Volume 81, Number 4 | June 23 - 29, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Too much information: Dating in the cyberspace age
By Kate Walter
The last time I was single and searching for a girlfriend, the cutting-edge technology was the answering machine. The Internet didn’t exist in my queer dating heyday. But as I slowly recovered from the breakup of my 26-year gay marriage, it was obvious I should try online dating. Since I uploaded my head shot and carefully crafted bio, I learned how to navigate, but my first Match date was unnerving.
“Sandra” and I were sitting in the Cornelia Street Cafe on a hot June evening. As the bartender went to get our orders, I wondered why I’d agreed to meet an attorney since I always viewed myself as a rebel. The one mitigating factor in Sandra’s profile was that she played bass in a rock band. She was in good shape from volleyball but looked cuter in her photo. Our drinks arrived and we started filling in our backgrounds. She didn’t come out until she was 43, even though she always knew.
“What took you so long?” I asked.
“I was a good Catholic girl,” she said.
“So was I,” I shot back. “Didn’t stop me.”
Sandra had also graduated from a Catholic women’s college in the Northeast, but other than that our early lives could not have been more different.
“I missed the ’60s, ” she explained. It was hard to believe her being just a year older could make that much of a difference, but it did.
I had lived in a hippie house on a lake in New Jersey, having sex with men and women, taking drugs, and going to concerts at the Fillmore East. Sandra was a suburban housewife who married at 22 and quickly had a baby.
“I was more like your older sister,” she said, “in that generation.”
“How did you know I had an older sister?” I was thrown off because we had not discussed siblings.
“Oh, I found your Web site and read most of your essays.”
“How did you manage that?” I asked. “I never gave you my last name.”
“Oh, it’s easy,” she said. “I had your first name and you told me where you teach. So I put it together and found this video of you on the college Web site. So once I had your last name, bingo such as foxy bingo as explained here in this foxy bingo uk! You have a lot of stuff about yourself out there.”
I felt blindsided. This smartass lawyer had researched me as if she were preparing for a case. For many years I’d written about my life (way before blogging).There was a lot about me on the Web but I never had to deal with it on a date until now. If we were already seeing each other, I’d welcome the interest. But it felt unfair for her to do heavy research before we even met. It gave her the upper hand as she kept bringing up details.
“You were born in January,” she continued, “and you’re the middle child, older sister, younger brother.”
“Wow, you have a good memory,” I quipped.
“So I’ve been told,” she said. “Now I want to hear about Slim.”
I didn’t think this was first-date material, and why should I go into the painful details with a stranger if she’d already read about my big breakup? But I briefly sketched in more, telling her the most disturbing part at this point is that after more than two decades together, Slim cut me off and avoids all contact.
Unlike me, Sandra had never lived with a woman, which seemed odd, considering lesbians are known for their nesting instincts. Her longest gay relationship was four years. I gathered she had put most of her energy into her successful legal career.
“So did you really see a psychic and an astrologer about your breakup?” she asked, changing the subject and once again bringing up things I’d never told her.
“Do you actually believe that?”
She was using background knowledge to put me on the spot. I could see why she was a good lawyer, except we were not in a courtroom.
“Yes, I saw a psychic and an astrologer,” I said, “and still do occasionally. I believe certain people have gifts. ”
Sandra looked at me like I was crazy. I made sure not to mention that I also attended meetings of Sixth Sensory New York. I was working on developing my own intuition, and it was signaling that this was not a good match.
“Did you read my piece about joining a church?” I asked. “It’s one of my favorites.”
“I skipped it,” she said. “I’m not into religion. I left all that behind.”
“I did, too,” I said, “but then I rediscovered worship in a new form.”
While I didn’t expect to find someone who shared my idiosyncratic belief system, I’d never want to be with someone so cynical. Good to know. I could already see how dating would help me figure out what mattered to me in a new relationship.
“This place is a far cry from the Catholic Church,” I said, defensively, as I described the segment of a gay pride service where three members of the House of Ninja vogued on the altar in front of a rainbow flag.
“I’m getting buzzed,” said Sandra as she quaffed her second rum and coke. “I’m drinking on an empty stomach.”
“You suggested another round,” I said, wondering why she hadn’t ordered food.
“I agreed because the conversation was flowing.”
But flowing was the wrong word. It was more like being probed by someone who’d studied my files. It was fascinating in a sick way. Sandra kept asking about stuff I’d never shared with her but she’d discovered about me on the Internet. I kept thinking: What piece had that info about my siblings? How much did I write about psychics? Where did I mention Ocean Grove? My interrogator said there was someone new on Match who noted Ocean Grove — maybe I should look her up. (I did later. Turns out it was my ex.)
As I tried my best to answer her questions, I sensed what bothered me the most (besides her lack of subtlety) was that she never once said “Your voice is funny” or “You’re a good writer.” But she was not reading my creative work as an art form, but as a means to obtain data she could use to dissect me.
The bill arrived and she took out her credit card; I gave her cash for my share. Then I walked her to the nearby W. Fourth St. subway stop.
When I got home, my lower back was killing me. No wonder I was in pain. I felt like I had just gotten off the witness stand from a cross-examination. I decided later this bad date was good training. If I survived this, I could handle more matches.
Within nine months, I met 15 strangers and had gone on more than 20 dates. I realized that as a writer, my story is in cyberspace. I was dating in a new era. I google as soon as I get a last name. So I’ve gone from being shocked at Sandra’s bold investigations to gauging whether or not someone is interested by how much they’ve read up and how they use the information.
Now if I’m on a second or third date, someone can sway me with her social and conversational skills by the way she handles my online dossier, like the woman who impressed me last fall by saying, “Read your work. You really came out on top.”