I still remember my feeling of slightly judgmental surprise when Susan* told me she had signed up for match.com and eharmony.com.
“But we're only juniors!” I said. “You're too young. Maybe one day, like when I'm 30 and desperate, I'll look into online dating...” I realized I was coming off as totally judgmental, so I tried to temper my criticism. “I mean, there's nothing wrong with online dating. A couple from my church met that way, and now they're married with two darling sons. It's just... I feel as though you're prettier and smarter than the townies.”
Susan was one of my roommates junior year. My best friend Rose* was always asleep when I got back to our apartment each night after the library closed, but Susan and Jade* were usually still awake and eager to gossip about the men in our lives. Jade always talked about her boyfriend, I always sighed about my best friend Mark,* but this was the first time Susan had really giggled about a guy. A guy she'd met online.
Jade and I were both dubious. It just seemed... weird. And desperate. And frankly? Not something that beautiful, smart, southern girls did.
Fast forward several years. Not only do I have an account at okcupid.com, but I met my boyfriend (!!!) via OKC.
How the hell did this happen?
Rewind back to when I was teaching English in France, working in a smallish town near Poitiers. One night in December, I was very sick. Sneezing, coughing, running a high fever... I was miserable, stuck in bed, and bored out of mind. So what did I do?
Take silly online personality quizzes of course!
I stumbled upon this site with really good quizzes. After each quiz I took, I was prompted to save my results by creating a profile. After maybe the third quiz, I gave in and created a profile. Like I said, I was very sick, and I realized there was a good chance I would be stuck at home for several more days. It was only after I had filled in all the details and had created a profile that the horrible truth dawned on me.
I had signed up for gulp online dating.
The shock! The horror! The inadvertent sign of desperation! What had I done?!
My initial reaction was to delete my account, immediately. However, curiosity got the best of me. I decided it couldn't hurt just to see if anyone used OKC in France. I had already used couchsurfing.org as a way to meet people (and celebrate Thanksgiving!), so I thought OKC had the potential to make new friends.
Not date anyone, mind you. Just make new friends.
Ha, yeah, riiiiiiight...
I answered some questions and decided to do a search for my highest match percentage in all of France. Who did I find? A recent college grad from my school's rival school (so clearly he was highly intelligent), looking into Ph.D. programs (a love of higher education!), teaching English in France (just like I was!). And he was cute, southern, nerdy, and bespectacled. Like... what more could I ask for...?
...In a friend, of course. I didn't want to date him or anything. Just, you know, possibly make a new friend with a fellow English Teaching Assistant. That was it. C'est tout.
I very carefully and cleverly composed a message to him. Y'all might not have realized by now, but I really enjoy writing, and I take my time with it. I needed to come off as cute, as witty, as interesting... but not too friendly, too eager, too anything. My message subject was “Five Reasons Why We Should Be Friends,” with a subheading entitled “(and one why we shouldn't).”
I nervously waited approximately 24 hours until he finally replied. What did he say?
“That was the greatest introduction message I've ever seen.”
From there Ron and I started exchanging increasingly longer and longer messages until a few weeks later, when we were finally able to meet up for a drink in Paris. I was traveling with my friend Kristine* for the holidays, and we were spending a few days for New Year's in Paris. We agreed to meet one afternoon by the Fontaine Saint-Michel.
I was soooo nervous. What if I didn't recognize him from his pictures? What if it was awkward? What if he and Kristine didn't get along? What if he was more into me than I was into him? I mean, I had like, a thousand thoughts running through my mind.
All of my fears were completely unfounded. It was great. Ron, Kristine, and I easily passed a few hours drinking vin chaud and chatting about everything. I felt completely at ease with him, and as Kristine pointed out later, he was very attentive to everything I had to say and seemed genuinely interested in me.
We only saw each other infrequently over the next several months. We met up again in Paris in February, for a just a few hours the Friday morning that I arrived from Nice and he set out for Nice. I took him to Shakespeare & Co., aka my favorite bookstore in the world. We both bought some secondhand books and never stopped talking, joking, enjoying each other's company the whole time.
Ron came to visit me a few weeks later in my middle-of-nowhere town near Poitiers, a pretty good sign he liked me. His first night in town, we watched a movie on his laptop after dinner. Throughout the movie we kept inching closer and closer towards each other on the futon until our knees overlapped and my head rested on his shoulder.
After the movie, the nearness of him was almost overwhelming. I thought my heart was going to leap out of my chest it was pounding so hard. I finally decided that as much fun as I was having with the anticipation and the build up, it had been going on for at least an hour, and I was ready to do something about it. I had never ever in a million years done this nor did I ever think I would be brave enough to do this.
I shifted and leaned over and kissed him.
The anticipation was totally worth the hype. Like I said, fucking hell. Just... damn. Soon enough I was topless; shortly afterward he was shirtless. Ron was such a gentleman, though, totally cool with my comment, "Before I take my shirt off, you know we're just making out, right?" Anyway who thinks that specifying your limits in the middle of hooking up 'ruins the moment' is crazy. It was not a problem at all. And then I didn't have to worry about anything going too far or having to stop or anything. The whole thing was just fucking hot.
The rest of the weekend passed by in a blur of cooking, watching movies, touring museums, cuddling, drinking wine, laughing, and making out. Ron slept on the futon the first two nights, but we fell asleep together in my tiny French single bed his last night. That was my first time sharing a bed with a guy I liked, and it was truly lovely.
We never labeled our fling, but I was okay with that. We both had some other complicated things going on in our lives, and it was nice just enjoying each other's company. We did our best to meet up every time I was in Paris, but that was only a handful of times. Still. It was fun. Ron even got to meet the aforementioned best friend Mark, who flew out to spend eleven days with me in Paris, London, and Nice. I did mention we both had other complicated things going on, right?
I haven't seen Ron since we were both in France, but we still IM frequently and talk on the phone occasionally. He's actually in grad school in my home state, but I'm home so infrequently that I haven't actually had a chance to visit him. Oh, and, completely independent of me, he's met my best friend (and first kiss) Joe. Small world...
My very first encounter with online dating ended up being very successful, which led to subsequent attempts to repeat said success. Sadly, they were mostly less successful, more awkward, once downright awful attempts at online dating...
But eventually I did meet the boyfriend, so, really, I have no complaints. :)
It turns out that beautiful, smart, southern girls do benefit from online dating after all!
*Not their real names
*Not their real names