Sunday, April 13, 2008

People Are Fungible

Mermaiden (probably not her real name) posted this comment after I got all ambivalent about, and I think it reflects a couple of my concerns, too:

do you really think online dating is a good tool? i have had a few interests online, and i do think it is a very easy way to meet people, but being pooled by your personality and then randomly selected for only certain individuals kind of ruins the whole natural selection process, don't you think?

And I was (am) a little concerned about the same idea that Mermaiden had. It sure beats arranging a marriage to the best-bred person your family can afford. I assume. I guess it depends on the size of your dowry, how many cows or Emperor coins or sacks of grain your betrothed can get for you. But not that I've gone through the whole First Meetings™ process or anything, but it feels inorganic in its own special way.

I don't think it's the mechanics of Internet dating that's the problem. Way back in the days when your father might try to marry you off to the local duke before you hit puberty, people were having unseen forbidden, chivalric affairs via furtive epistolaries, collected in tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Pyramus and Thisbe, lead actor from High School Musical and lead actress from High School Musical, you know. I had my own impossible online love back in the "You've Got Mail!" days when you couldn't be online for too long before someone in the house picked up the phone and left nothing but miles between the two of you. I was in New Jersey, Jenny a.k.a. (I already tried — the address is long dead) was in Georgia, and we shared a genuine, redemptive love — where the mere fact that you're sharing yourself with another soul makes all the shit disappear — across six-hundred fifty miles.

That's the thing about the internet, like the letters of Heloise and Abelard, it connects your thoughts and your ideas and whatever sort of schmoopy emotion's festering in your minds. It's the same stuff that makes you smile when you meet someone special IRL and, okay, you're not gonna get to hit that over the web (no matter how much some people will try), but hire a prostitute if all you want is to snap the release valve on your lust.

But with Chemistry, those ideas, the stuff that really grabs your love muscle (sounds dirty, not meant to be) is pretty contrived. You get your picture, your profile, "about my match," but you don't actually communicate, which some people say is key to a relationship. If someone thinks you're hot, the two of you get to fill out a Relationship Essentials questionnaire, which is such a turn-on, and if your potential affection survived that, there's a short essay part of the courtship. I don't care how compatible Dr. Helen Fisher says we are; this all just the opening act you have to sit through. Stilted, perfunctory, not why you're here. So I just plug in my answers and hope she plugs in hers and wait excitedly (read: anxious as hell) to get to the stage where she or I either comes alive or dies a pathetic, lovelorn death.