Saturday, January 06, 2007

Long ago, not too far away

So, here's the story of my one-and-only internet "dating" experience. After all of the buildup, it's bound to disappoint, but then again, that would be fitting - oh, I'm getting ahead of myself. But be advised that none of this is exaggerated or made up. Really.

I had a friend that was deep into the online dating scene, going on a fresh blind date practically every week. (We've lost touch but I recently heard she's married and has a baby - I am dumbfounded as I swear it's only been 2 years since I last saw her, but I supposed that's enough time. I wonder if she met him online? But I digress.) She convinced me to give it a shot, so I put up a profile on a fairly innocuous mainstream site. I didn't receive very many promising responses to my ad, likely because I didn't have a photo up (out of personal privacy/security fears, mostly, although also not convinced I had a strong enough photo.) One guy flat out told me unless I posted a photo, I'd get no serious responses. Another was more friendly; we exchanged emails for a week or so and he seemed interested until the question of religion came up and I learned that "former Catholic" can run the gamut from "still recovering"/atheist to "still drop by on holidays"/"of course my kids will go to Catholic Sunday School, why would you ask?" (Me: the former, he: the latter of course.) I told him I wasn't interested in setting foot in a Catholic church until gays/women/married men could be priests, and I never heard from him again. Now I know better; get that shit out up front.

But he's not who I'm here to write about. During this time, I began surfing "men seeking women" profiles, as you do. I didn't respond to very many, but stumbled on one who professed to being a writer. At the time, my writing workshop was looking for a new member, so I contacted him. We exchanged a few emails, but he wasn't really interested in joining a group - he was a fairly novice writer who hadn't gone through a workshop experience, wasn't sure wanted feedback during a first draft. Not an uncommon position, and since it's more beneficial to the group to have someone with workshop experience (giving constructive critiques to the other writers is as important as sharing your own material), we mutually decided that was a dead end. But we'd established a basic friendship, so he suggested we meet, no strings, just for fun. After all, although I was two years younger than he was, I was still "too old" to be the woman he was looking for because, of course, he felt strongly that he needed a gal with young ovaries. (Sometimes I think these guys should just write in their ads, "If you're too old to be an egg donor, you're too old for me! Next!")

He suggested a meeting place where we could have some fun, too - a coffee bar on the upper west side that had their own on-site singles dating service. I just tried to find it online, but it appears that the original location is no longer open. The idea was that they kept binders of personal profiles for browsing, sorted by the usual gender categories. You paid to add your own, but browsing was free. If you found someone you wanted to contact, you'd notify the staff and they'd arrange it for you for a small fee. (I can't remember if it was email or phone or you left a note.) Most people, of course, would choose to have their initial meeting in the same cafe. It seemed like a great business model, but maybe they closed because they were unable to successfully integrate an online component. Or just lost their lease.

Anyway, I've mentioned how I didn't recognize him because he looked about 10 years older than his online photo. Still we had a pleasant time, going through the binders and jokingly offering each other advice on who to contact. It was fine, and fine, too, when after that, we started talking on the phone alot. He was lonely, depressed, and struggling to make a career change. He'd taken a writing course, hence the decision to write a book, and was getting certified to teach. He'd finally thrown in the towel after a long attempt at an entertainment career (in which he seemed to have earned some success, but not enough to sustain through middle/old age, and retirement.) Most of the time he was funny and good to talk to - we met a couple of other times for dinner or coffee and it seemed like I had found a friend. Then he got comfortable enough to call me when he was in seriously dark moodes, often after drinking. He would be angry, incoherent, suicidal. After one one of these particularly frightening calls, I told him that I couldn't be that kind of friend. He was hurt but stopped, although we still maintained a low level of contact.

I don't really remember exactly how it happened, but at one point I told him that I hadn't meant that I wanted to stop being friends altogether, and he jumped on it, going immediately back to calling me daily to unload. I let him, because I'm a wimp. And why not be there for someone who clearly needed a friend? Well, then he got into some trouble. He was teaching and had somehow managed to get entangled with a teenage female student who had a crush on him. Although no sex was involved (he claimed), there were private emails, visits in his home, threats from her boyfriend, and an investigation by school authorities. What got me was that he didn't seem to understand how his own behavior had contributed to any of it, just saw it as another instance of the world out to get him. He started arguing with me, defending himself. It was frustrating and I just gave up. I told him that I honestly didn't think that the friendship was going to work, and didn't want him to call me any more.

He went ballistic. His anger was so forceful that any doubts I had that what I was doing was selfish disappeared. I received one more call from him - a voicemail to my office number left in the middle of the night, in which he preceded to tell me all of the things that were wrong with me - including the fact that he'd been "embarrassed" when he'd invited me to dinner with a group of his friends because I'd been so shy and quiet. (Funny how of all the mean things he said, all the vicious things he called me, that is the one I remember most, because it hit hardest. I am shy, especially with a large group of strangers, and I was really anxious before that night. I thought after that I'd handled myself well and was making strides at becoming more socially adept. I like to think he knew that and brought it up just because he knew it would hurt me most, not because his friends really had asked him what my problem was.) His voicemail was so awful that I started shaking and crying. I called another friend and she made me feel better, reminding me that he had way more problems than I was equipped to handle, which didn't make me a bad person.

I worried for a short time that he'd contact me again (although he didn't have my address, he had my phone number and email) but that was it. Sometimes I wonder if he's still alive (he'd always claimed he'd not make it another five years.) He's probably married to a twenty five year old (or that high school chick), father of three, teaching in suburbia somewhere.

Hmmm.... maybe this story isn't as interesting as I thought it was.


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