Sunday, July 1, 2007

Are you Hot or Not?: The Price of a Free Date

A column:

In 2002, I was a high school junior, and like an angsty Rodney Dangerfield, I didn't feel like I got enough respect from the ladies. So I posted a photograph of myself, gelled-hair and tuxedoed, on I was ready to be judged. I wanted to be judged. Anybody with a modem could decide the "notness" or "hotness" of my 130-pound frame. Bring it on, I thought. Bring it on.
It didn't take long for my hot-or-not numbers to do some funny things. I got eights and nines but I also got a few ones. Who out there was giving me a one out of ten? A four would mean I exude the sexual energy of a chair, but a one? Someone out there must prefer humping the leg of an Ottoman to gazing into my monstrosity of a face.

But still I couldn't turn away from the website. After all, it was a free, safe place to look at pretty girls without feeling like a pervert. That it also had an online dating feature only appealed to me until I realized it cost money. Come on, I wasn't desperate enough to pay for a chance to meet women. It was 2002, and paying for online dating would bring me in line with the sweaty dudes who surf the web for Russian mail-order brides. I was not looking for my Irinia or Svetlana. I could find a girlfriend in the real world without paying a penny.

And I found just that, a cute brunette with a button nose. We dated, we laughed, we cried, we lasted a month. (The reason she broke it off? Something to do with "experience." She was a girl who drank coffee, and I was a guy who ate chocolate chip cookies.) I wanted a rebound-girl and I wanted her fast. As it turns out, I had some credit on my PayPal account from a long-ago eBay transaction, just enough credit to cover a month of's dating service. If I used it, I wouldn't really be buying anything, would I?

I remained an outsider to the pay-to-date system even as I worked my love jones from within the belly of the beast, swapping flirty messages with two attractive-looking girls. One, a lithe-bodied redhead, I agreed to meet in a public park. Part of me feared that she in fact was a trenchcoated man named Felix, but I could handle that risk as long as we met in the noon-day sun. Fortunately, I found she was no Felix ; unfortunately, she had pale wisps of hair sprouting from her cheeks. She had cheek hair. Who has cheek hair? We sat on a bench and struggled through thirty minutes of awkward conversation ("Finding Nemo" figured prominently) with as little eye contact as possible. And then we were over.

For the second girl I had higher hopes, until I discovered she was fourteen years old and wanted to meet me by an Auntie Ann's Pretzels at the shopping mall food court. Let's call this girl "Illegal." In Illegal's planned scenario, she would be nibbling on pretzels with her mom when I would approach the two of them as if I just happened to be in the "neighborhood." I would then pretend to be a long-lost friend of Illegal's who had met her at an "Italian food festival" in midtown. Wink, wink.

I declined her advances and avoided an appearance on "To Catch a Predator."

When my PayPal account ran dry, so did my dating run. And I was fine with that, for I had never really become "one of those people" who used for dates. Fine, I used the website, but I didn't want to think I paid for that privilege. I was just playing around, that's all.

But in reality, I was doing precisely the same thing for precisely the same reasons as the site's monthly subscribers: I wanted to meet new girls. I enjoyed the perks other members enjoyed, but I never wanted to be considered part of their club.

And that's what's funny about anything that's "complimentary" or "free," or in the case of my experience with, anything that appears to be "free": we're given a chance to enjoy a guilty pleasure without being defined by it. Or so we think.

The hipster guy who reads "Pitchfork" might never buy a ticket for "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," but he may very well watch it on his friend's computer if he's stoned. I would never buy season two of Dawson's Creek on DVD, but I did download it, hunkered in the low light of a quiet room, waiting to see if Katie Holmes would take her clothes off.

In the end, many of us, no matter what we're paying or not paying, will have the exact same experiences. There's no place for my previously felt superiority, because really, I am just another member of the club.

I will now go hump a chair.

1 comment:

Jocelyn said...

I love it.
i like chairs too. just don't tell anyone.