Why Internet Dating

by Richard Kostelanetz (June 2013)


The most remarkable feature of Facebook’s origins is that it began as a new channel to connect guys to gals—more specifically, for Harvard guys to ogle and perhaps meet Harvard gals otherwise inaccessible, presumably. This people-connecting service then expanded to serve students at other elite universities desiring to meet each other. Though Facebook became something else more general, it began with the understanding that the old ways for heterosexual introductions weren’t working as well as they did before. That’s probably true.

How did guys meet girls before the Internet? I found my first loves in high school in suburban New York. I recall meeting lovely teenagers who went to other high schools, some nearby; but since transportation out of my insulated town was problematic until one became licensed to drive a car, these relationships didn’t develop. Once old enough to drive, I could pursue young women met at jobs we shared, such as a counselor at a summer day camp.

In college, I met women in my classes. Some of them introduced me to other women whom I dated and, in one case, married. There were “mixers” between Brown and Pembroke, as the women’s college was then called. Though I went to them, nothing significant resulted. I also recall being invited to a Sabbath dinner in Providence, where I was introduced to a Jewish woman student whom I didn’t date again.

Later lovers, after an early divorce, were met in graduate school classes, in art museums, at concerts, and in offices publishing me. Though perhaps shyer then, especially about introducing myself to strangers, I do recall meeting significant others on the NYC subway and in stores.

I first encountered anonymous “personals” in the New York Review of Books, which I didn’t much like for other reasons. Thinking I was above that kind of venue, I nonetheless recall correspondence on perfumed stationery from a divorced suburban housewife promising to bring her diaphragm. That scared me off her.

I didn’t return to Personals, as the genre should be called, until the mid-1990s, in my own mid-fifties, I guess because the earlier channels for meeting eligible women dried up. I remember noticing that women advertising in the New York Magazine boasted of financial success and those in the Village Voice mentioned sexual competence, while those in the NYRB claimed cultural sophistication, usually measured by listing artistic preferences and/or the wish to travel to exotic places (thus implicitly discouraging those unfamiliar with Picasso or Paris). Though other seekers seized the unprecedented opportunity of discovering potential lovers residing elsewhere in the world, I did not.

Somewhere I came across an advertisement for The Right Stuff, which promised “Ivy League of Dating,” though they expanded their scope to include alumni of other culturally classy North American colleges, such as the University of Toronto and Sarah Lawrence. In the 1990s, a subscriber purchasing a TRS membership received thumbnail biographies, perhaps 100 words, which became invitations to get, at a modest cost, a fuller page or two (and perhaps a photograph) prepared by the female subscriber. Need I add that some Right Stuff women introduced themselves to me, sometimes successfully.

Through this route I met in the mid-1990s a woman I loved for several years, whom I should have met before, had the person knowing us both in the 1960s cared to introduce us. Once she left New York, around 2003, I began to socialize more—to go to concerts, art openings, lectures, etc. that I might have otherwise not attended, did they not offer the opportunity to meet a desirable woman. None of these forays worked, not even minimally; I’m not sure why not. Only after checking with others do I sense that my disappointment with such old-style social situations is not unique. I sense an increased reluctance to accept heterosexual overtures except in circumstances where they are sought. The contemporary truth is, simply, that boys don’t meet girls as they used to.

So I checked again into dating services, returning to The Right Stuff, which was again the best for me, but also sampling others. Some such as E-Harmony were so needlessly complicated and digressive that I doubt if anyone ever met anyone significant through them. Others asked for preferences so trivial that I doubted their intelligence about heterosexual relationships, even if their founder(s) claimed a doctorate (in Lord knows what).

Those requiring no fee, such as Craig’s List, didn’t work, as I sensed more than once their appeal to single people who really wanted not to actually meet but rather desired some Internet attention, any free attention. (Perhaps some of these people knew they weren’t what they claimed to be.) Also nearly all on Craig’s List were submitted by people more than half my current age.

Other Internet dating channels demanded so much money, often as much as fifty bucks per month, that they discouraged not only freeloaders but me. I joined SeniorPeople.com for a month and met some interesting women, one of them I saw again until I didn’t. At least their offerings weren’t clogged by heterosexual beginners.

I also recall meeting a matchmaker who treated me to drinks at a midtown hotel before requesting a thousand dollars—a cool grand—for her services. Her problem was that her stable of women, by her own descriptions, didn’t include anyone I’d want to meet.

I checked out match.com and chemistry.com, even filling out questionnaires that seemed incomplete, because they didn’t address dimensions important to me. Even after I answered its queries, IvyDate.com persistently offered women a generation younger than I. If that move was meant to flatter me, it didn’t work. I checked out okcupid.com, which asked me so many questions, many of them dumb, that I gave up after providing eighty answers—enough already. It also provided me repeatedly with thumbnail photographs of men, even though I defined myself as a straight male at the beginning; and I couldn’t find any way to correct this error. Even though I asked Lavalife.com to find me women residing within twenty miles of me in NYC, it offered me several only in Canada. As Zoosk thinks I reside in Ridgewood, New Jersey, rather than the less familiar Ridgewood in Queens, New York, it offers me only New Jersey woman who are too far away; and I can’t seem to recircuit their offerings for me. Were some of these inept websites really fronts for other kinds of biz?

As reading material, the adverts on these websites offer a certain pleasure in inviting me to imagine the woman behind the photo and self-description—imagine, precisely because they are incomplete. When I actually met a person, I discovered, more than once, that crucial details were omitted, such as enormous weight (more than mine @ 240 pounds) or cultural illiteracy. People who don’t routinely explore internet dating are curious. The New Yorker, so persistently disappointing, commissioned a long article about Internet dating by a married man who couldn’t for obvious reasons take his research far enough!

One problem with all these Internet dating services is getting rid of them. SeniorPeople’s fees couldn’t be terminated until I instructed American Express not to pay their bill. Nonetheless, it, along with others, persists in sending me emails offering photographs along with short descriptions, in sum wanting me to renew. Somehow some of these email-generators have escaped the Internet requirement about offering Unsubscription.

Once again, only The Right Stuff has worked for me, because it offered people of a certain cultural class. (One woman met on SeniorPeople had sufficient cultural class to belong to The Right Stuff, but couldn’t join, because she went to the University of Miami.) May I live long enough to see these dating services replaced by something else, as inconceivable to me now as Internet dating would have been to me a few decades ago.

The new reality addressed by Facebook is also true for me.

Individual entries on Richard Kostelanetz’s work in several domains appear in various editions of Readers Guide to Twentieth-Century Writers, Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature, Contemporary Poets, Contemporary Novelists, Postmodern Fiction, Webster's Dictionary of American Writers, The HarperCollins Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature, Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Directory of American Scholars, Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in American Art, NNDB.com, Wikipedia.com, and Britannica.com, among other distinguished directories. Otherwise, he survives in New York, where he was born, unemployed and thus overworked.

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