Just one week ago, we kicked off a new feature by asking readers to regale us with stories about online dating. Tell us about your match made in heaven, we said; describe your match made in hell. A thrilling inundation followed, and we find ourselves with plenty to publish -- and many online dating truths to ponder.
At the risk of sounding like peddlers of chicken soup for the online dater's soul, we have got to say that, after reading dozens of cyber dating stories, we believe that surviving this weird ritual seems to have a lot to do with attitude. A healthy curiosity, skills of denial, and rationalization also help. But a sunny outlook, that appears to be the ticket.
Take Sean Egen of Los Angeles. He wrote to describe a hellish entanglement, but refused to adopt the "hell" label or the pity it might engender, saying his submission "could technically also be considered a 'heaven' submission since I get great sex and get to walk away from a crazy woman -- without any restraining orders!" His tale of being dumped because he pitched his date's energetic terrier off the bed during sex ends not with regret or self-loathing but with this observation: "It's no stereotype that crazy women are great in bed. The sex was amazing."
There's the spirit!
Even our happiest correspondents, the satisfied customers of online dating, seem to have gotten where they are today -- shacked up, planning nuptials, buying stuff from Ikea -- through the rigorous rejection of defeat. They too have been duped by old photos and pawed by psychotics, they too have run backward out of restaurants with their coats still buttoned. Inevitably, their happy-ending stories started like this: "I had basically given up when I received an e-mail that I decided to check out," or this: "I'd largely given up the idea of finding anything online but pen pals and friends and research material." But they end with round-trip tickets to Sydney and the joint adoption of dogs. They end, in Melissa McEwan's case, with passionate utterances: "Had it not been for online dating, our paths might never have crossed, although, the thought of that being too dreadful to bear, we like to think they would have anyway."
Of course, there are those who have given up, who write to describe that final indignation, the scary date that signaled the end of the game. (The woman who kept following the guy into the men's bathroom comes to mind.) Yet even these grim souls admit to lessons learned and a new grip on reality. Most often, they take their leave quietly, with few regrets, or at the very least, they rewrite their ads and lower their expectations. Kelly Froh bowed out gracefully in one paragraph:
"I went on eight dates in two months. I dated cowboys, rockers, nerds, Canadians, and older men. What I learned is that no matter what kind of connection you think you've made with them via e-mail and phone conversations, it's all out the window the minute he shows up and you look at each for the first time. There he is, two inches shorter than you, and there you are, 20 pounds heavier than you said you were. Oh, but it's all about personality right? All those 1,500-word e-mails, those hours on the phone? Well, sorry, but you are not his dream girl and he is not your dream guy. But wait, you said in your profile that you just wanted to date casually. Yeah, right! Everyone is looking for love, and love at first sight at that."
And she signed herself, "Happily single."
Most gratifying, perhaps, are the stories that occupy the DMZ of online dating, the tales that combine elements of heaven and hell and conclude with intimacy but no ceremonies. Jessi Langer took us on a wild ride full of entreaties, some crying, phone bills in outer space and a side trip to San Francisco. Her ending brought relief and applause: "He is still the wild, street-smart, sarcastic man I love, and I am still the bubbly social butterfly. I want to travel the world and he wants to stay where he is, I love to be busy and he prefers the simple life. We are the best of friends, and although we have decided that, at least right now, that should be the definition of our relationship, we will always love each other."
In printing these letters, we signal the regular appearance of "Match Made in Heaven, Match Made in Hell" in the Life site. We will print a new letter in each category as often as we can, carrying on for as long as the letters do. There is no deadline for submissions, which should be 500 words or less. The placement of your stories will be obvious, but just in case, please give them the appropriate subject line (Match Made in Heaven or Match Made in Hell).
It's important to note that all writing submitted becomes the property of Salon. We reserve the right to edit submissions and cannot reply to every writer. Interested contributors should send their stories either to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
HELL: Nothing but feelings
Within 10 minutes he'd described his feeling of anticipatory anxiety in watching me walk briskly toward the door as his date for the evening; his tenderly reluctant feeling in mentioning that I'd been 10 minutes late; his relieved feeling that I had quickly apologized for being late; his anxiety again, wondering what I thought of his appearance; his reluctance again in having mentioned his anxiety about his appearance, which might have been too much insecurity to share on a first date; and his mixed emotions about having agreed to Indian food for dinner, considering his experience with a woman named Sylvia.
I'd wanted to date a man who wasn't afraid to express his feelings.
His name was Paul, and he was the first man I'd met online who mentioned an Eastern European family background, like mine, though not exactly. Having borscht and blintzes in common was a plus. Perhaps he could help me reclaim my long-lost interest in colorful wax-decorated Easter eggs. Or at the very least help me to understand my recurring childhood nightmare about hiding, shivering, in a huge stone church.
There were three Sylvias in Paul's complicated past life, it turned out. As I chewed on a stubbornly crunchy piece of puffed bread and tasted bits of fried eggplant, Paul described how he'd dated the first, who'd left him, the second, whom he'd left after she acted crazy, and the third, whom he'd loved but for some reason didn't love him.
He shared lots of feelings about the third Sylvia, how they'd started out dating, her moods, his moods, how things had become complicated, and yet toward the end of the story -- which was never quite the end -- I still was confused about the connection with Indian food. This confusion is new for me, I told him, since I'm a journalist accustomed to getting the facts in interviews. He laughed.
The night wasn't over. As I picked at the leftovers of my tandoori chicken, realizing I'd hardly said anything, Paul told me a story about his father. It was a long story, and it had something to do with war, and barbed wire, and a confession in a snowstorm, and I once again lost track of all the details because by then I had realized that despite our mutual love of the Danube River, I didn't want to be stuck in a boat on the Danube or anywhere else with Paul. Our meal over, I gave him a comradely kiss on the cheek and said goodbye.
-- Alice Lipowicz, Washington, D.C.
HEAVEN: "Lovely weirdo wanted"
I returned to Salon and Nerve.com after a few dubious experiences on other sites. I was already dating someone casually, but I wanted something more. I was completely fed up with everybody being so damn casual all the time. I was idly checking out profiles one day, thinking I would only reply to someone really perfect. "Lovely weirdo wanted" read one headline -- it seemed promising. He was looking for someone who didn't mind reading subtitles or watching silent movies. I replied: "Subtitles read here."
His picture caught my eye immediately. He was a cute Jewish boy with a tattoo of an ant on his arm. Something about the way his shirt sleeves were rolled up made him look tough, but it turned out he wasn't tough at all. He was the most gentle person I've ever met, and the sweetest.
I was a bad, bad girl the first night we met. I cut our dinner short, pleading fatigue, to go over to a backup guy's house. I was distracted and couldn't remember much of our conversation. I was afraid I talked too much about myself, which was a novelty, since 90 percent of the guys I met never asked me a single question about myself.
But he seemed nice, so I gave him another chance, and another, and tried to give him a chance to talk. I was suspicious at first, because he didn't have a car, which is nearly against the law in L.A., and he did have a poodle, which surely should be against the law. And it wasn't a good-looking poodle, either.
But he turned out to be both gentle and sexy. His ex-girlfriend came and took the poodle away for a while. He seemed quiet at first but turned out to be fun to talk to. And he had the amazing habit of noticing everything I liked -- he saw what kind of coffee I had at my house and bought some for his house. He saw how I mixed two cereals together and prepared it that way while I was in the shower.
At first I was afraid it was all too much. But he was growing on me. He was crazy about me, and he was cute, so what could I do? I watched him get a new tattoo. We both picked out the same one -- a red, blue and green compass -- at the same time. That night he unloaded my dishwasher, and I fell in love. I keep worrying I'm not weird enough for him.
"You may not know it," he says, "but you're weird, and you're lovely."
-- "Patty Berlin," Los Angeles
HEAVEN: Unemployed, but the sex is great
I started online dating not for the possibility of meeting "that special someone," but instead to get over the unrealistic expectations I'd set for dating in general. I figured I needed to learn how to date -- to go out, meet up, have coffee or cocktails and conversation, then just go home, alone. I did learn how to do that, but the most important thing I learned (after 20 dates over 18 months) was that I was happy: Happy with my life, happy with my friends, and happy being single.
I was just about to call it quits -- mission accomplished, a successful experiment -- when an e-mail landed in my Salon personals in-box, short and sweet. This guy even gave me his phone number up front (generally a first-time online-dating, gotta-be-a-stalker no-no). I read his ad. My immediate thought: No way; he's much too cute. A friend persuaded me to do the polite thing and at least answer his ad. I hesitated -- I was burned out on dating and ready for a return to my happily single life.
But he was persistent. And so cute. Everything looked good on paper -- the requisite love of cooking, moody music, appropriate literary choices, no fear of sexually emboldened chicks like me.
We started e-mailing and finally made a date. As the day approached, I realized one of three things would happen: we'd far exceed both of our expectations; meet them; or fall tragically short, and things would end in freaky, sideshow horror.
It turned out to be a beautiful evening, followed by a very nice breakfast.
Six months later, we've got the solid, earthbound reality of a great relationship, dusted with a light and fluffy heavenly coating. The earthbound reality: being unemployed, money struggles, putting the toilet seat down, and meeting each other's families. The heavenly stuff: great sex, general goofiness, and the silly joy in discovering mutually stupid but meaningful things like the realization that you are not the only person on earth who loves liverwurst on dark rye with mustard.
Maybe we got lucky. Maybe it will all end tomorrow, and I'll write about this as a match made in hell.
But I don't think so.
-- Maria Hecht, Boston
HELL: "A bed I'd never know"
A lifelong journal keeper, I ooze confidence on paper. I write concise verse concerning dreams to save the world and woo girls with kisses, pruned roses, and a nice chicken marsala. In reality, though, I ramble, forget to recycle, buy flowers infested with bugs, and cook chicken lined with bloody veins. In other words, I'm marginally less frightening than a drunken clown is to children.
But on Nerve.com I was a dreamboat! I selected a rugged photo. I wrote sassy blurbs about gin-and-tonics and Alaska travels. I smiled as I uploaded my pitch: My nerves were steady and no one knew my breath stank. A few days later possibility visited my in-box.
Jenny was enamored of my wandering through NYC and sticking my head out taxis. I liked that she adored gin-and-tonics and listened to Built to Spill. She thought my job writing pornography was hilarious. I liked that she ran psychological experiments on children. "Sometimes I beat them when they're really naughty," she wrote in one of our dozens of e-mails. Her photograph was fuzzy, but I thought the pixels revealed supreme cuteness.
After several weeks of techno connections, we made a date. Saturday. A dive bar. Ten p.m.
Jenny and I had, for all intents and purposes, bonded. We shared intimacies. That I kissed a boy in Israel. That she dreamed of loftier goals than running CT scans on 8-year-olds. Jenny and I had exchanged pillow talk without the pillow. Or talking. And for that I was a jittery mess.
How could I replicate my elegiac essay about Romania's orphans? How would my inept conversational skills compare to caffeinated e-mails? I'd shot my load online and left little for reality.
Saturday. Dive bar. Ten p.m. We met. The pixels lied. Her hair was darker, eyes smaller, waist larger. And though a fierce proponent of substance trumping looks, I needed looks to shore up the substance.
We bought our favorite drinks -- gin-and-tonics -- and tried to talk. I stumbled. She fumbled. Our one-sided missives that had said so much were quiet. We purchased another round. And another. Our conversation grew louder but went nowhere. The barkeep poured us another round. Now we were drunk and unable to make conversation. So we started making out.
Her tongue slid where mine didn't. My hand traveled where it shouldn't. Her breath tasted bad. Mine must've been worse. We kept making out, though, searching for some physical connection to justify those heady weeks of electronic communiqués.
But no connection existed. We stopped making out. We stopped drinking.
"I think I better go," Jenny slurred.
I agreed. It was growing late. "I like getting up early," I said.
I know," Jenny said.
"I'll call you," I said.
"No, you won't," she said, and staggered home to a bed I'd never know.
-- Joshua M. Bernstein, New York City
HEAVEN: I thought I wanted wacky
Back in 1999, I was 38 and dating a 26-year-old Chinese-Italian shoe salesman from Trinidad. I met him while -- what else? -- shoe shopping. He was tall, muscular and dark, with a lovely smile. And he made a great curry.
That's when Nick's e-mail landed in my in-box. It simply said he'd seen my profile online and thought I might be interested in reading his.
I'd had an ad online for several years, had met a few guys, and even dated several. I quickly learned that anyone who looks for love online must develop a really sensitive wacko filter.
I corresponded with guys who seemed normal, interesting -- even fun -- at first, but they gradually revealed enormous social maladjustments. I received complete curricula vitae (including links to publications), sexually explicit photos, proposals of marriage, really bad poetry, really inventive spelling, and letters that cc'd a dozen other women's ads. Married men wrote looking for traveling companions or threesomes. New immigrants wrote offering to be gigolos for "financially generous females."
Along the way, I did meet a few regular guys, but nothing ignited. I'd largely given up the idea of finding anyone online.
According to his profile, Nick had diverse interests. He was intelligent. Athletic. Thoughtful. He wrote with humor, confidence and humility. At 38, he was looking for a woman of 30 to 42; he didn't specify race or weight or looks of the woman he was seeking. He was open, adventurous, well-traveled. And he wanted a serious relationship.
My usually cautious, skeptical nature gave way to a complete gut-feeling takeover. "Wow," I wrote back. "You're the man of my dreams."
We met a week later. He didn't look like the art-boys or poets or bronzed Middle Eastern, Latin-American, North African types I'm usually attracted to. His complexion was a sun-sensitive (as in: SPF 800) pink, and he looked terribly strait-laced. At dinner, his British accent made him sound as if he had marbles in his mouth.
A few dates followed. While Nick was perceptive and funny, I also found him nervous and awkward. Finally, I told him: "I just want to be friends." "Yes," Nick replied without missing a beat. "I've been thinking the same thing. In fact," he said, "I've some friends I'd like to set you up with."
I was stung. I'd never been rejected right back like that.
About a week later, my friend Joe and I took Nick out for his birthday. We went to dinner and a movie and stopped to play ping-pong in a pool hall. On the way home it rained and we all got soaked. At my place, Nick pulled out my guitar. His playing was beautiful, moving ... seductive.
When he left, Joe turned to me and said, "He's a really nice guy!" I rolled my eyes. I didn't want nice. I wanted wacky, artsy-fartsy, struggling, exotic young rebels with boundless unrealized potential. I wanted complication and turmoil and pain and guys who didn't know what they wanted.
Two days later I called Nick. "Can I revise that 'just friends' thing?" I asked. "I'll be right over," he said.
We got married a year and a half ago, both for the first time, at 40. I'm due to give birth in January to a baby boy.
-- Hannele Rubin, Manhattan
HELL: Get thee to a seminary
I met a man online who matched what I was searching for in many ways. He was smart, articulate, witty, full of stories of life lived abroad. He was a handsome man in his mid-40s, a good age for my 38 years. I couldn't wait to meet him.
We met at a very fancy restaurant. I walked into the bar and scanned the few men sitting there. None of them looked like my guy. They were all much older than he said he was. His profile read 44; every man at the bar looked around 60. As I stood there wondering whether I was too early or too late, one of the men called out my name. I cringed on the inside.
We shook hands and he offered me a drink. I blurted out, "How old are you?"
"Everyone lies a little online," he explained, and then told me he was 58.
We sat down to dinner and two years later I still regret it. Seemed my date was educated in Catholic schools in Ireland, followed by seminary school, much to the pride and delight of his staunch Irish Catholic parents. The summer after his first year in seminary school he took a boat to NYC to visit his older brother. He was 20 years old and had never kissed a girl. Not long after he arrived in NYC he had his first sexual encounter with a woman, found out what he had been missing, and never returned to Ireland.
The whole time we were eating, this guy was pawing at me. He'd touch my face, stroke my hand, rub my arm. He kept telling me how pretty I was and how much he liked me. I kept finding polite ways of hinting that he should relax, enjoy the food. But he did not listen. Even the waiter was getting annoyed.
This went on well into our dinner until I couldn't take it anymore. I stood up threw my napkin in his face and shouted, "It's been 40 years since you got out of the seminary. Not 40 minutes. You touch me one more time and I'm going to stab you with my fork."
Did I mention this was a very formal restaurant? The maitre d' was at the table with the dinner check in seconds flat. We were both asked to leave immediately. I left him with the check and made haste to the parking lot.
As I waited for the valet to bring my car around, old seminary boy came running out of the restaurant and asked for a good-night kiss. He actually expected a kiss and wanted to know when he could see me again. Two years later all I can think of is -- it could have been worse; this guy could have ended up a priest.
-- Victoria Gallucci, Glen Ridge, N.J.
HEAVEN: A dork's dream date
In some ways our story was like so many others'. Carrie had avoided emotional commitment by seeing guys who lived abroad, I by not going out with anyone. For our online dating portals, she, politically aware, used Salon; I, a recovering dork who rarely got laid, frequented Nerve.com.
Carrie decided to try the online scene as an antidote to the less-than-interesting, less-than-sincere guys she met frequently at bars or wherever it is pretty girls are approached by asshole guys. This was my second stab at meeting someone online after an unprofitable attempt a year earlier. Though my not-altogether-untrue excuse was that I didn't have time as a neurology resident to meet people outside of the hospital, it was my congenital inability to hit on anyone that was really the albatross around my neck when it came to dating.
Because of the volume of listings on the Nerve/Salon personals, I rarely checked out ads without pictures. One headline sans photo called to me, though: "I'm picking out a thermos for you." Successfully hooked by a line from "The Jerk," I clicked, eager for more. Fortunately, the profile rounded out the depiction of the funny, edgy, appealing woman hinted at by the title.
I replied. She e-mailed back, and we discovered that not only had we attended the same college (Columbia), where I had known her brother, but we had attended the same high school in Florida! Since she was four years younger, we had never actually been in the same place at the same time. Intrigued by the nexus of coincidences, we started a two-week e-mail correspondence that ended in my falling for her before we had even met.
It gnawed at me, though -- how could someone with such a devilish wit and sharp mind be even available, let alone be slumming for dates online? Hell, she was even attractive, at least if the one small e-mailed photo and the senior yearbook that I managed to bum from a pal were any indication. My friend's response: "Maybe she got fat!" Hmm.
By the time we finally went out, the expectations had gotten so high it seemed unlikely that she could possibly live up to my image of her. On the contrary, our first date was as picture-perfect as everything else had been: coffee and good conversation, "Pépé le Moko" at the Film Forum, dinner at Deborah, all culminating in the perfect kiss outside her building on Grove Street.
Like the best things, none of it was planned (the date or the relationship to follow), and it took us both by surprise. Eight months later, we're cohabitating in a beautiful high-rise apartment in the West Village and realizing how pale (but smart!) our kids will eventually be.
Doesn't it make you want to puke?
-- Dario M. Zagar, Manhattan
HELL: Sucker punch
A few years ago, I was finishing my degree in Texas, new in town and lonely. I should have known better, but I met a guy online who seemed to be everything I had been searching for. He told me he was a 32-year-old real estate agent in Tennessee. I'm also in my 30s and from Tennessee. I shared my poetry and he said I reminded him of Dylan Thomas. He told me about his business, his home, his fantasies and fears. We chatted online almost every night, sometimes a few minutes and sometimes for hours. We exchanged photos.
We did all the silly things people falling for each other do, even going so far as to go into online chat rooms and announce to everyone present that we were in love. People called us fools. We didn't care.
Several months passed and it was time for me to take a vacation back to Tennessee. We agreed to meet. I could hardly wait. He promised to call me at the friend's house I was staying at. He didn't call. Nor the next day. Finally, I got on my friend's computer, cornered him online and demanded an explanation. He was a 16-year-old high school student! People called me a fool. I cared.
-- Tom L. Jackson, Tennessee