A 24-year-old woman with long curly hair in a low-cut blouse says she likes sports and chocolate. She also admits to being a “neat freak” who once participated in a wet T-shirt contest.
“I like sports, too,” I say.
“She’s not your type,” my wife, says from the sofa.
It’s Friday night, dinner has been put away, our young sons are in bed, and Anne and I are in our pajamas watching Dating on Demand, a video dating service produced by our cable provider. The service features singles of all ages promoting themselves to potential mates. The program is funny, sad, charming, and tragic, and my wife and I find it compelling television. It’s better than Desperate Housewives; it’s Desperate Single People.
Next up is big and brawny “Irishguy05.” He says his best feature is his biceps. He enjoys working out and partying, and he likes women who aren’t “naggy.”
“That counts you out,” I joke to my wife.
“He’d so take you down in a fight,” she replies.
I’m not sure why we’re so captivated by the show. Perhaps because when we were younger, placing personal ads and using dating services was a bit taboo, something only lonely and strange people did. Now everybody is doing it. I even have friends and family members who use these services. They say it’s easy and fun, and many are in seemingly healthy, long-lasting relationships.
I wish it had been this easy and fun back when I was single. I was always anxious about having to go out to meet people. First impressions were the be-all end-all and I couldn’t handle the pressure. With dating services, you have control over how you want others to perceive you. I can’t help but feel I’d have excelled in this environment. I’d have written witty and clever anecdotes about myself (ones I surely would flub if I had to say them in person) and people would have seen the “real” me, instead of a stammering and self-conscious version of myself that tended to appear in bars and at parties. Of course, I’d have had to include a photo, too, and I’d no doubt have stressed over which one to use. But still, the process seems a lot easier than meeting somebody the old-fashioned way: in person.
Dressed in his finest hooded sweatshirt, he proclaims he likes “getting drunk and drinking.” He says the best thing a “girl” can do on a date is to be able to keep up with him as he drinks. Liking cars is a plus, too.
“If that’s not a cry for help, I don’t know what is,” Anne says.
Maybe we also watch Dating on Demand because it’s fun remembering what it was like looking for a mate, while at the same time it’s a relief to know that we no longer have to. I suppose on some level we feel superior to the Dating on Demanders because we have what most of them want: a happy marriage, complete with kids and video-on-demand television.
Sometimes, when my wife and I are kid-less and out to dinner or a movie, we make believe we’re on a first date. We share our likes and dislikes and make up false histories of ourselves that typically involve long lists of failed relationships and troubling emotional issues. Other nights we’ll play “Spot the first-time daters,” scanning the room in search of couples who are awkwardly struggling through the getting-to-know-you phase. It’s our way of reminding each other how lucky we are to be finished with the dating scene.
A 20-something waitress with eight piercings is attracted to men who are spontaneous and have big noses.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever been ruled out for not having a big nose,” I say.
“You aren’t exactly Mr. Spontaneity, either,” Anne tells me.
But there’s a part of us, or at least a part of me (I shouldn’t speak for my wife on this one—I fear I will have some explaining to do as it is) that envies the Dating on Demanders, if only just a little bit. I dreaded first dates at the time, and forever worried about what to wear and do and say. If there was ever an opportunity for all my flaws to be exposed, a first date was it. I mean, there I was in all my relationship-less glory, looking for acceptance.
But now that my dating days are over, I sometimes find myself thinking back on them fondly: the adrenaline rush, the hope that this date might be “the one.” Despite a chance of failure, there was also a chance of success; thus, first dates provided a thrill like no other.
Don’t get me wrong—please, please don’t get me wrong—I love my life now, I’ve found my “one,” and I certainly don’t miss living alone, playing video games and eating cereal for dinner. But these days, other than when The Amazing Race is on, Anne and I don’t have too many thrilling nights. We have eased into the ordinary. We come home; we play with our sons; we eat; we give our sons baths; we kiss our sons goodnight; we watch television; we go to bed. Then we do it again the next night. I wouldn’t trade it for the world; I remember what it was like to be alone with nobody to talk to or to kiss. But I do miss the unique excitement and anticipation that the dating life brought.
She’s a “cute and trendy” psychology doctoral student with a “kinky side.” Her ideal man is someone who values people for who they are, and who likes to sail and ski.
“Ooo, a kinky side,” I say.
“You hate skiing,” says my wife.
I guess for me, watching Dating on Demand is like being on a virtual first date, but without the hassle of worrying if my shirt makes me look fat. Would “Missboop” find me attractive? Would she laugh at my jokes? What would we do after dinner? Dancing? A movie? Should I hold her hand during a poignant moment in the film, or would that be too much? (Or not kinky enough?) Guess I should just wait and see how it goes, let things progress naturally. Maybe she doesn’t want anything serious. Maybe I don’t, either. Besides, I get seasick something fierce. God, I wish she’d just tell me how she feels about me so we’re not wasting each other’s time.
Maybe I don’t miss dating as much as I thought. It’s more trouble than it’s worth. I certainly don’t miss being single—I haven’t had cereal for dinner in more than 12 years. I guess I’m simply a 36-year-old husband who loves his non-naggy wife and enjoys playing with his sons, eating, giving his sons baths, kissing his sons goodnight, watching video dating on television, going to bed, and doing it all over again the next night.
So if you’re looking for spontaneity or a “kinky time” you might want to call somebody else. I’m taken. Which reminds me: I probably have some explaining to do. Wish me luck.