There’s a recurring theme in the online dating world that involves a man who’s a construction engineer building roads, culverts, pipe pedestals, or may be closing a deal in Dubai. He’ll be back stateside in approximately three weeks. Invariably, he seems to have been born overseas in another country and speaks at least one other language. Italy seems to be a popular location although I’ve also met guys who’ve claimed to be from Russia or Ireland. The profile also includes the following: he has lost his wife in a tragic car accident where she was immediately killed and he took five years to get over the shock, but now is ready to move on with his life. Or there’s a variation in the theme where a child was killed in a car accident and the marriage failed beneath the sturm and drang of loss. Or how she slept with his best friend. His best friend!
All this elicits my sympathy. He is a father and frequently claims to have two college-age children who are attending school in Europe. They are studying software engineering, or sometimes languages. He wants to know what I want from a relationship and I respond with sincere, heartfelt emails. He’s a good communicator and in touch with his emotions. I go through my day with a quiet song that permeates my stubborn belief that I will never again find a significant relationship; I remind myself to refocus on work, family, and friends, and that sleeping alone has its benefits like being able to occupy either left or right side or, if I choose, to entirely fill up a bed with my arms akimbo, feet askew, unencumbered by someone who snores.
But the picture dissolves. I find no such person on the Internet who fits his description. His company is non-existent. He assures me that his website is being upgraded and promises that I will discover all manner of wonderful thing about him and his company once his designer recovers from a bad slide down the ski slope. I hear a small voice telling me that my Mr. Right is my Mr. Wrong. I have a fatal flaw: Despite this Age of Trump, I believe the best in people. I blame it on the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals that I grew up with, a surrey with a fringe on top and clam bakes everywhere.
Still, I can’t get past my fascination that men can be such horrible emotional manipulators, hired assassins, belonging to a group that fabricates a backstory for the purpose of deceit. The problem is, it’s the same story, and while repetition is good in most cases, in this one, it’s a liability, a fellowship of poseurs, each one carrying a similar calling card. I wonder if they are working for the same agency or are they a network of individual contractors? Online sites do try to catch these cads and strip them of membership, preventing them from preying upon the bankbooks of vulnerable women. But when were words ever a true representation of reality, itself a philosophical argument taking up print in books for the last several hundred years?
Words are stand-ins; whatever meaning they’re imbued with depends on who’s talking, which is what I’ve been reduced to in the face of online dating, sitting on a couch cushion and thinking about words in the Student Lounge of San Francisco State University waiting for an evening class to begin and watching a mostly silent parade: an older man with a leather briefcase and a matching brown leather cap in flip-flops, a young woman with hoop earrings as big as wagon wheels that roll her away to the cafeteria, bags of walking gold fish and barbecue chips, white ear buds and a collar of headphones, a bouquet of voice messages clutched in every hand; students appear holding small cardboard pizza boxes and then I hear the laughter that comes before backpacks.