Monday, January 02, 2006

Not Available in Stores

My New Year’s Resolution is to stop attempting to date via the online personals because doing so only exposes me to insanely piggish and routinely awful behavior, thus increasing my misandry and making me ever more unattractive as a human being and a date. (In this decision, I’m only a couple of weeks behind the trendsetting Ms. S.)

In three years of doing the online personals on and off, I have had innumerable ridiculous email interactions, only slightly more numerable bad coffee dates, and sporadic relationships of varying quality. I've also made two good male friends, for whom, don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful, but it’s not worth it.

(On a side note, both of these guys are a few years north of 45, an age by which most men can be depended upon to have grown up if they’re going to. ( <-------------- See what I mean about the man-hatin'?))

Other bad things about the online personals:
  • Lack of meaningful social context or “informal sanction” as they call it in contract law (aka “shame”) leads to rampant rudeness. Don't get me wrong. As the examples below prove, I do this too. But that's just my point: it doesn't feel good to be part of this Hobbesian universe.
  • The piggish behavior already mentioned. I’m particularly galled by the demanding of multiple photos. In doing so, guys generally do one of two things, both of which piss me off:
    1. Disavow their piggishness with false protestations of regret: “I hate to be shallow, but…” Yeah, bub, if you hate to be shallow, then how about just NOT DOING IT? Or are you somehow not in control of your behavior here?
    2. Go for some version of the “Darwinian” argument: “Men are visual creatures, it’s my hard-wired evolutionary nature, blah blah.” Toward the end of my personals journey, I actually started asking these guys for their tax returns. Because you know, evolutionarily speaking, aren't women supposed to be looking for a good provider? So why would you find it shallow or cold or offensive for me to just act out my hard-wired nature as well?
    3. Actually, some guys combine 1 and 2, which are highly compatible, both being variations on the theme of “I’m a pig, but it’s not my fault.”
  • For people in their 30s, the personals tend to reinforce the freakish pickiness that so many of us already suffer from. After all, if there are 2564 eligible singles online now, why shouldn’t you toss back your current fish and go for someone absolutely perfect?
  • Again, for people in their 30s, the personals reinforce the tendency to see potential dates as lifestyle accessories. You don’t need to change. You don’t need to be open to another person or learn from them. They need to fit.
  • Again, for people in their 30s (and 40’s, actually), the personals reinforce a tendency to eschew actual dating in favor of subjecting potential mates to a job interview. Now, if you just read the Newsweek or whatever, you might think it’s only women who do this. You would be wrong. I can’t count the number of times I’ve unknowingly applied for the position of “future wife and mother of my children.” This approach is particularly prevalent among well-off geeks in their early 40s, who face their own kind of biological clock issue: if they want to reproduce, they must either find a semi-age-appropriate woman NOW or manage, at some point in the future, to attract a much-younger (yet still brainy and cool and in all other ways perfect) woman, this despite the fact that they've never actually had a girlfriend. There is some panic involved, and it does not lead to the smoothest social interactions.
Anyway, for your enjoyment, here are some highlights of my delightful experience with the online personals.

"That's not my rap" (December 2005, email to friend, previously featured on this blog):

Have you read my blog? I had a drinks date Tuesday night with that guy from the personals. He was...annoying. I wanted to like him, but he was annoying, and kind of an asshole. Kind of an annoying asshole, yep. For about the first half of the date, I would ask him questions and he would give me the kind of evasive, general answers you give to someone who you don't think is smart enough to understand what you would really say.

Me: So what kind of psychology do you do?
Him: I teach, I consult, that kind of thing.
Me: That doesn't really tell me what you do.
Him: I teach, I consult, I told you what I do.
Me: I'm asking a different question than you think I am. I'm not asking whether you have a job. I'm asking what approach you take to your work.
Him: ??
Me: You know, like, are you a Freudian? A cognitive psychologist? Gestalt? What?
Him: Oh. I take a process-based approach that's kind of loosely Freudian as opposed to cognitive. Let me lay this on you: The therapist is like a jazz drummer: a good one can keep the time, a better one can shift the time.
Me:'re going to need to explain that.
Him: What do you mean explain that?
Me: I mean: you're analogizing therapy to jazz drumming. The therapist is the drummer, something else in the therapy is the drum or the drumsticks, and something else in the therapy is the time. I don't know enough about psychology to really guess what those are.

It just got worse from there. (And yes, I did use the word "analogize" on a date. What's your point?)

He actually had this conversational tag line that he used repeatedly:

"That's not my rap."

At one point, he said "Introspection, that's not really my rap," and I thought: that's got to be the line of the evening.

Generally, he was a pretentious fuck with a psychology PhD, recently divorced, underemployed, and still in some stage of life where he wants to think of himself as an artist/poet/whatever. Ugh. (He, on the other hand, is probably relating a disturbing tale of his date with the goddam wannabe lawyer who interrogated him...)

Actual Worst Date Ever (July 2005, email to friend):

Oh yeah, and Sunday morning I had what may quite possibly have been the world's most awful personal ad date, which was mercifully short because about 10 minutes into the thing I said, "I'm really not enjoying this conversation, and I'm going to leave now," and did just that. This guy showed up to a very small cafe on Queen Anne with a printout of my ad, started off with a TOP VOLUME and somewhat pointless rant about Karl Rove and "the media," then moved on to QUIZZING me about the interests listed in the ad ("OK, so you say HERE you enjoy the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder..."), again at TOP VOLUME, and throughout this all was frighteningly impervious to any sign that I was uncomfortable or bored by how he was proceeding. He lacked all normal intersubjective sense. My attempts to detour the conversation into something less excruciating became increasingly strident, and were entirely disregarded, even when I said things like "I don't know if you can tell by how I'm responding here, or my demeanor or something, but I would really prefer to talk about something else." I began to feel like if I didn't leave, everyone in the cafe (all of whom I'm sure could overhear the conversation) would lose respect for me. So I left. It was good. I felt very free. My friend J was like "Between the loudness and the obliviousness to social cues, it sounds like he was mildly autistic. Do you think he was all Aspergery?"

The Toxic Geek (January 2005, email to friend):

I've refined my taxonomy of problematic men to include a fellow I call "The Toxic Geek." He works at Microsoft, he's spent his entire life having everyone (first his mom, then Bill Gates) tell him he's very smart and very very special, he's never had a relationship longer than 4 months, he's in his early 40s, and he's absolutely certain that he's only single because he "just hasn't found the right girl yet." If you treat him like he's not good enough for you, he might think *you're* the right girl. If you're nice to him, he thinks he can do better. He feels that his money entitles him to date a woman far more attractive and interesting than he is. Oddly, he spends a lot of time complaining about "gold diggers."

"Fax me your tax return" (Late 2003, email to friend):

OK, I wrote some dork on the personals, and when he writes back the first thing out of his mouth is a request for "a photo or three." I've honestly just been too lazy and creeped out to take and post a new photo (And besides, last time I had a photo up I got email from some guy who wanted to be spanked and said I looked "commanding."), but now I'm thinking the photo-less ad is an interesting litmus test. Asking for a photo immediately is tacky. Asking for a photo immediately while lamenting one’s own unfortunate superficiality (as this fellow did) is...weird.

him: I do admit, though, to an outward facade of superficiality; sad to say, looks matter. I guess I look maybe, sorta, perhaps (?) acceptable to you. Would you send a pic or three to see if I feel likewise?

me: Three pictures? THREE pictures? Oh good lord. You know, I talked to a good male friend about your request today, and his take is funny enough to quote: "Three pictures? Yeah, send him like, an up-the-nose one and a crusty-heel one. Zoinks! He should fax you last year's tax return." So there you have it. No pictures. Nice doing business with you.

him: "a pic or three" probably doesn't merit such vehemence. There are three in my profile. I'm sniffing a bit of assymetry. [sic] Sayanora. [sic]

me: Bah, two are identical, the third I could have done without. It's perfect symmetry, no? In our Darwinian little universe, guys care about looks, girls about money. I don't know why you should be so offended. Fax me the tax return and we're in business...

him: Well I would, but I keep having to file extensions because I can't get the tax info from all the offshore corporations I'm a partner in. I'm starting to wonder if all those seven-figure checks come from nefarious sources. I guess it doesn't matter. I can just spend all the money on gorgeous women without a lick o' sense, and I'll be happy! Speaking of money: do you rent your attitude, or are you on a purchase plan?

me: It's bought and paid for, baby.

Red Robin? Red Fucking Robin?? (sometime in 2005,never written about before):

This Ukrainian architect guy (who it turned out designed large assisted living communities, a job that would make me want to kill myself) suggested we meet at a bar down on one of the piers. Normally, I avoid the waterfront because it's...well, it's tacky and awful and full of tourists, but we'd had a work happy hour at the place this guy suggested and I knew it to be bearable. Just. So I'm waiting out front, and this guy shows up, says something like "Shall we?" and makes a beeline for the Red Robin that's next to the appointed place. I don't know what was going on here. Was this was a case of him seeing me, finding me unattractive, and deciding I merited no better than the "Dead Robin?" Was this guy just pathologically cheap, but socially savvy enough to know that no woman would actually agree to meet him at the Red Robin? Because he hadn't just suggested meeting at that particular pier. He had suggested meeting at that particular restaurant. I should have turned on my heel right then and there, because even if this guy had been interesting (he wasn't, except maybe like a sad character in a short story...a sad character with a lot of weird contempt for women), there was no way for him to recover from that Red Robin bullshit.

The one time I was actually scared (early 2004, never written about before):

This guy seemed smart and interesting and funny on email, and as a result I didn't insist on talking to him on the phone before meeting. I came to regret that. We met for coffee at Victrola on Capitol Hill. In person, he was anxious and strangely empty. He maintained a nearly compulsive schedule of groups and activities: readings, singles movie nights, etc. In an email, he had mentioned something about having "dating horror stories" so, anticipating something like what you've just been reading, I asked him about that. His "dating horror story" went as follows: he had joined the discussion board at some web site called "QuirkyAlone," evidently devoted to odd single people. There's also a book. The book's author was trying to promote February 14 as "National QuirkyAlone Day," and sent out some press releases, which drew a local, female, Asian-American TV news reporter to the discussion board. This guy started emailing with the reporter, evidently serving as a valuable informant about the QuirkyAlone lifestyle, and when the "National QuirkyAlone Day" story fell through, he kept emailing her, even though she didn't really seem to have time to pursue a friendship due to her "busy, glamorous life" (this said with some venom). Eventually, he persuaded her to have coffee with him and "She was really charismatic, like people from television ARE!" (At this point in the story, it becomes apparent to me (and probably to her) that this guy is creepily obsessed with the newscaster, and that he's furthermore so unhinged from reality that he doesn't realize that he's not telling me a "dating horror story," he's telling me a "stalking horror story.") Anyway, after the coffee, she never emailed him again. "She has her busy life and her busy job and her busy friends, and she just doesn't care about me." (This said with a truly chilling blend of hatred and self-pity.) After this date, I started referring to the phone call as the "real-time psychopathology check."

Quadrafecta! (nutty shrink, entitlement issues about womens’ appearance, "it's not my fault I'm a pig" move, and problems with expectation-to-time ratio) (May 2005):

Here’s an example where the date itself was not so awful, but the post-date behavior was both baffling and execrable. This may also support Wordzguy’s theory (in the comments to this post) that part of what’s wrong with the personals is “the absurd expectation-to-time ratio.” This guy was a couples counselor of all things, mid-40s, originally from LA. We emailed and he seemed reasonably insightful. We exchanged photos, we talked on the phone, he seemed like he wasn’t nuts, so we made arrangements to get some sushi.

The dinner was…OK. He had lied about his height by an inch or two, but I had gotten to where I almost expected that, although I found it kind of odd that he’d even told me his height at all, as I hadn’t asked for it. He was a little bit pedantic and self-involved, but that’s a common first-date tic for geeky guys, so I was willing to overlook it. Generally I felt like, “OK, I'm not in love with this guy, but it seems like he’d be worth getting to know.”

Anyway, we wrap up the dinner, and then since his car was parked right outside the restaurant, he suggests giving me a ride to my car a couple of blocks away. Since it was starting to rain and he was not a psycho, I accepted.

Big mistake. Once I get in the car, he wants to sit there and “process” the date WHILE WE’RE STILL ON IT. Unfortunately, I can’t remember much exact dialogue from this 20-minute conversation, but I do remember him saying something like “It seems like you really don’t feel anything for me” and me saying something like “You seem like you’d be worth getting to know, and in this context, that’s about as good as it gets.” I also remember saying something like “What conversation are we having here? Are you just processing? Are you wanting me to say I want to date you? I like you, but you seem to expect something else. I’m finding this very confusing.” Anyway, eventually the conversation wound down (helped along by me saying “You know, I really don’t feel comfortable processing the date while I’m still on it”), we agreed that he should just email me later, and he drove me to my car.

A couple of days later I get the following email from him:
My thoughts since Sunday are that I did not pick up any sign of attraction from you, and that something along those lines would be necessary. I may not have genuinely conveyed much attraction to you either. I try to charm, but sometimes it covers for a sense of deficit of one sort or another. You don't seem to want to charm, perhaps for some good reasons, authenticity for one.

I'll admit that I did not find you nearly as "cute" as you described yourself. I regret that the physical attraction is that much of a factor for me. In some ways, I know better than to factor that into my judgment very heavily.

So, I am content to leave things as they are, meaning no further contact.
I would like to take this opportunity to note that my ad had said I was "Kinda cute, but no great looker," which is accurate (if not self-deprecating). My dark side would like to take the opportunity to note that the same description would be charitable if applied to my date. In addition to being short and lying about his height, he was a pointy-headed bald guy with unfortunate granny lips.

My reply:
Oh good lord. First the surprise processing in the car, now this. Listen, I'm sorry if you didn't think I was attracted to you, but that really doesn't give you license to bag on my appearance and then try to win some kind of "good guy" points by going on about how regretful you are about that. That's pretty much across the line.

Good luck falling in love on your next first date.

What gets me about this one is that he takes the whole "I'm a pig, but it's not my fault" thing a step or two further. It's not just "I'm sorry I'm so superficial." It's "I'm sorry I'm so superficial, and by the way, you don't measure up, and I'm going to tell you this even though there's no earthly reason to do so, but I want you to know that I'm self-aware enough to know that I'm acting like a jerk."



At 8:05 PM, January 02, 2006, Blogger Princess GoLightly said...

You poor dear. As my mother, used to say, "A man is like a bus.. if you miss one, another one comes by in 10 minutes."

Pick up a DVD of Sex and the City and make a study of Miranda Baines, the ultimate in power-lawyer. She found Steve, and it wasn't online. Escapism has it's merits.

At 9:35 PM, January 02, 2006, Blogger WordzGuy said...

The silver lining in this, for the rest of us, anyway, is the excellent stories that you valiantly go out and get for us. A shame, really, that in the process you come up so flingin'-flangin' short in the dating departamento. :-( (<-- see how sad that is?)

In addition to the many problems of online dating that you articulate so well is the absurd expectation-to-time ratio. In what we might quaintly refer to as "traditional dating," the couple has presumably met at some point before the dating deed is proposed. So, for example, he's been checking her out at the water cooler and already knows that he likes her. She's seen him around and has some basis for saying yea-or-nay besides a 100-word bio ("oops, typo") and a 10-minute meeting that is essentially under duress. As it is, every minute of every contact is fraught with expectation and judgement and the weighing of opinion. The notion that a person might get to know another person over time is quashed, forget it, this first meeting didn't go well, gong! Or hell, the first email didn't go well, so forget that person! (Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that your motley crew of would-be suitors deserve repeated interactions to "give them a chance"; what I'm proposing is that you would have known them well enough when that first date was proposed to know that you wanted very little indeed to do with them. I'm so flattered that you asked, but really, I'm quite busy. For the next three years.)

Though there are success stories out there, I can vouch. Whether all the frogs are worth the prince is, of course, your call.

At 10:29 AM, January 03, 2006, Anonymous chris said...

dude's a therapist and introspection isn't his rap?

how in the fuck does he manage that?

At 6:48 PM, January 03, 2006, Blogger ohplease said...

Yes, well, read carefully, many elements of the "that's not my rap" story could support the hypothesis that the guy wasn't a psychologist AT ALL. I tend to be slightly paranoid anyway, and it's really kind of a remarkable that the personals odyssey didn't make me much worse. But no. Just the hatred of men. The seething hatred of men...

And Mike, I'm going to "out" you as one of the valuable north-of-45 male friends I met via this ridiculous endeavor. The remarkable thing about you (and about my other personals friend) was that it was apparent immediately that, whatever else you were, you were a decent human being, a good egg. So this makes me think two, (er, three, (er, four)) things:

1.) If someone acts decently in the personals context, they are definitely a good person in real life, because the personals bring out the worst in everyone.

2.) You don't need to observe someone around the water cooler for months to know if they're OK. An hour over coffee or beer will get you enough information to draw that conclusion. (Of course, should the conclusion be "this person is a sociopathic creep pig," well, you want to go home and boil your brain.)

3.) Conversely, it is not possible to tell any of that from email. It's simultaneously overintimate and too controlled, which is a recipe for rampant bullshit.

4.) Additionally, and this is what particularly annoys me about the personals, I think there is some subset of people who actually are decent in real life, but are led astray by (or run amok in) the warped social context.

5.) (Maybe I don't hate men after all. Because I seem to be unwilling to believe that so many of them are actually assholes.)

At 10:43 AM, January 05, 2006, Anonymous cmb adams said...

> Yes, well, read carefully, many
> elements of the "that's not my
> rap" story could support the
> hypothesis that the guy wasn't a
> psychologist AT ALL.

wouldn't it be great if he was, in actuality, a jazz drummer?


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