Press This!: What It’s Like To…

The Dunce Cap’s been on a bit of a hiatus while I (attempt to) get my life together in terms of scheduling, but here’s something to whet your appetite for my return! This is a column I wrote for The Current, the new weekly current from the award-winning Daily Northwestern. An abbreviated version of this very piece ran January 20, 2011. It chronicles my first run-in with users on OkCupid, a topic I teased you with last month.

I’ve got to say, too. This weather? Chicago, you’re really starting to make me resent you. My hands and lips are crackin’ and bleedin’ all over the place. I’m not going to be able to hold onto the OkCupid winners I entice when I’m all scabby. Eh, it’ll all be over soon. In the meantime, happy reading.

And, a fun track to please your ears. It doesn’t pertain specifically to the column, but you gotta love Stevie.

Stevie Wonder, “For Once in My Life”

What It’s Like To…Live The “You’ve Got Mail” Dream

When he asked for my number, I should have known better. It was not my first time on the merry-go-round, after all. What followed were a daily trail of monosyllabic texts: “Hey.” “Sup.” Who was he? Well, he didn’t even warrant a name in my phonebook, just a vague notation: “OkCupid avoid.” It was far from an auspicious beginning – I’d barely been online dating a week, and I already regretted it.

A friend, I knew, had found success on OkCupid, a free online dating site targeted at twenty-somethings. This was a girl I admired, certainly, and it made me think: If she could do it, why not me? I wasn’t eager to explore frat parties in hopes of bumping into Mr. Right Now, and it seemed easy enough to passively approach dating, given my all-too-busy schedule. I joined OkCupid last month, created a profile emphasizing, well, only the good parts of my personality, and I started the all-too-rapid process of putting myself out there. I was mostly just perusing, but I found myself enamored by the casual digital flirtations. What started as a hobby of mere interest became an actual search for a little somethin’ somethin’. I was 20 years old and online dating.

Why had I dove headfirst into the Sea of Uncomfortable Subject Lines? As with most awkward things in life, it began with a break-up.

The Boy and I met in the winter of my freshman year in a cloud of fatigue and charity – that is, we met at Dance Marathon and launched a whirlwind romance. In a generally lauded and entirely unsurprising turn of events, we ended our nearly two year tumultuous (and immensely happy) tryst in late summer. It didn’t end there, of course, as the messiest of endings rarely do. But this story isn’t really about him – for once. I’d spent the large majority of my time at Northwestern in some semblance of a relationship, and I wasn’t prepared to reenter the dating fray. I should clarify: I was not looking for a new relationship, nor was I looking for a mere hook-up buddy. I wanted, instead, an experience, a distraction and a reminder that what had once been was really over.

I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that I spent countless hours perfecting my online profile. There were so many questions to ask: How did I want others to see me? Was I to be coy or brash? Sexy or adorable? Could I admit my borderline strange stress-relieving hobby of crafting balloon animals? The ultimate result was a verbose, overly calculated and yet fairly accurate digital representation of identity. My self summary? “I’m clean, compassionate and impetuous, but I’ve also heard I’m the kind of girl you wouldn’t mind taking home to Mom and Dad…I’ve never mastered the handstand or won a game of Minesweeper, despite my best efforts.” What do I spend a lot of time thinking about? “The future. Specifically, my future. The soundtrack to my life. My family. People. Laughter. The next meal. The sociocultural ramifications of Ke$ha. Baseball season.” And why should you message me? “You’re smart, awesome, cool and looking for the same. And especially if you know all the words to soulDecision’s ‘Faded’* and/or Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s ‘Good Vibrations.’” It was a velvet goldmine.

Online, I’m working it. Hard. I can’t drag my J. Lo ass to The Keg on a Monday in anything more flattering than a colorful cardigan, but I can raise the virtual roof on OkCupid at 2 a.m. instead. No immodesty intended, but my inbox is always full, I receive regular winks (the online equivalent of a Yes/No/Maybe love note) and I even have my own guy-who-can’t-take-a-hint! I feel like the OkCupid homecoming queen. The messages range from hilarious to fawning to pathetic. This one garnered a response: Subject: “This is serious.” Message: “I’m looking for a woman that is willing to support us financially as a couple so I can stay at home and care for our cat. Not really. I’m Frank, let’s connect.” Clever. This one did not: Subject: “btw..i wrk at century.. :)” Message: “hey was goin awwwn……. u seem like u koo to be around wit.. hope u feel de same.” Unfortunately, no, dude.

I’m regaining my dating footing, slowly but surely, but the messages can be like quicksand. The rules to online dating are even harder to maneuver than the collegiate hook-up scene. Do I ignore the “hey wats up ur pretty cute” message from the guy who advertises that he can “use [his] fingers to perfection and make anyone moan within minutes”? And how eager is too eager when interacting with the user who is only a tiny bit abashed to admit he loves The Muppet Movie? I really need a user manual.

For now, I’m inclined to play along. The compliments are always a stellar way to start the day. In the meantime, I’m playing plan-tag with the aforementioned Muppet Movie fanatic, and I’m optimistic about what the future will contain as I transition from the interweb to real life. Sure, I’m on the young end of the age spectrum of users, but I’m not ashamed. I think I’m just, as per usual, prematurely exploring the new dating frontier.

*Make sure to watch the vocalist’s eyebrows during the video. So good. Here’s the “dirty version” – considering I first heard this song on “Now 5,” the first line was a major surprise. This was an after-school sing-a-long when I was 10, so imagine my surprise upon figuring out just how suggestive the lyrics are. I’ll still belt out the lyrics at any sorority function.

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