What's the best way to score a date: online, a matchmaking service or the good old-fashioned setup? Two singles-a thirtysomething gay male writer and a 23-year-old straight female grad student-give each method a go, and tell the tales of their dating adventures.
The ubiquitous Gay.com is the all-purpose website of choice for most guys. In addition to the personals, it’s got chatrooms, news and feature articles—even an X-rated section. Of course, to use it all, you have to pony up: $19.95 monthly (but a yearly membership is on sale for $42.95). I break out the credit card, and the many virtual possibilities of Gay.com sprawl before me. A wide pool? Yes. But it’s pretty shallow, too: tons of personal ads, yet many profiles are incomplete, and some suspiciously don’t include face pics.
I spend a couple of hours nightly surfing the local chatrooms. Some guys are clearly husband hunting, others are just hunting for a quick lay. As a litmus test to find someone with an awareness that extends beyond his libido, I add “Go Obama!” to my profile on the night of the Iowa caucuses. What did that political bait get me? Anecdotal proof that wacky Ron Paul really is the online candidate of ’08. No fewer than three guys wanna chat me up about Paul’s polling numbers.
After one week, I’ve talked with precisely two guys with some substance. One of them, a scruffy law student and Clinton supporter, agrees to meet for a drink at the Grafton in Lincoln Square, an Irish pub I pick for its great live music. Happily, there’s no disconnect between the promise of his pics and the sexy reality. (Anyone who’s tried online dating has run into the person who posts that one good photo from seven years ago.)
His lips often form an easy smile as he flirts with me and jokes with the waitress, and our conversation flows naturally. Though he’s meeting friends out in Boystown later that night, I invite him to my place, which gives me the opportunity to discover what else those lips can do. Yes, he can kiss, too. (See? Hillary lovers and Barack boosters can get along! )
I eat with my mouth open, say the first ill-advised thing that comes to mind, and have a dating track record that would make Anna Wintour cry in heartfelt sympathy.
But it’s time to rip the warning label off myself, so after a little advice from a friend, I opt to make my online dating debut on Salon.com. I shell out $22.94 for a silver membership and saunter into the virtual meat market.
If you thought joining an online dating site was as simple as logging in, you might be surprised to find that picking out a screen name is quite a demanding task. While you don’t want to label yourself “Sexymama6969,” you also don’t want to be that pretentious girl with “FaulknerLuv” as a screen name. I end up with the somewhat dull screen name Lola1984—a combination of my birth date and the classic Kinks song. Worse, after I think I’ve washed my hands of the whole “creating a persona” mess, a guy e-mails me a curt message saying I’ve misspelled the word wreck in the headline explaining myself. I don’t want to change it and show him how that little mistake gnaws at my psyche, so I decide misspelling the word just proves my assertion that I am indeed a wreck.
After three weeks of virtually “winking” and flirting with plenty of intelligent, charming guys, none of my would-be suitors has asked me out. Sucking up the last ounce of dating pride I have, I practically beg one to meet me for dinner.
The day of the date, I am running with sweat dripping down my face, 30 minutes late. I’ve already called and explained that my class went over its allotted time, but I have a creeping suspicion this is why no one sets me up on blind dates. I get to Pick Me Up Cafe and my date (let’s call him Joe) is hunched over a crossword puzzle.
We order PBRs and food and begin the impossible task of trying to explain ourselves in concise sentences. I got a lot of good advice from girlfriends, such as “order salad” and “avoid politics,” but no one said blind dates are like three-hour-long job interviews with the looming possibility of sex with the boss.
About halfway through Joe telling me about his eccentric landlord who asked for rent early so he could drive to Mexico and sneak his girlfriend back into the country, I realize I am the boss and he isn’t getting the job. He’s nice, smart and pretty good-looking, but the animal attraction isn’t there, so I excuse myself to grab a drink with a girlfriend.