Saturday, July 28, 2012

Match Game

Some people hate hospitals, others hate retirement homes. You know what I think is the most depressing place on earth? The animal shelter—especially the ones where I know they're going to be killed if they're taken. But really, I even avoid the live animal section of Petsmart; I want to save them all.

But now that's been beaten. The most depressing place I've been lately is an online dating service.

I can offer several reasons, and will. One is that I'm surprised at how many of the profile bios, the part people will read so this is where you sell yourself, really make yourself shine, are pre-emptive strikes; the tone bordering on angry. Several people make a point that anyone who contacts them must submit photos. One lady offered a reason I never thought of: if you're willing to put a photo of yourself online, you're probably not sneaking around on your wife or girlfriend.

But there are other missives from people who've clearly been burned and want to avoid past disasters. I understand it, yet some of it seems like doing everything you can to prevent a recurrance of World War I and got World War II instead.

Another is irratation at a physical limitation over which I have absolutely no power to change: my height. I'm not short, but I'm not tall either. I'm statistically average. But I've seen a large number of ads, not just on this site but in classifieds in newspapers and Craigslist and any other place where people try to meet by making requests: I'm not over 6 feet tall.

For one, I don't know how much difference it really makes. I can reach the top shelves of my cabinets and anything I really can't get to, there's this thing I have called a step-stool. Other than that, height is mostly useful for seeing over shoulders in crowds. I haven't found other uses. The drawbacks are that clothes sizes are larger and more expensive, it's harder to sit in some cars comfortably, especially with people in the back seat; you're always folded up in theaters, stadium seats, even restaurants where your legs tend to tangle with others, almost never in a good way. If you're really tall, you have a collection of bumps and scars on your head from things that you've hit.

And there's a double-standard to it as well. Women have no problem specifying a height, and even petite women routinely want men 6' or over, as if those extra couple inches meant anything. But if a man put in a demand for a range of bra sizes, there would be outrage.

Enough about height. There's also an unwillingness to want to sell myself like used car. Like a lot of people, I grew up with the rule that you don't blow your own horn, you don't show off, you don't preen. That's a very, very difficult one to get past.

But finally, the big one, the elephant among the mice I've already mentioned, is guilt and my own double-standards.

I think the root problem, after a lot of soul-searching and analysis, is in the pictures. Most people don't look the same in a photo as they do in real life, and usually the photos aren't flattering. In real life we're typically hit with a flurry of impressions: the person's image—from all angles, not just one; there's the voice, the posture, movement, attitude and behavior from broad to minute.

But when you see a photo, you react just a photo. There could be 10,000 words in the profile that make the person sound like the mate of your dreams, but the photo says run away.

I do this is much as anyone, and I'm not proud of it because I'm much a victim of it as perpetrator. I'm not the male version of Anne Ramsey (pictured) but I'm far closer to Ernest Borgnine's Marty than the Roger Moore photo I use as my avatar. I know that I am judged on my looks. In person I can try and save things with personality, but just a photo would sink me before I even cast off.

But I feel guilty when I do the same thing. The dating company gave me a group of "matches" to sift through, and I immediately tossed out some based on nothing but the photo.

I have met women who are not, shall we say, fine physical specimens yet I found them attractive. But the difference was that I met them in person, where I could see them from all angles, hear them talk and interact and be a full-bodied individual rather than just a (usually poor) 2-D image on the screen.

All that makes me think that this is just a disaster of a system. Things were better when there were ice cream socials and local mixers, where you met other "available" people in the flesh instead of just pixels. Internet dating is the 21st century equivalent of 19th century mail-order brides. Look through the catalog, find one you like and write a letter...

And I suspect the long-term results are about the same.

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