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Reality getting to you? Online relationships have some advantages!

by Stephanie Hickey

I was addicted. For a while, real life could not tear me away from the fantasy land of Emode.com.

It began one evening as procrastination. I was supposed to be studying persuasion, but instead I stood over a friend’s shoulder, staring intently at the computer screen. She had started with Eharmony, and then moved on to Emode, later graduating to Yahoo Personals and Match.com. She scanned pages and pages of allegedly single men, announcing that NAVY GUY 71 had just e-mailed her, or SURFBUM had sent her an icebreaker. Before I knew it, the words “Oh he’s cute,” got me off the couch faster than a shoe sale at Neiman’s.

 

 
 

She was right. Some of them were cute. Some weren’t, but it didn’t matter, as I soon wanted nothing more than to enter the world I saw unfolding before me, the world of online dating.

Getting out of a horrible relationship, begun one drunken night in a bar, I was ready for something new, something that didn’t involve martini goggles and inaudible conversations. Yes, all right, something to get my mind off him. It helped that online, I wouldn’t have to actually embark on any physical journey with someone else.

The profiles I read were real enough to generate mild excitement, but far enough away from reality to remain emotionally safe and comfortably artificial. If a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear it? If you’ve never actually met a person, do they exist? I asked myself this question, considering it no longer than I do a nail color at the manicurist. Who cares?

Just as people find themselves titillated by the voyeuristic experience of reality TV, I found myself mentally engaged in online dating. This archive of faces, screen names, and catalog personality descriptions became my very own reality show. In it, I was the bachelorette, only without a stylist, good lighting, or the comforts of a multimillion dollar mansion.

Immediately, I could deduce whether these bachelors fit my qualifications. Often their profile titles or screen names were enough to send my agile fingers reaching towards the delete button. Lonely Knight in Shining Armor seeks Damsel in Distress: no thanks! The only distress I’d find would be in wasting a minute to read the profile (though I’d rather waste a minute on a poorly written profile than on a 45-cent cell phone call to some stranger from last Thursday’s happy hour).

Then I’d receive e-mails from 5-foot 5-inch tall men who couldn’t distinguish there from their or its from it’s. I’m 5’9, so those shorter than 5’11 needed not apply. I’m a writer, and well, you get it.
Others weren’t quite so bad at first, but then I’d take a closer look and see that they, like every other poor sap online, liked sunsets and walks on the beach. Who doesn’t enjoy a sunset or walk on the beach, I wondered? Cliché attempts at originality and romance had me deleting more than I was reading.

Then, I saw him.

His screen name was unique. He was 6’1. He was 29. (I’m almost 23 and have never and probably never will date a younger man.). He liked anything that was “inspired and not contrived.” He had dogs. His picture: handsome and masculine, revealing eyes that had seen things. He became my fantasy.

I sent him an icebreaker, Emode’s free communication tool to let someone know you’re interested.

No reply.

I sent him another a week later.

No reply still.

I needed him to exist so that I could continue fantasizing. How could he be the star of my daydreams if I had nothing to build upon? I wanted him to develop, like a character in a great novel.

So, I made a sacrifice to the god’s of capitalism and e-commerce. I paid $19.95 for a one-month membership to Emode, so that I could send him an e-mail. I laced the e-mail with quotes from Anais Ninn and The Alchemist.

He wrote back.

This was a week ago. He’s sent me four or five emails thus far, and he’s actually intelligent, funny, and dark. He’s got good taste in music. He thinks. He feels. He played basketball in college. He writes well. He’s still my fantasy, and he’s becoming real enough to keep me interested.

Everywhere I go I wonder if I’ll run into him. I wonder if I’ll catch his eye across a dimly lit restaurant. I wonder if I’ll see him in a passing car as I walk along the street.

In fact, I thought I saw him the other night. Handsome, tall, with intelligent eyes. He was talking animatedly with another man and a woman.

He looked at me. I looked back.

Not about to approach a stranger with, “Are you….from emode?” I walked by silently.

I’m afraid to meet him anyway. The fantasy that is him could easily be demolished if his tree fell in my forest. I’m not sure if I want that disappointment. This man is perfect, and all women know that perfect men don’t exist.

Regardless, he’s helped me get over the ex.

He, the ex, called me. I didn’t call back. He, the ex, text messaged me. I didn’t text back. He, the ex, e-mailed. I didn’t reply. I was too busy writing to a fantasy.

The failed bar-based relationship still hurts, but I have hope. Online dating will, at the very least, keep me entertained.

 

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