At Large : The love doctor is in and online
If you're an Islander, young or old, looking for love in all of the few available places and unsuccessful, the Internet has you covered. If you've been to one potluck after another, till you couldn't look one more veggie lasagna or bean salad in the eye; if you've dreamed of making a romantic connection at work but find yourself unemployed; if you'd like to meet someone, but you spend all day every day shingling a roof in Aquinnah; if you've been driven to bird watching and Land Bank walks because your friends tell you that lonely people love such activities, but the weather's so cold that you can't assess the looks of anyone you're watching or walking with because of the down parkas, woolen hats, earmuffs and gloves everyone is wearing, and besides all your fellow participants seem excited and happy, and that's just not you; if all this has got you staying at home watching Hef in his sailor's hat sporting around with his pneumatic teenage harem - you've got to get yourself online.
You won't be unique among Islanders. A little casual, anecdotal research has discovered that Islanders, whether they're looking for other Islanders or just other humans wherever they may be, have discovered that 29 dimensions of compatibility may be more than is absolutely necessary. They've decided to settle for one or two dimensions, three if they're lucky, because it's all about meeting someone new, someone who doesn't drool, blubber, or smell, someone, in other words, who is not the guy or girl who just dumped you. Casual research reveals that 33 percent of Island singles, on average, have tried to make a social connection online, or are so desperate they would be willing to give it a try. Numbers are higher among the young, but not much. Some codgers are trolling online, though their motives may be suspect.
With online dating, you can be very particular, if you like. You can try biker dating, fitness dating, Catholic or Canadian dating, nude dating, gothic dating - you name it. You can confine yourself to certain genders, ethnic groups, income profiles, age groups, hair color. Or, you can welcome all comers. Craigslist is a working option for the undiscriminating.
There's also local dating, but my research suggests that there's very little of that going on. Probably the small world thing governs here, suggesting that some of the online hunters and huntresses may be taking their love to town and don't want to get caught. The relationship quest is mainly for non-local partners. The advertisements for themselves posted by such geographically scattered online dating participants are usually regarded by searchers as unreliable, to put it blithely. But the searchers' own advertisements for themselves may be rather fanciful as well. No matter, it's a chance to find someone imaginary for your own imaginary self.
It's certainly not like the old days. In the old days, when there were jobs, people met other people at the office, the factory, or the store. Younger folks met at the bar or at the mixer, or when one day, at your friend's house, rebuilding a carburetor in the cellar, you noticed his younger sister and she noticed you. Your friend threatened to beat you up if you asked his sister out, but you did anyway. Love means taking risks.
In those days, a girl dawned on you like morning itself. You saw her and blushed. You knew a dream come true when you saw it. But, all that's over, especially among the Island men and women of a certain age who are giving online romance sites a try. These days, you're just hoping to meet some man or woman whose romantic past is at least partially a mystery to you and to everyone else you know. Nothing's crueler than your friend's comment, when you tell her you met so and so at the bookstore, and she says, Oh yeah, I dated him two years ago, and I think Jenny did too. I think he's a plumber.
That's why Yahoo Personals, with about nine million members, is big. It's big and multi-national. The world is your search area. Or try American Singles, or Web Date, or Friend Finder, if you want to sneak up on this dating thing. For the squeamish among us, there's It's Just Lunch, although of course it isn't, or at least, with luck, it may not be.
What are all these Islanders, and all these others, the forthright and the charlatans among them, after? They are after something as quick and insubstantial as the Internet itself, which is not to say that the Internet is the best place to look. They are after what C.S. Lewis, very wise and thoughtful about all this, called "a delighted pre-occupation with the beloved - a general, unspecified pre-occupation with her in her totality."
It's not sex, which everyone nowadays believes tragically that it is. "A man in this state really hasn't leisure to think of sex," Lewis says. "He is too busy thinking of a person. The fact that she is a woman [reverse the genders, this lovely derangement works just as well] is far less important than the fact that she is herself. He is full of desire, but the desire may not be sexually toned."
What the smitten wants is to continue in the state he has found himself in. "If you asked him what he wanted, the true reply would often be, 'To go on thinking of her.'"
That's because love "enters him like an invader, taking over and reorganizing, one by one, the institutions of a conquered country." The online dating hopefuls among us yearn to be conquered and reorganized that way. Meeting online enhances the fantastical nature of the connection and defers the realization of it, or its ultimately sad failure to materialize, if that's what is in store for you. But, is it worth it? Really, why try, in person or online?
Joan Didion, writing about life and how to live it, explains exactly why. "I'm just telling you to live in [the world, as it is]. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave's a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that's what there is to do and get it while you can, and good luck at it."