Girl's Eye View - A Virtual Match

May 22, 2014

The first time I heard Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" - at a bar mitzvah in seventh grade - I was standing in a corner, sipping a Dr. Pepper, hoping that Michael Forman would ask me to dance. Instead, he sauntered over to me in his checkered Vans and told me that I had something stuck in my braces.

In the intervening decades, I've lost both the braces and the chunks of food they contained, but I've never quite shaken that Queen song. In the past year, it has often popped into my head when, say, I've gotten wind of the news that an ex-boyfriend has gotten married. Another one bites the dust. It remains the backdrop to my humiliation and despair. In short, the soundtrack to my dating life.

I am 30 years old and as single as I was in seventh grade. Except now, instead of standing in the corner drinking Dr. Pepper, I'm usually somewhere near the bar, downing my third glass of wine. Don't get me wrong; I'm generally a very happy and fulfilled single person. It's just that, like all happy and fulfilled single people, I occasionally feel the urge to fling myself off a bridge. So when Jay, one of my only remaining unengaged exes (and now my purely platonic friend), suggested that I try to meet someone through an online dating service, I balked.

"What could be worse than announcing to the world that I am desperate and alone?!" I asked.

"Remaining desperate and alone," he replied.

Jay then regaled me with his own success story: Within hours of posting a carefully worded profile and picture on a dating Web site, he boasted having made initial contact with no fewer than 33 potential mates! To me, these were unconvincing statistics. I was not looking for a bunch of agoraphobic pen-pals on whom to practice my witty banter skills; I wanted to meet someone. Someone, preferably, who wasn't desperate enough to advertise himself on the Internet. I could probably find a more quality-controlled assemblage of men at a gun show.

Yet there was something to the screening aspect of the online option: It might be a way to eliminate unsuitable suitors without ever having to hear their voices or gaze upon their faces. For instance, if I had met Jay online, I might have detected his proclivity for heavy metal and maybe even his abandonment complex. We could have fast-forwarded through the two-month hiccup we called a "relationship" to the enjoyable friendship that was always meant to be.

So I drew my blinds, logged on and dove into the candidate pool. Sure enough, a quick scan of the headlines was all that was necessary to disqualify most. "Yang Seeking Yin" and "Where is My Princess?" were the first to go (too enthusiastic). Next went those with typos and/or Freudian slips, as in, "Superman Searching For His Louis Lane."

Just as I was losing hope, I spotted the following: "SWM IN A DEAD-END JOB SEEKS DUMPY NEUROTIC HAG FOR CO-DEPENDENCY." It was perfect: someone else who was so embarrassed to be stooping to this level that he had, charmingly, opted for the immature mockery approach. My chest heaved as I clicked the "send e-mail" button. I couldn't wait to submit a witty report, to begin a flirtatious volley of e-mails leading to a heated rendezvous over cocktails and our eventual and inevitable elopement to a beach in the South Pacific.

But the clever Web site would not allow me to become DUMPY NEUROTIC HAG until I completed my own profile. No big deal, I thought. I'll rattle it off in a matter of moments.

Four hours, two wastebaskets full of crumpled paper and seven existential crises later, I had composed some semblance of my own character sketch. I had asked myself some of life's most difficult questions: Who am I? Would I date a Buddhist? Should Waiting for Guffman be #2 or #3 on my All-Time-Greatest-Movies List? And, most importantly: How much of this did I want to reveal to an unknown audience of potential sociopaths, serial killers, sex fiends and losers? What had begun as innocent procrastination had turned into a full day's crusade, but I eventually made peace with my bio - suggestively titled "SKEPTICAL (BUT WILLING)" - and posted it. SWM was just within my grasp.

I went back to e-mail him - envisioning our dinner parties with Pulitzer Prize winners, our second home on St. Barth's, our month-long romps in Pratesi sheets - only to encounter another virtual hoop through which to jump: I had to submit my credit-card number to secure a two-week trial membership. Furthermore, it would take 24 hours for my credit to be processed, and until then, I would not be able to e-mail SWM. Exhausted, I reminded myself that he and I would just laugh about this later over Kir Royales in our Chateau Marmont suite.

The next day, I returned to the Web site, anxious to bring a swift end to the meaningless, empty, pre-SWM phase of my life. My log-in worked, so I knew my credit card had gone through, clearing me for contact.

A matchmaking miracle had occurred. SWM had found me first. It was fate. Breathless with anticipation, my heart beating wildly, I opened the e-mail, which contained three beautiful words - "You sound HOT" - and a picture attachment. I clicked eagerly on the attachment, envisioning a Brad Pitt look-alike with a few key elements of Tom Cruise.

And there it appeared before me, in digital Technicolor. It was a quizzically framed, ultra-close-up image, one that gave the impression of a disjointed agglomeration of features rather than of a face per-se: a sweat-drenched forehead, a receding hairline, a beady brown eye, pursed lips clasping a Budweiser can in mid-swallow. The caption, just below: "Beer Lover." And just as I begun to distinguish stubble from blackheads, I heard the unmistakable strains of a familiar dirge: "Dun. Dun. Dun. Another one bites the dust."

I was about to log off in despair when I noticed a link called "My Matches." Apparently, with this feature, an Advanced Matching System would scientifically choose the members on the site who best fit my description of a mate. Oh, why not, I thought, and clicked. An interim screen with a million glowing red hearts announced, "Please wait... you have some very special matches." It seemed the site was having trouble processing all of the gorgeous bachelors who would soon be showering me with gifts and proposals. I waited.

The final screen displayed one person: my 99-percent match. The headline read "I M J" and accompanied an eerily familiar photo of a guy in a black t-shirt. And then I realized that the inner mechanics of the site had been cranking beyond their means to produce the mug of the only member out of 84,000 to whom I could say, "Been there, done that." It was Jay, in all of his smirking glory. My 99-percent match. I suppose the missing one percent is the heavy metal-and-abandonment-complex margin.

And so I returned to the land of the living, such as it was. A place where the matches aren't always successful and the first dates are often painful, but where you can still click on an option called "chemistry." It's a functionality that transcends religion, top-10 movie lists, and "Beer Lover" mug shots, and one to which I was, strangely enough, happy to return.

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