Sunday, February 13, 2011

Love in the Time of Cyberspace

My wife and I met the old-fashioned way. We were introduced by
friends, a chance encounter than led to love and marriage.

We were lucky. Had computer dating existed in those days, we would
never have met.

She was raised prim and proper in a small town in western
Pennsylvania that resembled a Norman Rockwell painting. I was from
Los Angeles, had been a rock musician, a frat boy, a cop reporter.

She had gone to work for the federal government after graduating from
college. I worked for the federal government, too, but not by choice.
I had been drafted into the Army and spent my days as a soldier.

Clearly, some computer program would have declared us incompatible.

Yet, without the assistance of algorithms to make sure our tolerances
and preferences interfaced, we have been wed for 44 years.

I’m not knocking computer dating. If I was single, I might give it a
try, especially if they had a category for aging journalists with a
skeptical world view. After all, thousands participate and revenues
for online dating services reach into the hundreds of millions of

You can always tell when Valentine’s Day is approaching. Commercials
for computer dating services flood the airways, battling jewelry ads
for prime TV exposure.

And it’s often a hard sell. One popular website apparently has taken
to sending out e-mails on a person’s birthday to remind him or her
that another year has gone by without a significant other.

They call it marketing. I call it emotional waterboarding.

The dating game has become as complex as the society we live in. But
the electronic lonely hearts club business has made it easy. There
are websites now that promise to link up couples from every ethnic,
religious, life-style and sexual preference subgroup imaginable.

Among the unique: Women Behind Bars, which offers to link
incarcerated women with interested men.

Moto Date offers a solution to an age-old problem. You see a hottie
next to you in traffic and have no way to make contact short of a
fender bender. Members of this site receive a four-digit sticker to
put on their car, and if someone finds them attractive while behind
the wheel, all they have to do is go online, type in that code, and
make contact.

Trek Passions is for, you guessed it, those who desire to live long
and prosper with another Star Trek obsessed earthling. Or Klingon. Or
Romulan or Borg or whatever. Since I’ve never come across many female
Trekkies, I’m thinking the romance rate on this site is something
less than warp speed.

Diaper Mates is the premiere destination for adult interested in
people who enjoy wearing diapers or looking at others who like to
wear them. We’ll leave this one without comment other than to note
the site has 11,000 members.

Ayn Rand Dating is for those whose lives have been forever altered
after reading “The Fountainhead” or “Atlas Shrugged.” First dates
include discussions of the morality of rational self-interest and
laissez-faire capitalism. Sample user profile: “ I am rational,
integrated, and efficacious. So far, I’ve never met a person who
lives up to the standard I hold for myself...I only kiss those who
deserve it, and so far I have only encountered one who did. I would
love to find someone I can learn something from; someone who
challenges me to think; someone I can feel like I’ve won, rather than
lowered myself to.”

With all these choices, you’d think computer dating would be an
unqualified success. But there’s a fly in the ointment, a flaw as old
as the mating ritual itself.

People lie.

According to an exhaustive study conducted by an online dating site,
the biggest fibs are, in no particular order: Height - people, mostly
guys, are two inches shorter in real life. Income, people exaggerate
it by about 20 per cent. Pictures - The more attractive the picture,
the more likely it is out of date.

If that’s not bad enough, there’s datespeak, in which words take on
new meanings:

40-ish means 49. Athletic: small breasted. Emotionally secure: on
medication. Fun: annoying. New Age: doesn’t shave her legs. Open
Minded: desperate. Outgoing: loud and embarrassing. Voluptuous:
overweight. Needs soul mate: a stalker.

Which reminds me of the Dorthy Parker ditty, written long before the
age of computers:

By the time you swear you're his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying -
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.

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