I had been online dating for three months when I encountered a sentence in a dating profile that made me laugh . . . I make birdhouses. It was the response some guy had given in answer to the profile question, “What activities do you most enjoy?” A 58-year-old carpenter by profession, he had posted no photos–a good indication he was a free trawler. (You can’t post a photo unless you pay for a membership.) The rest of his profile was as short and simple as his birdhouse line. In answer to the question,”What could you not do without?” he had answered, my kids, my health, my dog. The remainder of the dating site’s six or seven propriety personality test-type questions were blank.
No photo and no profile to speak of–on top of a statement like I make birdhouses–I didn’t see how this guy was going to get much (if any) attention in the Dot com Dating Realm. At least not from me. Sir Simple was merely that–SIMPLE. And as far from the sophisticated Dark Knight of my personal romance fantasy as any country bumpkin could be. I laughed again, logged off and proceeded with my day.
Funny thing though . . . I kept thinking about him. Not him, per se, but rather his guileless, honest response. I make birdhouses. Simple subject, verb, direct object. The sentence could not be less complex–nor the man who wrote it probably. Yet he haunted me. Unpretentious, unrefined, uncomplicated. A good man, a common man. He loved his kids and his dog. He worked with his hands. Salt of the earth. Yet I had judged him lacking and unworthy of my attention.
As the day went on, my discomfort grew. I could not get Sir Simple out of my mind. I make birdhouses haunted me. As did my conscience. In all honesty, which of us was the deficit individual? He (who was likely a better man than most of the online daters of the male persuasion who touted their many sports, multiple interests and divergent accomplishments) or me–judgmental, snide, smug, condescending . . . And what had I written? I read, write, knit, and enjoy travel. Whoo-hoo! No more exciting than making birdhouses!
And by the way . . . what kind of birdhouses did he make? Simple, flea-market variety scrap wood, four-sided boxes with a pitched roof, a hole and a peg had been my initial thought. But maybe they were elaborate works of design craftsmanship and woodworking art? Yet I had assumed the worst/least and formed an opinion based upon the smallest bit of information. Moreover, I had formulated –from a drop of data–an entire person, whom I then preceded to dismiss.
For weeks I had been bothered by the behavior seemingly engendered by my online dating. Whether it was a callous action (i.e. swiping, x-ing or no-ing prospective matches based upon a split second glance at a photo) or a crass inaction (i.e. ghosting and never again replying to some poor schmuck who suddenly started to bore or bother me), I’d been doing something that made me ashamed. Now, with Sir Simple the Birdman, I had sunk even lower! I was thinking in a manner that mortified me.
I know I am a better person that that. I have always been proud of my soft, mushy, sentimental, “root for the underdog” heart, hidden (perhaps too well) beneath a strong, hard and necessary exterior. My own sons call me the Ice Queen. And I am–when I need to be. And I make no apologies for it. Navigating the trials and tragedies of life is like being in a small boat tossed upon a tempest sea. While everyone else is hanging their heads over the sides and puking their guts out, someone has to swallow down their own bile and hold the rudder to steady the course. My boys call it “going cold.” I call it going on auto pilot. Do what needs to be done now–and fall apart later.
But traversing a damn dating site is not dealing with disaster! So why was I comporting myself like such a shallow, belittling bitch?
I believe the answer may lie within the concept and process of online dating itself. Dot com dating sites and mobile apps have turned a very emotional action into a very mechanical reaction. When I was teaching high school English years ago, we hammered home the “5 Universal Conflicts” in literature: man vs man, man vs nature, man vs self, man vs God, man vs machine (technology). Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut and George Orwell (to name a few) all wrote so-called science fiction stories set in a future wherein machines or technology would steal our humanity and overtake mankind. In a sense, this is what online dating has done.
Men and women have turned one another into inanimate commodities to be blithely swept and discarded. (Is it a coincidence that’s the exact terminology used?) After all, these are “profiles,” not “people.” Therefore it’s easy. No need or obligation to fuss with the common courtesies we practice person to person in person. And that–in the proverbial nutshell–is the problem with online dating: IT’S NOT IN PERSON. The practice of online dating is, in fact, so different from “in person” dating, that the latter now has it’s own modern quantifier: “organic” dating. (This has nothing to do with pesticide-free–but rather the dictionary definition of organic: of or related to living matter.) In other words, dating a real person in the real world, as opposed to a profile in the virtual world.
Ergo, the failing of online dating: IT’S NOT A REAL PERSON. It’s a photo, a profile, a prospective match, a partner proposal–or whatever else type of euphemism the sites can come up with. Just realize though, a prospective match can’t crack a joke. A profile can’t refuse to take “no” for an answer. A photo can’t “grow on you” in time. Say “no” and he’s gone–a photo, profile, prospective match, partner proposal swiped left–not a human being swept aside. Which brings me back to the beginning of this blog . . .
Ashamed for my actions and thoughts (and humbled by a birdhouse), I resolved then and there to refocus on the importance of human kindness. I also made a promise to myself: to remember always the photo or profile I was looking at was someone’s son, father, grandfather. Someone has loved him in the past. Someone probably loves him now. All he wants is what I do: A someone who just might love him in the future.