The divine online

By Mollie Kaye, February 2011

For the women of Chicktoria, online dating sites provide hard evidence of real, live, single men, right here.

I have a vivid memory of the visceral reaction I had 16 years ago at the home of some friends. They’d just revealed to me and my then-husband how they’d met—through a personal ad! No way! We tittered about them as we drove home. We had met at a party given by a mutual friend. They were SWM and SWF. We saw them as pathetic outcasts whose union was tainted from the word “go.” What sort of desperation led people to use the personal ads to find a spouse? 

At that time, in 1995, the web was in its infancy, and I hadn’t yet heard of anyone meeting their better half online—but if I had, you can bet I would have been equally derisive.

Fast forward eleven years to 2006. While suffering the debilitating grief brought on by the demise of both my 13-year marriage and my utterly textbook “rebound relationship,” I befriend a lovely woman my own age who, like me, is single and raising kids. She reveals that she has profiles up on the dating websites Lavalife.com and PlentyofFish.com. I’m wide-eyed, but much more leaden in my rush to judgement. After all, this friend of mine is a lot like me. So what was she doing on these dating websites? Wasn’t that a last ditch for people who were undesirable, socially inept, or both?

Server-supported socializing starts to look mighty appealing, though, when one is immersed in career, committees, care of aging parents and co-parenting. It’s a challenge to find time to sleep, let alone romance. And for the women of Chicktoria, well, it’s reassuring just to see hard evidence of real, live, single men—period. 

Divine, a national women’s magazine, declared us Canada’s “City with the Least Dating Potential.” Victoria...may have a large singleton population (77 percent) but, unfortunately, only a meagre 27 percent of them are men. With stats like that, it’s easy to develop a complex. (Calgary, by the way, was deemed the “City with the Most Dating Potential”—perhaps if chromosome shape is your only requirement.) 

Emboldened by my friend, and in a fit of rebound pique, I set up a dating profile on PlentyofFish.com. It was an exciting opportunity to see who was out there, yet terrifying to become part of the cyber-single scenery of this small town. Suddenly, I had a neon sign on my head blazing the message “SEARCHING 4 LUV.” I carefully cropped a few honest but reasonably attractive images of myself, uploaded them, then agonized over whether to make them generally visible. (I initially put it all out there, but then someone I knew IRL—in real life—spotted me there and sent me a message to say hi. OMG! It was like he’d seen me naked in the Crystal Pool locker room! I pulled my towel tight and hid my #%*#!ing profile.)

If you’d injected truth serum into the glib blurb I’d written to accompany my photos in that first foray, it would have read: I’m desperate to know that the guy I just broke up with is not the only man who will ever find me attractive, and I would like to have sex again before I am post-menopausal. I am deep in the bowels of grief, deeper now than I was a year ago when my 13-year marriage officially ended; therefore, I’m terrified that I will always be a frazzled wreck who bursts into tears in the men’s underwear section at Sears. My social landscape, as a middle-aged single mother in Victoria, is a coma-inducing, wintry wasteland of icy, tight-knit families and snow-capped septuagenarians with British accents. SAAAAVE MEEEEE!!!!!

I screwed up my courage and clicked that rectangular button on my profile to “go live.” Then I gazed upon the stunning vista of, um...Dicktoria? Hundreds and thousands of men’s faces, some familiar—which definitely was an icky shock—but most previously unknown to me. The site automatically popped a dozen random guys into a banner at the top of the page, chosen to match my age and geographic coordinates. Another cluster of ever-shifting faces indicated they were “available for live chat.” What? Chat? Now? With an actual person? In the span of 23 minutes, wearing ratty pajamas, in the comfort of my own home on a Thursday night, my dating pool had suddenly gushed from “intermittent drip” to “fire hose.”

I hunted and clicked, sifted and sorted. A numb objectification developed from the rhythm of no, no, maybe, definitely not, no, no, maybe, no—the same rhythm of searching for flower bulbs or bathing suits. These were human beings, but it was fast becoming another online shopping expedition, shot through with the sickening angst of junior high school. In my vulnerable state, the manic carousel—up, down, round and round—of witty online chat, freaky dates, and dashed hopes quickly had whirling spirals supplanting my pupils. The fish—and boy there were plenty—had started to reek as they stacked up in my dinghy. I retreated and deleted.

After a couple of years and relationships that began IRL, I decided to cast my net into the web waters once again—and wow, did I get a live one. 

The first red flag was his photo: a modelling headshot. I ignored him, but the site kept insisting we were “99.9 percent compatible.” I clicked. His profile read like a cocaine-fuelled, Tolkien-esque gangster rap. We met at Re-Bar for dinner. He ate nothing, I ordered a feast. He said women were throwing themselves at him on the website, but nobody really “got it.” 

“You mean what you’ve written?” I ventured, remembering his serpent-n-switchblade metaphor marathon. His knee bounced like a jackhammer and his eerily constant smile grew more strained in his very tanned face (think Al Jolson, only blonde). Catching me mid-sentence, he said flatly, “I have to go,” and rose quickly to present his debit card to the waiter. “Uh, we can split it,” I garbled at him through a mouthful of strawberry shortcake. He didn’t respond. I watched his leather-clad back recede toward the door as he strode past the crowded tables. 

Every veteran of virtual hookups has some sort of harrowing tale, and that was mine. But whether I knew someone for 20 minutes or dated them for six months, met someone on an airplane or met them online, each relationship was a necessary step, providing keener and keener insight into myself and the qualities of my ideal union.

This Valentine’s Day, I’ll be setting my dinner table for six, and eating some sort of kid-friendly fare with my husband. We met on PlentyofFish and got married last August. Each of us had gone a few laps in the “sea,” casting about with different bait. When we both had healed enough to radiate celebration and authenticity, we found each other there. 

The magic moment came when I, searching on key words that appear in someone’s “list of interests” (you can also search for a particular height, income, ethnicity, or desire for children), entered the word “openness.” This was exactly what was missing in me when I first heard of online dating, yet it’s hard to imagine how he and I would have met otherwise, each of us sharing custody of two young kids, living in different neighbourhoods, and with no overlap in our well-worn ruts. 

We’re living proof that computer-generated as they may sometimes be, human connections are just that—human—even when facilitated by technology. 

Mollie Kaye writes for Focus, teaches Compassionate Communication, and is so very grateful that her amazing, wonderful husband—an answer to many prayers—didn’t have his dating profile hidden.