A Field of Feisty Unicorns
My adventures in the world of online personal ads.
She sniggered. "Is that the best you can do. 'What do you do?' That's your idea of a great chat-up line?"
"I was just …. We're not … in a bar, I'm just … ."
I was trying to make conversation, not win an Ivor Novello Award, is what I should have said. The more dates I went on, in fact, the more I realized that the qualities you wanted in a date had very little to do with the unicorns you had so lovingly described in the "What I Am Looking For" section. Those you would only meet once, theoretically. The vast majority of your time was going be spent making appointments to have awkward coffee dates with people who looked like they might be right for you on paper, but turned out, after one or maybe two dates not to be, through no fault of their own, or yours, but just because it's damned hard to get a feel for someone from a blurry 5-year-old photo and 10 minutes' worth of tortuously self-advertising, self-deprecating prose. Such a set of circumstances put a high premium on kindness, and courtesy, and a reflexive feel for the other person's feelings. The process wasn't there to help you find some paragon. You were looking for someone to help you survive the process.
Which funnily enough, did turn out to be what I was looking for. I was just beginning to suspect that the whole dating scene was a sham, designed not to enable people to settle down, but the opposite, to keep them in a state of roving dissatisfaction not unlike a game of musical chairs whose ultimate aim was the continuation of its own perpetual motion, when I met the Absolute Luck. That was her handle: the Absolute Luck, so named, I have just been informed, after a line in the song "Absolute Beginners" by The Jam.
A warm-hearted Midwestern girl, "prone to handbag envy" and kind to waiters, she said she smelled "nice" and had a thing for pens. And stationery. "If blue and ballpoint are all I have to choose from in this room, I'll travel to others until I find one that's sufficiently black and extra fine. I'm a fervent proponent of good stationery." She said she was looking for someone who "helps old ladies across the street and roots for underdogs, who knows that love is a decision and a privilege and who forgives me for saying things like that on a site like this. You're nice to your parents, regardless of history. You like great films and bad TV. You have good manners. You're generous in the best sense of the word. And you're out there somewhere."
As Bill Murray says in Groundhog Day: me, me, me, me, and—I'm awfully close on this one—me. We went on a date, during which I told her which bits of my profile were outright lies and which were not. She laughed, not seeming to mind my weaseliness, but neither so enchanted with it that eventual disenchantment would provide us with some third-act plot complication. Or so it turned out. We went on a second date, and then a third, and two years later we were married in a church on 16th Street. The invitation stationery was excellent, the place mats handwritten by her with a beautiful copper-nibbed pen. She smelled really nice.
A lightly fictionalized, Gatsbyesque version of the events described in this article appears in Tom Shone's forthcoming novel, In the Rooms.
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.