ding. ding. ding. my hormones shoot off like a slot machine. His eyebrow arcs, a dimple adorns his cheek, and the scarf round his neck draws me into his arms. A picture can say more than a thousand words, but it can omit just as many. Online, a brief profile accompanies his photo. He's a 29-year-old heterosexual male, 6-foot-2, with a muscular build, born in France, now living in Toronto. He's got a PhD and is sans children. He's a vegetarian who drinks socially, never smokes and is seeking what many online male daters are seeking, all things beginning with the letter "s": a sweet, sexy, silly, smart, spontaneous, stable, self-assured female rendition of himself who just so happens to cook. His interests narrow in on women who want a casual date, a serious relationship, marriage, an activity partner or a friend.
Among scores of interested contacts, the Frenchman stands out (though not up to 6-2, I'm soon to learn). Of course, all I have to go on is a short want ad and a possibly zoomed, cropped, colour-enhanced JPEG.
My options: "Send a note or decline contact." So I point, click and hope for the best.
After a handful of e-mails and daydreams involving me, hot fondue and a Frenchman with a bedside spread of brie, baguettes and Beaujolais, he requests a photo and a date. I attach a personal snapshot but indicate that I don't feel comfortable meeting someone I know so little about.
He replies, "Le mystère, c'est bien plus séduisant, non, Caitlin?" (Translation: Mystery is more attractive, isn't it Caitlin?). And I accept.
I prepare for the rendezvous with Sex And The City reruns, You've Got Mail (with Meg Ryan on mute and Tom Hanks on fast forward) and some professional over-the-phone advice from my buddy Laura, a connoisseur when it comes to eyebrow-shaping and on-line dating, and a friend who's always there to talk makeup, breakups and making out.
The date: 9 pm at a coffee shop on Bloor. I perch on a stool near the window, my torso bound in a French-inspired, black-and-white-striped off-the-shoulder chemise, sipping $2 water, alternately directing my gaze at a coffee-stained newspaper, a school essay and a watch showing the Frenchman is 15 minutes late. The number-one rule for first dates is "Be on time."
The coup de théâtre: in walks my date, scrawny not brawny, and looking like Pepe Le Pew. He's more prepared for Cirque du Soleil than coffee and conversation, wearing a urine-yellow blouse and a Pretty In Pink white-and yellow-striped sweater and heavy tapered black dress pants.
No apologies and all smiles, he kisses each cheek twice before snatching my notes, analyzing my handwriting and ushering me to a table for two.
"You're blushing," he says, and smirks. As I take a seat across from him, he pats the vacant space beside him on the bench.
"I'm fine right here," I think, without saying anything aloud. But I pick myself up, tell myself off and start the date all over again - beside him. Moving toward the edge of the bench, I try to keep my distance, but he follows, along with the droplets of sweat on his forehead, adding something of a festive shine to a red blemish peaking through damp threads of hair.
The tête-à-tête: 40 minutes later I'm still sipping the same water. He neither offers nor orders anything, so I lay my fantasy of café au lait and romantic ballet to rest. We talk about food, travel, school, careers and learning languages, and at length about my hair.
"Is it natural?" he asks.
"Is what natural?" I ask.
"The curl," he says.
"Yes," I say, rescuing a strand from his clammy hands and hiding it behind my shoulder while my blind date bypasses my eyes for a breast examination. "Talk about thinking with his rod and cones," I think, and laugh aloud. He laughs. I laugh. His hand slaps down on mine and lingers.
"Oh my god, he's holding my hand," I think, and smile nervously. "Oh no, he's thinks I'm flirting."
I vow to stop thinking till the date's finale, and occupy my exposed hand by pushing back my cuticles, and tucking hair behind my ears over and over and over again.
Half an hour later I'm close to plunging off the edge of the bench. He says it's getting late. I agree. We leave the coffee shop, not having drunk any coffee, walk to the traffic lights and say adieu in front of a blinking hand. No doubt this is a sign.
The moral: computers can replace bank tellers, answering machines and cashiers, but they can never replace face-to-face contact during a date.
His eyebrow twists, a dimple marks his cheek and the scarf around his neck ties my stomach in knots. He gives me a kiss on either cheek and says to find a fave recipe and bring it over to his place, maybe tomorrow night or the next.
"E-mail me," he says.
"OK, will do," I say. We never talk again.