Log-off before you’re carbon dated

Chagall-Lovers of Vence 1957

Marc Chagall, Lovers of Vence, 1957

As anyone unwillingly single bites down on their resolution of getting together with someone they like this year, on-line dating sites are advertising themselves across the commercial networks.

On-line dating is, of course, an oxymoronic convenience of modern communication that debases humanity. It starts by keeping people apart, and tries to convince lonely hearts that the best way to find someone to love is sitting with a computer or that other oxymoronic convenience, the smartphone, rather than sitting with someone else.

On-line dating starts with the obvious irony, which not many see apparently, that it connects people with the one common interest that keeps them apart in the first place – the Internet.

Before Christmas the ads were for twenty-something men and women who were presumably sick of being singled out at the family table and having to justify why they haven’t settled down. I can just hear Tara or cousin Brad telling clucky Aunt Faye, Well, I’ve joined eHarmony.

Come New Year the ground shifted to include divorced-now-single forty-something mums. One ad, from RSVP, shows them how on-line dating can turn them into a modern-day romantic in complete control of themselves by creating a profile, and highlighting the things they do and don’t like, so they can come home with a suit after a nice meal.

The ad follows the quick-as-a-flash dating failures and eventual success of a woman who comes home from four dates in thirty seconds to find her twenty-something daughter, who hasn’t moved out of home yet, sitting on the couch with her boyfriend. (The RSVP website says the character is a thirty-something woman with a flatmate. Judge for yourself what you think is being implied. I’m going with my initial impression from the TV ad.)

Hey, how was the date? Well, first mum comes back from a day the footy and It was good … had a pie [to eat], and then arrives home all dolled up in a retro cage dancing outfit and winces about having Yep, danced in a cage. Next she’s breathing so much nostril-fire after an unspeakable bushwalk her lounge-bound daughter can’t finish the question: Hey, how was your …

So the next day mum turns independent, opens the laptop and, with her daughter appearing over her shoulder, determinedly creates an RSVP profile. Next thing you know she’s bringing home a gent in a suit and the ever-couch-lounging daughter still can’t get all her words out – Hi, how was … oh! – before she sees what’s going on.

Most of us know the nervous fear of rejection we have when first go up to someone we fancy, and the ennui of finding out they’re not interested. It’s an essential human experience that new age dating agencies would have us say goodbye to so they can profit from our diminishing confidence about being single in a coupled-up world.

But what this RSVP ad especially is saying is that women, in particular, are incapable of meeting someone off-line and – far more sinisterly – are much too helpless to first  negotiate what they might do on a date and then say No” to something they don’t want to do. That’s a big backward step for all of us.

And what does that say about me?

Am I really to believe that the women who are in control of their lives are on-line instead of reading newspapers alone in cafés, sipping a martini at a bar without company, shopping at the markets with a basket for one, or walking a mountain trail by themselves some Sunday afternoon?

Am I seriously to believe that women are so incapable of working out – just by talking to me – if I’m too dull or too funny, warm or cold, serious or facetious, too good looking or just way too goddam ugly, that they must first retreat behind an internet connection to work out if they want to get a drink some time?

And then am I to assume that a woman I’m finally on a date with can’t take control of her life enough to tell me her desires and dislikes, what she thinks is right and wrong, or in good taste or bad?

This demeans women and it demeans me, as it should anyone who knows that good relationships – Apollonian and Dionysian alike – start with shared desires brought equally an open conversation, and are not the result of monopolistic decision-making or submission to bullying attitudes.

I don’t want to suggest these ads predict behaviour, or that on-line sites don’t work for some. I know of people in loving relationships who introduced themselves to one another on-line.

In the end, however, these sites, and the ads that promote them, want to profit from any doubt we have our instincts and judgement when we meet someone while enjoying the things we love doing with our life – doubt we should resist and overcome. When we stop trusting our instincts, we stop trusting ourselves.

Are we all about to condition ourselves into believing the only way to get it together with someone is to accept the on-line do-it-yourself dating agency experience? In the end we will just cannibalise ourselves, like the way people did with Soylent Green in that 1973 sci-fi classic, by staying off the street, swallowing what we’re given, and not asking anything of anyone about what’s going on.

It’s time to come out from behind the digital curtain, log-off, start talking and live.


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