Someone has Sent You a Message
Laura Suzanne Wilk
I don’t know what you are into, but me,
I like it on the first date. I mean, sex is
important. I can learn more about a girl
through her body than anything she says.
They way she moves, the way she gets
on me, they way we... Dude, am I
embarrassing you? Mike, February 11, 2003
When I started meeting guys through online personal services my friends were skeptical. They wanted to know if I was worried about my safety, or that guys used the service only for a hookup. These were valid concerns, considering it was the early days of online personals, when they were still associated with the shady back pages of newspapers where combinations of letters like SWF and DBMsingle white female and divorced black malemeant something.
I viewed online personals differently. I wasn’t desperately looking for a boyfriend. I didn’t even care if I met someone who was interesting. The idea of going on the Internet and searching for a significant other, just as I would shop for a book at Amazon.com or a skirt at Gap.com, was intriguing. I could go to any siteMatch.com, Online-Personals.comand enter exactly what I was looking for in a search engine and produce a list of men supposedly perfect for me.
For me, blind dates had never been more than stories. I never had luck with the guys my friends set me up with and described as “perfect”. First dates never got easier, but I learned to appreciate the stories that arose from them and the pity I received when recounting them to friends.
With online personals, I was setting myself up. There was no one to blame if things went wrong, or thank if they went wonderful. After my first few dates, it became obvious I couldn’t do any better than my friends had. They guys were still wrong for me, but the stories were funnier because my expectations had been higher. I returned from each date with more complex stories, stories about fumbled conversations, confessions and crimes. My friends forgot their concerns for my well being and encouraged me to go on more just to get stories.
I had a problem, though. I could never really capture the true feeling of being on those dates. I could never really get across how awkward it had been to sit across the table from a man who just wouldn’t talk, or how hard it was to remain calm when totally insulted. That’s when I decided to take a tape recorder with me. Ethics were not a concern. I wanted the tape recorder to assist me piece together an oral history, if you would, about dating in our time. I would use the recorder from the second I received an email response to my personal ad, through the last moments of the date. The recorder became my black box, recording every date from its take off until its inevitable crash.
My friends convinced me to up the stakes. What if I wasn’t just playing for a story, but playing for keeps? What if I tried to meet not just another guy, but the one?
If I could pick anything to talk about,
it would have to be literature. What
more explains who were are, what we
care about; I don’t know, oh yeah, and
the perversions of our societyyou know
what I mean, dead stuff. Dead animals,
people. Why do we care so much about this?
Are we that cheap? Steven (PJ), February 20, 2003
My plan was simple, really, to create an online personal and set myself up with the intention of finding my perfect match. I put it off for a year. I thought that if my friends knew I had taped transcripts of all my dates, complete with my screw-ups, they would be renting them out to strangers just for laughs. I finally decided to go for it when I began to hear people talking about their online personals experiences. There were success stories: couples getting married, couples dating for months, or singles meeting others who turned into best friends. These stories reminded me that no matter how well the night was recounted, it still couldn’t replace being there.
Glossy magazines, ones geared towards educated audiences in their twenties and thirties, now had their own personals. Jane, Salon.com, and Nerve all have online personal sites with trendy people posed quoting their favorite authors, sex positions and foods. The population being drawn to these sites was diverse. Meeting someone through a personal was no longer taboo or reserved for the old, desperate, or married.
I established my new personal on Salon.com. According to my friends, my online personal made me sound prude. My user name, for example, was PrimRoseprim never denoting a seductive nature. The picture of me in the personal wasn’t any better. I was seated, holding a bottle of Evian and looking annoyed. But, this is who I am.
In my personal I described myself as a twenty-three year old woman with brown eyes, brown hair, glasses and 4’ 11”. I talked about meeting someone for a serious relationship, not going to parties, using abundant amounts of drugs and listening to Phish, like so many people described themselves as if they were stock answers. I was boring, I knew. My hope was that someone would see some quality in me that he shared and that using a personal would be a catalyst for this dream relationship.
I wrote about my job at a literary journal. I wrote about how I loved horses and Björk, and how I wanted to write about books for a living, then posted it to the Internet. I had done does this many times, but this time I was nervous, even. I didn’t really believe I could just meet someone.
Even though I may have sounded prude, I got my first response five hours later at exactly 11:23 p.m. Between an email promising penile enlargement and an ad for a bank that wants to refinance my house there was an email from Salon with the subject someone has sent you a message. It read:
Roses are Red,
Violets are blue,
At your house or mine,
Am I going to do you?
Classy. That was the entire message. Well, I did say I was into writing.
Best TV show of all time? God, that’s hard.
What a mean question; I mean, who would
ask something that personal? Kidding.
PeeWee’s Fun House. Duh. Jeremy, January 15, 2003
I was having a dry spell around the second day. I had only received three responses, one from a lawyer, and one from a graduate student and the poem from a man who claimed to be in real estate. I was starting panic. My friends told me to relax. I couldn’t. I never believed that there was just one perfect person out there for anyone, modern woman weren’t supposed to believe that, but when I was recording an attempt to find him, I started to believe it. Failure would forever be recorded. My paradigm completely shifted; suddenly it was here, online that I would meet him, or nowhere. I desperately scanned my email hourly, at work, at home, praying for another message to drift into my inbox, providing some hope.
Monday, January 12 I got an email from Jeremy. He was curt, or sarcastic, I couldn’t really tell. He said he thought I sounded “cute...and interesting” and wrote it just like that, with the ellipses. I kept sliding back and forth from believing he stressed my physical appearance just to be blatantly stereotypical and funny, or he did it to be an ass.
The standard procedure from meeting someone from an online personal was usually a lengthy process. First I would email back and forth for a week or so, then we would call each other for another week, then eventually one of us would break and ask to meet the other. Sometimes this took a month, usually three weeks. Jeremy said he didn’t want to play this game, he wanted to meet soon, and thought we would have a blast, as he put it.
My project was going nowhere, I needed at least some material, and so I wrote back, “Thanks for your response; when do you want to meet?”
The next email from Jeremy came exactly ten minutes after I responded. He had fashioned it into a crude invitation, with lines labeled who, what, when and where. According to the card, I, Laura, was to meet him, Jeremy, at 7:30 P.M. for drinks on Wednesday, January 14.
“Can’t wait,” I wrote back.
Camp down Ladies sing this song,
du da, du da... You remember that one,
Or you too young? Mathew, March 3, 2003
It was a Wednesday night and the South Side bar was empty. Jeremy was sitting at the counter and when I walked in, content with a Miller Genuine Draft. I sat beside him, and he looked over.
He said, “Truth or dare, Laura?”
“Ah, hi, truth I guess?”
“Not into dares, huh? Okay,” he said, “When you were young, lets hold it to high school, what was the worst thing you did?”
“I was suspended,” I told him, “For paying a stoner to jump in front my car so my friend could call her sister, who was a cop. She came and told the principal we needed to go to the station. We got into the cruiser and she dropped us off the beach where I spent all day reading Watership Down and eating banana popsicles.”
“Watership Down, what the hell kind of rebel do you think you are? Kidding. Great story, I’m Jeremy.”
The rest of the night went like that, an extended juvenile game of truth or dare with adult overtones, with questions like, what turns you on and what has been the greatest disappointment in your life so far? We were open, relaxed, and having fun. That’s when things got touchy. I laughed and rested my hand on his knee. He laughed and rested his arm on my shoulder. We were not coy.
When we left, I was actually looking forward to Jeremy’s promised call and replaying the tape of the date to my friends. He was sarcastic, but sophisticated. A difficult combination to find, but I found him.
I waited a few days, a week, a month and I never heard from Jeremy. I played my tape back again and again, trying to map where things hadn’t been perfect. When using online personals one had access to an unlimited database of singles that expanded beyond one’s immediate location, beyond one’s expectations. Dates arranged through online dating services were not immune to unpredictability. They were still subject to chance and first impressions. I’m not sure where I went wrong. I wouldn’t have settled for someone less than I was looking for, why should I think Jeremy would?
Later, I decided to let myself accept the fact that he just wasn’t that into me, and
did the only thing I could. I revised my personal and sat with my tape recorder ready, scanning my inbox for emails from Salon.com with the subject heading, someone has sent you a message.