Comics by G. Fling
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Welcome to my Personals Hell (original text version)

Basically, what you're doing by using a personal ad (and yes, I did place a personal ad) is deciding you'll scoff at the universe's randomness and instead audition and be auditioned for the role of...well...let's see...date? Movie companion? Sex partner? What, exactly? Nothing about the process is very straightforward. It's more bizarre and less formal than a job interview, and the objective isn't very clear.

Unlike at a plain ol' Neanderthal meat market, the mating-display haiku of a personal ad doesn't let you figure out ahead of time if there's the potential of any mutual drooling, let alone if you'd hit it off with someone in any lasting way, so what one ends up with instead is a series of awkward and generally kind of icky mutual check-out scenes between two people who have decided that, for whatever reasons, they can't seem to meet enough potential dates just milling around in supermarkets and coffeehouses. And that's if your ad even garners any responses, which is another issue entirely. If it does and you find yourself suddenly suggesting to a perfect stranger (sight-unseen over the telephone) that the two of you meet for coffee/beer/intense scrutiny/etc., even if all seems to go well, you have things to talk about and no one runs off screaming, the other person still might not return your calls.

Because saying "I don't find you at all interesting" is somewhat difficult, people sometimes opt instead to go on and on about how great a time they had, suggesting that maybe you should get together again this week (maybe Tuesday? Wednesday?). And THEN not return your calls. Go figure. So I guess what I'm saying is that people are strange. Me included, of course. It's amazing anyone ever gets together at all, yet you see people everywhere doing so. But who ARE these people? Either there are lots of happy couples made up of lucky people who found each other through all the inanity and smog, or countless dysfunctional idiots are traipsing along with people they don't really care much for. I'm a little too young to be a misanthrope, so I decided to vote for the first option, hold my breath, and count to three...

The first person I met through an ad seemed pretty cool over the phone, and we decided to meet for tea. I arrived at the pre-arranged place first and ended up thinking someone else was her, approached this person, and found out quickly I was wrong. When she came in, though, I knew instantly. Maybe it was something about both of us searching the room, eyes darting around. I ended finding her really attractive, which made me clam up and exhibit the charm of landfill, and we sat frozen in our hard chairs and talked for entirely, uncomfortably too long for a first meeting...almost three hours. We parted ways and she wrote me email a few days later, saying (after answering a few inane, chatty questions I'd sent her about pinball and stuff) that she thought we didn't have enough "potential bonding elements for friendship or anything else", so that was that.

Of course, this being my first personal ad experience, I was overly concerned about why this person didn't want to meet again: did she find me unattractive? Did I seem boring? Was it really the lack of bonding elements? What exactly were "bonding elements", anyway? I mean, sure, she'd said she had a great old time in high school, and I pretty much loathed it, but that was mainly because I hadn't gotten laid...did that count? Could someone figure something like Potential Bonding Elements out that quickly? What if it had just been my general nervousness that had put her off? How would y'avoid THAT next time? But, anyway, I did at least end up with a nifty new phrase implanted into my vocabulary. It actually pops up in occasional date-related conversations with certain friends of mine now ("So, hey, any Potential Bonding Elements there?"). So the experience wasn't a total wash...

The next girl I met worked at a video store. Again, we found things to talk about on the phone and wanted to meet. And we actually hung out a few times, though there didn't seem to be anything in the air. But since this was the only dating I was doing at the time, and I'm arguably pretty bad at dating to begin with, I felt that since we didn't HATE each other or anything I should probably proceed with some variation on The Moves. Our second or third date (I can't recall which--this should give some idea of the level of fun we were having) found us in her apartment watching Ferris Bueller's Day Off on video.

My date was screaming STAY AWAY in body language, leaning away from me on her couch, curling up into fetal position, so I took this as my opportunity, and sort of grabbed her foot. The next thing I knew I was sitting there frozen and horrified as she immediately blurted out in a loud, almost mocking voice, "You're GRABBING my FOOT?" Needless to say, this was our last date. We mumbled our eventual good-byes and I'll-call-ya-next-weeks, and that was it. Later I couldn't help wondering, if we'd met under more normal/traditional circumstances, would the foot-grab have ever happened? Would we have even asked each other out in the first place? Probably not.

I met a few other people this way and talked with some on the phone I never met in person, including a woman who loved cooking Beef Stroganoff and didn't understand why, when she asked what I was cooking that particular evening, I would just steam some green beans ("Beans? You eat BEANS?"), and another who spent the majority of our conversation asking me what I looked like and if I "got it goin' on", because she'd met people who'd SAID they got it goin' on, but when she met them, obviously didn't. Y'got a mirror, she said, you KNOW if you do or not. I wasn't quite sure I wanted to find out...

Anyway, I didn't come to many conclusions besides that dating is by nature awkward and horrifying, yet occasionally quite the opposite. I would think this isn't groundbreaking news to anyone. And I'm not sure using personal ads to jump-start the process really changes much about that. I suppose the only way a personal ad can really work is to simply increase the number of people you sort-of-randomly meet, and maybe you'll hit it off with one of them and you'll already know you both really like indie rock or Hitchcock. But the artificiality of the whole situation, of specifically looking for people to date instead of letting dating more naturally arise out of a different interaction (co-worker, pretty face at a party, friend of a friend) makes for a whole soupkettle of awkwardness.

You don't normally bump exclusively into people actively looking for potential dates when you're out in public, yet that's who a personal ad usually throws together--it can be a summit of the impatient. Although this might also be a selling point of the personals, that you're meeting people ripe for lovin', it can tend to bring up its own problems, sometimes forcing unnatural progressions and making the whole process even more weird and artificial than dating itself already inherently is. Meeting this way is just awkward by nature, even if you start out acknowledging that and realizing the somewhat low odds of actually hooking up with someone who registers on your groovy meter. There's no getting around it. And yet I'll probably try it again sometime. Better than watching paint dry, I guess...


©2008 G. Fling