My date with David4816
How I met the man of my dreams on the Internet—and then woke up
I had more butterflies in my stomach than the exhibit at Turtle Bay. After two months of online chatting and marathon phone conversations, I was finally meeting the man of my dreams face to face.
We had ‘met” just eight weeks before on an online Internet dating site called udate.com, a computer matching service that pairs people up according to their self-described personalities, interests and desired criteria for a mate. Not only do clients get to choose what type of person they want physically (height, weight, facial hair, etc.), they also get to decide on what other characteristics they are looking for in a mate.
After all, when you get to pick how much your potential love interest likes gardening, housekeeping, going to raves and eating at McDonald’s, or how many tattoos and body piercings he or she has and the extent to which he or she takes drugs, you are sure to find your match made in heaven.
I thought back to that glorious, fate-filled night, when my fellow e-lationship seeker and next-door neighbor, XuberantGal (a.k.a. Vicki), and I had signed on to udate. Discouraged over our past two years in the college-age-dominated Chico dating scene, where men our age are either married or in some other way unavailable, we had finally concluded that we would just have to broaden our romantic horizons. After all, with all the conveniences of modern technology, why limit ourselves to the bar scene and lascivious trips to Barnes & Noble?
An initial free trial membership gave me the opportunity to create a screen name (SassyChicoGrl), enter my criteria and establish my own profile. I was immediately matched with several men from all over the world, all of whom met my qualifications for a mate. The accompanying photos portrayed good-looking men in their mid to late 30s. But, my attention was immediately drawn to my No. 1 match, David4816. A quick AOL Instant Message to XuberantGal relayed my enthusiasm: ‘I’m in love! I’m joining!” The cost, $24.95, seemed like a bargain to hook me up with my destiny.
David and I hit it off right away. We talked for four hours online the first night and just about every night from then on. We discussed everything from careers to children, politics to religion, past relationships to how we take our coffee. We were both solidly positioned as each other’s No. 1 match on the site and were convinced that it was true. Our udate connection led to exchanges of outside email, AOL IMing, phone calls and snail mail letters and cards. And now, finally, this. Our first real meeting. David was driving from L.A. to meet me.
While waiting impatiently through the torturous countdown until that new black Mustang convertible would pull up outside my window with my handsome new date behind the wheel, I busied myself by pacing a trench in the floor and by making several jittery phone calls to X.
Finally, the phone rang. It was David. He had just pulled into the driveway of my apartment complex and wanted directions on how to find my place. I peeked out the window. I watched the ‘Stang round the corner and guided him into a visitor space. More butterflies. He parked, told me he’d be right there, and we hung up.
My very first date with David4816 was about to begin … and was scheduled to last three days! Am I crazy? What if we don’t like each other? What if we do?! God, I’m not ready for this.
One last calming deep breath and quick look in the mirror, and I was out the door and down the stairs.
As we approached each other, I heard that deep, sexy voice that I was so used to hearing every night on the phone: “Hi!” I instantly felt better. A few more steps and there we stood, face to face. I was seeing David4816 in the flesh for the very first time.
“Hi!” I said back and gave him a friendly hug. He pulled a bouquet of half-hidden flowers from behind his back.
“These are for you,” he said with a grin.
Two points for David! Wow! He IS wonderful!!
We tracked up the stairs to my place and found a vase for the flowers as we discussed his long drive and our plans for the evening.
I was excited, but after only a few minutes together I started to sense that something was wrong. David appeared to be a bit more on the serious side than I remembered. He seemed conservative, maybe even dull. I thought back to the night online when he failed my sense of humor test. (Name the movie this line is from: “How about a nice warm glass of shut the hell up?!")
I chalked this up to nervousness or a long and boring drive. I was determined to have a wonderful weekend. This was going to be the beginning of something grand.
Our first stop was the Sierra Nevada Taproom, where we had beer (duh!) and quesadillas … steak instead of the menu-standard chicken, at David’s, um, “request.” This is where I really started to notice that maybe things weren’t in reality what they were in e-ality. Menu change requests—no, demands—I can handle. But the longing gazes in the mirror instead of into my eyes made me wonder.
That’s OK, I told myself. He’s just making sure he looks good. He wouldn’t want to be embarrassed by having a piece of cheese stuck in his teeth. He is the same wonderful, witty, charming guy I’ve known for the past eight weeks. This weekend will be just fine.
I may well have believed all of that if I hadn’t sat through three days of instructions on how to deal with my ex-husband, avoid a hangover, lower my PG&E bill and properly care for houseplants, among many other topics of no interest to me. I might have fallen head over heals in love if I didn’t have to listen to a very long and boring lecture detailing the holes in the theories of the “so-called” depletion of the ozone layer. I probably would have found his intellect endearing or even sexy if I wasn’t forced to listen to Rush Limbaugh all weekend or if I wasn’t sternly instructed to get my foot off the dash. “This is a $30,000 car. Do you have $30,000?”
Let me write you a check, Professor.
Needless to say, there wasn’t a love connection between David4816 and this SassyChicoGrl. No chemistry at all. But why? What happened? We were a top-ranking match! We were supposed to click! Was it the age difference? He’s 40; I’m 31. Was it a cultural clash? Chico and L.A. are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to, well, everything. Or, was it something more?
Looking back now, I don’t believe the lack of chemistry was our biggest obstacle. I think it had to do with the covertness that is inherent in getting to know someone via technology. Relying on emails and phone calls leads to an unusual amount of self-exposure. The computer screen and the telephone handset can act as safety barriers, allowing for a freedom of expression that may not otherwise be shared in a face-to-face meeting. It is common for people online to be more forward, direct and revealing. “It gives you the courage to be bold,” as one fellow udater put it.
But this freedom to be yourself is dangerous. After you have “let down your wall” and been brutally self-revealing, you realize that you have made yourself (gasp!) vulnerable. When the time comes to meet in person, you are in an awkward situation. You are just meeting, yet you know each other on a very intimate level. This can cause a tremendous amount of emotional confusion. I know there are people who can handle this transition with grace and style. I am not one of them. Apparently, neither is David4816.
Another flaw in Internet dating is that participants miss out on some very important aspects of being with one another. A computer screen can’t give you eye contact or even tones of voice. A telephone can’t express body language, hand gestures or facial expressions.
These nuances of communication are an important part of how we relate to one another. Often they are even more important than the words themselves. When you are getting to know someone without these subtleties, you are not getting to know the whole person. Gaps are left in their personalities, and you will try to fill these gaps with your own ideas and expectations.
Maybe David and I filled in the gaps wrong. Maybe we wouldn’t have clicked under the best of circumstances. Either way, neither of us got what we had wanted—a true connection.
And my high hopes of finding someone online? They have been lowered significantly. OK, I’ll be honest: They’re gone. But since my membership on udate.com has not yet expired, I can’t remove my screen name or profile from the site. I did, however, delete my picture and change my profile. I am now a 5-foot-tall, 240-pound, tattoo-bedecked bisexual Bulgarian mud wrestler with a three-day beard. Sassy? How about Scary? If that doesn’t say "so long udate," I don’t know what does.