I’m perched on a stool alone at the bar of my favorite restaurant in the middle of May. Bedecked in dark wood and dimly lit, it’s cozy. It’s romantic. The menu reflects the crisp, fresh advances of a summer on the horizon, and the head chef has seized each ingress with culinary poetry. I had the grilled ramps, I remember.
Begrudgingly I hurry through my obligation, head swimming, and return some two hours later hoping she’s lingered. But she’s gone. Even the bartender recognizes the look I’m wearing. I internally curse the fates and resign myself to a nearby pub to meet some coworkers; dragging my feet the whole way there, utterly defeated.
I pull the door open and recognize my friends, and lo and behold — between them and I, there she sits. Time stops and I push my way through the crowd to get to my acquaintances and their table, where I sit silently for hours, contributing absolutely nothing worthwhile to their conversation. Instead, I watch her.
When she gets up to leave, I finish what courage is left in the bottom of my pint and stumble toward door. I tear off down the street after her, catching up half way down the block, my heart beating like a fucked clock.
What ensues is irrelevant, but makes for a moderately entertaining story. A little moment in time; the whole ordeal a comedy, a tragedy and everything between.
Besides, how can I possibly be melancholy over a pure-chance encounter? It happens all the time. Well, most of the time anyways — 20 percent of the time, this organic collection of happenstance and fate is rigged. The decks stacked. The dice weighted. Fish are loaded into barrels and guns doled out.
According to commercials, one fifth of all relationships start online. That’s 20 percent. Even in these trying economic times, subscriptions that range from $30 to $70 a month are happily paid for. There are 50 million users on zoosk alone. The statistics are terrifying — and growing larger by the minute.
Each day hundreds and thousands of people sign up for an online dating site; their personalities broken down to binary. Cold, illuminated ones and zeros lined up in rows, tested and measured for compatibility in cyber space.
Don’t kid yourself, this is how Skynet starts.
This Valentine’s Day, has there ever been a more relevant example of collective greed and ingenuity than the hair-pulling absurdity of this $4 billon industry? We’ve had the proverbal white lace pulled over our eyes. Four. Billion. Dollars. For something that you can do for free. Anytime you want. Take your bike to the lakefront, go for a walk, strike up a conversation with someone at Alterra. There are no costs associated with any of this, I checked.
If the profits alone aren’t staggering, the basic facts – payment to a third party to review the profiles of various singles, selecting one and meeting at an arranged time – smack of the same transaction one makes with a Russian mail-order bride. This is the very thing we condemn some cultures for participating in: pre-arranged relationships. So why the booming industry? Why the success?
Perhaps it is the American culture. We are, after all, the very inventors of ‘your way, right away, now.’ Online dating is no different than fast food. Faux-nourishment provided on a completely separate level. Sustenance for the heart and head.
Have we become so lazy? Are we so very desperate for such immediate satisfaction that we would seek out a romantic partner the same way in which you’d order a Cheesy Crunch Frito Burrito?
“Why yes, I’d like mine dark-eyed and pixie-like, oh and a diet coke.”
If the answer doesn’t lie within our intense and self-made longing for instant gratification, than it is perhaps even more unsettling. Could it be that as a collective we’re no longer self-assured? Confident? Self-content? How far gone, how lonely, how depressed, how frustrated does one have to be to ask a computer program for assistance when it comes to dating?
The answer is: You don’t. And you aren’t. And things aren’t actually that bad, or that desperate. You are, in fact, doing just fine. Just be patient and have some faith in yourself.
I’m in advertising. It’s my job to convince you that you need something that perhaps you actually don’t. So it’s no wonder I find myself astonished by the ultimate success of these social, online dating services — it is the ultimate con. You’re being convinced of imaginary internal inadequacies, and while an acceptable and free solution is available when and if you muster the courage, they’ll be happy to administer an antidote for a monthly fee.
Online dating services are the easy way out – and nothing worth having will ever come easy. Should you choose that less worn road though, I can promise you something more authentic and something intensely more gratifying, and I will offer you this defense: you are an attractive person. You have important things to say and fascinating stories to tell. You are desirable, you are fun, and you have people that care about you deeply. Know this and you can stop this wicked conglomerate.
And it absolutely must be stopped.