Free invisible hit counter ProfShade: Unbearable Lightspeed of Dating

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Unbearable Lightspeed of Dating

Surviving Middle-Aged Romance in Cyberspace

This is but one man’s dark, middle-aged glimpse of modern online dating. To be sure, I am not unbiased, objective nor without some level of complicity as I transcribe my recent experiences and advice here, but no more so than a passenger in a head-on collision who didn’t wear his safety belt. So this is my aim, if nothing else, to remind you suddenly-single middle-aged men, when cyber dating—buckle up.

As you would expect, the Internet compresses the ‘normal’ processes of dating, much as it has truncated the normal cycles of car buying, vacation planning and pornography purchases. So what’s the normal dating cycle? The traditional progression is usually a meeting, initial conversations, a casual lunch, followed perhaps, if all these obstacles have been traversed without running into romantic brick walls, with a ‘real’ date at a candle-lit restaurant. The internet speeds up this process, but, as guinea pigs in ‘g’ force experiments and crash-test dummies will attest, acceleration is not always a good thing. In the blur of chats, emails, coffees and profiles, online contacts tend to blur together like a poorly constructed Home Page, with dead-end links to spousal abuse, personality quirks and generic self-description. The later, the mind-numbing sameness of profile after online profile, is full-strength salt-peter to real romance.

Her Online Biography
Here is the typical woman’s self-description on most major Web dating services:

I’m intelligent, honest, love to laugh, as comfortable in jeans as formal wear, love family, animals and the outdoors. I always see the glass as half full.

Nearly every middle-aged woman online is a variation on this theme, if you are to believe the templated self documentations. After blearily reading so many of these nom-de-non-descripts I began proactively searching for women who vehemently despise their families, regularly torture furry creatures and were prone to agoraphobia, if for no other reason than to find someone memorable. A hint to the neophyte, though-- these Web-based dating services do not allow you to search profiles for these or any other alluring idiosyncrasies. In the women’s defense, the sites tend to encourage a certain level of dull uniformity by streamlining the profile posting process for those less creative or too lazy to plumb their depths for nuggets of true self. Hey, who wants to write an essay? This is supposed to be fun, not an English composition class, right? Just check off the nifty little boxes next to ‘Turn Ons’ and Turn Offs’ -- skinny dipping, thunderstorms, puppy dogs… (I myself would be turned on by puppies skinny-dipping during violent thunderstorms, but there is never a menu option for this.) They then skip optimistically on to describing the perfect mate, who, if the majority of women could conjure him, would be an eternally optimistic chap in and of his virtual, cyber self—a half-full, not half-empty, kinda guy, as I read over and over again. As to the half-full and half-empty outlooks on life, I suppose I fall into the dip-stick category of men who ask instead ‘are you one or two quarts low, and when in the hell was the last time you changed this muck?’

What She’s Really Looking For
So just as the majority of online female descriptive profiles read like one used car classified ad after another, give or take some mileage, so too the women’s insistent cataloging of traits for the perfect middle-aged male companion come in one make and model only:

I’m looking for an honest, caring, romantic man who is financially and emotionally secure. Looking for a good friend first. One who appreciates family values. As comfortable in jeans as in a tux. He must have a good sense of humor. And yes, there MUST be chemistry.

Relying on my extensive field experience that comprises hundreds of emails, phone calls and real dates, let’s dissect and decode the definitive list of male requirements for ideal cyber-amour as mandated by the women. There is a wealth of darker meaning in these seemingly innocuous and benevolent requirements the ladies seek, and it will serve you well to consider their full meaning.

Sense of Humor
Yes, he must have a good sense of humor. After dozens of face-to-face meetings with my online encounters, I have discovered this innocent phrase is deeply enciphered to mean two things: first and foremost, ‘a good sense of humor’ to many women means you must be eager to entertain. It seems since the cancellation of Seinfeld and Friends many women are simply looking for a good laugh over a latte. If you show up without ‘A’ material, forget a second date, and don’t expect a straight line or repartee from them either—you’re up there on your own, bub, clutching your decaf mocha cardboard cup like a sweaty, unplugged microphone.

The second subtext to ‘must have a good sense of humor’ is your ability to blithely laugh off the fact that most women will bear little resemblance in person to the pictures they post next to their profiles. Consider yourself lucky if the hair color and age both fall within ten shades of the photograph.

Jeans and Tux
This requirement is far from innocuous. On the surface it might appear the women want a man equally at ease at formal dinner parties as he is changing the oil for her car-- sort of Pierce Brosnan meets Billy Bob Thornton. But think about it. Show of hands here, gentlemen. How many black tie affairs have you been to this year? That many, huh? No, what the ladies mean is if you own a tux, said ownership probably puts you in a certain socio-economic realm reserved for the likes of the captains of commerce and the idle rich. One woman wrote, and this is an exact quote, ‘Must be able to go from ripped jeans to tuxedo in a moment’s notice.’ I am still haunted by nightmares of myself receiving a formal dinner party emergency-alert and running into the nearest phone booth to don my tux, squinting into the chrome coin return to properly knot my black tie as sirens blare, my ripped jeans caught around my ankles…The cummerbund beneath the coat, as it were, the subtext to the tux, is that you’d be comfortable walking down the aisle in black tie as well. She most assuredly has her next wedding intricately planned, and better to get your attire out of the way early in the vetting process.

The reference to jeans is simple. She does want you to change the oil.

Family Values
Do not jump to political conclusions here. Although the phrase ‘family values’ was popularized, sanitized and homogenized by the Republican party and religious right years back, what the ladies really mean here is much more complex and disheartening: Are you willing to put up with seeing her only once a week because she’s booked solid with soccer scrimmages, baseball games, band recitals and orthodontia appointments? This is the main thrust of the phrase, although it also is code for a darker, more sinister probe into your psyche: she wants to know if you will patiently tolerate all the abnormal personality traits of her disrespectful, caterwauling brood. The number of times she mentions ‘family’ in her ad can be multiplied by the number of children she has birthed to arrive at what I call the ‘dysfunction index.’ Anything over a ‘six’ on my scoring system will mandate intermittent Prozac usage to restrain you from strangling her teenage son who regularly addresses you as ‘butthead.’

And finally, and most definitively, ‘family values’ also means no sex. At least no overnighters. Perhaps, if you’re lucky, heavy petting under two layers of comforters during a late-night movie on the couch when the youngest kids are in bed and the oldest are at an all-night rave.

Good Friends First
Again, no sex. At least not until the tuxedo is fitted and the flowers ordered.

This gives the woman ample time to check your credit history, have your fingerprints run, administer psychological profiling disguised as casual conversation, all the while maintaining her new-found, middle-aged chastity. So the bottom line is still no sex. Another show of hands here. How many of you have had sex with a good friend this year? If you have, you don’t need an online dating service, nor this article.

Financial and Emotional Security
At first blush this phrase seems straight-forward and easy to address—she wants to make sure you are employed and not a nut case. That’s just Level One of this full disclosure mandate. Because you have replied to the profile in question, it gives her preemptive cyber-rights to ferret out many financial particulars, such as-- are you paying child support and how much? What’s the 401K look like? How much did you pay for that tuxedo anyway? The emotional stability checkbox is relatively easy and painless, though—they just want to make sure you’re not a drunk or drug addict, and can shake hands and smile at the same time around friends and family. She’ll be willing to split her supply of Prozac with you on the worst days with her kids.

Honest, Caring and Romantic
This is the phrase I call ‘The Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse’ and is used most frequently by divorced women who have been dumped by their husbands for trophy wives, or by former trophy wives dumped by alcohol. They are deeply cynical about most men, particularly those who still have penises. Again, the dating services I have signed up for have not allowed me as yet to search women’s profiles for the keywords ‘Lying, abusive misogynist wanted.’

Oh yeah, and the real deal breaker—even if you’re unbearably romantic, can fire off one-liners like Robin Williams, have the ability to convincingly feign love for her spoiled brats, rescue stray dogs from shelters, have the financial equity of Oprah and the psychological stability of Dr. Phil, can cook like Emeril Legasse and are better in bed than she imagines that threesome would be like with Pierce Brosnan and Billy Bob Thornton—if she doesn’t feel chemistry, forget it. Chemistry—I know we all misplaced that around here. Perhaps it’s hidden under a URL somewhere…or submenu…if I only knew they were looking for chemistry I wouldn’t have been fashioning hash pipes out of copper tubing during my senior year lab experiments in high school. The Chemistry criteria is the ultimate loophole for online dating and usually means, if they deploy the ‘I didn’t-feel-any-chemistry’ exit strategy on first or second meeting, that they couldn’t get with the mole on your cheek or your pate has less hair per square inch than they require.

And one last thing. Read the DaVinci Code. Every middle-aged divorcee online already has. It’ll give her something to chatter about as you’re flipping through your index cards looking for your best one-liners.