This week I took an unexpected trip down memory lane, revisiting my internet dating past as research for a work-in-progress murder mystery about a cantor who unwittingly becomes involved in a decades-old plot to silence witnesses to an unspeakable crime.
The request for background surprisingly came from my boyfriend, a man who didn’t meet me online and has so-far joyously helped me break the cycle of anonymous communication, flirtation, dating and sometimes sex that all too amusingly and just a bit painfully briefly came back into focus the other night.
Boyfriend is a TV development exec /writer/producer who is lately focused on his own (brilliant, I have to say) books and screenplays. Earlier this week he asked me to log onto JDate so I could copy some of the email exchanges between myself and the single Jewish guys I corresponded with in the interlude between my third and fourth husbands.
Actually, I met husband number four during this transitional period when the only respite I got while working full-time as a cantor, was writing and reading copious email with my two young children fast asleep in the next room. This was a normal experience for me but foreign to my boyfriend, a fairly recently divorced eligible bachelor, who somehow avoided the almost addictive habit of internet dating. So my experience, and correspondence, would add much-needed color and perspective bringing authenticity to his newest heroine – a fantabulous gal, inspired by, you guessed it – lil’ ‘ol me.
With raised eyebrow and unending curiosity, I called JDate and explained that I did not want to pay for a new membership or “reactivate” my profile but just needed to retrieve my old mail for a media project. They granted me one hour to sift through the vestigial reminders of my dating past and as it turns out, that was all the time I’d need – or want.
Upon logging on I was confronted with almost a thousand email sent from me to cyber shmoes scattered from San Diego to Manhattan. What immediately struck me was how my epic search for connection, true love and cyber sex was basically pretty bland. The sameness and tameness of the email was almost mind-numbing. But, etched not too far from the surface there lurked another, more profound discovery…
Without the benefit of blogging, writing a book or performing my music, these email somehow had become a connection, not to the strange men I would mostly have no interest in dating, but to someone infinitely more elusive and hard to pin down – me! Further, what excited and thrilled me was seeing that after surviving a third divorce, abuse, bankruptcy and the ongoing struggle of raising two kids alone, my voice was still very much alive.
So, there I was, at midnight, taking a painfully honest look at my deep, dark, flirty, somewhat naive self, and you know what; I was proud. There wasn’t much there that would embarrass my mother and for all the insanity the world has to offer, most of the guys I connected with didn’t seem too terrible. Before I knew it the hour flew by, and the access to my non-Shakespearean ramblings was cut off.
After a fitful night’s sleep I awoke with an epiphany; even after all the years of therapy, healing and growth I really wasn’t that much different then as I am now, despite my fervent desire to be so. My email had the same feel, intent and hopefulness that my blogging currently does. I was always sharing more of me than I needed to or wisely should have – was always polite – until pushed to the point of extreme irritation at receiving canned “IM flirt” lines from repeat offenders – and was always searching for something, anything to make sense of it all.
Sex didn’t factor in and the dating part was soooo boring. That was surprising. In all of those experiences I can honestly count on one hand the times it led to more than a single date. I couldn’t remember their names, but could recall what I ordered for dinner. How telling. I was seeking nourishment but not of the physical kind . . . true, at least most of the time.
I started to think about the things people do in their lives . . . why did I devote so much time to sitting behind my computer writing to strangers? Was I searching for Mr. Right-Now or was I searching to be seen? Was I looking for consistency in my dating life, because regular life seemed just a bit beyond my ability to figure it all out? Was I desperate for control and power or was I really looking for true love?
I think it was about taking back the night and finding a balance between being out of power and being squarely in the driver’s seat.
For a woman, even more than a man, so much of our dating experience is about controlling the outcome so happily ever after can become our reality. But it’s never that easy.
Doing something that is purely based on outcome rarely, if ever, works out the way we hope it will.
A few years ago I showed up on JDate, searching for answers though I didn’t even know the right questions to ask.
Having the benefit of time I now see that what we’re all looking for – acceptance, love, connection and happiness – starts inside and can only be found in our hearts – not our hard drives.
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