I once stalked a woman I had gone on one date with the old-fashioned way – I stared at her from a distance in a public park. Judge me if you must, but as the ancient rhyme goes: I am mirrored underwear, you are laser gun. Whatever you say reflects off of me and shoots you in the face. Technology has turned us all into stalkers. That moment where I found myself sitting on a park bench and staring at a couple oblivious to my probing gaze happened before Facebook. The only difference between stalking now and then is pants. During the Dark Ages before social media sites began broadcasting a million pleas for attention, pants were a necessity. Otherwise, I would certainly have been arrested.
”I love Facebook, don’t get me wrong. Facebook is fun, but it’s not reality. It’s a simulated world, like a Renaissance Faire, or Manhattan. Facebook is the virtual equivalent of being given a free house full of free food, family, and friends. You decorate that house with personal belongings, and basically open it up as a big ol’ party, where you are the permanent guest of honor. Eventually, friends you’d forgotten about start showing up. Then friends of friends arrive, but the more the merrier, right? Next up are high school acquaintances you don’t remember who keep saying “you haven’t changed a bit,” which can either mean you’re bursting with youthful energy or still a clumsy pus-face who gnaws on his fingernails. There are the college friends immune to the ravages of time, forever hoisting a bong skyward. A co-worker whose last name you don’t even know rings the doorbell, and when you let him in, he shows you pictures of hot chicks he has totally wangified.
At some point, a guy who gave you your new house for free comes in and starts rifling through your stuff. He searches your bookshelf, looks through your wallet, and examines your medicine cabinet. Every so often, he walks over to you and says, “I see you liked the recent movie ‘Inception,’ directed by Christopher Nolan; you should buy the Blu-Ray to Nolan’s ‘Momento.’ You should also buy a Blu-Ray. You know, you’re never too young to start hoarding Lipitor.”
And then, of course, there are your exes. Some you give keys to, others you don’t. They sneak into your raging party and check out whatever you’ve got laying about. They even show up at other parties thrown by people you know, and root around there. You know they do this, because it’s what you do. Facebook has taken the psychotic sting out of the word “stalker.” A stalker used to be a person with no sense of personal space, a minor league sociopath. These creeps felt simultaneously entitled and victimized by anyone who would dare not give them what they wanted. Stalkers were dangerous because a harmlessly obsessive wretch could suddenly become a violent and possessive savage. But there needs to be a new word that means “stalker,” because everyone is a “stalker” now.
” Might I suggest that men or women who get a little too close for comfort, to the point that you can feel their breath on your gooseflesh, be renamed “crawlers”? I will use it in a sentence. “OMG, this guy who I dated for a nanosecond has turned into a total crawler … like, he won’t stop texting me!”
I was not prepared for the dating scene in New York, which is equal parts comedy of manners and sinister masquerade ball. I was totally unprepared for the worldly women who were playing the dark game of dating for keeps. One of the first dates I went on was set up by someone who worked at a temp agency. It was a rush job, like an arranged marriage thrown together at the last moment. The intermediary gave my number to a woman who called me, and rattled off instructions. She told me where and when to meet her. I showed up at a park on time, with a single rose and a button-down shirt tucked into pants I wore to catering gigs. I found her sprawled out on a blanket under a tree, a basket of food next to her. She received my rose as if she had an entire room full of them. Up until that point, she was the most sophisticated woman I had ever met. I mean, she had packed us a picnic! A picnic in a city? How counter-intuitively cosmopolitan. She worked as an editorial assistant for a magazine! She had a cell phone! She was going to vote for Al Gore, even though he was a shoo-in for President of The United States of Awesome! We snacked on strawberries, and chunks of yellow-flavored cheese, and Triskets. In the squeeze bottle she took to her gym, she had brought a cocktail that tasted like vodka, orange juice, and vodka. She belonged to a gym! She talked about herself, her future, and her dreams and I listened. I was riveted. The date ended as promptly as it had started: The picnic seemed to pack itself away and before I knew it, I was laying on wet grass listening to her heels clack on the stone path leading out of the park.
What followed was nothing. Silence. She didn’t return my calls. It was as if she went into the Witness Protection Program, or was called home by the angels. It was a cold silence that amplified the loneliness that comes with moving to a new city. I switched temp agencies, because I couldn’t stop asking the matchmaker why I hadn’t heard from the woman she set me up with. I felt like one of those unfortunate minor characters in a science-fiction movie who gets sucked out into space. One minute, I’m digging the oxygen in my cozy starship. The next minute I’m floating in silent, suffocating, icy nothingness. It got so bad, I even began to write lyrics to the saddest song ever written, a song so potent, so heartbreaking, that I’d get laid, possibly twice.
A few weeks later, I went on a walk in that park for no particular reason, which is why it was such a shock to the system to find her having a picnic with another guy. Not only a picnic, but an identical picnic with a guy who looked just like me … brown hair, glasses, white socks with black shoes. [Yikes. -- Editor] They took turns taking a pull on her squeeze bottle. Strawberries were eaten. And as I watched them, dumbfounded, from the park bench, I could see him listening to her with the same enraptured gaze as I had. I wanted to shout, “Fool! She will steal your breath!” But I didn’t. I just watched them, up until the end of the date. I watched them, and seethed, and wondered if she and I looked that happy from a distance.