Before I discovered that the lemons life throws at you are not always suitable for lemonade, I suppose I was like any typical girl who fancied she might one day get married.
It wasn’t a question of ‘if’ so much as ‘when’. Marriage seemed to be as much a natural, evolutionary progression of adulthood as the cessation of pimples or the ability to live away from one’s parents. I wasted little energy worrying about the fellow involved, imagining his entry into my life to be as perfunctorily inevitable as the very act of growing old. My husband would emerge into my life fully formed, the vagaries of courtship having been dealt with as if in a distant dream. One day I would be a young girl, allowed finally to wear her first lipstick; the next, I would be married.
Of course, the folly of youthful expectations never lends itself well to reality. Not only am I entering my twenty-ninth year convincingly single, I have discovered that there is no set date at which one can expect to be free from the brutal inconvenience of skin blemishes.
Don’t be alarmed. This isn’t one of those dreadful singleton laments that have become the domain of media puff pieces since Sex and the City dehumanised women everywhere. Nor is it an example of the lady doth protest too much, determined to convince her audience that the mere thought of tethering her wagon to some rogue cowboy fills her with inexpressible repugnance.
Rather, it’s an exploration of what happens when we find that what we expected as children turns out to be a fantasy driven by saccharine cartoons and the ritual brainwashing of Golden Books. It’s an examination of what my grandmother would refer to as ‘making the best of things’. It’s a perilous journey into the shallow end of the gene pool, only to discover that science hasn’t begun to scratch the surface of in-breeding’s lasting consequences.
Ladies and gents, I have stared into the abyss and found that it had only one thing to say: Welcome to Internet Dating.
Now, I’m hardly embodying the vanguard of modern-day romance here. Finding love on the Internet isn’t exactly the new frontier. It’s a dusty frontier, certainly, laden with treacherous paths and unsavoury characters; it will more likely than not make you feel a bit itchy and downtrodden. And yes, there are occasional glimmers of hope speckled across the horizon when it seems like Oregon might be popping up just around the bend. But it’s not new.
In fact, before Internet dating sites came along, folk were basically dating on it anyway. RSVP is Australia’s largest dating site, which also means it features Australia’s largest collection of unintelligent, buffoonish, motor-head morons. It is to romance what the Clipsal 500 is to culture. And being a glutton for punishment, I am naturally a member of it.
I’ve considered ‘why?’ at length, but can only surmise that if I withdrew my membership, I would be foregoing the Schadenfreude that comes from marvelling at how so many people have reached adulthood with Paleozoic communication skills. And indeed, I have felt at times that I would have more entertaining conversations with a rock.
Consider the fellows who, having presumably glanced at your profile even if only to notice that a particularly large chunk of text seems to appear beneath the ‘Reading’ category, contact you with the stock sentiment that they would ‘like to get to know you better’ because they feel ‘We could really hit it off’, only to expose their disastrously inarticulate enthusiasm for books. ‘Does Zoo count? HAHAHA. Nah, but I love my footy.’ Or my particular favourite: ‘Nah, I hate reeding about stuff cos I woud prefer to go out an do it.’ As I’ve yet to see many of them suffer a mental breakdown in the 1950s while on leave from a posh New England boarding school, or having a psychotically deranged, borderline incestuous relationship in the miserable outreaches of Victorian Britain, I can only assume they believe books to be full of stories about people getting drunk and popping their collars to the beat of tedious conversation – though, to be fair, that does form the subject matter of Wayne Carey’s first outing, so who am I to judge?
And without RSVP, I’d be denied some real crackers. The worst date I ever endured was over breakfast at a mediocre organic café in Adelaide. The fellow in question had not endeared himself to me a few days earlier by emailing through an excremental poem – something about the Muppets and a Pelican turning into a clitoris, if I recall correctly – which he seemed to think bordered on genius. I reasoned that everyone has failings. For example, I’m an interrupter whose chequered past includes an absurd appreciation for peanut butter, jam and mayonnaise sandwiches. Do flawed creatures not also deserve love?
But things turned from bad to worse when he launched into a detailed retelling of his financial involvement with a particular political party – we’ll call them the Gleens – and, more specifically, the fact that he had just donated $40,000 to their election fund. ‘Just had it lying around the house. My house. That I own.’
Perhaps alerted to my utter lack of interest in the state of his finances, he began to lecture me on all manner of subjects ranging from iambic pentameter to music to Zen Buddhism, the last of which culminated in the revelation of what might be the stupidest life philosophy I have ever had the good fortune to laugh at.
‘Clementine,’ he intoned, dark eyes gazing at me from beneath stalker-ready eyelids. ‘What you have to realise is this: life is not a quiz show.’
Satisfied that he had blown my mind with the incredible insight that can only be imparted by an older man to a suitably younger woman, he settled back in his seat and waited for my adulation to envelope him in its warm, admiring glow.
‘But wouldn’t it be more fun if it was?’ I countered.
If there had still been the remotest glimmer of hope that we might share a beautiful future together, it was dashed when he practically ran to the counter to ensure he could pay first and claim only his items. When I told him I’d planned on paying for my own breakfast anyway, he turned to me with a half-cocked eye and said, approvingly, ‘Well done. Well done.’
I paid quickly and hightailed it out of there, glad to be rid of him and determined to tell everyone I’d ever met about the man who lists his real job as a ‘professional online poker player’. That, I thought decidedly, was that.
Not so. In the manner of delusional people, Pelican apparently thought we’d been on a ‘fabulous’ date. He must have confused my eye rolling for some quaint attempt at come-hithering. A few days later, I was treated to an email that contained the link to his ‘Hot or Not’ profile. In it, he was wearing a t-shirt that said simply: ‘Playa’. I believe the Internet shorthand *headdesk* was created for moments just like this.
Needless to say, Pelican and I didn’t see one another again. I embarked on a series of slightly less irritating but equally disappointing dates, all arranged via the wonders of the worldwide web, proving yet again that I am an old dog who can’t be taught new tricks.
But should that ever change; should this old mutt learn that love cannot be found in the bottom of an html coding package or with men who are ‘equally as comfortable in a pub or at home curled up on the couch with a DVD and that special someone’; should I wake up one day to learn that I’ve suddenly mastered the art of jumping through the same hoop so many times it needn’t be done again – should any of that ever happen, I shall take great pleasure in looking at myself in the mirror, and whispering seductively, ‘Well done. Well done.’