"No, I don't want to cuddle"

I told him I don't eat fish and I don't drink. He took me to a seafood restaurant and brought along three bottles of wine.

Published February 10, 2003 7:08PM (EST)

HELL: This is where I get off

I went on a date with someone through swoon.com. He went to my alma mater, and I even went so far as to check him out with a professor we had had in common. Got the OK. (A week later, said professor declared his love for me, but that's another story.) I set up a date.

The first sign that things were on the road to hell: He was about 50 pounds heavier and 4 inches shorter than he had claimed. Second sign: I had told him the only restrictions I had about where we ate was that I didn't eat fish and I don't drink. He took me to a seafood restaurant and brought along three bottles of wine.

Over dinner, the conversation consisted of him justifying his weight with stories about heavier people actually being healthier. He also told me I was "pretty, but not Pamela Anderson pretty," something I don't recall claiming to be. He also lectured me on living in a "seriously bad" neighborhood, though it turned out he lived four blocks from me. I drank about three glasses of wine in 15 minutes.

At one point, probably because of my sudden drunkenness, I attempted to cut my chicken (the only thing not from the sea on the menu), and sent it skidding off the plate and along the floor. He picked it up and put it on a discarded salad plate. Turns out he was saving it for later. "Waste not, want not," he said cheerfully as he dug in, having finished his own meal.

On our walk home, he stopped suddenly and said, "OK, this is where I get off." Guess he didn't think my walking home alone at night was so dangerous after all. I offered my hand for a quick shake, but he lunged at me and hugged me tightly. When I pushed him off, he said, "Come on, cuddle." I ran.

-- Dakota Shepard, Brooklyn, N.Y.

HEAVEN: The magic number

Someone once told me that online dating was a numbers game: If I went out with 10 people, odds were that I would find one person I would want to continue dating. I began my quest. Someone was right. Here they are, in order of appearance.

1. A guy who sweated profusely over our cup of tea.

2. A 40-year-old egomaniac who had dated countless women in the nine years following his divorce, and had yet to find "an interesting woman in the [San Francisco] Bay Area."

3. A divorced technical writer who called, sobbing, at 7 p.m. before a date scheduled for 7:45 p.m. to say he had emotional issues to work out and could we postpone our dinner plans until next week? (I did appreciated his honesty, but chose to take that card out of the Rolodex.)

4. A cute investment banker who asked my opinion on casual hook-ups at our first meeting.

5. A guy who stated it could never work out because "there are two types of people in the world -- those who loved the Beatles and those who loved the Stones." I loved the Beatles. He loved the Stones.

6. A nice guy from Florida who is a big investor in the arts. Had a great couple of dates. Guess he didn't think so.

7. A stalker who e-mailed and/or called every day after a single 45-minute coffee date. Upon hearing that I didn't want to continue our relationship, he said he "didn't know who I was anymore."

8. A New Yorker who never actually wanted to meet me, but hoped that I would be kind enough to send nude pictures of myself via e-mail.

9. A lawyer who stood me up at the movies.

10. A sweet, funny, lovable engineer who plays jazz on the side and who makes me laugh so hard, I often find liquids spurting from my nose. A guy who appreciates my goofy sense of humor, whose kisses make me swoon, and who doesn't hold the fact that I am writing this letter to Salon.com chronicling my pathetic dating life against me.

-- Molly Norton, San Francisco

HELL: An atheist's tale

I had just moved to San Francisco. I was fresh from a divorce. I had absolutely no business being in the dating pool just yet.

I walked into the Chinese restaurant she had suggested. I knew nothing of the city, and had arrived there half an hour early to make sure that I'd find the place. I was filled with nervous anticipation, partly because this was my first online dating experience, partly because this was my first date in 10 years.

She walked in relatively on time. Her picture hadn't lied; she was moderately attractive. Neither had mine, it seemed, as she smiled widely when she saw me. (I'm no Johnny Depp, but I'm OK.) We hugged briefly, both of us whirring with the anticipation that had been building for the past four weeks of e-mail exchanges.

She always kept her shoulders turned toward me, and she mentioned her hair briefly. I took these as signs that she liked me. I wasn't sure if I was happy or terrified.

She sat down, and we both paused in uncomfortable silence as we regarded the menus far, far too vigorously. Finally, I declared my decision, as though I was being profound. I was looking for something to say, to deal with the beaming happiness that was being projected at me from the other side of the table.

She put down her menu, and took my hand, and smiled. I smiled back, and leaned forward.

"OK," she said, "there's something that I have to ask you, and it's really important."

I nodded.

"Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?"

Have you ever seen "Family Feud"? You know how, when someone gets a question wrong, that big X appears on-screen with an accompanying sound? I'd swear that the image of that X appeared before me and that I heard that "bleep" sound.

At that moment, however, I became much, much more relaxed, knowing that this was never going to work.

"No," I replied, calmly.

She frowned, then smiled again, "Well, that's OK. I'll convert ya." She went back to looking at her menu.

During the remainder of the meal, she commented on how marriage was a male way of imprisoning women, how she hated children, and how she would only sleep with me if I went to church with her that Sunday. We couldn't use condoms, though, she was a good Catholic.

I was utterly stunned. I had completely missed all of this in the previous weeks of getting to know her. I realized that I was very, very rusty on this whole dating thing. As tremendously lonely and as horny as I was, having just gotten out of being married, I steered clear, paid for the meal, hugged her goodnight, and made my way back home.

-- Jerry, San Francisco

HEAVEN: From fetish to forever

It was 1999, and I was dating a seemingly banal Catholic-school teacher who turned out to have a fetish for Internet porn and anonymous sexual encounters with women he met on the Net. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I made these discoveries while nosing around in his e-mail account. (He had given me his password, so he obviously wasn't too worried.) That's how I found out about adultfriendfinder.com, and about his profile. I made up a profile of my own and lured him into writing to me. But that's not the real story.

The real story is that, while checking out adultfriendfinder.com, I stumbled onto its nonporn site, friendfinder.com, and on a whim, put up a profile. I had hopes of finding a pen pal, a confidant, an online friend with whom I could be honest and open. What I found was far better. I found my soul mate. Seeing it written, it looks like a cheeseball Hallmark card, but it's true. I lucked out.

I started corresponding with Bob in 1999 with no intention of ever meeting. I was way too cool for that. I was nowhere near that level of desperation. I was just going to flirt a little, hide behind the anonymity of e-mail, and have a little fun. Secretly, though, I had a tiny little bit of hope. I guess that's why, on a whim, I invited Bob to meet me and a girlfriend for drinks. What I thought would be a couple of hours turned into six, and I knew I was hooked when he kissed me goodnight. Even my friend the skeptic was impressed.

Our second date was dinner at my house. He arrived with flowers, wine and the most beautiful letter describing our first date. We spent hours talking and listening to music. He was funny, kind and a great listener. Every date was better than the last. We became friends and then lovers, and now we've been married for two years.

P.S. I love the look of shock when we tell people we met on the Internet.

-- Nikki Pagniano, Portland, Ore.

By Salon Staff

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