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World-Wide Woes: The ease of Internet connections can lead to terrible love decisions.

People Behaving Badly

The facile world of Internet dating brings out the worst and the best

By Alex Horvath

This is the tale of John and Wendy, who found each other while looking for love on a dating website. It's also the story of Peter and Wendy, who met on the same website shortly after Wendy and John broke up, and had a relationship before Wendy got back together again with John. Finally it's really the story of Wendy, who found love offline, only to have her hopes dashed in the weeks before Valentine's Day.

Wendy's dating proclivity pales in comparison to John, who claims to have dated more than 200 North Bay women from various dating websites over the past five years in his earnest search for a wife. In some weeks, he says, he has dated as many as 10 women.

"Some people consider me to be an Internet predator," John says. "When I first heard that, I was kind of thrown back. I wondered where that could possibly come from and why others would think that way."

Meeting and dating in the new millennium is not for lightweights, as thousands have flocked to online dating sites such as Match.com, DatingFaces.com, Yahoo! Personals and others to find their perfect someone. While the trend of online dating has seen growth since 1999, a recent study shows new online dating accounts to be on the decline, signaling a softening in popularity for the impersonal "click and send" method of courting.

"Internet dating sites are a haven for relationship addicts," notes Jessica, 39, an online dater who has attended local meetings of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. "It's insidious. You sit there waiting for an e-mail to come. You spend more time staring at your computer screen waiting for the 'goodie': a positive response from another person. When it doesn't come, or if they stop talking with you--rejection."

"It's like meeting someone and they expect an instant relationship," says Ron, 45, who signed up on Match.com last year after his long-term marriage ended and his divorce was final. "I found that I was meeting people, and by the third date, they wanted to start making plans for the future." Ron has since ended his relationship with Match.com in favor of being single.

 

The story of Wendy and John started out innocently enough. My telephone rang just after 9pm, and it was Wendy on the other end. She wanted to dish the dirt about John, the newest man she met on the Internet website, DatingFaces.com. She had been doing this a lot lately--interrupting a perfect evening of mindless TV to get in a dither about her latest Internet crush.

A petite woman, Wendy, 33, lives in Windsor and is the kind of optimistic person who envisions a perfect world and knights on white horses. She's the type who invites friends over for "come as your favorite cliché" parties. She can recite chapters from The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right, a bestseller about how women should behave to get their perfect man.

Wendy is twice divorced and has a child still in diapers. Her previous husband had empahtically not been Mr. Right, hiding numerous bottles of liquor around the house and becoming drug-addicted before abandoning her while she was pregnant. Enough time had passed, and there was an air of excitement in her voice as she told me about John, 41, a man she had been corresponding with who had finally asked her to meet. The two were going to have lunch the next day.

After going out for a week, Wendy thought John might be kind of perfect. He was great with her kids, especially the two-year-old. They spent at least six hours a night on the telephone and went out on frequent dates. She remembers a phone call a week or so later when they both decided to make it official and remove their postings from the DatingFaces.com. "It was, like, one, two and three--OK, I deleted my profile," Wendy says.

Sleeping over happened by the third date, and before too long, John was making overtures about wanting them all to be together as a family. John talked about moving them all up to Washington and starting anew. It seemed too good to be true for the single mother living in an affordable housing complex. John had a secure job as a sales manager and owned his own home in Santa Rosa, and the relationship was hot and heavy for about four months.

The romance had some built-in challenges, like the discovery that John had been loaning one of his vehicles to an ex-girlfriend whom he took to lunch regularly. Wendy accepted John's explanation for this indiscretion, and things soon smoothed over. Then, out of the blue, John ended the relationship during a short telephone call. After four months of dating and bonding with her kids, John suddenly had a change of mind and told Wendy that he wanted to "reconsider the relationship"--meaning, he explained, he didn't want to date a woman with children. Wendy slammed down the phone. It took her a week to get over things, but after she was done grieving, Wendy was back on DatingFaces.com seeking new men.

This time, Wendy met Peter, a prematurely gray construction worker in his late thirties, who is clean-cut and doesn't drink. Peter contacted Wendy from her Internet profile, which mentioned her sparkling personality and sense of humor, and featured a photo of her seated on the curb next to her nearly new SUV. Wendy liked that Peter's profile listed that he had children.

Peter estimates that he met at least 50 women over the Internet during a five-year period. One memorable date was with Sally, whom Peter invited over to watch The Devil's Advocate the afternoon following their Friday-night dinner date. About halfway into the film, Sally stood up from the sectional couch and began shifting and contorting her body and making bellowing noises at the top of her lungs.

"I really thought she was mimicking the movie, like she was pretending to have gotten possessed," Peter says. In fact, Sally had started taking new antidepressant medication earlier that day; seizures are among its side effects.

"When she fell to the couch, I knew something was wrong. Her body was stiff as a board and her eyes were rolled to the back of her head," Peter remembers. He called 911, and found himself being grilled by the paramedics.

What's her name?

"I don't know. I only know her first name."

Is she pregnant?

"We just met over the Internet!"

Peter rode with Sally to the hospital and sat with her in the emergency room, where she soon began to recover. He was taken aback when she looked at his rear and announced to the rest of the patients in the room that he had a "nice ass."

The seizure had taken away any feelings of amour Peter may have had for Sally. He did bring her back to his house to spend the night ("I couldn't have forgiven myself if I had let her go home and something happened to her"), and when the fog cleared the next morning, Peter said he tried letting the woman down gently. She stalked him briefly and sent eerie e-mails that indicated she knew his daily routines. But they stopped, and Peter hasn't seen Sally since.

Wendy says she was fond of Peter, calling him a real old-fashioned type of guy. Nonetheless, Wendy soon ended the relationship and continued her search.

A few weeks after Wendy broke up with Peter, John was back, sending her flirtatious notes from DatingFaces.com. After several dozen Internet dates, he now missed Wendy and the kids, and said that he couldn't do without her. Wendy was torn, but ultimately took him back. John was soon back to his old ways, dating other women and breaking up again with her. Today, they are just friends, and a strange bond exists between them that makes having dinner together--even dinner with Wendy's most recent significant other in attendance--seem normal. John states that he has done nothing more than use the Internet as a tool for meeting women. He lists the sites he's joined, which number more than seven, and says that most of the relationships he gets into last about eight weeks.

Claiming that, as busy as he is, it is impossible for him to meet women anywhere other than the Internet, John likes to stay friends with many of the women he has met. His age range for dating is 30 to 53.

Tina is one of John's more successful conquests ("In spite of being 80 pounds heavier than her photo showed her to be"), but he eventually broke up with her via e-mail. Tina was very upset and sent him scorching e-mails and telephone messages. John and Tina eventually became friends again, and he was there for her when her temper flared after being stood up by a new date in a Santa Rosa restaurant.

Tina had been communicating with a man from San Jose for several weeks, trading e-mails during the day and making long-distance phone calls at night. They had finally decided to take the next step and meet for dinner. Tina waited at the restaurant for more than an hour, and when the man didn't show, she went home and left hateful messages on his answering machine. She learned a couple of days later that he had been killed in a car wreck on the afternoon of their date while driving up to meet her.

 

John seems perplexed by the idea that people have branded him as a predator. "Even the guys at work have this perception about me. But it's not like I am having sex with all of women I go out with. In most cases, we're just meeting.

"The way it works is that I will usually e-mail about 10 listings on a website," John explains. "Of those, maybe three or four will reply. You've got to be careful with terminology, differentiating between a coffee date and a first date. About 50 percent of first dates have led to second or third dates." John adds that women tell him he has a "cool personality and is trustworthy." He claims to never have sex on a first date, to never have slept with a woman while dating another and is firm in his conviction that unprotected sex is a no-no.

John is certain he has dated a couple of sex and love addicts, but says that he's not one himself. "In most cases, my intentions have been about honesty and integrity," he said.

For her part, Wendy did wind up meeting a man, one she was certain was Mr. Right. Their romance didn't blossom on a dating website. Instead, Wendy's mother introduced her to a handsome man, and the two dated for several months before Wendy decided to give up her affordable apartment and move in with. She told friends how great he was, how perfect he could be and about the life they were creating together.

That was until the other night, when--with his knee on her chest--she screamed into the telephone receiver for the Santa Rosa Police Department to come rescue her. The boyfriend had showed up drunk, later than expected, and when she questioned him about it, erupted into violence. He pounced on top of her as she screamed into the phone for help. Then he took the phone from her hand and hung up. The SRPD have a policy of calling back, and the person on the phone demanded to speak with Wendy. Patrol cars were on the way. The boyfriend fled, and when it was all over, Wendy and the kids were en route to her mother's house. When she returned the next day to collect some things, he had already changed the locks.

Wendy is resilient and states that she is just happy she had the wherewithal to get out of the relationship as quickly as she could once violence surfaced. She has a support system in place with family and friends, including John, whom she speaks with daily, and Peter, who has been in touch at least once a month since they met.

What had started out as potential love relationships over the world's least personal form of communication may have turned into true friendships. And though it all happened in a roundabout way, Wendy says that she is grateful for at least two of the men she met online.



Words From the Wiser

Advice from a net vet

While it may be true that some of the dates I met online were gainfully employed, shared some of my interests and may even have been physically appealing, I think it is safe to say that I truly have a sense of peace this Valentine's Day--as a single person.

  • If you pick me up for a day of winetasting and insist on stopping at the bar first for a "hair of the dog," you are not the guy for me--and you're definitely not the driver.
  • If we meet for a coffee and I've cut it short, take the rejection with grace and walk away with your dignity intact. Accept that this is not a match. Do not plead your case via e-mailed details about your sexual prowess or past polyamorous love relationships, and do not extend offers to join you at the Exotic Erotic Ball wearing a mask "and nothing else." It will not make you more appealing.
  • If we are at dinner and you blatantly check out every other person of the opposite sex in the room, I will order expensively, dine deeply, refuse to pay and never speak to you again.
  • Needless to say, if I don't return your phone calls after that one date, please don't leave numerous messages on my machine begging for "closure." Buck up and move on. It was only dinner, dude.
  • Do not ask to see my toes at the restaurant, you creep. Fetishes, if they must be introduced at all, should gently seep into the more mature reaches of a long-term relationship, not bandied about over the first course.
  • Unless your mother is in the hospital or you child has a fever, the cell phone belongs in the car. If you are an on-call physician or an underground spy, then--and only then--may you excuse yourself for a private conversation.
  • You were so nice, things were going so well, a connection was felt on every level and then you just had to talk politics. Mine are a tad more compassionate. You are red, I am blue. It's like trying to understand the mind of a crazy person, and it ain't ever gonna happen. Really.
  • Do not ask me on the first date if I want to have children, more children, your children or the spontaneous love children of Johnny Depp. While I realize those women are out there, do not assume that the one you're with shares the need to breed. This is seldom seemly "getting to know you" conversation.
  • Please do not send me unsolicited samples of your writing. Keep your poetry and short stories to yourself until you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would take a bullet for you.
  • Do not be tempted to spring your kinky lifestyle choices on me under the guise of something else. I understand that we are all looking to be understood, but there are websites and support groups for people like you. In enacting the penultimate wrong, a man recently sent me a "short story" that was really a way of introducing me to his fetish of dressing up like a stuffed animal. A thoroughly traumatizing e-mail. You know who you are. For shame!
  • --BnThrDnTht

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    From the February 9-15, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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