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Sex And The Cyber City

by Gerald Nachman

After pondering it for ten years, I bravely decided to sign up with an online dating service—more out of curiosity than expectations of actually meeting anybody viable, let alone adorable and ideal. When I divulged this move to friends, they beamed and cried, “Hey, terrific!” I suspect they’d like someone to take me off their hands when I turn 90.

In the mid-1980s, I wrote a column for The Chronicle called “The Single Life”—in the era before online dating became an industry—all about the ups and downs and sideways life of bachelorhood. It was fun while it lasted, generating intense love or hate reader response. In the line of duty, I went to an in-person dating agency, had a date, and decided it was not the way to go. Twenty-five years later, I’ve decided to give matchmaking a second try.

Online dating, like everything else, has become so hyped, streamlined, convoluted, corporate, and impersonal that it’s all I could do to figure out how to proceed. The mere logistics of writing a profile, attaching a suitable photo, devising an anonymous handle, and then figuring out how to respond to dropped e-hankies, nearly did me in.

A singles bar suddenly seemed a lot simpler and more efficient, but there are no singles bars for codgers (serving warm milk), so I signed up with a senior cyber dating service, although the idea of people my age “dating” seems bizarre, if not embarrassing.

Online dating is for those who are patient, brave, resilient, and adventurous, none of which describes me. The first daunting task was coming up with a profile that didn’t make me want to hoot or shrink. You need to appear peppy and full of fun, and yet smart and interesting, all without sounding like an idiot, a loser, or a phony; a fine line to walk.

To get into the swing of things, I read several profiles by women dangling their photos before me. All claimed to be up for almost anything (so as not to discourage any live ones). They love to go dancing, but they also love to stay home and read. They want a serious relationship, but are totally independent. Just like a quarter century ago, today’s single women are all crazy about long walks on the beach and wild about dogs.

I’ve taken about two long walks on the beach in my life, once when I forgot where my car was and once when I left my shoes in the sand. I might be persuaded to take a short walk on a beach. The fact is, I don’t like beaches to walk on and, in fact, find walking on any surface a dubious pastime.

And the whole dog thing can be a major deal breaker. One woman asked me point blank, “Do you like dogs?” The honest answer is: it depends who’s at the other end of the leash. I’m not crazy about dogs, but I faked it by recalling the black lab I had as a kid, and (to show my basic humanity) mentioned I had once taken in a stray cat but had to give her away when my boyhood asthma kicked in.

Last Thanksgiving, I was surrounded by four dogs (two labs and two poodles) and it took great effort to shove the biggest dog—aptly named Bear—from underfoot at dinner. The hostess took a photo of Bear and me, and we look like great pals. She pronounced it “so-o-o adorable” and guaranteed that if I used that photo online, it would attract bevies of gals. To single women, no doubt a single guy with a dog is catnip (dognip?).

My first profile effort parodied those I’d read, which a woman friend pronounced too wise-guy, a sure turn-off. It took everything I had to compose, with a straight face, a brief outline of my interests and how I’ve spent my life—informative, but pretty boring, more like a résumé than a revealing, inviting self-portrait.

For my handle, I came up with “greatcatch,” which was meant ironically once you gaze at the photo underneath it, but then it occurred to me that most women would take it seriously and think “arrogant jerk.” So I decided to amend it, but, like most things online, couldn’t figure out how to do it, so I remain an arrogant jerk.

Even so, to my amazement I have heard from several women, six of whom seemed possible candidates, so I sent back “flirts” or “winks” to show my (guarded) interest. Two responded. One bowed out after a “chat” with me and the other woman, dubbed “Mysterywoman,” has exchanged a few chats.

Most women who responded didn’t make the first cut, alas. I was forced to ruthlessly hit the delete button and eliminate them one by one in a photo gallery that asks: “Interested? Not Interested? Maybe?” It’s a cruel game.

Meanwhile, I’ve been inundated by two pesky rival online dating services, the gigantic and something called, both of which send me hourly alerts that scads of women are dying to meet me—“You caught someone’s attention!” or “Someone has winked at you!” Some 22 women now are desperate to meet me. When I tried to see who they are, I learned it would cost me another subscription to find out. I’m still awaiting word from “Mysterywoman,” but it might be over already between us. Perhaps Bear can find someone for me if I show him a female photo and yell, “Fetch!”


     Gerald Nachman is a former SFChronicle columnist and critic, and the author of Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s, Raised on Radio, and Right Here on Our Stage Tonight!: Ed Sullivan’s America.

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