After selecting the two most favored ones of me in that beaded gown, I took a deep breath, holding it as I clicked upload.
Then I waited to see what happened.
In the days that followed, it was flattering to see the level of response generated by those photos. I felt like a movie star; divine, an icon whose image could only be found between the pages of a magazine. I now understood why people typically got carried away when drafting their online biographies. Here was your chance to enhance your image. Just as people have a tendency to elaborate the details of their experience on their resume, their online profile was no exception to this technological game of social survival. On a deeper consciousness, it tapped into our primal instinct, that imaginative game of make believe. As little kids, we did it in our backyard. As adults, we do it on our resumes and dating profiles.
I played Charlie’s Angels when I was nine-years old with two of my cousins. Kelly Garrett was my favorite Angel and the first Private Investigator I always snatched up for myself. Instantly. Before anyone else could claim her. In the world of make-believe, it meant everything. If you were stuck inhabiting a character you didn’t like or respect, your afternoon for playtime was ruined. I wanted to be like her; seductively beautiful, yet street-wise, empathetic and perceptive. Her features, literally, made for an uncanny rendering to that of a department store mannequin. My cousin always nabbed Jill, likening herself to the vulnerability she displayed, whereas a neighboring friend took Sabrina; the one uninhibited by beauty. The smart one who always figured things out and who always had to rescue them. The one least likely to fall victim to any villain’s ploy. Each of them was beautiful; lovely, valiant daredevils. Each woman representing qualities we either possessed, wished we had or knew we could never be. Playing them was the closest we’d ever get to those dreams.
A surge of excitement rolled through me as I perused through my inbox. It was the cyberspace equivalent to fan mail. It was amazing to see how gallant men were when they thought they were in love. And to think all it took was a pretty picture. One guy remarked “Damn you’re beautiful!” another exclaimed “I didn’t know women like you still existed.”
Then there were the occasional ones who prided themselves on being idiosyncratic. One guy wrote “You’re hot. Do you have any pets?” at which point he tagged on multiple images of himself with a parakeet on his outstretched arm, the parakeet dominating the photo shoot. I wasn’t sure who was doing the dating; him or the parakeet.
It was obvious they had read my profile. Their response mirrored my criteria perhaps a little too closely. They postured themselves to be the very person who fell within the standard of what I’d been searching for. I made it clear that I was looking for someone who I could take seriously. Stating that if anyone was going to contact me, they should do so with the best of intentions; if not, they should just move on. Tired of being played and having men disappear after wasting my time in a deceitful, pomp show of interest, I patently wrote I realize sometimes people are just looking to have fun. But I’m not here to play games. I’m ready to find someone real. If you’re just looking for someone to have casual fun with, then I’m not the right person for you. It just simply would never work and you need to move on.
Embarrassingly enough, I later realized how closely it corresponded to Layla’s bitter essay when she took her first stab at writing her own profile. She sounded ridiculously feminist. Having remembered this, I signed on to change that one paragraph, only to discover it actually yielded sympathy from my admirers.
One player (and I could tell he was a player by the imperious way he modeled for the camera on the beach), took the first stab at making his play. He was dressed in a wet suit, a boogie board in one hand, the waves breaking against the shore in the background. He tried to woo me with soap opera theatrics with his words of “I know exactly what you mean. I feel your pain. I’m looking for someone special, too. I’ve been hurt so many times myself. At last, someone with who I can relate, someone who can understand me.” I didn’t buy it. He certainly didn’t appear a broken man. I try to avoid passing superficial judgments, despise when it’s passed my way, but he really did look like a cad; too indifferent to care about any of the women he left in his wake.
Then there were those who refused to take no for an answer. It was almost as if they had a fixated image of what they were after and that the world hinged on the brink of decay if they couldn’t attain it. The online dating equivalent to the celebrity stalker.
After politely declining one guy’s offer to meet up, he began emailing me relentlessly. Every day it was something new. One day it was “You don’t like the way I look, do you? Is it my greased back hair style? My retro fifties look? The following day it would be something else “If only you just got to know me.” Leading up to “What’s wrong with me?” At first, I tangled myself with trite exchanges, trying to explain myself, soften the blow. Until I realized that in so doing, I was being dragged further into wasted dialogue. When his stinging words finally escalated to a mini temper tantrum of “I know what you’re kind is all about. You’re snobbish, arrogant, and full of yourself, you think you can do better. Well I’ve seen better than you. You’re not all that. I hope you’re happy with whatever pompous, jerk you pick for yourself”, I just ignored him completely. I didn’t give him the satisfaction of snipping back, which I was quite sure had been the intended objective. As far as I was concerned, his sharp words were fragments of debris in the wind.
After three weeks followed with no luck in finding anyone, I’d finally been contacted by someone whom I reckoned to be the most agreeable of the bunch. I didn’t find him to be particularly striking at first, but relative to the general populace who’d been banging on my cyber door, he seemed to be the most normal. There was no pretense, no charade. He didn’t over extend himself to impress me. He came across friendly, pleasant enough and easy-going. He was real, plain and simple. He lived in Norwalk and after a few exchange of e-mails, we both agreed on the best middle point to meet. We decided that that place would be Archie Moore’s in Fairfield on Saturday morning.
On the day we planned to meet, I decided to dress in my pale blue, wide-leg jeans and wine colored crinkled gauze top. The one that Jackie disdained as looking like a bib. Jackie and I didn’t always share the same taste in clothing. Our ideas of sexy were completely divergent. While she preferred plunging V-necks, I favored feminine styles that leaned slightly more to the conservative, skimming several hundred feet of prudish. Rarely was I ever comfortable venturing into the scabrous or the risqué.
It was October and unseasonably warm, so the delicate fabric would still make for comfortable wear even for middle fall. Besides, the waistband on my jeans had an embroidered stitching that I wanted to showcase. They went perfectly together. And the top was the ideal companion to these pants.
I finished by sliding into my favorite black boots with the pointed toe and 3-inch heels. Then I stopped in front of the full length bedroom mirror for one final inspection of my overall look and makeup before leaving to meet with him. I wasn’t the glitzy model that I posted online, but I trusted that DB8, or so he called himself, would be realistic enough to expect casual wear at the neighborhood bar and restaurant that served Buffalo Wings.
When I arrived there, I pulled into the first available parking space and waited in my car. I considered dialing Layla to ask for her advice. Should I go in and wait? Should I wait outside until he arrives? But then decided against making the call. I wanted to be completely aware of my surroundings when he arrived. I didn’t want to risk the chance of missing him as he walked by me, headed straight into the restaurant, then wait half an hour with livid annoyance while I remained occupied in conversation, out in the parking lot, chatting away on my cell with my girlfriend.
In less than ten minutes, I noticed a Mitsubishi Galant steering into the parking lot from off of Route 1. I knew it was him by the way he vigilantly edged his vehicle down each row of parked cars. I kept my eyes glued to the rear-view mirror, noticing with a growing distaste that he drove through warily. It was as if he was geared to gun the accelerator if he saw anything short of Medusa twisting across his path. Eventually, he turned his car down the row to where I was parked. I braced myself as his car passed mine, his head making an obvious and sudden jerk in my direction. That motion of the head made me instantly dislike him. There was something juvenile about that move. That was a judgmental look, one that left me feeling as if I were on exhibit.
I decided it was time to make myself known. I opened the door and whacked my head against the door frame as I clumsily stepped out. I was painfully superstitious; latching onto the notion that it signified an omen for what was about to roll out as a date from hell.
DB8 slowly wheeled into a spot on the other side of the lot to park his car. He stepped out awkwardly, wearing a navy blue blazer with his white button down shirt tucked into his pants only halfway. The other half was pulled out and draped sloppily over his trousers. Everything about him lacked ambition. He walked towards me lethargically, giving me a once over as he drew closer.
“You Gillian?” His eyebrows pulled inward in a rather condemnatory look. His upper lip curled into a demeaning snarl. Translation: This is it? This is what I drove all the way down to see? I was beginning to think that maybe the snapshots of the chiffon gown weren’t such a hot idea. Maybe Jackie was right after all. Or maybe I should have just worn it here.
“That’s me.” I answered cheerfully, determined to set the tone right. “Are you DB8?”
It was never a good sign when their reply was sluggish; when they become too lazy to form complete sentences.
“What does that stand for?” I asked. He didn’t seem too eager to give it. We started heading towards the main entrance.
“What does what stand for?” He asked, perhaps a little too acridly, ignoring the obvious reference.
“Oh…” He replied neutrally. “Darren.”
I nodded. “I see. And the eight?”
“I was born in August.” He shot back, as if appropriately annoyed by something I should have figured out. “The eight represents the eighth month.”
It wasn’t entirely obvious to me. Not to mention not all that creative either. The eight could have represented anything. And nothing. The eighth day, the eighth month. When he was eight years old.
He reached for the door and held it open for me to walk through. At least he had the bare minimum of manners, though somehow I got the feeling it was going to end there.
We walked directly to the hosting station to be seated. The hostess greeted us warmly and reached for the menu rack. We followed her to one of the booths in the dining area by the window that faced out to Route 1.
We read our menus in silence for several minutes. There was a pervasive feeling of discord between us. I reassured myself that it didn’t have to be this way. That even if we were not each other’s type, we could still enjoy a nice lunch.
I launched tentatively with my opening line. “So your profile said you like scuba diving.”
“Uh, yeah.” He trailed. His eyes stayed rooted to the menu.
“Where did you learn to go scuba diving?”
His tone similarly distant. “Antigua.”
“Oh. That’s interesting.” I managed, despite the awkwardness. I thought back to Brandon and Cody’s scuba diving lessons in Long Island Sound when they were nineteen. “I know some people who took lessons in the Northeast. They say if you can learn up here where the waters are murky, you can learn anywhere.”
“Really?” His eyes still grounded to the menu.
An uncomfortable silence ensued. The waitress arrived shortly after and asked if we would like anything to drink. I told her a Coke. Darren asked for the same and she left us again to our awkward silence. I considered all the effort I put into my appearance; my outfit, my boots, my hair, and how it was all going wasted on this guy.
I stormed through the clumsy silence. “How long have you been doing online dating?”
With a labored sigh, he closed the menu, set it to the edge of the table and folded his hands in front of him. He looked down, wringing them tightly before glancing up to me.
“Five years.” He said. No surprise there.
“I just started doing it recently.” I rattled, falling prey to my self consciousness. “Although my girlfriends have done it off and on through the years. They tell me the funniest stories.” I didn’t know why I even mentioned this. If he didn’t care about me, he certainly was not going to care about my friends. Ignoring his cues and against my better judgment, I rambled on in a fraught attempt to rescue the void of unease.
“Yeah, they meet the most interesting people.” Then remembering the parasailing incident in Daytona, previously reminded to me by Layla, “Say, you also said you enjoyed parasailing. Where did you go parasailing?”
He shrugged. “Different places.” He turned to look behind himself, as if anxious to eat and run.
I continued babbling, the involuntary reaction usually stirred when I was in the company of someone who made me jittery. He nodded vacantly and shifted around uneasily. At one point, he stared past me. The distraction caused me to look over my shoulder to see what he was looking at. Nothing but a posted sign that pointed to the restrooms.
Given his lackluster interest in my life, I decided to move onto more practical talk. “Have you decided on what you want to eat?” I asked.
His face twitched. “I thought maybe we could share an appetizer.”
“Well,” I admitted, tempering my patience as I studied the selection of hamburgers on the menu. “I’m kind of hungry. I’m just going to go with a burger. You can go with an appetizer. You don’t have to share it.” I couldn’t help the sneer that took possession of my voice in that last sentence.
“Look, I think I should warn you.” He said, looking directly at me for the first time. “If you want to get something, it’s on your own tab.”
“No offense, but,” he exhaled with exaggerated relief, “there’s no easy way to say this so I’m just going to say it. You girls don’t realize, but dating gets pretty expensive. I don’t know about you, but I try to meet with a few girls a week, and it gets costly always having to be the one to foot the bill.”
His words eventually sank in my ears in a drowning tide of rubbish. As he explained his position to me, I stopped listening, muffling out his words. I wasn’t born yesterday. I knew a cad when I saw one.
His mouth was moving, but his words were no longer registering. Something about what a long journey this has been for him, even going so far as to imply his disappointment that I looked nothing like my photo. I felt my chest getting hotter by the second, my blood pressure rising to a boiling point. I dressed casually but perfectly feminine, perhaps above average for a first meeting at a hamburger place. He had the most shocking nerve I ever witnessed on a date. He could have easily recommended a coffee shop if he felt that painfully conscious about his budget.
It was Buzeo all over again. I could already see the fire catching behind Layla’s eyes, her astringent response to this scenario. Her words whizzed through my head like a high-speed train racing dangerously over a railroad overpass. I knew I would be held accountable for how I responded to this. When I later relay this story back to my friends, particularly Jackie and Layla, (and no doubt I will) they will look at me squarely in the eye and ask And what did you do? What did you say? Expecting to hear that I had taken a stand. For myself and for womankind. But I will be ashamed to report a feeble Nothing really, what could I say?
They will look at me disappointedly and with disdain. And all the rightful comebacks that should’ve came to me in this hour of indignation will be floating around in my head, torturing me on the drive home and perhaps the rest of my life.
The memory of Michael Corleone flickered through my mind in that heady scene in the Godfather where just seconds before, he and Solazzo and the police chief McClusky were in the Italian restaurant sharing a nice dinner over veal. This is the most pivotal, most momentous scene the movie, including that of Michael’s life. I knew there was a right moment for me to take a stand on this. Just as there was for Michael; that one split second where you bolt out of your seat when you’ve realized you’ve had enough.
I grabbed my purse and slid to the edge of my seat. Nothing melodramatic like Michael Corleone leaping out of his chair, but my exit still applied as a stand nonetheless.
“Save it for your other dates.” I interrupted him. “You are the worst date I’ve ever had. And by the way, you have a lot of nerves with your high expectations on a woman’s appearance when you dress like a rag. You’re not so attractive yourself. No wonder you’ve been at this for five years.”
“Well next time put a more practical picture.”
“I was at a wedding, you dimwit.” I retorted, not the least bit phased that he would use this. “How else am I supposed to dress? Did you honestly think I would show up at a hamburger joint wearing Versace?” Then I stood up from the table and left the restaurant, leaving him behind, alone, shamefaced and wholly embarrassed. I passed the waitress on my way out the door, avoiding eye contact (suspecting she oveheard), but still refusing to give anything further away regardless.
Shockingly, I felt strangely giddy as I stepped into my car. I wasn’t about to chastise myself for that photo. Yes, I should have taken Jackie’s advice, used the one she suggested. Put out one that was more practical, but the one I used was only three years old. It’s not like I was twenty one in it.
I turned my car towards the onramp to the highway and dialed Layla’s cell. Having taken the righteous stand, I could now face her. When she answered, my words flew out breathlessly.
“Guess what? I just met with my first online date. And you’re not going to believe what happened.”