Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Internet mating

SWF, thirty-something, former professional. Seeks fun-loving companion for coffee, cat-sitting, occasional tap recital, possibly more. No game players or druggies, please.

I did it. I placed a personals ad. Not in a newspaper, of course. Please – that’s for freaks and stalkers. No, I did it like all hipster, city-dwelling, tech-savvy individuals do it: I kicked it Internet style.
Even a lone wolf like me needs to run with the pack every now and then, so I decided to try my luck in the world of cyber-romance. At first I tested the waters on match.com. I figured, any company that can spend this much money on advertising MUST know what they're doing, right? Unfortunately, I quickly realized that my sense of humor does not translate well over the Internet, especially to complete strangers. This became painfully clear to me when, after sending a few particularly witty emails to prospective suitors, I found out the hard way what the function “Block User ID” does. These people thought I was crazy, and out of fear for their own safety, shut me off from being able to email them.
With my ego slightly bruised, yet still intact, I immediately toned down my approach, and started over by sending nice, normal emails. As I discovered, the realm of Internet dating is governed by a few cardinal rules: don’t send emails that are too long, nothing too clever, nothing that sounds overly needy, and never, ever send an email on a Friday night, lest people think you’re a loser with nothing better to do on a weekend than surf through hundreds of online profiles.
After half a dozen or so failed matches, I decided to let my subscription to match.com run out, and tossed my profile into the Internet dating graveyard. I had completely given up on the idea of cyber dating when a friend of mine sent me some information on a site I hadn’t heard of: eHarmony.com. At her insistence, I begrudgingly said I’d give this final site a try. If only I’d had the foresight to check the cult watch website first, I would have discovered that eHarmony ranks just below Scientology, and slightly above the Hare Krishnas in terms of overall threat level.
I guess my first clue that eHarmony was a cult should have been the picture of the founder, renowned relationship expert and clinical psychologist 
Dr. Neil Clark Warren. Something about his eyes just reminded me a little too much of Jim Jones. “Never trust a man with three names,” my momma would always tell me. And boy, was she right. She said that anyone who needed more than two names was compensating for something. Of course, she also used to tell me that any man whose eyebrows met in the middle was actually a werewolf, but that one’s been a bit harder to substantiate.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, here’s how eHarmony works: it is entirely geared toward matrimony, so Dr. Clark Neil Warren has devised a patented 29-point personality profile that will all but guarantee a perfect match, sending you and your new mate off into wedded bliss. First, you spend about three hours online taking a very extensive and scientifically proven personality assessment. Next, they generate a personality profile from your assessment that is used to find your mates. Finally, the eHarmony gurus start emailing you the profiles of people they believe have the potential to be your future husband or wife.
What the heck – what’s a mere three hours to find true love? As I waded through page after page of inane questions about whether I’d rather read a book or eat a steak, I found myself trying to figure out what the questions were after. Do I ever feel like smashing things? Never – Sometimes – Frequently – Always. Hmm… if I say “Never,” I’ll seem like a liar, or worse, repressed. If I answer honestly and say “Frequently,” I’ll seem like I have issues with rage, and may be banned from the site altogether. So I guess the safest bet is to say “Sometimes.”
Question after question, I found myself psycho-analyzing every word to uncover the hidden motive. After playing the different scenarios over in my head, I ended up answering a good number of questions with “Sometimes.” Now, apparently when you try this deceptive approach to beat the system, Dr. Warren Clark Neil decides to punish you by sending you the most loathsome personality profile imaginable. It’s been a while since I took the assessment, so I’ve pushed most of the details of my profile down into the dark lair of my subconscious, but I do remember a few key phrases like:
“You rarely express an opinion.”
“You are content watching others have fun around you.”
“You should cut your losses now, purchase a few more cats, and take up quilting.”
After spending the next week on a steady diet of Zoloft and Caramel Nestle Treasures, I decided I was ready to check back with eHarmony and see who the good doctor had lined up for me to marry. I logged onto the site, pulled up my profile, clicked on “Check Matches” and was stunned by this message:

“We’re sorry, but at this time, there is no one in our database who is a match for you.”
No one? Come on now, no one? I thought, “Maybe I just need to expand my search.” So instead of limiting myself to just Chicago, I chose all of Illinois. I’m sure there are some good people who live in the suburbs, right? Still nothing. All right, screw it – let’s go with the entire US. I mean, hey, I like to travel as much as the next gal. Again, no matches. You have got to be kidding me! I then opened up the criteria as wide as they would go – the world. Earth. If you reside on the same planet as I do, I will consider dating you. I chose the planet Earth as my potential dating pool, and yes, Virginia, there is no one in the world who is compatible with me.
The hunchback in Tibet? He thinks I lack ambition. That 75-year old leper from Peru? Apparently I’m not “outdoorsy” enough for him. Not one person. On the entire planet. Is compatible with me.
Curse you, Dr. Clark Warren Neil! Curse you, and your wretched 29-point personality profile!
“Stick to the basics,” my momma would always tell me. And boy, was she right. I’m done with all these high-tech, scientifically proven Internet dating techniques. The only science I can trust is chemistry – that uncontrollable spark that cannot be predicted by self-proclaimed relationship experts, manufactured in any marketing boardroom, or quantified by some computer program. In fact, there’s a cute mop-haired guy with funky glasses in the coffee shop right now who keeps looking over at me as I’m writing this. What do I need the Internet for when I’ve got Starbucks? But I wonder if he’d consider waxing that eyebrow before I take him home to meet mom?