By David Israel
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
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
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
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
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
"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."
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
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
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
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