Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Not OK Cupid

A series on the stuff that delighted us on the Internet this year.

I grew up in Massachusetts but at the other end of the state from Boston, so I never really got into the Boston Globe. Not that I imagine my friends who grew up near Boston were all obsessed with the Boston Globe or anything. God, I am being so boring right now, aren't I? This boringness is not something I would indulge in on a blind date. But what I am trying to do—and this is a segue I would never use on a blind date—is talk about my absolute favorite thing on the internet, which is the Boston Globe feature Dinner With Cupid. (But wait – is it really called Dinner With Cupid? It is! But wait. Is it still 1992? It's not! So how is it called Dinner W… I don't know I don't know I don't know!) I feel that I have to clarify that although Dinner With Cupid is my favorite thing on the Internet I actually discovered it in print. (Oh my God, that is so interesssttttting. What? You don't think so? You don't think that's interesting? You think I'm wasting your time with that particular clarification? And wasting it in general? You don't want to go out with me again? But I am well read! I'm in good shape for my age and I'm a professional working in my field goddammit what the hell is wrong with you? ) Oh… I'm SO sorry. I just found myself in an alternate universe I try to inhabit as much as possible called Dinner with Cupid, where Boston singles are sent out on a blind date which they then report on in a lively 500-600 word feature.

My parents are regular readers of DWC. "I would never tell people this stuff," says my father, Roland Miller, 74, a retired school superintendent. "Oh my God, did he really say that to her???? In a restaurant?" wonders my mother, Judith Miller, 75, a retired professor of education. Neither of them has been on a date since 1960, and yet, when I took them into separate rooms and asked them why they enjoy reading Dinner With Cupid, each replied, "I strangely enjoy the feeling of abject terror that pools horribly in my loins and then winds a dark and sinister path through my limbs to my very extremities at the idea that I would ever have to meet a stranger and then report on the event to the 3,992 readers of the Boston Globe." Is that amazing? Now that, sadly, that's the kind of compatibility the Dinner With Cupid people are looking for!

Dinner With Cupid always tells you a little bit about each person before they meet. You see that he is an electrical engineer who loves kids. That she is a bookworm. She loves to swim. He loves Israel. It's kind of like getting a description of two trains hurtling toward each other on the same track at top speed, except that with the trains, you know they are actually going to collide and there will be a big satisfying BOOM. With Dinner With Cupid, it’s more like one train keeps moving at top speed while the other one tries to turn around. Or that just before colliding each train miraculously turns into a piece of soggy toast, and sits alone on its track, growing spores.

My favorite Dinner With Cupid is probably the one with this headline: Will these two Middle Eastern Americans form an alliance? The photo made me apprehensive. She looked intellectual. He looked like he was really into his Mercedes. Anyway, the answer is no, they did not make an alliance. And we know this about 150 words into the piece, when the man says, "I was not attracted to her at all. She did not have any of the physical features which I find attractive in a woman." She is not smitten either, but she is at least more polite: "The conversation was intellectually stimulating, but there was not much of a spark." He continues with his general course of unsubtlety: "As soon as I saw her, I wanted to leave."

"As soon as I saw her, I wanted to leave."

We know that people feel such things. We ourselves have felt such things. But to put this into print? It could be seen as bold or honest, but there’s nothing in the reading of this admission that triggers any of the emotions generally associated with being in the presence of bold honesty, like say, empathy, or even recognition. All you can think is, wow, that guy said that knowing she would read it and he is out walking around in the world like, “No big deal! I’m just going to go home and make out with my Mercedes.”

That said, as long as we’re on a theme of pretty fucking chilling, let’s move from the participants to the people at the Globe who take Dinner With Cupid on its journey from date to page. The subheads in this piece are worth paying attention to. The "alliance" theme, announced at the start, plays out with more subheads based on the political unrest in the Middle East: first the couple is "establishing a dialogue," then they are "searching for unity," finally, "cutting off talks." If Gilbert and Sullivan were alive today I very much doubt they would produce a light opera about the life and death of Anwar Sadat, but you get the sense that this is the sort of art for which the editorial presence behind Dinner with Cupid may pine.

An almost poignant feature ("almost" is DWC’s stock in trade: it’s almost an article, about almost people, almost having an experience) of the column is the extent to which its participants say they want to have a relationship but seem utterly horrified that the people with whom they might have these relationships are not exactly like them. (Everyone is like this, of course, but again, to know this and to see it written are two different things.) She's "a little short for my taste" and "I asked if she liked Quentin Tarantino movies, and she didn’t know who that was," reports a 24-year-old job coach whose favorite thing—favorite thing on God's green earth—is "drinking beer on the beach." You'd think maybe he could give this short non-Tarantino fan a little slack… oh, but she's had three glasses of wine to get ready for the date, and she's in her 20s. But what makes her unsuitable for a relationship isn't that she has to be drunk to talk to people, but that she doesn't know a certain movie director. Here's a woman in her 30s describing her date: "The one real deal breaker was when I was talking about my recent trip to Chicago. I mentioned I saw the Cubs play the White Sox at US Cellular Field, and he didn't know that both teams are from Chicago." Well, you go girl! You know your worth. You deserve a man that knows which two baseball teams are from Chicago, and don't you ever settle for less!

Then there are the (sad) dates where you think everything is going along really well.

JASON I found her attractive. She had amazing eyes and a really nice smile.
MOLLY He was cute — I liked that he had thick hair and seemed to be in good shape.

And later:

MOLLY His all-time favorite movie is Clue, which definitely earned him
some points.

Clue? Clue? If they both love Clue, they have to get married. Right?

JASON I felt comfortable because she had a warm personality. As the date went on, we discovered various things we had in common and didn't mind sharing some personal information.
MOLLY Jason was really nice and normal, so the conversation was really easy.
JASON Molly was attractive the entire night; I enjoyed looking into her eyes.

And you think great, okay, wonderful. But then, Molly doesn't like him. "I see friendship potential." Okay, Molly, guess what? You just said "friendship potential," and you know what that is? It is so totally the password to get into the secret underground beyatch club.

Still, it would be nice to feel that when someone like Molly doesn't like a nice guy like Jason she has somehow betrayed us, the reader who is rooting for these crazy kids to make it work. But How Can A Robot Betray You? How can you root for a robot? What I keep discovering as I delve deeper and dinner into the Dinner With Cupid archives is that everyone who participates in it is a robot looking for another robot with their exact programming. When it works out (it almost never does) you're not like, oh, great, love! It's like being in a hardware store and matching up the serial number for a light bulb you wrote in felt pen on your hand with the one on the shelf. Only less exciting.

Here are some lines that I think prove the people doing Dinner With Cupid are robots.

I had some photos on my phone, which prompted some laughter.

She enjoys drinking and works at a store that sells alcohol.

I don't think I can be with someone who is in hospitality.

I went home to get dressed for the date. I didn't have any shirts to wear, so I rushed to the mall.

We both have an older sibling that lives in Florida — fun fact.

There is always a photo. The number of guys wearing backwards baseball hats is upsetting.

It often seems like whoever plans these dates don't have a lot to work with and will just put anyone together if they are roughly the same age. Like the Ivy League-educated guy who is going out with a girl whose idea of happiness is "a cooler full of Bud Light Limes." She thinks he's great; he thinks she has big hair. It's sad. "What are Bud Light Limes?" my mother asked when she read this. "You don't want to know." I said. I heard her tapping away at her keyboard. A few seconds later, she gasped. "Why do they invent stuff like that? Oh my. Well, I don't know how they were ever going to get along."

Previously in series: Cabinet of Curiosities: The Internet's Creepiest Corners

Sarah Miller is the author of Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn and The Other Girl, which are for teens but adults can read on the beach. She lives in Nevada City, CA.

21 Comments / Post A Comment

sunnyciegos (#551)

Date Lab in the Washington Post is the same thing and also just the BEST.

WaityKatie (#79,377)

@sunnyciegos NEVER read the online Date Lab comments though. They are the woooorrrrsssstttt!

bnna (#240,111)

@WaityKatie OMG the comments! I only read date lab in print when I am at my parents house, it never even occurred to me I could add it to my online routine in my real life!

3penny (#233,941)

@sunnyciegos It IS–hilarious and terrible, and amen about not reading the comments. One of my ex BFs got written up in it (you can check the archives: he's the one who isn't a raging scary weirdo), and it sounds like the date like a pleasant evening with no chemistry. But the online commenters absolutely savaged his date for being up-front about the lack of physical attraction, even though both of them said that they had a lot in common and would make good friends. SHE DID NOT INSTANTLY FLING HERSELF AT AN AVAILABLE MAN; BURN THE WITCH.

WaityKatie (#79,377)

@3penny How dare she??? NO WONDER SHE'S ALOOOOONEEEE. Yeah, it's always "so and so had better lower her standards, because she's 27 already and clearly needs to lose 20-30 pounds, but even if she does she'll still be OLD."

deepomega (#1,720)

I always thought that with this (or, what I used to read, the above-mentioned Date Lab) the problem is actually that people are shitty about talking honestly about their dates to strangers who work at newspapers. I GUARANTEE that what Molly would have said if she were drunk and talking to her friends is "he was fine but SUPER BORING, who cares about Clue!"

Danzig! (#5,318)

A friend of mine in Scotland participated in the Guardian's equivalent feature and she is dreading the coming print story about it. Apparently she got matched with one of those dreadful fedora people. I can't help but think it was sadism on the part of the paper.

gobblegirl (#239,837)

@Danzig! "one of those dreadful fedora people" made me laugh just as hard as this article (ie, a lot, and out loud).

WaityKatie (#79,377)

@gobblegirl In my circle, they are known as "fedouches."

questingbeast (#201,738)

@Danzig! I'd give them the benefit of the doubt. After a while the Guardian probably has such a backlog of fedora people that they have to give one to some poor sucker.

(I love Guardian Blind Date, mainly because it's only about 50 words each. You have to reaaaallly read between the lines to work out how badly it went.)

Danzig! (#5,318)

@WaityKatie Do keep in mind that there are also "porkpie" and "flat cap" variations within the species, and you'll have to perform qualitative interviews to rule out the possibility that said variations are not fedora people but in fact "ska band people", a harmless (if annoying) species often confused for fedora people.

I went to see a show recently with some friends and a friend-of-friend who was clearly a fedora person of the flatcap variety got a little too drunk and waay too into the music, but he started getting really handsy with the women we went with so I spent a lot of the night positioning myself between him and them. Drag.

nonvolleyball (#9,329)

okay, off to read the entire archives of MDwC.

brooklebee (#237,441)

@nonvolleyball I know! There goes my evening.

Also, Sarah, I recently went to a concert in Nevada City and now I want to live there too! It was a lovely place, although I imagine the touristness is probably annoying for residents.

I think there is something to be said for rejecting people for not knowing seemingly unimportant things. A) if you are willing to reject someone for not knowing that the Cubs and the White Sox are both Chicago teams, then there is clearly no spark. If there were a spark, you would be willing to teach them about baseball. B) if you are super into something and the other person is completely oblivious to anything about it, it can be hard to establish a rapport. Again, it could be something that you could share and you could have fun sharing it with them (various guys I have dated have introduced me to the wonders of modern art, graphic novels, Farscape and assorted other things). Honestly, I think not knowing who Quentin Tarantino is would show a level of pop-culture ignorance that I would find a wee bit off-putting (and I refuse to watch his movies).

"Friendship potential" is what you should look for in all your romantic relationships! You can't fuck all the time; you have to be able to hang out and enjoy each other when you're conscious and vertical. I think what Molly means is "he was nice but there's no spark" but I think some women (and men) think that romance should be more dramatic and over-the-top than it really is, sometimes. A nice guy you can bone, hang out with and whose housekeeping won't make you homicidal. That's all you need.

sheistolerable (#180,103)

I find it quite plausible that one phrase out of my date's lips could kill the evening.

How about this: "I don't really read"

greenteasundae (#10,241)

@sheistolerable "Have you ever thought of dyeing your hair?"

Bittersweet (#765)

@sheistolerable "My favorite author is Ayn Rand."

djbsquared (#4,729)

@sheistolerable "Of course I love books. You just never know what's going to happen when you pull the tab!"

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@Bittersweet If the evening has progressed to the late-enough stages of getting undressed, I would get past that. And, if it has progressed through enough kinky sex, hearing a phrase like that could even help things along.

GailPink (#9,712)

"What I keep discovering as I delve deeper and dinner into the Dinner With Cupid archives is that everyone who participates in it is a robot looking for another robot with their exact programming. When it works out (it almost never does) you're not like, oh, great, love! It's like being in a hardware store and matching up the serial number for a light bulb you wrote in felt pen on your hand with the one on the shelf. Only less exciting." This is exactly why I stopped having "relationships."

Bostonienne (#240,125)

Ok, true story: before we met, my boyfriend actually went on one of these Dinner with Cupid dates for the Globe (obviously we're in Boston). The girl they matched him with was ok, nice enough but a little young for him and there wasn't really a connection. However, either at the end of the date or afterwards they found out that they both have the same fairly common, Italian last name, and she FREAKED OUT. Like, she thought the Globe was trying to trick her into banging her cousin or something (they were not related). As a result, the story was never published. Much to my chagrin- I'd love to read it.

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