A Field of Feisty Unicorns
My adventures in the world of online personal ads.
"Ah. I see," she said. "Well. That would explain why you put yoga as a hobby. After all the times I asked you! I mean, if the question had been: things my last girlfriend asked me to do but I never got around to, that would have been an honest answer. As a profile of me that would have been an honest answer—"
This was true. D had frequently asked me if I wanted to attend yoga classes with her, and I had frequently expressed an interest, seeing as how attractive I found the slightly mystical air it lent her, but by the time the date of the class had swung around, I always found myself asking whether one person with a mystical air was enough for the relationship. Wasn't that the point? They completed you. Now that we'd broken up, I needed completing again, so when it came to the "Hobbies & Interests," I'd ticked "yoga." And "baking." I'd always wanted to do more baking since arriving in New York.
"I am interested! That makes it an interest!"
"—and baking! OK, here's a tip, Tom. If you're going to put baking as a hobby, then when they then ask you about the items you have in your refrigerator, don't put 'a bottle of Champagne,' and 'a chocolate bar.' You can't bake with Champagne and chocolate."
I thought hard for a recipe that used Champagne and chocolate but came up short. Something was bothering me about this conversation, something nagging at the periphery of my consciousness that I couldn't put my finger on. Suddenly it came to me. But of course!
"How come you were reading my profile?"
There was silence on the other end of the phone.
"A friend of mine is a member," said D—finally.
"Ah. A friend," I cried, jubilantly, feeling the power of my newfound victimhood surging up beneath me, like a submarine beneath the feet of a drowning man. "Of course. Right. How silly of me. A friend."
Hanging up, I no longer felt so victorious, merely flat and kind of washed out in a way that left nobody looking good. A friend consoled me: This sort of thing happens all the time, he said. Online dating sites are the first port of call for anyone who's just been through a breakup—they're a great pick-em-up, a brave foot forward, a reminder there are more fish in sea, etcetera and so forth. He'd spent several months during the summer circling, and being circled by, his ex on one of the dating sites, his heartbreak over seeing her on the thing in June matched only his heartbreak when she disappeared from it in late August.
"So people actually use these things to meet people, then?" I asked.
"Oh yeah," he said, distant look in his eyes. I'd lost him. "You should definitely stick with it."
So I did. I went on a few dates, avoiding the ones that asked for a "good cristian man" but couldn't spell Christian, or which promised to "be good to u": Those were Russian mail-order brides. I also learned to give a wide berth to anyone describing themselves as "feisty," which turned out to mean someone who has parlayed every last gram of their perceived sexual power into a combative conversational style which mistakes obstreperousness for screwball-era badinage. I should have known from her statement that "feisty" liked to sing out of car windows, even when they were stopped at lights. At least it only got as far as one late-night telephone conversation that, after a few minutes of tedious verbal badminton, which I'm guessing to her ears sounded tricksy and sophisticated, I attempted to steer toward an exchange of more basic information. What did she do, I asked?
There was a pause. "Is that the best you can do?" she asked.
Tom Shone is film critic of Intelligent Life and the author of Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Summer
Illustration by Robert Neubecker.