Last night I drowned Cousteau. For a year and a half we'd been navigating the murky waters of online dating together, but he sabotaged my quest for a boyfriend once too often, so I threw him overboard.
When I first immersed myself online at 33, I felt too old for club guppies and too young for bar sharks. Six years in relationships had left me a fish out of water in the singles scene. Standing in dark corners at Woody's or Buddies, I'd cruise men telepathically, like Aquaman summoning creatures of the sea: "Over here. Talk to me." My longing stares were presumably interpreted as hostile. With an online profile, I reasoned, I stood a better chance of putting my best foot forward.
I wrote clever copy ("Intimate + dating = intimidating!"), posted a smiling head shot and created a nickname that played on my real name and my favourite band's. Cousteau's dating profile appeared, and I was soon deluged with emails and phone numbers. Armed with a new take-charge attitude to my personal life, I lined up coffee with Ian on Monday, dinner with Barry on Wednesday, a movie with Craig on Saturday.
My roommate would ask, "Who are you seeing this time?" as I left the house. Confident that Mr. Right would soon swim my way, I told friends and colleagues that Internet dating was "the best thing ever!"
There were some great dates: a sexy pot-growing landscaper, a publisher adept at hot oil massage, a teacher with an extensive Marvel comics collection. Of course, there were some duds, like the self-loathing "straight-acting and -looking" ad exec or the writer who mistakenly called me Pierre. Twice.
I came to understand the ebb and flow of the online tide: newcomers are flooded with attention, but eventually the emails and smiles trickle off. I learned to check my in-box weekly instead of an obsessive three times daily, scanning profiles like a kid collecting baseball cards ("Seen him, seen him, he's new, seen him.").
I deciphered unspoken codes: a handshake on the first date is gentlemanly, but no kiss by date number two is a bad sign. "My life is really complicated right now" means "I'm not interested," whereas "Want to come over for television?" translates as "Do me on my couch." These interpretive skills were of little use when disappointed by guys who didn't call or write when I thought they would, but I soon found a kind of solace in not calling or writing others myself.
An ill-advised summer fling sidelined Cousteau from his online adventure. Six dramatic weeks and an Ativan prescription later, I again submerged myself in the depths of the Internet, thinking that posting under "relationships" would introduce me to more like-minded men who talked about things other than themselves and Martha Stewart.
This time, I wrote that I was looking for someone for whom monogamy was not a foreign concept. This prompted emails from overly earnest potential husbands as far away as Timmins, Iowa and Malaysia, and made me wish I'd described myself as at least "occasionally slutty."
A year later, the Long Term Relationship still eluded me. A friend recommended a different and much raunchier website, where my photo looked silly surrounded by dozens of thumbnail shots of erect penises. I stood out like Alice at the beginning of a dirty Brady Bunch, looking around wide-eyed from my centre square.
Important questions washed over me: Why was finding a boyfriend so important? Didn't I have better things to do? Can't I meet someone by leaving the house? I logged onto my computer, prepared to delete Cousteau's profiles, and looked at the pictures of that week's new batch of men from force of habit.
He was a good-looking guy-next-door type with an easy smile. He was literate, funny, employed and supposedly sane. We shared a love of bad television and a reluctance to exercise. In short order we were emailing each other several times a day. By the time we met in person, the expectation levels we'd allowed ourselves were ridiculously high, so we nervously ate and engaged in safe small talk. I was willing to overlook the fact that he didn't know where Parkdale was and that his favourite band was Chilliwack. Despite this benevolence, he declined to spend more time with me that afternoon, preferring to arrange a second date that never happened.
I had finally come to understand the catch-22 of online dating: I was competing with myself. Various men had been taken with Cousteau's profile, but not with the person behind the picture, just as many I'd met were completely different from the men I'd imagined them to be.
This means it's time to stop using my PC as a social buffer. I will talk to men at parties, I will say hi to the cute guy on the streetcar, who must think I'm a big snob. As of last night, Cousteau sleeps with the fishes.
Jacques Eugene is a psuedonym.