I’m in a hotel in Texas, he wrote, but I can’t resist your profile.
He’d seen my photos, all six of them. He’d read my prose. He’d gone through my questions and answers. He was halfway to smitten, or bored, he couldn’t tell, but….
Distance is a physical phenomenon. We can measure the miles between my town and yours. The height of my heels. The length of my arm. We can measure almost anything.
But we can’t measure the distance of one heart from the other. We can’t measure attraction. Or desire.
A guy I know says that a woman has the advantage when the interaction is at a distance, but that a man has the advantage in person, when the distance is contracted. A woman can keep a man at arm’s length – metaphorically – via desire and imagination, but a man can commute that distance by physically touching her when they’re across a table, or next to each other on a sidewalk. Or in bed. He has a physical advantage.
We started talking about it in terms of geography. How far would you go to date? On the dating site I’ve set my preference at 25 miles. Occasionally, to search, I’ll extend that to 50 or maybe 100 miles, but I’ll always put it back. Meanwhile, with a hard 25 mile search parameter, the dating site is showing me guys who live 70 or more miles away, in another state. Or another continent.
The geography thing is a problem, both in the seeking and the wooing. Men from Vermont and Connecticut and Virginia and Maine and Egypt have begged me for a visit. More than one guy has crossed state lines to visit me. Stayed in a hotel. Bought me dinner. Brought me books and flowers. Men from Spain, Greece, Canada, Alaska have attempted to woo me with words and images. To what end? I don’t know. It’s not like we’ll start dating at 500 miles.
But guys from Boston – before we’ve even met, before even our first volley of emails – want to know where exactly in the city I live. It’s like they won’t date you if you’re on the Green Line. One guy, new to Boston, said he wanted a woman within walking distance. And after I stopped laughing – I mean, god, yes, she should be rich, and young, and hot, and stupid, too, I kinda felt sorry for him. His neighborhood is notorious for being a staid elderly community. (Good luck with that nightlife, dude!) Another guy put mileage on it. He would only date women who lived within 25 miles of Faneuil Hall.
I’m 25.1 miles. Would you please make an exception for me?
I’m 5’2” but your cutoff is 5’3”. Maybe I can wear heels?
(What’s the odometer reading on love?)
The further a person is from internet dating – or any dating at all – the more likely that person is to be an expert on dating. On profiles. On what men or women want. On anything at all while they go back to fighting about the grocery list, not enough sex, or too much, taxes, weight gain, hair on the soap.
I was out with friends the other night – all of them safely removed from internet dating – one could even say, a safe distance from dating in any form – and of course they started in on it. On me. Everyone of them has an opinion of what I’m doing wrong or what I should be doing and how they’d do it if they were in my, uh, stilettos.
And that’s when I came up with it. A rubric.
Math is nature’s language; its method of communicating directly with us. Everything is numbers.
That’s Charlie Epps, my new obsession, the sweet young mathematician from that old show Numb3rs. He teaches at Cal Sci – actually, Cal Tech, the west coast MIT (although they’d like to think it works the other way around. Not all things are reciprocal, as those of us actively dating know….)
Do not contact me, BadBaldGuy’s profile insisted. It was cranky. Deeply flawed, he described himself. According to his last girlfriend, or perhaps it was the ex-wife, or maybe a conflation of the two, he’s particularly skilled at not listening, at arguing, at assigning insufficient priority to spending time with his significant other. He ended the sad (but also funny, smart, clever, witty and fairly complete) profile by saying message me if you’re insane.
Unlike Charlie Epps, BadBaldguy was a Cal Tech alum. (How could I resist?)
No photo, either, so no goods on the table. It was like a drunken barroom confession. The story told the concierge. The taxi driver. The priest on holiday.
Of course I wrote to him.
And somewhere in here, I’m aware of my complicity. My fatal flaw. A man with a mind will blur me to the Swiss cheese of emotional engagement. It’s like emotional Alzheimer’s. A blind spot. But the thing about blind spots is that we don’t see them. If we did, they wouldn’t be blind.
He didn’t have a photo, and neither did I.
I have one profile with just a body shot, no face, and one with six recent photos, all the requisites to recognize me in a police line-up, should that be necessary. For a guy who says “don’t write me,” I had no qualms about shooting him an email from my blind account. I have a way of writing low-cost emails. Short. Pithy. Teasing. Nothing that requires an investment, just one line about the car he mentioned, a sixties classic. But he took it from there and the next thing you know, we were engaged in a leisurely but intellectually erotic exchange that we took us off the dating site and into real email.
And then he wanted to meet – with trepidation. With caution. But, hell, he was wildly curious.
As was I.
We made plans. A certain restaurant. The next night.
Meanwhile, neither of us had seen a photo of the other. But I am wise to the world. If I know anything, it’s that men are visual. All men. And that even if one guy thinks I’m hot, the next guy not-so-much. I insisted on a photo exchange so he sent me a stock photo, fuzzy and generic. I sent him one, too, and he wrote back and said, “you’re not my type. But let’s meet anyway.”
Is this sympathy? What is it that makes a guy say, nah, not my type, but let’s meet?
No, I said. No way.
It’s not that I can’t meet men for friendship. Or that it always has to be for dating. I’ve met plenty of people where going into it the goal wasn’t dating. And it’s fine. But there was something about his backpedaling that made me wary. An unwillingness to engage, perhaps. A fear?
No, I said. No way.
Around the time Texas-traveling-guy emailed my six-photo profile, I was setting up the algorithm (as they say on Numb3rs). A dating rubric. I assigned numerical value to the intangibles of love, the kind of stuff that gets muddled in the dating mess. Each category – looks, age, smarts, humor, etc. – is scored anywhere from zero to 3 based on the profile and whatever on-line interaction we have. Ten categories. Three points each. I’m a tough grader. Anyone who scores above twenty is worth a look-see in person.
My rubric (patent pending!) includes the following categories:
1. looks (which includes things like height and weight and photo quality. It’s counter-intuitive but it’s true that most men are either way better looking than their photos would suggest, or way worse. And the guys who have fuzzy photos? Or stupid ones? Enough said. That’s why there’s a range from zero to 3);
2. education (a flat score of 1 for undergrad, 2 for grad, and 3 for terminal);
3. humor (totally subjective!);
4. writing (I’ve never seen a profile without a mechanical error — it’s my curse. So this is my thing. We all have our idiosyncrasies);
5. mental flexibility (This is how I have it in Excel, but I mean a flexibility of mind, an ability to adapt and flow, the kind of thing that is most obvious in emails, but sometimes evident in the profile);
6. kids/visitation (Because I have older kids, I always search for men with kids, or last resort, a guy who doesn’t want kids. If a guy has older kids, it’s a 3. Younger kids or visitation or other issues, 2. Doesn’t want kids, 1. No kids, zero);
7. location (close to me is a three!);
8. seriousness (there’s a range here, all the way from the guy who wants casual or poly sex or a liaison while his wife is at the grocery store to the guy who wants a long-term monogamous relationship. That last is a 3, although if he starts talking about soul mates….);
9. age (near me is a 3; a bit older or younger by say 6 or so years is a 2; really young is a 1; a zero if they show up in my classroom);
10. smarts (totally subjective according to my mood).
My last steady scored a 21.5, although I calculated it retroactively. My “bad” dates – not really bad, just a lovely waste of time – have been in the mid-teens.
Again, a retroactive assessment, but still….
Texas-guy scored a 23.5 on the rubric even with his generic fuzzy photo, the middle-age-bald-guy-wearing-a-suit-at-a-wedding. Nothing memorable.
But beginning in that hotel in Texas, we started a long exchange of emails. A lot of people say, No pen pals. No long email exchanges. And I tend to agree – let’s meet sooner rather than later – but in his case, with him traveling, a meeting wasn’t urgent. In fact, a meeting seemed so inevitable that it was more a question of when, and how to enjoy getting there. The writing was a pleasure. It was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done, like skinny dipping in a hot tub, being swept by the current in a kayak, letting the waves take me to shore in one fast furious skim, my body half in the water and half out, the sun in my eyes, the shore in sight.
But the distance. We’d both approximated our locations, and as it turned out, we were over an hour apart.
(What’s an hour? What’s an hour and a quarter?)
The optimist in me wishes a guy would damn the torpedoes and say distance ain’t nothing, honey.
My high school boyfriend timed the trip from my backdoor to his — 26 seconds running through the woods.
Another lover drove all night just to kiss me and fall asleep in my bed, his arms tangled around me.
But I’m a realist. Most of the time.
We set up a meet anyway. I was reluctant. Not to meet him – we’d had such a cool exchange – but because I felt the misgiving on his end. No woman – wait, I can’t speak for other women. I can’t even speak for other people. But even if other people can cajole or persuade or manipulate dates, I’d rather not. I don’t want a tepid date. At all. I’d rather not meet you if you’re feeling wishy-washy about me. I’d rather be alone than go on a date with a guy who’s not all-in. Call me an idealist. But if you don’t have passion early on, what happens when the shit gets real?
And then, after we’d made plans but before we met, Texas-traveler-guy sent another email, one that I didn’t expect. Something in our email exchange tipped him off. He was my earlier correspondent, the same guy who ended our exchange by saying I wasn’t his type, but with a new profile, a new name. He was both BadBaldGuy and Texas-Guy. And he figured out that I was both of me.
There’s that old song about the lovers breaking up and finding each other without knowing it. Do you like walks in the rain? Like a Shakespearean comedy where the estranged lovers wear masks and fall in love with each other over and over again.
But what was this?
Twice we’d met on-line and pursued each other and twice came to the point of meeting.
But this wasn’t love.
They say, No second chances.
But what was this? I don’t know, but I knew it needed expiation. Reluctantly, I agreed to meet him anyway.
There’s a distance the heart travels. It’s a metaphor, except when it’s not.
I’ve been told that 90% of men my age who are dating are broken. Perhaps he’s one of the broken ones. Coming to the edge of the thing he wants. The thing he says he wants. The wave about to break over him. The wave about to carry him. He could surf to shore, feel the exhilaration of salt and wet and acceleration and lift — feel the movement – he’s on the cusp of feeling it – but he can’t bring himself to surrender to the wave. To let the distance commute itself…
After he told me he was the same guy as before, I noted that during the first exchange, BadBaldGuy had never seen my photo. And then he nixed the possibility of a relationship based on my photo. The second exchange – half a year later, or more – Texas-Guy came to my profile based on my photos. Six photos of me. He knew what I looked like. Was he honest before? If he was willing to pursue me the second time – I look the same – but not the first, was he honest the first time? Was I really not “his type”?
We met for dinner at one of my favorite places. We had drinks. We talked. We laughed. We ordered food — me, the lobster risotto; he, the fish. We we’re comfortable like old friends. It was easy, like the emails. Easier than meeting a stranger should be.
But I had no illusions. We stayed a few hours and then left. The food was good. I was going home alone, as expected. And then I got the email from him, the one I expected.
I had a lovely time. The distance is too much for me.
Yes, he’s that kind of man.