Virtual Valentine

The thing with breakups is that everybody has a piece of advice. This can be a good thing, especially if you have wise individuals in your inner-circle. You can learn what they’ve done to get over heartbreak: workout plans, movies that provide a laugh, where to vacation, which cult to join. Out of all the panaceas that have been prescribed to me, one has come up more than twice. It’s that, after I’ve given myself the appropriate amount of forever to get over my last relationship, I might want to try online dating. To socially inept and skittish me, this sounds like a fine idea. Meet people in the safety and comfort of my own home and never have to actually see them? Splendid. But when it gets down to it, Internet dating seems to be guided by an implied honor system that nobody reads in the fine print of "Accepted Terms & Conditions."

Suspicion of online dating isn’t new territory for me. I’ve always been fascinated with the way that the Internet has impacted our most intimate moments, and in my curiosity I’ve poked a stick at everything from chat-room sex to mail-order brides. I’ve even written about the cyber-romance industry before, but I haven’t had the unfortunate distinction of being an actual guinea pig in the proverbial labratory. Now I’m single, and although I feel more inclined to undergo elective surgery than get involved with a stranger and run the risk of going through a breakup again, I have to recognize that one day I may want to go on a date. I’m not in school anymore, and I work from home. How on earth does a sober single lady meet somebody in this town? Oddly enough, the Internet seems like the most viable option.

I’m an aesthetically-obsessed, overly-judgmental prick. Those are my good qualities. So it can be assumed that I approach the prospect of "meeting the love of my life" via computer with the same trepidation as I would taking a soak in a piranha-filled bathtub. I can say with a great amount of authority that the computer isn’t the most reflective device when it comes to a person’s physical attributes. I can show you two pictures of yours truly (or you can just Google search on your own time) where I look like a late-era Brando with a hair-piece and Ani DiFranco hit in the face with a lead pipe. While I may have a bevy of self-esteem issues to wade through in the inevitable years of therapy that await me, I do know that I am not nearly as ugly as those two computer-search-optimized photos. Alas.

So online profile pictures? I assume they’re as representative of their subjects as boxed mac ‘n cheese is representative of Italian food. And the personal revelations the sites have you provide? Please. The only one I put stock in is the inquiry as to whether or not you like cats, and I’ll only believe you if you say you don’t. My cynicism is founded in reality, and not just the reality of new-found singledom. Statistics show that men lie the most about how much money they make, how tall they are, and their age. Ladies predictably fib about physical stats like weight and how old they are. Aside from the details of deception, there’s the fact that one out of ten users is a scammer. Want more scary numbers? One out of ten sex offenders reportedly employs online dating sites to meet people. Less frightening, but still sad, one out of ten site users leave within the first three months. Already I feel like I’m potentially speed dating Max Cady.

I also have to say that the fairer sex is responsible for giving online hookups such a seedy reputation: one out of three women who meet guys online have sex the first time they meet. What’s worse? Four out of five of these women don’t use protection. Those are numbers that send me screaming from the screen.

Among the choices of sites I could scope there are some that boast love (eHarmony, Match), a number that imply fun (OkCupid, Nerve), a few that have faith (JDate, ChristianSingles), a couple that want to ruin/save marriages (AshleyMadison), and a smattering that have a pretty specific purpose that I won’t get into here (Manhunt). What I’m trying to say is that if you want a freckled, 6’0" mountain biker to shack up with for the weekend, you can find her. If you want a Korean, vegan, classical guitarist to date for the long haul, he’s there. If it’s one dirty night or one for life, you just need to figure out which site is right for you. Of course, if you’re like me, what you want changes minute by minute. Also, if you’re like me, you’re not going to pay a penny to peruse these digital dating displays. On average, an online dating consumer spends $239 per year. To me, that’s nearly $240 dollars too many. After all, walking down the street and making bedroom eyes is an activity you can partake in for free.

But I might be the only person on Earth who feels this way. Online dating is a 1.049 billion dollar industry. It trumps porn. In fact, the porn industry has pointed the finger at Internet dating as the reason why they’ve suffered a $74 million dollar decline. Searching for the one has amounted to the largest segment of "paid content" on the Internet, even more than seeing people make friction.

Of course this forces me to wonder, who spends money on this? I mean, I have social anxiety, but even if I reach a point where swapping spit with strangers is an option, I don’t have $239 bones to drop on potential suitors behind a computer screen. Out of my friends, I know only one or two who’d have the spare change to toss into the online dating cup. (Ironically, their financial and career successes have rendered them man magnets and total babe bait.) When trying to figure out who is spending dough on dating sites, I should have realized that it would have to be people who are just old enough to be doomed to fail in the bar scene, but who are at the prime age for sportscars and Viagra. Out of 80 million babyboomers, nearly 30% are single and testing the web waters. Aside from the ‘boomers flocking to the field, men outnumber women, with 52.4% of site users being male and 47.6% being female. If you have two X chromosomes and live in New York, online dating makes sense, as men outnumber us to a much greater degree in the concrete jungle.

If I needed any other reasons to feel skeptical about clicking for love, there are many. Sites have encountered problems where profiles are online for months, sometimes even years, without the user logging in. There are the predictable financial issues, too. Members can sign up for free or low-cost trial memberships, only to be charged automatically and without warning at the end of the trial. And, lastly, it sucks to be a girl. Statistics have shown that, online, men rate women’s attractiveness according to a normally distributed bell-curve, while women rate nearly 80% of men as below-average attractiveness. This can be summed up in one statement: women are discerning to the point of being picky. Which shoots us in the foot if we’re truly looking for a soul mate, doesn’t it?

The truth is, I’m not really enticed by online dating simply because it goes against my pathetically romantic nature. I’d like to believe that I may meet that perfect person – the one who laughs at my jokes and enjoys long walks in the city, spankings, getting up early, and Medjool dates – and that I’ll do it in person. I don’t believe that I’ll find them in the comfort of my home. That just seems too…convenient. Even the best online dating story I know involved a little bit of difficulty. A male friend of mine was contacted by a girl on Nerve.com, only he’d just had two bad dating experiences. He politely told her he wasn’t in the headspace to go out, but he thanked her anyway. About a month or two later, he was looking on Craigslist’s personals and read an add that was devoid of a picture. He was intrigued by the description, and thought that the lady sounded nice. He wrote to her and she responded, sending a photograph. It was the same girl he’d previously rejected. They’re getting married in three weeks, and I’ll be right there watching. Although it was life-changing for him, I don’t believe that it would work for me. My little heart might just be too tired after three years with a person who I still consider my best-friend. But maybe I’ll try it. After all, it’s a lot like human window shopping, and I don’t ever have to commit to buy.