A few years ago I read about FarmersOnly.com, a dating Web site for people living in rural areas. My friends and I had a good time guessing what the profiles on that site must be like. We imagined photo after photo of single farmer, clad in overalls and gardening gloves, posing in straw-filled barns or next to shiny new tractors. “Hobbies include sowing, reaping and crop rotation,” went our mock farmer dating profile. We wondered, did the men on FarmersOnly.com exaggerate their farms’ acreage the way Match.com men lie about their heights?
As smug as we Manhattanites were about our single brethren in the sticks, a lot of us were having a hard time on the urban Internet dating scene. One mid-20s woman I know, a beautiful and vivacious brunette from Texas, went on so many J-dates that she was forced to keep track of them on a spreadsheet, which listed each guy’s name, age, occupation and other distinguishing characteristics. She had a column for what she wore on each date, to avoid showing up for date No. 2 with the guy in column E wearing the same outfit she’d worn on date No. 1 with him. But despite her best efforts — and her meticulous recordkeeping — she wasn’t meeting anyone with long-term potential.
Another friend, a long time subscriber of Match.com, was also discouraged by the caliber of men on the site. For every semi-attractive guy logging onto Match from his parents’ basement, she claimed, there were five gorgeous, outgoing, socially accomplished and financially independent women hoping to get a message or a wink. “Internet dating today is an embarrassment of riches for the guys who had never even talked to girls before,” she lamented. “With the Internet, they have their pick of all these women who should be out of their league. It’s like dorks gone wild.”
With that kind of review, I was reluctant to wade into the online dating pool. But as I wrote last week, I viewed Internet dating as a necessary evil for any single person between the age of 22 and 65 (yes, a number of my parents’ friends are “online and in the game”). I wanted to find love, and I wasn’t going to rule out a major way of meeting men. Plus, I had several friends and friends-of-friends who had met their significant others online. I decided to give it a shot.
My first-ever Match.com date was with “GI Bill,” a moniker my friends assigned him because, as a gastroenterologist, he made his living navigating his patients’ gastro-intestinal tracts. (As a mnemonic device to help them keep track of the cast of characters in my social life, my friends liked to give my potential dates nicknames, and they wisely decided that “GI Bill” was catchier than “Endoscopic Ultrasound Bill” or “Digestive Health Bill.” GI Bill eventually became “Asshole Bill,” a fitting designation on a couple of levels, but when I met him he was still GI Bill to my friends and me.)
GI Bill had reached out to me on Match.com with a witty and complimentary message. He appeared in his photos to be tall, wiry and a little goofy looking, but he wore nice glasses and had an engaging smile. We’d attended the same college, but because he was four years older than me — 34 to my 30 — we hadn’t overlapped there. We traded last names, cell phone numbers and, eventually, voicemails, and I liked the sound of his voice. I was a naïve Match.com newbie, but there was something about GI Bill that appealed to me. We made plans to meet for a drink downtown.
When the Friday evening of our date arrived, my feelings of trepidation about a first date with a stranger from the Internet were replaced by uncharacteristic optimism. Sipping a glass of wine and listening to psych-myself-up music as I primped, I thought to myself: This isn’t so bad. Meeting funny, interesting doctors for drinks on a Friday night — seems like an auspicious introduction to online dating. And maybe my Match.com career will be mercifully short; I’ll hit it off with the first guy I meet, and GI Bill and I will live happily ever after.
He was half an hour late. Was I getting stood up, sight unseen? Discouraged, I was ready to give up and leave the bar when he texted me, saying that a work dinner had gone long and his arrival was imminent. “I’m the one sitting alone in the back, looking forlorn,” I wrote back. “Dont b forlorn almst there” came the reply.
When GI Bill did, finally, arrive, we had an above average first date: multiple drinks at two different bars, lots of laughs and witty repartee, and a sidewalk make-out session during which I definitely felt some sparks. He must have, too: He called me the next afternoon, saying he wanted to see me again as soon as possible. Would I be free the next day, Sunday, to go hiking upstate?
I was a little wary about scheduling date No. 2 for fewer than 36 hours after the end of date No. 1, but I was flattered by the attention — and liked the idea of fleeing the city on a beautiful fall day. Our second date lasted 12 hours: GI Bill picked me up in his convertible late Sunday morning and we zipped upstate to Cold Spring. We climbed up a mountain, pausing for passionate kisses along the way, until we arrived at a stunning view of the Hudson River down below. As we gazed out over the beautiful vista down below, he told me he was smitten. In retrospect, I realize I should have been freaked out by the fact that GI Bill was coming on so strong; it was like a relationship at warp speed. At the time, though, I just thought that maybe I was lucky, having found a good match on my very first foray into online dating.
On the hike back down, GI Bill told me about his upcoming vacation to the Galapagos Islands (who did he think he was, George Costanza?) and suggested I book a flight so I could join him. Later, over burgers and beer in some charming sleepy village on the Hudson, I mentioned that I’d recently gotten a modest promotion at work. “I’m so proud of you,” GI Bill told me. It struck me as an odd comment from someone I’d known for two days, but I was enjoying myself. By the time we got back to the city, I was exhausted but exhilarated. I had never been on Match.com date as of two days ago. Now it looked like I might get a boyfriend out of the deal right away.
Our relationship progressed. GI Bill and I started meeting up for dinners, for drinks, for concerts, and eventually for overnights. The logistics were tricky: he lived in a luxury rental way downtown, and on more than one occasion I had to take a very early, very expensive cab ride home so I could change and shower before work. GI Bill worked long hours, but was reasonably attentive to me when he wasn’t at the hospital. And every time he referred to “we” or “us” or passed me the telephone so I could make small talk with his 4-year-old nephew (whom I’d never met), I interpreted GI Bill’s words as an indication that he was serious about me.
I had some reservations: For one, I didn’t think we had all that much in common. I was a sports junkie who spent a lot of my leisure time watching or reading about my favorite teams and tinkering with my fantasy football lineup. I felt that part of me was wasted on GI Bill, who said he “knew nothing” about sports and had no interest in learning. Also, I found his arrogance disconcerting. In fact, I thought he had a bit of a God complex; he often raved about the adrenaline rush he got from knowing he was responsible for his patients’ lives.
Our physical relationship was okay, but there seemed to be an absence of true affection or intimacy or connection. I remember lying next to him in the dark, listening to him snore faintly, and feeling utterly alone in his bed and in the world. And his sense of entitlement, perhaps inevitable considering he apparently had a hotshot career in medicine, was nevertheless infuriating. The first time GI Bill and I slept together, I asked him to use a condom. He complied, begrudgingly, but said with a sigh as he reached for the nightstand, “We’ve got to get you on the pill.” Certainly not the tender words one would hope to hear in the early days of a great romance.
Nevertheless, we continued to see a lot of each other, and I started to grow fond of him, in spite of myself. Little by little, I let my guard down, and allowed myself to think that GI Bill might really be the guy for me. So I was utterly unprepared for what happened about two months after we had started dating.
It started like a regular Saturday night date: dinner and a movie and then back to his place. The next morning, we shared the Times over coffee and breakfast he had prepared. After spending a lovely, leisurely, lazy couple of hours together, he drove me back uptown. When we arrived at my building, he leaned over, gave me a kiss and said, “Call you later,” before I hopped out of the car. As I ran up the stairs to my modest apartment, I remember feeling giddy about how well things were progressing.
I never heard from him again.
At first I thought maybe he had just gotten busy. Of course, I wished he had taken the time to send me a text or a short e-mail that first night, but I figured that maybe he got caught up in his research, and I was determined not to be one of those “needy” girls who called too much. So I waited. And as the hours of radio silence became days, I slowly realized, with horror, that GI Bill was one of those “disappearing men” I’d heard about. He had abruptly vanished into the vast cyberspace from which he had originally emerged. In a moment of despair, three days after I’d last seen him, it occurred to me that maybe he was sick or hurt or was dealing with some kind of family emergency. Could he have gotten into a bad accident on Sunday after dropping me off? Somehow, I didn’t think so. With a feeling of dread, I logged onto Match.com and searched for his profile. There was GI Bill’s photo, smiling back at me, with the tag that identified him as “active within 24 hours.” Apparently he was still perusing the Match.com field, and hadn’t bothered to let me know that I was no longer a girlfriend candidate. I was shattered.
Asshole Bill wasn’t the last guy I met online to pull a disappearing act, but that brutal experience, more than any other, illustrated for me what I think is the biggest drawback of Internet dating: the lack of accountability. When you meet someone online, you have the cover of complete anonymity. There are no friends or colleagues or classmates in common, no one to call you out on deplorable behavior. Asshole Bill no doubt met someone he liked better, or at least someone else (or someones else) he wanted to pursue. But he didn’t want to have an uncomfortable breakup conversation with me, and because we had no friends in common, there was no one to call him a cad, no one to chide him for his poor manners.
Of course, women are just as capable of going MIA as men. And someone you meet during a night out at the bar can flake on you just as easily as someone you meet online. But I think Internet dating, especially, makes the break-up cop-out possible, which is incredibly disheartening. Of course, if Asshole Bill had told me that he no longer wanted to date me, or that he wasn’t ready to be exclusive, I would have been hurt and disappointed; it would have been a shot to the ego for sure. But what bothered me more than the break-up itself was how he handled it (or, more accurately, how he didn’t handle it). If he had taken the time to say, “This isn’t going to work out,” I would have been upset for a couple of days, but I would have been fine. Instead, I ended up furious with Dr. Disappearance for not giving me the courtesy of a formal discharge.
I’m not sure whether Internet dating enables and encourages bad behavior in otherwise well-mannered people, or whether it just exposes a rudeness that already existed. But all of my friends who’ve tried online dating have experienced the Houdini act to some degree, to the point where it’s more notable when someone behaves decently than when he or she disappears. My friend Tamara had gone on a few dates with a guy when he sent her an e-mail saying he had met someone else and was exploring a more serious relationship with her.
“Whether it were true or not didn’t really matter,” Tamara told me. “I thought it was nice of him. Most people wouldn’t even bother. Everything is so disposable these days — even people.”