Wednesday, August 23, 2006

My meMarmony story

I did the math recently--consulted my saved e-mails and my "Closed Matches" list and came up with an actual number. In the past seven months, I have gone on twenty dates, three maybe-dates, and one pre-established non-date with a total of 13 different men. That is, unquestionably, more dates than I had in all of high school, college, and probably most of my 20s combined. It is more dates with strangers than most of my married friends have had in their entire lives. And yet, for all of those awkward drinks and meals and walks around lakes, I find myself no closer to the elusive happy, carefree coupledom that I see pictured on TV and laid out in the pages of the IKEA catalog than I was when I began.

Don't get me wrong. It's surely been an interesting experiment, and it's made for some amusing blog-fodder. But lately, I've found myself thinking like a mad scientist of some sort, wishing, "Oh if only I could have taken Jeff's height and financial status and smartass sense of humor along with Adam's love of movies and live music and combined it with Mike's conversation skills and passion for liberalism and Ken's love of travel... If only I could just order up an amalgam of all the best in each of them... THEN we would really have something!" You can't pick and choose, folks. I do realize this. And no one is perfect, of course. (I'm not even looking for perfect, really--just perfect for me in some way.) The fact that I'm breezing through all of this with the unconscious assumption that "Well, there's more where he came from" means perhaps it's time to take a break for a little while.

I'm exaggerating, of course, on all counts. I'm not honestly tossing guys aside for minor infractions with the thought that someone better will undoubtedly come along in a moment. And I'm not giving up the search entirely; I'm just thinking I might go it on my own for a while, without Dr. Warren's help.

Dr. Warren, for the 95% of you who likely don't know, is the mysterious "man behind the curtain" in the land of Oz that is the site where I found 10 of these 13 men. He's also the guy whose name and face displays on all the emails I've been ignoring lately, reminding me that it's time to renew my subscription. Some of you already know which site I'm referring to. (I mentioned it myself in item 2 of a recent Friday Five.) But I'm not going to note it here, simply because I've had a Sitemeter account long enough to know about search engine activity, and I do not want Stefanie Says to become the unofficial and unwelcome authority on this topic. Therefore, in much the same way Darren pseudo-disguises the name of his former employer (Menguin Mooks), I shall hereafter refer to this particular site as meMarmony.

I've been meaning to talk about my experience with meMarmony for months now, but the whole topic just seems so daunting that I've simply never gotten very far. Where should I begin and what should I include? Should we talk about the suddenly all-pervasive ad campaigns that have taken meMarmony out of the Christian singles groups and into the mainstream? ("meMarmony: it's not just for religious zealots anymore!") Should I explore whether I really believe that Dr. Warren and his band of Internet yentas* are truly matching me only with the men they deem compatible or if it's all smoke and mirrors and they're sending me everyone in the bucket? Perhaps I should just talk about the almost bizarrely constrictive "guided communication" process, where I can't just send off a quick note asking, "Hey--did you go to UW-Eau Claire?"; I first have to answer five multiple choice questions and trade lists of "must haves" and "can't stands" and write a thoughtful response about what color crayon I'd be in the Crayola box of life. Oh wait. That last part may have been an e-mail meme I received recently and not actually a meMarmony question, but you get the idea nonetheless.

* Wikipedia says it's erroneous to use yenta to mean "matchmaker," but I didn't think anyone would get it if I said shadchan instead.

My point is there is much to talk about, and I'm not sure where to begin or how much to include. I'll start with why I picked meMarmony. I picked that site over Match or any of the other popular date-finding sites for several different reasons. Maybe I was actually sucked in by the advertisements claiming it to be where to go when you're ready to find the love of your life. Maybe I wanted to believe in the social science behind all those "dimensions of personality." Maybe I just thought that any man willing to take the time to answer the 346-item personality questionnaire surely must be serious about finding something real and meaningful. Largely, though, I will admit that I simply didn't like the idea of anyone with an Internet connection being able to browse through profiles and locate me. I'm not ashamed of being online; I know almost no one who's been single in the past five years who has not given Match or some similar site a try. But I also know there are a lot of us who lurk, who shop through the profiles just to see who's there, and who can't help but feel a little giddy when we run across a co-worker, or an ex-boyfriend, or a friend-of-a-friend who's always seemed a little "off." I didn't want to be that co-worker, ex-girlfriend, or "off" friend.

With meMarmony, you cannot shop through page after page of profiles. I can see only the men that meMarmony has mysteriously decided are compatible with me, and I see them at the same time as they see me. I actually receive a friendly little email when a new match is available--a form letter with pertinent details filled in as a way to introduce us to one another. It always reminds me a bit of how Jude and Shazzer coached Bridget before the Kafka's Motorbike launch event: "Introduce people with thoughtful details..." For example, "Stefanie, this is David. David lives in St. Paul and enjoys cooking and painting. David, meet Stefanie. Stefanie lives in Minneapolis and likes board games and independent films."

These helpful little details are actually laid out within the profiles I can view... Near the top of the page, beneath the vital stats about the match (you know--name, city, height, shoe size), there's a heading that says "Below are some of the important interests that you and [insert name here] share." This list is followed by three bullet points somehow pulled from our respective questionnaires and resulting personality profiles. Sometimes, it is actually a valid starting point for communication or interest. ("He likes live music? OK..." or "He camps? That's cool...") Other times, I have to wonder why meMarmony even bothered to try finding any common ground at all. "Friendship"? That's an important common interest? Are there people who don't like friends? "Conversation"? Oh, well good. So he's not opposed to speaking to me. And then there are my personal favorites: "Solitude" (maybe we won't talk after all) and "Eating" (hmmm). Not "Dining out," mind you. Just eating. I'm sorry, but to say we both eat food is about as relevant a common ground as to point out that we both wear shoes or breathe air. More important, I wish I could remember what question on the many-item form actually identified this important fact about me. And which possibly fabulous guys am I not being matched with simply because they don't enjoy food like I do?

The remainder of the profile is part questionnaire-drawn and part fill-in-yourself. meMarmony picks three life skills they think you have, for example, and you choose whether to go with their selections or to pick the ones you deem more relevant. Somehow this format seemed entirely less daunting to me than the free-form boxes on Yes, I had to write a few sentences about what I'm looking for and what people do and don't notice about me upon first meeting, but I didn't have to craft a clever 300-word response illustrating just how smart and witty I am.

Also less daunting is the casual step-by-step communication process that meMarmony requires. Yes, I referred to it earlier as "almost bizarrely constrictive," but in truth, I kind of like easing into things with a few multiple choice questions and a list of what's important to me, as opposed to facing the stress of sending strangers a charming and compelling email right off the bat. True, this often means that I don't find out for quite some time that a guy can't spell worth a damn or is far too free with the exclamation points, but maybe that provides some benefit to me. Perhaps it encourages me not to be so quick to judge. Oh, who am I kidding; it does neither of those things, but it does at the very least provide some starter topics for the first free-form email, I suppose.

Another fun aspect of meMarmony is the "Close Match" button that displays at each point of communication. I just click the button and he goes away--removed from my list and my view! No "Wait; give me another chance!" No "Hey bitch, that's OK; I can do better than you." No emailing me repeatedly until I agree to see him again. (OK, none of these things has ever happened to me, actually, but there is a first time for everything, don't you think?)

I shouldn't imply that there's no possibility for feedback when I click the handy "Close" button, though. In truth, the rejected match can send a message back to me, but his message is limited to a checkbox beside a Dr. Warren-sanctioned plea or reason. My explanations for closing the match are also similarly restricted. I can check that "I think the physical distance between us is too great" or "I don't think the chemistry is there," but I cannot say, "I'm sorry, I'm sure you're quite interesting, but 5'5" is just too damn short for a tall girl like me." More importantly, when meMarmony played the cruelest trick of all and matched me with my ex-boyfriend, I couldn't check a "reason for closing" box that said "Because he already broke my heart and is currently screwing someone two-thirds his age." (Yes, meMarmony really matched me with him. No, I didn't even know he was a member. Yes, it was horrifying at the time, but in some way it maybe gave me a shred of faith in the system. We obviously were compatible in many ways or we wouldn't have lasted as long as we did. The fact that meMarmony thought we'd be good together is maybe a reason to believe they know what they're doing. Or maybe not. It's all a crapshoot, I'm sure. I'm going to get out of these parentheses and move on now, OK?)

I've been closed seemingly unreasonably too, of course (I didn't mean to imply I was all in-demand and infallible in the ranks of the meMarmony grid), and in those cases, I guess I've thought it would be nice to have a fill-in-the-blank option as the final checkbox in the list. I realize there's no fill-in because the Doctor wants to keep things from getting ugly, but when a man two years older than I closes the match because "the difference in our ages is too great," I think a retort of "What??" is surely more than reasonable.

I could go on and on about the many amusing things I've seen on meMarmony in the past several months, but I expect you've likely heard enough of my complaints about these men to last for quite some while. Do you want to hear more about the profile typos I've seen? About the guy who was an editor for "a poliical magazine" in town? About the one who said the quality he's most looking for is "a woman who will threat me the same way I threat her"? Or the one who said that the feature people notice first about him is "my intelect," because "people that I've met have always commented on how smart I am"? What about the choices some of them go with for the "most influential person" in their lives? Elton John? Is that a valid choice? Would that make you raise your eyebrows just a tad? (Incidentally, lest you think I am entirely too quick to judge, I did go out with that one despite that bit of info. He's the one I mentioned here and here, and though he was very pleasant and nice to me, I just wasn't feeling it with him.)

I should really stop with the enumerating of offenses, however. I must admit that, for all my stories of absent social skills and superfluous punctuation, I honestly have met several perfectly nice, considerate, intelligent, and sincere men. All of this means nothing, of course, if there's no chemistry or excitement--if we don't make each other laugh or if I'm not thinking about him while at work and feeling anxious about when I'll get to see him next. I haven't found that elusive connection yet, and so the search goes on, even if I take a little break from it now and then. And rest assured that when I get back out there, I'll keep telling you all about it (whether you want me to or not), so you can suffer right alongside all the way.


-R- said...

I can't believe you were matched with an ex!

The whole process sounds very frustrating but also really interesting.

Maliavale said...

I have a friend who filled out the whole questionnaire, however long it took, and matched with no one within 50 miles. He expanded to the state: no one. He expanded to the region: no one. He expanded to the COUNTRY: ONE WOMAN. Who professed to be a vampire, or something of that ilk. I think I blocked out that detail.

I don't know what that accomplishes in telling you, except maybe: you're lucky? And sometimes those sites aren't all they cracked up to be?

The chemistry thing is the hardest part. Maybe you need a break.

nabbalicious said...

Ha! I was going to share the same story that Maliavale did. Aw, that poor guy.

I think you can be matched with someone who is compatible with you in every single way, but if there's no chemistry, what can you do? It's the one thing no questionnaire is going to detect.

Crazy that you were matched with an EX! God, I would have died.

stefanie said...

R--I know, right? And for his profile, he used a picture that *I* took of him on a romantic getaway weekend long ago. Nice. (Is it wrong that I was bothered by that??)

Malia--I've heard stories like that before. Maybe that means they really ARE matching on supposed compatibility and not just sending me anyone in the system? Sucks for your friend, but maybe that's good news for me... By the way, I hope he saw there were no matches before he paid for a membership! I'm surprised the site didn't just reject him if they thought they couldn't match him. I've heard of that happening before, too.

Nabbalicious--I know. The elusive chemistry problem is the issue. Like I said, I've met plenty of perfectly nice guys, but "perfectly nice" just isn't enough.

Darren said...

Oh, no, I know all about shadchan thanks to my Intro to Yiddish class I took my sophomore year of college.

Wow, my head is spinning. As someone who’s never signed up for one of these things, this was a very eye opening post. You have my sympathies.

Guinness_Girl said...

Stefanie - at the same time that I did Match, I took the questionnaire for eHarmony but then figured it wasn't worth spending the money on two different online dating services. I know one other girl who did eHarmony and her experience sounded awful. I just think it sounds so lame! I say quit eHarmony - I always imagine the guys who choose it over Match to be...oh, just less confident. It's okay for a girl to be intimidated by writing a profile, but for a guy? Quit being such a pussyboy and jot out a paragraph or two. Wow, I am sounding very anti-feminist. I can't really explain it.

Anyway - I know the profile is tough, but it can be fun if you treat it like an internet meme. Plus, I did a conference call with my 3 closest friends and a bunch of wine and they helped me. "Okay, y'all. What's my body type? I have five choices: we all know I'm not 'slim', I'm definitely not 'athletic and toned'. Then there's 'average', 'a few extra pounds', and 'curvy'." Friend: "Dude, how insulting to have to put 'average' down!:
Other Friend: "A few extra pounds? WTF?"
Other Friend: "Put 'curvy', GG! That sounds so nice! Currrrvy!"

Okay, maybe you had to be there, but you get the point. AND - I will totally help you.

stefanie said...

Darren--Intro to Yiddish? You're kidding, right? (Sometimes the sarcasm meter malfunctions over email and blog comments.) If there honestly was an Intro to Yiddish class at a Midwestern university, then I will say I'm impressed. At my school, Womens Literature counted as a cultural diversity credit, and I think many of the language classes (outside of Spanish, French, and German) were offered only once every year or two). A diverse environment it was not.

GG--I love how you're trying really hard to give me a free pass just because I'm a woman. Really, I'd love to think it's any harder for a woman to write a profile than a man, but I just don't think that's so. I do agree with you, though, that eHarmony seems to be where a lot of the boring guys are. And I'll totally take you up on your offer for help in crafting a profile for some other Match-like site. :-) What would you say about me?? (You can tell me off-line, but really, I'm curious to know. I asked my "real-life" friends how they'd describe me, and they didn't seem particularly up for that game. Go figure.)

Darren said...

Ha! No, it was a joke. I had to come to New York to meet my first real Jew. So far, I like 'em!

Stinkypaw said...

Really don't know what to tell you, beside be patient, which I know is a lot easier said then done.

Today I actually thought of you while shopping. I came across this sign that said: "I've been on so many blind date, that my next dog should be free"...

Hope things pick up for you.

stefanie said...

Thanks, Stinkypaw. Isn't it funny when you think about "blog-people" as you go about your daily life, as though they're real, "in-person friends"? That happens to me all the time.