Thursday, June 22, 2006

Looking for Love In All the Wrong Places

It's summer, and I'm feeling a little lazy...well, as lazy as someone who's had three job interviews this week, among other things, can feel, soooooo...this is a post that I wrote for my singles blog, and because I haven't had time to write much of anything else this week, and because I haven't signed anything saying I can't do this, I'm reposting it here. Look on the bright side, it'll save some of you a trip over to my other place. :)

Before the net, it was simple: to meet people, you went to a bar, or to church, or friends fixed you up with “someone who’s PERFECT for you”. Ugh. The bar scene was never my scene, I’m not religious, and the couple of times I allowed friends to fix me up resulted in my seriously questioning how well those friends actually knew me. So when I became separated in my forties, after more than 20 years of marriage, although I knew I wasn’t ready to actually date anyone, I was more than a little curious about who (if anyone) was out there. Internet dating sites, where I could browse infinite descriptions, including occasional photos, of men and women of all ages who were also “available” were suddenly appealing to me. Yep, you read that right, I browsed descriptions of women, too, because I wanted to check out the competition.

In those early days before the proliferation of
digital-cameras, posting a pic on the net was a rather involved process that required taking a photo somewhere to have it scanned and transferred to disk, and then e-mailing or uploading it to a site. Few people seemed inclined to do this, so the majority of profiles on most of the early dating sites were without photos.

This made for more detailed written descriptions, but it also enabled people to lie, freely, about their attributes. I’ve never understood lying about your attributes, especially on a dating site. After all, the goal is to eventually meet, right? And then…sorry, folks, but…the jig is up! After meeting a couple of guys who bore little or no resemblance to their descriptions of themselves, I became jaded. If I read this description: “I’m 6′2″, and have been told that I bear a strong resemblance to Tom Selleck (*blush*),” I’d think, “Sure he resembles Tom Selleck…when he’s wearing elevator shoes and a Tom Selleck mask.”

Nevertheless, internet dating sites enjoyed a sort of heyday in those early days of the net. This was not entirely accidental, because they were brilliantly designed. For example, on one site, there was a static red light to indicate no new mail, but a flashing green light as well as an excited voice announcement (”You’ve got mail!”) to indicate new messages awaiting you from potential love interests. That’s a perfect illustration of B.F. Skinner’s schedule of irregular reinforcement, which is, not coincidentally, the same principle on which slot machines are based. In case you don’t remember all this stuff from Psychology 101, here’s what Wikipedia has to say: In his early experiments using the Skinner box, B. F. Skinner made a surprising discovery. If he did not deliver a food reward after every lever press that his rat subjects made, the rate of lever pressing did not decrease and become irregular, as Skinner had expected, but (after a few hours of experience of the situation) increased and became more regular. Wikipedia goes on: The interesting thing that Skinner discovered about intermittent reinforcement, and maybe one of Skinner’s most important discoveries, was that behavior that is reinforced intermittently is much more difficult to extinguish than behavior that is reinforced continuously. Note: my boldface, not Wiki’s.

In other words, if we can’t always get what we want, but sometimes we get what we want, rather than giving up, most of us will keep on trying. It’s as if we can’t believe that we won’t “win” every time. Many behavioral addictions besides gambling are related to an irregular schedule of reinforcement.

But back to my early internet dating experiences…after reviewing several sites, I chose the one with the longest questionnaire. I did this not only because it’s easy for me to be verbose (um, I guess you know that), and so I loved having the opportunity to write at length about my likes and dislikes, but, equally important, it allowed me to get to know a little about guys whose profiles interested me…and also helped me to quickly eliminate many of them. For example, because I love words, and writing, I wasn’t interested in anyone who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) write complete sentences, or spell halfway decently.

Being female, I received lots of correspondence every day, even though I didn’t have a picture posted. Being polite, I felt it was important to acknowledge every letter sent to me, even the one from the guy who sent me a huge photo of himself, wearing a big cowboy hat but no shirt. (The phrase, he’s all hat and no cowboy, came to mind when I opened that e-mail…).

Early on, I drafted a careful, generic reply for guys in whom I wasn’t interested. I’d write, “Thank you for writing me. I’m sorry, but I don’t think we’d be a good match, but good luck to you anyway.”

OK, I know that’s not brilliant writing, but the point was to thank them for writing and to send them away without hurting their feelings. I didn’t think it was any big deal…but I soon learned (because many of the guys wrote back) that a lot of women simply hit the “delete” button, without acknowledging the contact. I received a few letters asking, “So WHY AREN’T WE a good match?!?!?!” but I also received a LOT of letters thanking me for my note and asking, “Will you look at my profile and tell me what you think is wrong with it?” How could I say no to that? In no time at all, without having planned it, I became the Ann Landers of that site…and that’s how I met (electronically only) The Monkey Man.

To be continued


Theresa Williams said...

This is another really funny piece, Judi. I like the part about the guy sending a huge photo of himself in a cowboy hat. Now, the monkey man has me thinking about Kramer's "Pig Man" on Seinfeld. I hope monkey man isn't like that! This is such great writing. It gave me a lift.

emmapeelDallas said...

Thanks so much! I don't know about the Pig Man...but Monkey Man made an indelible impression on me!



Tammy said...

Fine! Leave me hanging. LOL You are a class act and it will take time to meet another class act :)


redsneakz said...

I cannot wait - and perhaps one day I'll share some of my misadventures in internet dating. Like you, early forties, not having dated in nearly twenty years. It was.. amusing.

Paul said...

I am just a monkeyman, I hope you are a monkeywoman, too, babe, --R. Stones, "Let It Bleed"

partygirljessica said...

what an interesting blog! i'm into online dating too so i can relate. i was intrigued in the idea of finding a mate online so i got signed up at webdate. so far i've gone on good dates and hopefully one of them could turn into a meaningful relationship.