In October, my former band mate and fellow life soloist Lucy alerted me to the existence of an on-line dating site that had the allure of an inbuilt screen against right wing loony romeos. This site hung off a highly respected and internationally distributed left-leaning paper based in the U.K. Unlike other swollen heterosexual strip-mall on-line dating sites, this dating service – lets call it British Chums – promised a skinnier, boutique constituency of well educated, socially progressive lonely hearts drawn from the paper’s readership. Although my past skirmishes with the on-line dating world had yielded nothing but disaster, I shook off my Higher Wisdom who clung to my ankle pleading ‘No, no, NO! Don’t do this AGAIN!’. And I did it again. I signed up.
The three and a half readers that regularly follow this blog might legitimately intrude into my stream of consciousness now and ask ‘What happened to Chris?’
What indeed. As I outlined in a blog about a year ago, the reasons for international ‘90s hearthrob Chris Isaak marrying me were so compelling as to make the event virtually a fait accompli. But since then, Chris has simply dithered and avoided popping the question, despite having the opportunity to do so every time he logged on. And while Chris procrastinated, in September last year, Lucinda Williams stole my idea and married her fiancee/ manager Tom Overby on stage at a club in Minneapolis. After that happened, I’m afraid the thrill was gone and I’ve moved on from Chris – despite the fact that Chris’s album Mr Lucky was one of the best releases of 2009.
A Tragical Historie
My first attempt at finding love on-line was in 2006. It had been many months after my last long-term relationship had been stubbed out, but still I hesitated. All my single buddies had long ago rolled up their sleeves and waded into the digital dating fray. So why was I still shifting from foot to foot on the side-lines, what was my problem? It doesn’t take long for looks of sympathy to turn to mild exasperation. Don’t wallow, DO something. And when a psychologist friend challenged “What? Are you too proud to join a dating site?” I felt my dark secret had been flushed out. I signed up.
My Higher Wisdom even then was murmuring ‘No. NO!’ But I didn’t recognise it – in the same way that Shakespearean lovers don’t recognize their beloved if they happen to cross-dress and lower their voice.
At first, my on-line presence on Australia’s biggest on-line dating site – lets call it Horny Toads – was a mood booster. Very quickly, I was being sent ‘kisses’ – the little non-verbal tongues that Horny Toads encourages you to shoot out to profiles you fancy. I was also reaping hits – lots of hits – from guys clicking through to my profile – as they rapidly grazed the rich pasturelands of lonely ladies that rolled out for pages and pages before them.
But when I clicked back to my kissers/ grazer’s profiles to get better acquainted, my mood shifted.
There were flocks of Mr ‘Half A Girlfriend’ s. Guys who, despite a half a lifetime of bodily incarnation, still only had one photograph of themselves, and that included their last girlfriend whose hand, or sometimes half a head, could be seen clearly wedged onto their shoulders, the full loving (or drunken) embrace cropped out by Photoshop.
There were Mr ‘Popular’s, who decided the best way to attract a new mate was to show themselves at parties surrounded by loads of their female friends waving cocktails and red eyes into camera flashes, having the most hilarious flirty and fun time imaginable.
There were Mr ‘Spleen’s – guys whose profiles were thinly veiled diatribes against their exs and/or recent dates. Their ‘ideal mate’ descriptions were not so much pleas for love and understanding as ultimatums. “I’m not interested in women who just want to play games.” “My ex was one dimensional. I’m looking for someone with more depth. Ego-maniacs need not apply.”
And there was the exclusive club of Mr ‘Good Catch’ where the guys were conventionally good looking, knew how to write and had steady, well paid, secure jobs handling snakes at the local zoo or selling time-share condos at Byron Bay.
It didn’t take long for the flower of my romantic hopefulness to droop.
Meanwhile, the Victorian State elections were approaching, and I was campaigning for the Green party. Given the imperative of pushing environmental sustainability issues onto the political agenda, I began to feel the time I spent on-line chasing my romantic dreams, around and around like a frozen pea on a plate, was a waste of precious time. Still, the morning ritual of checking my ‘hits’ and perving at guys’s profiles was still triggering some kind of hope neurotransmitter, and it had encoded my right temporal lobe with something like a pleasure response. I found logging onto Horny Toads hard to give up.
Then I hit upon a solution. I would turn my Horny Toads profile into an environmental issues blog. That way, the dozens of hits I got every day – while a waste of everyone’s time romantically speaking – would at least have the benefit of highlighting salient points on water catchment preservation and old growth logging.
So I scrapped my half-earnest, half-blustering self-descriptions and started blogging about environmental issues, updating my profile every day with a new chatty ‘factual’ about why voting Green was a good idea. Hits continued at the same strapping pace, and I thought I’d achieved a good compromise between laying out love bait and political engagement.
At about the same time, however, I clicked my way into a terrible discovery; following the algorithmic beckoning of ‘matching’ criteria, I suddenly found myself staring at the photo of my ex’s brother, M.
This shocking close encounter of the digital kind brought up all kinds of abreactions. If I’m staring incredulously at M, then M could be staring incredulously at me. But worse – much worse – J, M’s brother, my ex – could easily be staring incredulously at both of us – without even subjecting himself to the leveling experience of being a member of Horny Toads. Profiles were public, as public as celebrity addictions and horse racing guides. I hadn’t fully realized just how much I had stuck a ‘for sale’ sign on my face and plopped it in the window of the World Wide Web. I was but a sausage on display, vying to stand out from the thousands of other romantically challenged sausages, nuancing the key criteria of visual attractiveness, youth and mouth-feel.
But before I could de-program my brain from its morning addiction and remove myself from display, Horny Toads did this for me. After about a week of Green blogging, I gripped my mouse one morning and pincered it onto my home page only to be splashed in the eyes with the message that my account had been suspended. No email explaining why. Just the bars across my profile page screaming KEEP OUT. I groped around the Horny Toads website to find their membership policies, slurping my coffee with a mixture of agitation and relief. I found that they reserved the right to cancel your account if they thought you were using your profile ‘inappropriately’. Clearly, having strong environmental views was inappropriate.
I splattered my fingers over the keyboard firing off a red hot angry email to the accounts department. Then I sat back and breathed heavily. Then I did a high five with my Higher Wisdom. She was grinning and barely restraining herself from blurting out ‘I told you so!” And my ‘pride problem’ also got a bronze medallion: I am, to this day, the only girl I know to have been expelled from an on-line dating site.
On Not Learning From Past Mistakes
Its February 2010, and I am leaning back on Aaron and Lisa’s couch in East Melbourne. We are lined up in a row with plates of Lisa’s luscious zucchini pasta on our laps, zoned out on cable TV.
A phrase unspools across the stretchy big home theater plasma screen, underscored by a warmly modulated American male voice:
‘eHarmony. Two percent of all couples who married last year met on eHarmony!’
Then a montage of happy American couples smiling, pawing at each other, squirts across the screen.
After a few minutes, Lisa gets up and starts rummaging through the side cabinet for the latest episode of The Wire. The brilliant Baltimore crime verite drama is our target entertainment for the evening.
As Aaron pushes off the couch, then leans over to collect the dirty dishes and wine glasses from the lounge room floor, I venture:
“So. That means. Ninety-eight percent of Americans who find their true loves and marry them, DON’T use eHarmony.”
“Apparently. They appear to be proud of that fact.”
“Isn’t that anti-advertising? I mean, what kind of moron would join an on-line dating site on the basis of a 2% chance of success?”
Back in Pittsburgh, four months later, its midnight and I am leaning over my lap-top and punching my credit card details into eHarmony.
Or your money back
On sheer impulse. With the attitude – what harm is there? My Higher Wisdom was temporarily absent – possibly in the kitchen fixing a midnight snack. When she got back, she was furious but it was too late. I was already half-way through the personality questionnaire.
An hour later, I was still clicking through the questionnaire, which seemed inordinately long and detailed. I paid less and less attention to what I clicked, I just wanted to get to the end so I could then be admitted into the eHarmony relationships supermarket and rummage through shelf after shelf of guys’ profiles.
But when I finally got to the end, I was told to wait while the love bot went off and looked for my compatible dates. After a few seconds, it came back and told me there weren’t any. eHarmony’s algorithm had apparently shuffled through millions of profiles across the world and had not found a single guy who would want to buy me a drink. I was, literally, ‘matchless’.
I tried in vain to find a way to nose through profiles so I could decide for myself, but it was only then I realised that eHarmony didn’t work that way. The only way you can meet other lonely hearts on eHarmony is via an introduction from the love bot. And the love bot had apparently decided I was way too freaky to make anyone’s digital acquaintance.
As the morning sun started to peel back the gloom in my studio, I started to fret. Had I accidentally ticked the box that asked “Do you like to murder pets?”. Or had the personality test really uncovered my inner Frankenstein?
It was then that I executed my first rational act in several hours – I did some research on eHarmony. I discovered I was not alone in my weirdohood. According to the Wiki entry, about one in five people who join eHarmony don’t get matched – not a statistic that can be found anywhere on their website. Worse still, I discovered the corporation was founded by Neil Clark Warren who was an “evangelical Christian with strong ties to the conservative Christian movement in the USA.”
That did it for me. I was on the phone to their accounts department, demanding my money back. Luckily, there is a grace period of three days where you can get a full membership refund if you come to your senses in time. As I hung up, I ruefully acknowledged my Higher Wisdom was right again, and I would never again hose time and emotional energy down the on-line dating drain.
A polyester and wool blend being
Until October, when I joined British Chums.
At first glance, the world of British Chums seemed civilized. Profiles lacked spelling mistakes. People worked at universities, in overseas aid organizations or in graphic design. Photos were, on the whole, free of severed female limbs.
Admittedly, most of the profiles revealed the sheer torment the British feel at self-revelation: “Ok, what should I write here…everyone is so much better at it than me…” But quite a few of them were great pieces of dead pan humor writing – deliberately funny rather than unintentionally so – like the thirty something artist who filled his profile with a detailed description of his obsession with picture framing, as if it was the most desirable quality a man could possess.
I was not trampled with the same digital traffic that I experienced on Horny Toads. But a few guys became my ‘fan’. Being a ‘fan’ was the equivalent of the Horny Toad kiss – an icon that lets you know the other party is interested. Finally, I decided to respond to one of my ‘fans’ by sending a message. But a few days passed and I heard nothing back. Thats odd, I thought. Why would you indicate you are interested in someone and then ignore them? I tried again with a few other gents over a couple of weeks, but the same eerie silence ensued.
Finally, one would-be match sent me an email – and in the header he said “I haven’t subscribed so I can’t email you.” Then the penny dropped: all these guys are too cheap to pay for membership and gain access to emailing and other services that the ‘sign up for free’ option doesn’t give you. They might want to meet Ms Right and experience the ultimate bliss of true love and lifelong companionship, but not if it costs them thirty quid.
At this revelation, something inside me snapped.
I deleted the carefully selected, flattering photographs I had loaded up into my gallery. In their place, I uploaded these:
I deleted my fussed-over, sincere self-advertisement. I changed my on-line name to Totally Fabricated.
Then I rewrote my profile thus:
“I am a sock puppet who sometimes dresses up as a human female. For a polyester and wool blend being, I have a complex personality. I am very rewarding if sometimes alarming company.
When I am feeling sensible and positive, I am cream colored, wear white pom poms on both ears, and have a sweet engaging expression. My favorite bands then are Saint Etienne and Swedish pop in general.
When I have had two Mick Jaggers and a line of cheap whiz, whoaa – watch out! I turn bright pink, my hair turns into a spray of tinsel and boy do I like to party. My favorite bands then aren’t bands at all but DJs playing deep house and electro megamixes at cool clubs until 6.am.
If you think you’d like a challenge in your life, with a girl who is, deep down, just a bit of nicely textured fabric, then lets talk.
I’m looking for another sock puppet to share my life with. I’m open-minded – I’m happy to meet glove puppets and finger puppets too.”
I have no idea what a “Mick Jagger” is, but this is a line out of one of my favorite episodes from The Mighty Boosh , British television’s most exquisitely formed comedy artwork. I was very pleased to have an opportunity to use this beautiful phrase, despite the fact that its delightfulness was probably lost on the stingy poms checking out my profile.
I left the profile up for a few days, half wondering if British Chums would boot me off for my ‘inappropriate’ photographs, thus making me probably the only person in the whole world to have been expelled from an on-line dating site twice. In that eventuality, I would of course need to immediately notify the Guinness book of records. But before my sock puppet freedom of speech could be curtailed by tut-tutting British love bots, I canceled my account, even though I still had two months left on my membership.
You’d think we might now have reached a sad ending. Years of sporadic attempts at finding true love on-line leading only to debacle and increased credit card debt. A jilted bride still. But thanks to British Chums, I am in fact, far richer in companionship that I ever have been. I now have two constant friends on hand (literally) – Sensible Carol and Crystal Meth – who don’t find me weird at all, laugh at all my jokes and demand nothing in return except that I sometimes sew their eyes back on.
I am heading to London next week, and will be taking Carol and Crystal with me. And if, on New Years’ Eve, we can acquire two Mick Jaggers and a line of cheap whiz, we will scream “Happy New Year!” as we run at the pigeons in Trafalgar Square and care not a whit about the trials of the single life.