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Monday, August 2, 2010

Lookin4Love (In All The Wrong Places)

Disclaimer: I've had several people ask to read my Match.com article from my grad school thesis. HERE IT IS. But- it's long. So, grab some coffee, sit back, and don't judge my love life. One of these days... Mr. Right will be Mr. Right Now.


I didn’t get my first real kiss until my twenty-fourth birthday. I know—you can lift your jaw up off the floor. Trust me, I didn’t plan it this way. I’m not a part of some strange religious cult where the men and women aren’t allowed to see, let alone touch, each other until the wedding day, nor did I convert to the Shaker faith, a culture that died out many years ago because they didn’t believe in sex. I just was never kissed. To be honest, I never had a boyfriend, and, to be quite honest, I never really dated. I blame it on my mother, clich├ęd as it may sound. Throughout my entire childhood she prayed that God would “put blinders on every guy's eyes except my husband's.” After not getting asked to four homecoming dances in a row, I politely told her she had to stop praying. It was totally hindering my game.


I shouldn’t blame it all on my mother. There was one time a few years ago a good friend from college started calling me daily. Although he lived four hours away from me , I thought I would give him a chance. If my mom's prayers were working, this guy may have been my husband. So I made the trip for the weekend. We had a great time, no thanks to my mom suggesting I get a hotel because it just wasn’t appropriate to sleep in the same apartment together. But, being kissless at twenty-two, I felt pretty safe that there would be no hanky-panky going on.


We had come in late Saturday night after he had taken me to dinner and showed me around his city. Standing in his living room, he helped me take off my jacket, and then he pulled me into his arms. I remember thinking how nice it felt. A man had never really held me that way before. I hadn't ever felt that a guy wanted to be more than just my friend. I looked up at him. He looked down at me. Our eyes locked. The moment had come—my first real kiss. And as he leaned down, our lips drawing ever nearer, I did what any logical twenty-two-year-old lip virgin would do. I slapped him.


I’m not sure why I did it. I just knew that, if I had waited this long, I wasn’t going to waste my first kiss standing in some guy's living room. It would be special.


Oh, and special it was. His name was Victor, and he was the heartthrob of our Lexington newsroom. For my twenty-fourth birthday, he took me to see the Holiday Lights at the Kentucky Horse Park. It was not only beautiful but also romantic. Afterward, as we drove back to his place, I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of a goodnight kiss. We got out of the car and walked to the side of his house, and there, next to the trashcans, he kissed me. Okay, so maybe that living room smooch with the old college friend would have been a little less smelly, but this kiss was perfect. I then called every person I ever knew to tell them my lips were virgin no more.


That kiss gave me the boost of confidence I needed to accelerate my dating life into full speed. I moved to Washington, DC a month later, and, in my first few months of living in the city, I went out with a slew of characters that I affectionately referred to by code name. There was the surgeon, the married guy, who I didn’t know was married until three hours before our first date, and the meteorologist. Then there were Blind-Date Doug, the pilot, the creepy waiter from Chadwick’s whose name I still can’t remember, the sports reporter, the airplane guy, and button boy. But none of these guys ever came close to my standards.


Since middle school, I've been keeping a list of qualifications I want in a husband. Call me old-fashioned, but I'm not in the business of dating just to date. I have always gone out with guys because I hope there is potential for more: a deeper friendship that leads to romance that leads to love and eventually to marriage. Isn't that what every girl wants in the end anyway?


At the top of my list is a Christian. He's got to love to travel, have ambition, love kids, and love my dog. I want him to be successful yet still support my dreams and success, too. I would like him to be between five foot nine and six foot two, be okay with popcorn for dinner when I don’t feel like cooking, and be able to hold his own in a room full of strangers without needing me by his side. He's got to make me laugh, and he’s got to pursue me. None of this girl-calling-guy business; if he wants me, he has to do the work.


I go in spurts with dating—you know, the ol’ when it rains it pours mentality. Recently, I found myself in a precarious situation. A friend from work decided that I should meet her boyfriend’s brother. She said he was about my age, really cute, and a really nice guy. I thought, what would it hurt? Maybe he would be just what I needed, a fun-loving guy with passion for life and a passion for me. She passed along my picture to him and his picture to me. He was tall and blond, with a baby face and a great smile. Cute enough, I remember thinking.


Our first date was on a Wednesday. He took me out for sushi and ordered us a bottle of wine. He was funny, and our conversation was flawless. The night ended with a kiss, and I think I had “a little thing” for my coworker’s boyfriend's brother. We talked the next two nights, and by Saturday I was meeting his friends.


At the end of our first week of dating, we were watching television and eating carryout when it all went south. Fast. We started talking about prior relationships or, in my case, lack thereof. And it eventually came to the topic of sex. I may kiss on the first date, but I am not one to get physical fast. I was ONE WEEK into seeing this guy and we were already talking sex. This was not where I wanted to be and not what I wanted to be talking about. We should have been talking about family and growing up and past pets. Instead, I felt he was pressuring me into when I would “give it up.” When I ended the night early, he said he would “call tomorrow.” I never heard from him.


Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo’s book, He’s Just Not That Into You, has become gospel to me. In fact, I go through its chapter checklist with every “potential” I give my number to.


Is he calling me?

Is he asking me out?

And my favorite: is he a selfish jerk, a bully, or a really big freak?


For too long I’ve made excuses for guys I’ve been into, including the bozo who stopped seeing me because I wouldn’t sleep with him on day number seven of knowing him. It’s not that I’m scared of relationships. It’s that I have certain standards that I set for myself on the basis of my own moral convictions, and I refuse to compromise. I’m not going to continue a relationship if a guy has different morals or different beliefs, and I’m not going to have sex after knowing someone a week. If only finding that perfect match were that easy. I’m tired of landing the wrong ones—the ones that talk too much, or don’t ask enough questions. They’re either too tall, too short, too insecure, or too confident. Am I just too picky? Maybe it’s time for a new approach, time for me to cast a wider net.


I spend my Sunday afternoons watching “Lifetime Originals,” the four-and-a-half-hour, made-for-TV movies about battered women and sex scandals starring Valerie Bertinelli. The movie is usually followed by another four-and-a-half-hour sequel on how Valerie found love after some sort of cataclysmic loss. I love them. Last Sunday, I made myself a turkey sandwich, sat down on the couch, and turned on the television. About two minutes into the saga of a young dancer stalked by her dance instructor, there was a commercial break. Irritated and reaching for the remote, I paused for an online dating commercial. It was the one for Chemistry.com where the girl says, “I promise to never wear a flannel nightgown,” and the guy looks at her and says, “How about you just vow to never wear a nightgown?” She gives him a little smile, and then they give you some cheesy line about how looking is free. I’ve seen that spot a hundred times; it must be working because I can’t stop watching it. Maybe it’s the sincerity and love in their voices, or maybe it’s because they are offering that same hope to me, too. I promise to never wear a flannel nightgown too, I always think, tearing up and pulling my dog a little closer.


After this umpteenth viewing, I logged onto Match.com. (I always thought Chemistry was for old, bald men.) If I needed a new approach to dating, this might just be it. I’ve had many friends try Internet dating like Match, Chemistry, and eHarmony, and I’ve even logged on a few times myself. I just wonder what it says about me if I can’t find someone the old-fashioned way.


As the computer screen in front of me transformed from my home screen to Match.com, I made a decision. I wasn’t just going to window shop. This time, I would commit. Thirty days, I told myself. I will give this online dating thing thirty days.


Once I had made the decision to stick with it, I pulled out my credit card and paid the $34.99 plus tax. $34.99 plus tax to meet men! I closed my eyes, shook my head, and prayed to God I wasn’t making the biggest mistake of my life.


Your first rite of passage after selling yourself to an Internet dating service is to fill out a personal profile, and right from the get-go they suck you in.


“Welcome to our community,” the site says. “What brings you here today?”


Community? As in cult or some strange Trekkie convention? Don’t think twice, Seaton, I said to myself. Keep going. I answered all the basics like my height, relationship status, body type, and the age of the guy I’m hoping to meet. Then the hard part began.


“What do you do for fun?” the computer screen reads.


Remember the first day of school growing up when you had to go around the classroom say your name and a factoid about yourself, like your favorite movie? I was terrible at that. When the teacher called on me, I always froze, unable to remember one movie I had ever seen—one movie ever made. Even now, I can’t come up with one. I’m terrible under pressure. What do I like to do for fun?


This is what I wrote:


“Ha. Fun?” Do grad students have fun? A good glass of wine on the weekends with friends. A beer and burger while watching college football. Being outside. Playing with my dog. Road trips to catch up with good friends. Exploring D.C.”


There, that wasn’t too difficult. What’s next? Bring it on Match.com. Favorite local hotspots? Check. Favorite travel destinations? Easy. Last book read? Is that all you’ve got? I was on a roll and darn proud of my wit. I spent the next hour answering every question anyone would ever want to know since my birth. By the time I finally finished my profile, I was ready for a nap—or to rewind that Lifetime Original and watch if the dance instructor ever had his way with his pupil.


I had barely pushed submit when the winks started flooding in.


WSUSUPERFAN has winked at you.”

PSUS48 has winked at you.”

TXBOYINDC has winked at you.”

LOOKIN4LOVENOVA has emailed you.”

PEZZCLOWN would like to IM you.”

“Would you like to IM with PEZZCLOWN?”


Whoa Match.com. Slow down. What is a wink, and why are all these people batting their eyes at me?


There are all these understood rules about online dating. Match is no exception. It’s not like your grandparents' dating game where you wait for the guy to make the first move. In Match, you have to be aggressive. Half the guys look like they’re twelve, and the other half look like they still live with their mothers. There really are only a handful of normal men on the site, and you’ve got to have cheetah-like reflexes to be noticed. I learned that a wink meant you were interested. If you winked back, you might get an email, beginning the first round of cat-and-mouse.


With Operation Match.com in full swing, I decided I needed to go shopping: new jeans, new top, new heels, new bra. (Not that I planned on showing off this new bra, but something about a new bra gives a girl extra lift and, in my opinion, extra confidence.)


I came home to start my search for Mr. Right and found a wink and an email from a guy named SoulRock. His profile showed no picture, but it said he was thirty-four and an executive. At twenty-six, he was pushing my limit. Ah, what the heck, I thought. I opened his email and found several pictures. Not bad looking. Shorter than I would like, but he was definitely in the running for a possible face-to-face date. He seemed a little exotic with dark brown hair and dark eyes. Very Rico Suave-esque. I had some actual work to get done and didn’t have time to respond right then. As I shut my computer, I noticed another Match email pop up on my Blackberry. This one again from SoulRock.


“I know you saw my pictures, Sarah. Why aren’t you writing me back?”


What the heck! Is this guy stalking me? I soon learned that on Match you can pay for a feature to find out if your emails have been read. I decided not to write him an “I’m not interested, but best of luck” email and just ignored it. Twelve hours later, I had two more emails from SoulRock in my inbox, both equally as indignant. Why wouldn’t this guy just leave me alone? Doesn’t he realize, if I were interested, I would write him back?


I had had it. Three emails. Two winks. All in twenty-four hours. Something needed to be done. Subtlety was not an option.


“Dear SoulRock,” I typed angrily. “I’m sorry if I offended you.” Why was I apologizing to this inpatient jerk? “But, I work full-time and am in grad school full-time, and had a twenty-five-page paper due this week. And, I had a family crisis that I had to take care of long distance, as well as some friends in town for a few days. So, I’m sorry that I didn’t get back to you when you would have liked. Actually, I’m not interested, but, even if I was, your pushiness is a big turn-off, and I think you’re a little rude. May want to tone it down in the future.”


Send.


Wow. That felt good. Then I went to the bottom of the page and pressed “Block User.” Whew. With one stalker down, I had just twenty-six winks and five emails to weed through. Time to get serious. Besides, I was getting hungry.


I met Bobcat at a local Asian restaurant. We decided to meet over lunch because our evening schedules weren’t clicking. I was excited to meet this potential match. Although I didn’t find him extremely attractive from his profile picture, his work as a lobbyist struck me as ambitious and smart. Because I have a habit of being chronically early to everything, it was no surprise to me that I beat him to the table. Soon I found myself questioning every man who walked in the door. I had this fear that the online picture would look nothing like him. In real life, Bobcat would have an extra arm or a three-foot Mohawk and be completely unattractive to me, and I would have to sneak out of the place inconspicuously.

Bobcat looked exactly like his picture, and he showed up exactly at noon. Despite his tall, buttoned-up appearance, the attraction just wasn’t there. I worked hard to brush off my initial impression because his sense of adventure intrigued me. In our emails, he talked about climbing Kilimanjaro, visiting the Taj Mahal, and traveling around the country talking to lawmakers about issues close to his heart. The passion behind his words attracted me. I hoped the face-to-face interaction would be just as interesting. I was wrong. He spent the entire time talking about growing up as an only child and what his mom was up to these days. I wondered just how fast I could eat my chicken Pad Thai and get back to the office. Maybe he was thinking the same thing.


He hugged me goodbye and said he would call. I smiled graciously and thanked him for the meal. It took two days before he called to ask me out again. After some friendly banter, I told him it wasn’t going to work.


The month continued on with dinner dates, coffee dates, lunch dates, and phone dates. I met all sorts of men from grad students to accountants. From bushy brows to egotistical executives. Some were the age of my dad; some were barely out of college.


I ended my month on Match sitting alone on my couch, watching Lifetime with my dog at my side. Perusing through the hundreds of men available in my part of town, I entertained the option of one more month. Maybe Mister Right just hadn’t logged on. Maybe Mister Right is filling out his profile right now. With thirty minutes left as an official Match.com member, I clicked on “Account Settings” and scrolled down to “Cancel My Subscription.” I felt like I was a click away from canceling my shot at love, a click away from being marked single for life. And with a click, I was done.


Elle Magazine advice columnist E. Jean Carroll wrote a book entitled Mr. Right: Right Now, in which she promises to land smart women the men of their dreams in six weeks. Match.com guarantees someone great in six months. Even comedian Steve Harvey claims to be an expert and says, “give the man what the man needs and he’s yours.” Then, there’s the He’s Just Not That Into You theory, and shoot, while we’re at it, my high school history teacher has a theory too: whoever shows the least interest in the relationship controls it.


In the age of self-help books and mail-order brides, voices from every direction shout at me, “There’s no reason you should be single and lonely.” Another month on the Internet may have been just what I needed to find someone wonderful, or it may have been just another month of spending time and money trying to control what I cannot—love.


Pulling up at a stoplight on the way to meet my girlfriends for drinks, I looked into the car next to me—an attractive, blonde-haired man driving an SUV. He caught my gaze and smiled. Through the window, I felt myself smile back. Maybe happily ever after has nothing to do with looking for love and everything to do with waiting for it to find you.

3 comments:

  1. Nice work, Sarah! Great article! You really took a risk here. I admire your courage to be so open.

    Warm Regards,

    Samantha

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  2. You posted this a while ago friend but I just found it and had to say I can highly identify with all that you shared and I loved reading it :) hope all goes well in Rwanda!!
    elisa

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  3. I just read this again and was reminded why Birdie is such a lucky guy!

    ReplyDelete