Less than an hour after I (mostly) finished filling out my Match.com profile, my first email arrived: “Hey. You have a great profile. I like what you have to say. You should post a picture!”
I suppose if it had been someone other than the man who’d been calling himself my boyfriend, I would’ve been flattered.
John and I met through mutual friends at his local watering hole. After he asked me out, a friend took me aside and said, “Look, if you’re not looking for anything serious, I totally respect that, but be really up front with John, because he’s clearly looking for a serious relationship and I don’t want to see this blow up in my face.” I took him at his word, especially after John showered me with attention: long IM conversations, late night phone calls, protestations that he missed me when I went out of town for a week shortly after we started dating. It was our second date when he first called me his girlfriend. I cringed a little internally — it seemed rather fast — but told him that if he was really interested in a monogamous, exclusive relationship, I’d be willing to give it a go. He pondered that and said that maybe he’d jumped the gun after all.
I only got more confused the next time we met up, when during a long hug he told me that he loved me. So far, as I was given to understand, he considered me his girlfriend, “loved” me and wasn’t willing to commit to a monogamous, exclusive relationship. Well, he was sort of willing to commit: when I later mentioned being dragged along in a long-planned speed-dating outing with a girl friend (not worth the drink specials, believe me), he got really upset at the thought of me making conversation with another guy. Given that hot-and-cold behavior, I figured his previous hesitation about monogamy and exclusivity was no longer an issue.
That is, until a girl friend who was on Match.com called me one night to tell me she’d found his profile. ”Well, I mean, he probably had it before we started dating, you know, and forgot to delete it, I’m sure it’s not a thing,” I told her. She gently explained that not only did he appear to have recently updated it, he was online right now — when he’d told me he couldn’t IM because it was too busy at the office.
My heart fell. I asked her for a link, but quickly discovered I couldn’t view anything but the thumbnail without signing up myself. So, the next time I saw him, I did the grown-up thing: I asked him why he still had a Match.com profile if he loved me and considered me his girlfriend. He did the childish thing and lied: “Oh, I ended up with some six-month free trial thing because they didn’t cancel my account when I asked, but I don’t really use it unless someone emails me, and then I just say I’m seeing someone.” I decided not to argue about it and figured he’d stop, having been caught.
After that conversation, John got a lot more distant: the phone calls became more infrequent, the callbacks nearly non-existent, the IMs trailed off into emails, and he blamed stress at work and with his sick brother. It wasn’t me, he assured me, imploring me to just give him a bit to catch his breath and everything would be back to normal.
But it nagged at me, his smiling face in that profile thumbnail, the little “online now!” message I’d see occasionally when I looked at it, the mental calculation of the last time he’d been online using it and whether we were talking even as he did so. And so late one night, fueled by morbid curiosity, Cabernet and a friend’s urging, I logged on and created a FREE! profile. Instantly I became a 35-year-old teetotalling Latina who professed to being a little bit shy and just dipping her toes in the dating waters after a failed relationship. Then I gorged myself on his profile: his likes and dislikes, his preferences in women, his pictures, his little white lies about which books he’d read and movies he liked. I felt like the emotional equivalent of Monty Python’s Mr. Creosote by the end of it, more bloated and uncomfortable than satiated, a little humiliated and thoroughly monstrous. So I poured myself another glass of wine.
And that’s when John’s email — the “wafer thin mint” that would blow the whole thing up — arrived. I hadn’t messaged him or winked at him, posted a cute picture or anything. But having seen me looking, he’d emailed me out of the blue. Now I had my answer, really: while he was ”so busy at work” and “with his sick brother,” too busy to see me more than once a week (if that) and too exhausted to call when he got off work after midnight, he had enough time to email any remotely interesting-seeming woman who snooped his profile. And, had I not buried my self-respect at the bottle of the aforementioned bottle of Cabernet, I would’ve ended both the relationship and the Match.com interaction right there.
But I couldn’t resist. I wrote:
… I am still very unsure of this whole online dating thing, and not completely committed to the concept. How long have you been doing it? Does a person really meet people like this? My friends keep telling me everyone here is married, etc., so I’m rather nervous, but of course everyone’s profile makes them seem so reasonable and normal. Naturally, I’ve written all of this and you’re probably a psycho killer.
He emailed me back first thing the next morning.
I understand. It’s kind of weird concept, but I’m trying it because I work evenings, so except for weekends, the only place I ever really meet people is in bars, which is not necessarily that great a thing.
I’ve met a few really nice women. Didn’t really have the right chemistry with any of them, though. And that’s the weird part. When you meet someone in person, you know if you have chemistry. Online, well, you just really don’t have a clue. So you have to try to figure out if it’s worth pursuing with a date. I’ve learned, too, that you should make the first “date” something totally quick and casual, i.e., get a coffee or a drink or something. Because if you don’t like the person that much, even a two-course dinner can seem like an eternity. :)
And don’t be ridiculous, I haven’t killed anyone in ages!
You’ll recall, as I did, that he’d met me, his supposed “girlfriend,” in a bar. But that morning, with coffee, and self-respect, firmly in hand and in the cold light of day, I had two rejections to get to. Fake-me emailed him politely and said that she wasn’t really interested in dating after all, that it was too soon after the end of her relationship and wished him luck. (In response, he quickly replied with his real email address to take it off-site.) Real-me called him and, getting no response, emailed him to say that she was sorry it wasn’t working out, but that a 42-year-old should have the good sense, courage and common decency to end any months-long relationship definitively and like an adult and not hope that his “girlfriend” would just go away.
Despite his protestations that he hadn’t really been phasing me out, I left him to clean up his own mess — and I told our friend that, in fact, John wasn’t looking for any kind of serious relationship and wouldn’t do so as long as he could get an ego boost from women checking him out online. I hoped it would get back to him through the grapevine that the girl he’d been flirting with online had actually been his girlfriend.
But I don’t know if it did. About a year ago, John emailed me out of the blue to ask me out for drinks: he was moving to London, he said, and wanted to “catch up” with people who “meant a lot” to him. He conveniently neglected to mention that he was moving to London to marry a woman he met on Flickr.
I wish her luck with him. She’s likely going to need it.
Contact the author of this post at askalobbyist@gm