Online Dating: Diane Lane I am Not

Until the last month or so, the only thing I ever knew about online dating sites and services was what I’d heard second or third hand and seen in movies. I thought you signed up, paid a fee, filled out a questionnaire, and they found a perfect match for you.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who presumed the same thing since such a scenario seemed to be a major plot point in the movie Sneakers. The collaborators needed to bypass a voice recognition security device, so they had Mary McDonnell pose as a computer date for Stephen Tobolowsky and record the necessary words. All goes well until Ben Kingsley discovers that Mary is supposed to be Stephen’s date. He says, disbelieving, “A computer matched her with him?” And so the story took a turn for the worse for the collaborators.

Now that I know the truth about computer dating — at least the sites I signed up for — the movie seems a bit less riveting.

To the extent that the computers are matching me with anyone (it doesn’t seem as if they are really finding matches, just notifying me of a random mix of people in my current geographical area), they seem to think I am looking for an inarticulate, overweight, tattooed smoker who rides a motorcycle. (Um, no.) The two characters in the movie were a much better match for each other than any I’ve been paired with. In fact, when I was watching the movie, I thought that very thing, that the two characters had a lot in common — both were educated, fastidious, articulate, and lived well.

Another movie that deals with online dating sites as a major plot mover is Must Love Dogs. Diane Lane seemed to find plenty of dates almost immediately, yet after five weeks, I haven’t managed to connect with a single person. Of course, she is Diane Lane, and I obviously am not. Also, the photo used for her profile was her high school photo, and pretzelsthat makes a big difference. As I wrote before, a woman’s desirability online peaks at 21. At 26, women have more online pursuers than men. By 48, men have twice as many online pursuers as women.

What started out as a sort of a leap into the future or maybe even just a fun dating game has fizzled into . . . nothing. One or two men did manage to tear themselves away from their motorcycles long enough to send impersonal replies, another two or three approached me and begged for my phone number and email address first thing as if they thought I were so desperate that I would pass out such information like pretzels at a singles bar. Such tactics might even work — apparently, a lot of people think the computers on the sites have more insight than they do, or the members are so psyched to go out that they go on a date with the first person who makes any sort of move.

I’m used to meeting people online who live on the other side of the mountains, the other side of the country, even the other side of the world, and it is a bit disconcerting to think I am making myself known to locals. Sometimes I wonder if anyone would recognize me if they saw me on the street, but I don’t think they would. So far, I’ve managed to remain invisible, both online and off.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Being is Reason Enough for Living

I saw the 1993 movie Indian Summer the other day, and one scene still haunts me. Alan Arkin takes Diane Lane, whose husband has been dead a year, to see a house on the lake. He tells her the owner died fifteen years previously and, abiding by the old guy’s wishes, he dropped the guy’s body in the center of the lake. The guy’s wife continued to live in the house, and fifteen years later, when she died, Arkin “buried” her next to her husband. Arkin say he should simply have dropped the wife in the lake when the husband died as a not very subtle way of telling Lane to get on with her life.

Oddly, the reinforcement of the idea that after a year we bereft are supposed to set aside our grief and get on with our life (get a guy, in other words) didn’t bother me as much as the implication that the old woman wasted her life by living at the lake alone.

Is living alone a waste? Not everyone gets to be with someone, and even those who do get to be with someone for a while don’t always get to live out their life with that person. So does that mean their lives are a waste? Not everyone is gifted with friends or has the gift of making friends. Does that mean the lives of the friendless are a waste? We’re told repeatedly in songs, movies, stories, poems, greeting cards, that love makes the world go round. But if love doesn’t come to you, does that mean you should just get off the world and let it go round without you?

If living alone is a waste, does that mean every minute you’re not with someone, anyone, you’re wasting your life? Of course not. So what is the break off point? It’s okay to be alone for a day or two? A week? A year? Is it better to be with someone you hate just so that you’re not alone? I don’t believe that, and I hope you don’t either.

Maybe Arkin’s character thought that being isolated made the old woman’s life a waste. As long as her husband was alive, apparently living by the lake was okay, but when he died, what was she supposed to do — give up her cherished home, the clean air, closeness to nature for a dubious life in the city? And if she did move, what would keep her from being even more isolated? Some of the loneliest people are those who live in the midst of others.

Or maybe Arkin’s character assumed the woman was unhappy, though sadness isn’t a reason to think her life was worthless. Happiness itself doesn’t make life worthwhile — it only feels that way.

I don’t suppose this scene would have bothered me so much if I weren’t struggling with these questions in my own life. There is a good chance I will live out the rest of my life alone. That doesn’t mean — can’t mean — my life has no worth. It would be a pathetic state of affairs if being with someone is the only thing that makes life worthwhile.

Being is reason enough for living (which Alan Arkin’s character, the supposedly wise old Unca Lou should have known). Even if we are blessed with love and friendship, the truth still remains: our only obligation to life is to live the best we can for as long as we can — to simply “be.”

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Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”