Register Wednesday | December 11 | 2019

Getting It On(Line)

The Internet Is Changing the Way We Love

At the risk of flogging a dead horse, I am devoting this column to the wild frontiers of Web dating. From the cute, pink Lavalife posters in the metro to the subtle but popular pickup tool friendster, it seems as though the taboo once surrounding Internet dating is gone. Sure, people are still a little shy about it, but those with success stories usually don't mind spilling the details. "So, where did you guys meet?" we always ask the happy couple. "Oh, on Lavalife." Touché, we think, and go home and check out the website. Just curious, of course.

Over a lunch of creamy penne, a friend was telling me about this great new guy she'd met-a hunky, scientist type, doing his PhD at McGill. Sadly for him (not her), he'd made very few friends in town and was looking to meet new people. When I asked where they'd met, she merely said, "At the Sala Rosa." "You met at the Spanish social club?" I asked, somewhat surprised I wasn't getting the details (she's not a lady of few words). "Oh, shit, we met on nerve.com, okay? But, we actually met in person at the bar at the Sala Rosa."

Of course, I wasn't really shocked. I knew she had a profile up on nerve-a sexy magazine site with a lively Personals section-because she had once written an article about online dating. She'd met one "sociopath" and another awkward individual who used a calculator to split the bill after their coffee date. But then, out of the blue, she got a message from someone new. They corresponded for a few weeks ("40K emails!" she boasted) and decided they wanted to meet in person.

This friend is one ballsy lady and she has no trouble meeting guys, but it's nice for her to have met someone on an intellectual plane first. For others, the Internet is an ever bigger boon-for those who, say, live in remote places, or who have only married friends, or are pathologically shy at parties, or deplore the bar scene. I know of one divorced father who went online and met "the love of his life," a redhead from Calgary who loves to dance. Now, she's flying out to Vancouver to meet his family. In other cases, online love comes looking for you. Maisonneuve.org's NerdWorld co-columnists are a case in point. A few years ago, Dave was living in Toronto, Vanessa in the States. A mutual friend recommended that they read each other's blogs because they had similar sensibilities. Now, they are happily married and living in the same city.

When I hear stories like these, I think, "And why the hell not?" Maybe love is just a couple of clicks away. In fact, wouldn't you get to know someone much better through correspondence than over music at a smoke-filled bar? Could the Internet be a new and improved way of courting, with lots of lols and smiley faces to boot? Could this be the answer for all the lonely hearts?

It would be nice to end this column right here, with an enthusiastic yes!-but I still have my doubts. The Internet is rife with unexpected complexities and letdowns, ones that are different to those in the real world. A recent article in enRoute sang the praises of online love (cautiously, of course) and bestowed this kernel of advice: make an effort to get a really attractive photo for your profile. Even though ads with a "hot" pic get ten times the response rate, I think this tip is a little simple-minded. I heard a very sad story of a wonderful single mum who met a man on J Date, an online dating service for single Jews. They planned a picnic lunch for their first meeting. At the appointed time, she was waiting outside her flat, with picnic basket in hand, knowing what type of car he'd be driving and what colour his shirt would be. The guy rolled up, took one look at her and drove on. Obviously, this man was an asshole of the foulest kind and not worth a second thought-but, being a gutsy New York lady, the single mum thought she'd call him on it. She picked up the phone and gave him a what for. His only excuse was, "You didn't look like your picture."

But, all that aside, do we really want to be picked from a bunch like the yellowest banana? Do we want to put ourselves on display for such cruel scrutiny? I think my friend Rose had the right idea when she posted a not-so-lovely photo of herself as part of her hilarious and clever online profile. She wanted to weed out the baddies, so she purposefully didn't choose a glamour shot.

Whether she did or not is beside the point: a photo cannot capture the animation and liveliness of a real, three-dimensional person. But, all that aside, do we really want to be picked from a bunch like the yellowest banana? Do we want to put ourselves on display for such cruel scrutiny? I think my friend Rose had the right idea when she posted a not-so-lovely photo of herself as part of her hilarious and clever online profile. She wanted to weed out the baddies, so she purposefully didn't choose a glamour shot.

The challenge, of course, is weeding out the real baddies. There are actually sites out there with slogans like "When monogamy becomes monotony" (read "How to cheat on your spouse in ten easy steps"). This particular site unabashedly caters to those who want to have an affair, and it has a membership of 355,000. While this website makes no apology for itself, a lot of married people are surfing the Web just to "see what's out there" or to "keep their options open." The same is true of friendster (where you can meet friends of friends of friends). Based on an implicit referral system of sorts, this option seems a little less risky than corresponding with a total stranger. The site is great to look up old friends or meet new people. I had a wonderful New York pen pal for a while. But still, I know of guys who are using this friendly device to "court" ten girls at any given time. Each of these ladies probably thinks that the guy is really interested in her. In Montreal, he should be careful, because if the girls are anglophone, they are likely to be friends. Or friendsters of friends, at the very least.

The point is that you don't really know what you could be getting. Is the guy who is so confident online actually a manic-depressive, typing to you in his sweatpants? Is the girl you are chatting to actually a man? Cyberspace gives people the chance to try on different personalities and see how they fit, to break out of the moulds they squeeze into everyday. This is probably a good thing, even at the risk of falling in love with a construct, not a person. Really, you can do that just as well in the regular dating world-that problem is not restricted to the Internet.

In short, online dating can be a great help to a great number of people. I don't think anyone is pretending you won't meet some weirdos along the way. That's pretty much a given. But truth be told, I've heard of more successes than sociopathic disasters. If you're shrewd, you too can be one of the lucky ones-like my sixty-year-old Auntie Jessie. Robbie Peterson, her high-school sweetheart (aka the one that got away), looked her up on Friends Reunited. And now-thanks to the Net, some good luck and HRT-they are rekindling their relationship. And text-messaging all the time.

Emma Appleby (Poppy Wilkinson) is a fabulous force on the Montreal scene. Read more recent columns by Emma Appleby.