‘Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match/ Find Me a Find, Catch Me a Catch!’
Though I know a handful of couples who met online, and have a few times dipped my pole into the ‘Plenty of Fish’ fishing hole myself (it’s more like a koi pond: tiny, cramped and filled with glittering, showy fishes acting all, well, coy), I didn’t realize how huge internet dating had become until I was waiting for a subway and two posters advertised online dating services right beside each other: one gay, one straight. Forget straight men’s metrosexual fashions and fag hags receiving oral sex tips from their queer buddies; internet dating has done more to bring the straight and gay worlds together than ‘Will & Grace’.
The for-pay sites are doing so well they can advertise on TV, leading to those groan-inducing e-Harmony ads in which beautiful people rub their noses together, illuminated by late afternoon sunlight, cuddling on a beach somewhere, unintentionally illustrating the classic “long walks on the beach” line from the pre-digital dark ages of personal ads. The ads seem designed to make single people both yearning and angry.
I was going to call them the opposite of phone sex ads in which monotone blond women lounge about on beds, purring about how they love meeting exciting new people, and trying to convince you to call the number at the bottom of the screen (“Your first call is free!”) as though they are the ones actually answering the phones. Really, they are the flip side of the same reality. Phone sex ads put sexuality at the forefront, when a lot of the men targeted may just want someone to talk to; dating services, which target women more, emphasize companionship and romance, while a lot of the ladies are probably sitting at home feeling a little horny.
Either way, we are lonely. And apparently we can’t be trusted to meet people on our own.
One hundred years ago, matchmakers could be hired to find a suitable suitor for your unwed daughter, at 19 years old almost a spinster! In the western world, this formerly-important tradition is remembered through musical theatre, with the babushka-wrapped matchmaker of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and Dolly Levi of ‘Hello Dolly!’, a part alternatively played by Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey and Barbra Streisand. Without campy ladies in gigantic feathered hats to help us, we’re left on our own to find mates, so we turn to the source which helps us spell words (I just looked up ‘babushka’) and find addresses two streets away from our homes: the internet.
Tellingly, in the film ‘Bride and Prejudice’, a Bollywood-style musical based on Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’, the modern day Indian family doesn’t turn to a matchmaker to help get rid of, I mean, set up their four daughters, but an Indian match-up website.
And speaking of dating within your ethnicity, my favourite online service has got to be J-Date, the Jewish dating website. We discovered it one night during undergrad and signed up our Jewish friend Shana, who sat on her bed on the other side of the room screaming. I love that you can be gay or lesbian on J-Date. The fact that someone has bucked tradition enough to be queer but still wants a Jewish partner I find quite remarkable. But the most hilarious aspect of J-Date is how many favourite food options you are given: easily, more than thirty.
“Who decides to go on a first date based on a mutually love of Malaysian or Hungarian or Tex-Mex food?!” I asked.
“Jews do,” Shana said.
Then there’s the stigma. (“There’s no stigma,” Ted on ‘How I Met Your Mother’ whines. “Oh, there’s a stigma,” his friends maintain. “That’s why you said ‘there’s no stigma’!”) I knew a couple who never once admitted to having met online.
“What would you tell your grandkids?” another friend asked me. Don’t you assume, the way things are going, that our grandchildren will live their entire lives online?
I think the stigma comes from the feeling that we shouldn’t have to meet people on the internet. The characters in ‘Friends’ and ‘Sex and the City’ and all the romantic comedies I grew up with never needed websites to go out on dates. Either baby-boomers and Gen-Xers were a lot better at actually getting out of the house and meeting people in person, things that our generation is dramatically bad at, or all those TV shows and movies lied to me (a very likely scenario).
Whatever the reasons, where once an old Jewish lady trampled about the village trying to find us “a good match”, we are now, as we often are in the post-industrial world, left on our own, scanning profile pic after profile pic, trying to see some honesty shine through all bullshit, because deep down, beneath our nonchalance and cynicism, we still believe love is out there.