I’ve been thinking a lot lately about online dating. Not because I’m opposed to it – quite the contrary, in fact. With the exception of one or two people, pretty much every single person I have ever dated or engaged in intimate physical relationships with I have met online. Given that I have been dating since before the internet existed in its current organized fashion, I did, at one point, meet people the old-fashioned way: in person, or IRL – In Real Life, as some of those given to net parlance would put it.
But really, I’m in my early thirties, which means I was young enough to have an email address when I was sixteen, a pager at seventeen, and a cell phone by my early twenties. Finding people online to socialize with and date has always been complementary to how I work; I do some of my best thinking by writing, and on the internet you can present yourself in your best possible light as the person you are striving to become.
So fast forward some years: I have had the OkCupid success story relationship, which lasted several moves, two – no, three degree programs and four schools (or was it five?) before finally running its course. I have dated people from online forums and personals sites, and even had a very lovely relationship (and some flings) with people from Craigslist.
I’ve got this down to a science: I write good ad.
I know how to write that balance of concise yet alluring, personable yet mysterious, humorous and self-possessed without being prideful — but the better I get at it, the further I get away from my real goals. Yes, casual sex and play between consenting adults is great. But… what if you want more? Stumbling across it in twenty-five words or less while browsing the seedier sections of Craigslist is probably pretty darned unlikely. Finding it (again) in five hundred or a thousand words amongst the scientifically calculated percentages and harsh binaries of OkCupid is just as unlikely.
I look at ads and start thinking exactly what is wrong with a person: the way the won’t match what I’m looking for, don’t meet my exact specifications, deviate from the plans. Too serious, too sloppy, not articulate enough, not creative enough, not queer enough, not not not not… just not enough. I’ve turned myself off from possibility of joy.
I’ve reduced dating to fetish. A fetish of labels as aphrodisiac, language as the carriage of desire, the promise of passion and happily ever after.
And let’s be realistic here: I’m a pretty unique unicorn, and my fantasy of another glitter-covered, masculine-of-center queer (and so on and so on) is awfully darn specific. Because it’s fantasy. And because it’s fantasy, I know that said Queery McQueererson is very unlikely to drop into my waiting lap – and who knows if we would even have chemistry if they did?
The reality of the fact is that for me dating online has become an exercise in identifying what I don’t want instead of being excited for what I do. And relationships – of any kind – are about challenge and surprise. So maybe the real QMcQ (or QMcQs, collective) is nuts about sports. If I ran across them on OkC, my eyes would probably glaze over and I’d move on to the next profile. But if I meet them in person, not having seen their online profile, I know nothing about them – about what they consider to be their best light and how they have invented themselves in the purely digital world. I might meet them at an event where we have intersecting interests – a munch, or a discussion group, or a conference… or at the supermarket (unlikely, as I don’t generally meet eyes with strangers in casual settings) – but the point is that all I have to start from is the point where we meet. Meet eyes. Deep breath. My name. Your name. Let’s go from there. All is possibility.
Things I would otherwise cross off, foreknowing, become quirks or things which add depth instead of no-nos. There’s something to be said for that. There’s something to be said for knowing nothing about a person past that initial connection: you can read their internet dating profile over their shoulder later, and maybe make suggestions for how to improve it.
Real connection. That’s kind of sexy.