Online dating is a lot like online shopping, and I love online shopping. I have been thinking about the parallels a lot lately, as I have recently signed up to Meet Local Singles for the second time.
IRL shopping, to me, is a special occasion I like to look my best for. But online shopping is something else entirely. There are certainly times when all I really want to do is get tipsy at 2 a.m. in my pajamas on the couch while wearing a face mask and eating cheese puffs and do some serious damage on NetAPorter.com.
This is the best part about online dating, too. You are wooing people who don’t know you are a drunk with cheese puffs stuck to your face mask. What could possibly be better? You’ve picked the very best pictures of yourself and you have time to erase any non-witty responses before emailing.
Those are the best similarities, but there are drawbacks too. Imagine deciding that you like a dress, but before you can successfully place the order, the dress has to decide to like you back first. Stupid dress!
A good-looking young buck (probably also at home in his underpants) contacted me, and inquired as to whether I was afraid of heights. Being a cautious shopper, I immediately wondered whether this was because he was taller than me, or because he is 10 years younger and feared that fact might cause me vertigo. When I replied in the negative, he asked if I would be the angel for his Christmas tree.
This young man is like the delightful, ugly Christmas sweater that you have no intention of ever purchasing, but keep clicking on anyway. You almost wish you were brave enough to buy something that stupid, even if you’re only going to wear it once.
There are the guys who are okay at first glance – comparable to items from, say, Forever21.com. In their photos they look trendy but not too trendy, and if they don’t fit, you can just return them. These guys have perfectly nice profiles, but there is always something hidden away in them – they’re on a raw food diet or their favorite author is Ayn Rand. In shopping terms, when these items arrive you’ll realize that they’re 100 percent polyester, make your ass look big, and whoops, their return policy is no returns ever. Sorry!
And then we have the unattainable men. For me, they would be Helmut Lang, Alexander Wang, Jil Sander. I spend a lot of time ogling these clothes online, flipping the numbers of my bank account over and over in my head to see if I will ever be able to justify the price of a laser-cutout leather dress so soft you’d want to use it as a pillow. I get pop-up ads for these items in the same way OKCupid helpfully suggests, “You might like.” Of course I might. I’ve got eyes, don’t I?
You hover your finger to click on a four-star rating, because five stars would be too obvious. The four-star rating is the equivalent of putting that Rick Owens cashmere sweater in your cart and just leaving it there, hoping you might receive an outrageous tax return or a wealthy relative you never heard of will leave you something in their will. It would just be easier to accept that your lottery number is never going to come up.
Online dating is so popular because there is a large part of the population for whom getting asked out by great people they just happen to meet is just not working. Similarly, if you knew about the most amazing, inexpensive, just-your-style-every-time boutique tucked away where no one else knew about it, you probably wouldn’t find yourself on Anthropologie’s sale page on a Saturday night.
I know a perfectly odious woman who once shrieked at a friend of mine during a party, “How could you do online dating? Don’t do it, it’s so sad!” I really wish I’d been brave enough to punch her. If only we’d been at Loehmann’s, or a Black Friday sale, no one would have thought twice.
Which brings me to the key difference between online shopping and online dating: in online shopping, no one’s feelings get hurt. And that’s why I think I’m shutting the online dating thing down again, because of all the terrible feelings involved. I recently had a date with the nicest guy. We had a lot to talk about; he was funny and sweet and all of the other things you hope for on a first date. He kissed me and then — nothing. It was the erotic equivalent of being huddled in a dressing room shouting for someone to bring you this cute cardigan in a larger size, but no one responds to your call. Or texts. Or emails.
If the fruits of your online shopping arrive and things don’t work out, no one is going to feel bad about it. I don’t have to figure out how to break it gently to the dress that it makes my legs look stumpy or that there will be too much static cling if I wear it with tights. If it doesn’t work out with a guy, I actually have to say something about it. I don’t get to send him a postcard, checking the box that says, “Just not what I was expecting.”
Maybe all this will make me more mindful of how I treat people. Hopefully, it will encourage me to spend a lot more time out in the world, rather than hiding behind my computer. Maybe I’ll even stop online shopping.
One of those statements is definitely a lie.