Phil: What are you looking for? Who is your perfect guy?
Rita: First of all, he's too humble to know he's perfect.
Phil: That's me.
Rita: He's intelligent, supportive, funny.
Phil: Me, me, me.
Rita: He's romantic and courageous.
Phil: Me also.
Rita: He's got a good body, but doesn't look in the mirror every two minutes.
Phil: I have a great body, and sometimes, I go months without looking.
Rita: He's kind, sensitive and gentle.
Rita: He's not afraid to cry in front of me.
Phil: This is a man, right?
Rita: He likes animals and children, and he'll change poopy diapers.
Phil: Does he have to use the word "poopy"?
Rita: And he plays an instrument, and he loves his mother.
Phil: I am really close on this one.
- Groundhog Day
Anyone familiar with this 1993 classic knows that Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is a venal, egotistical weatherman who gets trapped re-living Groundhog Day over and over again as a sort of karmic comeuppance for his bad behavior. At first, Phil takes advantage of his free pass through the wormhole in time, drinking, stealing and seducing without any of it mattering because the following morning the day just starts over again with the slate wiped clean. Phil ultimately decides to set his sights on seducing TV producer Rita (Andie McDowell), slowly accumulating knowledge about her so that each time they interact, she feels as though they have more and more in common. In Phil's mind, if he can crack the code to convince Rita to have sex with him, he can simply relive *that* day over and over, making his life complete. Eventually, Phil realizes that he has to use his odd power both for personal growth and to help others. Once he does this, he wins Rita's heart (but without the sex), breaking the cycle and allowing him to make it to February 3rd.
Now a little more than a year into my single life, I've started to re-think Phil and Rita's exchange. Obviously, the thrust of the scene, and the movie more generally, was to show that this otherwise egocentric and arrogant guy needed to understand that he could not use people and manipulate them for his own personal gain, but in the context of dating, Rita put her finger on a phenomenon that has only gained sharper relief in the Internet Age - the exhaustive checklist of required personality traits that, absent even one, immediately gets one disqualified from consideration for "dating" or a "relationship," both of which feel like antiquated terms in a time where the Moore's Law of interaction can reduce screening down to a typo in a text message.
Those of you who read my prior blog post, "Emancipation Day" (available at: http://scarylawyerguy.blogspot.com/2011/12/emancipation-day.html), know that I am divorced. My ex-wife moved out of our home in December 2010 and our divorce became final in July 2011. In that time, I have re-entered, in fits and starts, the dating world. While at first I welcomed the opportunity to meet new women, I quickly came to realize that having been "institutionalized" to a certain degree by a long-term relationship (the last time I "dated," Bill Clinton had just been sworn in as President for his first term) the simple act of "getting to know someone" was tricky - you take for granted the familiarity marriage brings (even if a healthy dose of contempt comes with it). In addition, I'm not a "player" and I have no "game," I'm a very low key, some would say, shy person, who can have trouble getting to know people - always have been, always will. I'm a bit nerdy and not much for clubs and bars, spend a lot of time reading and exercising (when I'm not working) and try to limit time spent on a cell phone (not because of the radiation, but because of the generally poor quality of the service). Not exactly a promising combination for a newly single person.
Adding to the degree of difficulty are two potential disqualifiers: First, I do not want to get married (again). When people ask me why, my answer is simple - it's that I can't afford to get divorced again. I'm optimistic enough to believe that a second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience but realistic enough to know that second marriages fail at even higher rates than first marriages (and third more than second, and so forth); Second, I do not want kids. Wow. Talk about grinding conversation to a halt, Scary! Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against kids, loved loved loved my ex's nieces and nephews (and make some time for my sisters' kids) but the idea of having responsibility for another human being in that way has always freaked me out, both because I was certain I would screw it up and because I questioned whether *I* was mature enough to be a parent.
So, put those two things together, along with the fact that I'm over the age of 40, am not particularly sociable, rarely *need* to be around other people, and live a highly structured life, and you are no doubt unsurprised that my dating life has been somewhere between non-existent and laughably pathetic. Let's take a look at the various ways I have looked for love:
Internet Dating: It's very 21st century. You encapsulate yourself in a highly self-selective, intentionally vague and nondescript way while sublimating the ugly stuff until you get to know someone. People evaluate you (and vice versa) based on photos (also self-edited, no red eye, no pictures with your mouth open and full of food!) and random bits of personal information you may (or may not) have in common. What's not to like!? An inch too short - too bad. No hair - out of luck. Read the wrong book - see ya. Watch the wrong TV shows (or watch TV at all!) - hopeless couch potato. And that's before you even write to, or receive responses from, someone.
I will admit to being just as superficial and picky as the next person, about everything from reading habits to appearance, geographic proximity to musical taste, but aside from the artifice, which is substantial, the thing most missing from Internet dating is your ability to get a sense of a person like you can in "real" life - their mannerisms, how they put together ideas, make eye contact, smell - all of that is missing from the electronic medium. Photos are often outdated or angled in such a way to minimize what the person (and I think this is true of men and women) thinks is unflattering, but must highlight the FUN - invariably, there's a mud run, or a night out with the girls, a tranquil sunset or brother's wedding to show you what a boy howdy good time your potential date is.
Don't get me wrong, I don't think there's anything wrong with Internet dating. I went out on a number of dates with women I met online - none were awful, a few were awkward, and one woman suggested I go through a re-birthing (don't ask). But what I found missing was that intangible "chemistry" that is often written about and we all know when we feel it. And I think, in part, that came from not knowing these women "IRL" (as the kids say) so that our sensibilities, world views, conveyance of tone and thought were foreign when we first met. It's an odd thing, just randomly meeting someone who you sort of know (which is to say you know things about, but you don't know them) so it's also unsurprising that I don't think I made it past a third date with any of them. Moving on ….
In Real Life (IRL): Not the purview of the introverted, and unsurprisingly, a fallow source of potential dates. A woman I met on a lark was sweet in passing and open on the phone, but froze up when we sat down for an extended period of time. More recently, I met a lovely woman through work who seemed interested in me right up until I asked her out, then she suddenly was unavailable - AWKWARD. It took about all I had in that thimble full of self-confidence living inside me to even ask her out; to get shot down indirectly (sort of like the way a President "pocket vetoes" legislation he does not like) was doubly cruel. I opted against trying to ask out other women I have become friendly with through two of the three avenues I meet people (gym and library) because I did not want to risk making those environments uncomfortable if they turned me down. I know, I ooze "swag," but when it comes to places I frequent, better to keep things on a friendship tip. Which leaves ….
Blind Dates: Technically, blind date (singular) and it didn't even happen. A lengthy phone call followed by a strategic decision that my "match" was not geographically desirable combined with the same odd feeling of having a random conversation with a stranger led me to leave what was probably the most rambling, incoherent and moronic voice mail message ever recorded (I'm guessing she saved it and shared it with friends <bows head in shame>).
And …SCENE. There you have it, folks. The life of a recently divorced, does not want to get married again or have kids 40something. Unappealing to those in their late 20s to early 30s looking for one or other, uninterested in dating those with kids or an ex, and unwilling to settle for anything other than fireworks on the 4th of July connection because frankly, I am totally cool with being alone. That is not to say I do not want to find someone to spend time with, who understands who I am, supports me emotionally, engages me intellectually and satisfies me sexually (and vice versa), but having spent the better part of 18 months looking for this unicorn, I have resigned myself to the idea that the search may be longer and harder than I initially expected and that if I come up empty, that is an acceptable outcome. Life's pageant is far too rich to think it incomplete if you never find your mythical "soul mate."