FRESH YARN presents:

Pulling the Profile
By David Israel

The problem with Internet dating is not meeting people; it's knowing when to stop meeting people. I should know, because for all intents and purposes, I met my fiancé online. And while sure, some part of finding your other half is simply perseverance and ultimate good fortune, another, perhaps larger part, is knowing the best game plan. Just like in hockey, the way a coach has to know when to pull his goalie, so must those who subscribe to online dating services know when to pull their profiles.

The scene is your average corporate office floor in midtown Manhattan, a little over a year ago: Fluorescent light fixtures recess into drop ceilings. Prefab squares of textured, split-pea green, glued-down carpet cover concrete floors. Cubicle walls cut the vast interior space creating a maze of semi-private cubbies. Each enclave is outfitted with the exact same desk, filing cabinet, computer monitor, ergonomically correct high back chair, phone and stapler. Vice-presidents can be heard rifling off emails on their keyboards. Assistants can be overheard on the phone setting up meetings for their bosses, arranging lunches, booking hotels overseas, or discussing the difficulties of finding quality reconstructive hair conditioners at affordable prices.

Meanwhile, I'm busy answering an email from a new girl I've made contact with through my online dating service. Her name is Jamie. She's a Columbia grad with subscriptions to both US Weekly and The Economist. She likes "titanium surfaces," has "small wrists and ankles," and "a thing for browsing ethnic grocery stores." From the photos she's posted and the previous emails I've received, she represents herself to be a savvy, good-looking, talented architect who's had her fill of players, who's grown weary of the tall, dark, and hand-somebody-else-your-commitment-issue types.

I like her style. I like it a lot. But I don't want to come on too strong too soon. Twenty-seven new profiles of gals between the ages of 26 and 36, over five foot three inches tall, and within a 10 mile radius of my zip code have already signed up for the service since I logged on yesterday. And one of them is an exceedingly attractive book agent (this appeals to the novelist-wannabe in me, big time). Plus, two other girls have sent me winks, smiles, or teases over the last hour and I haven't even had time to check out their profiles yet. So I play it cool.

Yes, I agree, we should move this thing to the phone, and I thank you for trusting me with your digits. But may I suggest holding off another few days? Maybe get to know each other a little more here, on email, before hearing each other's voices?

It's not that I don't want to speak to her. On the contrary: Past experience has definitely taught me the importance of making vox-contact early on. (This, after I fell madly in love with NYLAWYER75 over email only to discover on our first date that her voice was the missing link between Miss Piggy's and a Black & Decker power drill.) But I've also learned that once the ten-minute phone conversation is initiated (most online daters know proper first-phone-call etiquette: keep it to ten minutes), precipitating actual human contact, it's pretty hard to wiggle your way out of a real, live, date. Email, on the other hand, while being a solid avenue for revealing one's dislike of the present administration's environmental policies, is still a cold and sterile enough environment to abruptly disengage -- to put an end to it all without reason, to drop off the face of the Net, to disappear into the ether. This has happened at one time or another to everyone who's ever tried online dating. And while it's a definitive and immediate blow to the ego when it happens to you, once you've done it to someone else, it seems almost acceptable. "Eh, whatever," you justify. "It wouldn't have worked out anyway. I could never get serious with someone who doesn't know the difference between your and you're."

In the afternoon, when Jamie hasn't responded to my above email, I begin to get a little worried. Like maybe I shouldn't have balked at the phone offer. Like maybe she's now moved on to the next guy on her list, the one who doesn't have trouble switching from email to phone so quickly.

I bring it up on my therapist's couch later that day.

"The problem is that there's always going to be new profiles on there," I say as I stare out her office window at the lower Manhattan cityscape.

With a tone of voice that suggests she already knows the answer to her question, she asks, "And why is that a problem?"

"Supposing I settle for Girl A," I explain, "and begin to fall for her. I could be missing out on a new girl, say Girl E, who has A's beauty, B's IQ, C's sense of humor and D's summer house in the Berkshires."

"True, but what if Girl E has bad breath? Or several Yanni CDs?" (My therapist is a hoot.) "What then? Girl F?"

"See that's the thing: I'm sure there is a Girl F out there, and sometimes I feel that if I hold out long enough, she'll show up on my results page."

My therapist says nothing for a few moments, letting my last sentence linger in the air just to make sure I'm hearing myself. Then she poses the following question: "Well supposing Girl F is out there. Have you ever stopped to think that she might be on a different dating site than the one you're on? What then? Can you really afford to subscribe to them all?"

And that's when it hits me: There are just way too many options out there. Someone needs to launch one site that searches all the other sites and displays the top fifty results. A BizRate for the dating world. A MySimon for singles.

After therapy, I wander 14th Street in a state of bemused dismay. Everywhere I look there are storefronts advertising NEW! products. Pedestrians breeze by me carrying shopping bags full of, no doubt, IMPROVED! merchandise -- better than last year's, cooler than any predecessor, and certainly smaller than ever before.

Then I begin to think about the new car I was looking to buy just last week, online. The way the manufacturer's site allowed me to click through a dozen different pull-down menus, literally designing a custom-built vehicle from the ground up. It dawns on me that the same is true of most of what I buy. From my custom-tailored cable TV subscription, to the groceries delivered to my front door after I've carefully clicked through hundreds of options in twenty different departments offering everything from "Kosher" to "Organic & All Natural."

It's on the subway home that I realize how all this has affected my dating life: I've become a victim of my e-nvironment. I'm a fatality of the overwhelming variety the Internet offers. Were there an Over-Clickers Anonymous, I could be their poster child.

Used to getting everything I want with a push or pull of the mouse, I now understand how this has warped my outlook. In a blazing revelation on the F-train, I begin to understand the difference between selecting an Off-Road Tire Package and the minimum degree I'd like my potential soulmate to have graduated with.

Furious with myself for allowing the problem to snowball out of control, I immediately resolve to call Jamie the moment I get home. Also, more importantly, I decide should the conversation and ensuing date go well, I'll have to give the incipient relationship a fair shake by pulling my profile off the site and suspending my membership at once.

Of course the truth is if things are going well, the temptation to look at new profiles shouldn't exist. But we all know there's a difference between truth in the real world and inquisitiveness in the virtual one. Running up the steps of my brownstone, I decide that I've had it with that latter: I refuse to be one of those cats done in by his own curiosity.

Predictably, the ten-minute phone conversation with Jamie turns into a two-hour exchange. Connections are unearthed (we grew up visiting our maternal grandparents in Fort Lauderdale, who, it turns out, lived ten houses down from one another), common bonds are formed (we discover we both went through a hemp phase), jokes are made (about the hemp phase). Simply put, it is one of the most magical beginnings to a relationship anyone could want.

And the first date goes even better.

And, as planned, I do, indeed pull my profile.

And the second date goes even better than the first.

And more common ground is discovered, like the fact that I've been in her apartment before.


Hold on, rewind…

Say wha?

Okay, you recall in the first paragraph where I wrote, "for all intents and purposes, I met my fiancé online"? Well that sort of implied a twist, did it not? So let me explain.

It turns out that while Jamie and I didn't exactly know each other, per say, we knew of each other. And, curiously, I had her phone number in my address book for the last seven years. And, perhaps more curiously, she'd seen a photo of me in an album back at her mother's house in Pittsburgh.

If you haven't guessed by now, I'd briefly dated her sister seven years earlier, who, at the time, lived in the apartment Jamie would later take over. Though we were both living in New York, we never met. No, for that we'd need the Internet. And for that, I'd have to learn that the way to make the most of online dating is to use horse blinders when appropriate.

To this day I've never asked Jamie if she's taken down her profile. I've been too busy enjoying the relationship to care. So if you're conducting a search for single women through an online dating service, within three miles of zip code 10011, and happen to run across a girl who has "a special affinity for aerial photographs" and the guts to admit that she still, "occasionally sleeps with her baby blanket," don't bother hot-listing her. She's already got a date and is now busy putting together the guest list.


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