Long ago, back when the "Internet" might have referred to a second-rate tennis league, whenever I'd head out for a guys'-night, bar-hopping trek, I'd often think: Maybe tonight's the night it'll all come together. I'll turn the corner, and there she'll be, the woman of my dreams. Such is the naivety of youth. Successive failed relationships have let cynical reality intrude. My ideal has proven unattainable, and my romantic resolve has slowly crumbled as I've wondered if maybe I'll have to settle for someone close enough. Or so I've thought until recently, when I began to re-evaluate my love life in terms of online dating.
I first started e-dating in California seven years ago and have intermittently endured its unique brand of taunting humiliation ever since. In four years there and two-plus in Denver, I've met almost 100 different women that I probably wouldn't have encountered any other way. Think about that: Almost 100 semi-blind dates. Even under optimal circumstances, a blind date is an utter crapshoot. Online dates are only semi-blind because you can pre-screen each other to see if you match on paper. Of course, these tangible commonalities are moot if the Gods of Chemistry don't smile on your coupling. This is why it's absurd to believe that some software developer has concocted a magic algorithm that scientifically pinpoints perfect mates as if they're guided missile targets. I've tried Match.com, eHarmony, and several other niche sites, and none of them have any secret trick that gives daters any better odds than random chance, because for these sites, it's all about volume. They carpet bomb singletons into submission with email after email about available singles. And for every online success story, there are oodles of disappointments (many of them, alas, mine) ranging from comic to pathetic. The thing is, you can't hunt down love; it must find you. Sure, you may fall for someone you met online, but the idea that Dating Site X found the right person is misleading, if not an utter illusion. You didn't fall in love because you both like skiing or dogs or "whitewater rafting all day and then putting on cocktail clothes and dancing the night away." You fell for each other because of something you can't quite put your finger on, something intangible but overpowering that this person made you feel. Make no mistake: Love is always in charge. Online dating sets you up for relentless disappointment by fostering the perception that the recipe for love is $30 per month plus a handful of mouse clicks. These e-date mini-misfires don't flat-out break your heart, but they poke and punch it, until your ticker is battered, bruised, and just plain tired. It's left me with this final scorecard: Nearly 100 first dates, about 20 second dates, several flings, one decent six-monther, and one excellent, two-plus-year, actual grown-up relationship with someone I'm still close to. But the real toll is that I've become way more jaded about romance and possibility. All these false starts and sudden, inexplicable stops are simply too draining. So if you want to continue bashing your head against the virtual wall, or if just getting out and meeting people is your aim, then by all means, keep reposting your profile. But I'm done with the online game forever. I'm going old school, encountering women by chance and hoping something exciting pops up when I least expect it. Sure, Denver remains a frustrating dating environment--thankfully, though, I suspect that my competition will include legions of guys who'd rather spend their time dry-humping fourteeners than wooing the local ladies--but I've gotta get the romance back, and there's no technology cutting-edge enough to make that happen.