. And most of the girls were terrible. If there was a pretty girl, she would be surrounded by like 10 guys, and I'm not one for competition. I've also gotten older and more picky. So I always wondered if the personals worked. I guess I had nothing to lose."
Online personals dating takes a lot of email courting. It's ridiculous. You have to respond to the ad in a way that's funny or compelling. You give the person your email address. They write back and sometimes ask for your photo if you keep yours hidden like I did. You email them back the photo, engage in more witty banter, and this cycle could continue indefinitely. When people respond to your ad, you can't write back too quickly and appear over-anxious. I realized this when I responded to a guy the next day and never heard from him again.
In other words, these are the same exact games you play with regular dating--only over email. In some ways, it's worse because you skip the slow and steady approach of meeting someone; liking them, wondering if they like you, fishing around for info, getting drunk, making out, or getting dissed. On the other hand, while the usual dating process may be more grueling, it's less harsh.
And then there's the trauma of meeting your personals dates "cold turkey." It's made me a lot more image-conscious. For example, I think I intentionally try and look bad on my dates, so I have an excuse if the guy seems horrified. Also, I've recently developed a paranoia that I have the proportion of a dwarf. I keep asking friends, "Does my head seem bigger than a normal-sized head?" and while they always say no, I don't believe them.
I respond to a local "rock star's" ad, and eventually send him my photo over email. He doesn't email me again. Probably because he doesn't like midgets.
Another guy who charmed me by responding to my lonely original ad requested my photo, but I want to wait until I take a better one. Plus, he wants to "instant message," which I don't know how to do--and besides, it reminds me of watching DVDs on the computer.
WELCOME TO THE FUTURE
The reason I bother dating, or even getting up in the morning, is to see what happens. Which is the reason I did the personals in the first place--even though it didn't work. I emailed Andrew yesterday to see how he was doing. He'd pulled his ad and soon after met a girl that he cutely described as "incredible." I asked him if he thought the personals were effective.
"They are what they are," he said. "You place one, you respond to one. If you're straight-up and honest, I suppose you could find what you're looking for. They aren't as weird and scary as they seem."
Initially daunting, mysterious and overwhelming--especially to a gigantic chicken like myself--dating through the personals was just another thing to be unnecessarily judgmental about. Like singing karaoke, asking people out, or playing tennis, I was afraid of the personals because I didn't want to be disappointed. But more than that, I didn't want to be a disappointment.
However, just like the dumb battle I go through everytime I sing a karaoke song, it's the debate that's the worst part. As it turns out, no one really cares whether I'm good or not. They just want to know what song I'm going to sing--and maybe have a little fun.