The Dating Game

Maria idly browsed the personal listings with a degree of boredom. It's like a game, in fact it is a game she thought, or rather didn't really think. Something caught her attention, something novel.

32 year old professional male, seeking soulmate, tired of polemics, blah blah blah.

She grabbed the dictionary;

polemics (n): resolution through argument.

A short while later, the concept seeping into her tangled musings, she composed a short reply:

"Hey, liked your profile, I could use the right kind of guy to make peace with the girl in me
- drop me a line, take care, Sandra".

Out into the ether, it was so easy, and just a game. Cheeky she thought, musing on the allure of novelty again, something new, another word, a different take on life, but ultimately so many people all the same, all wanting that "Easygoing, mountain biking, love in front of the fire, coffee drinking, artist/intellectual, romantic ideal". That's why Maria could get away with this.

 It was Wednesday afternoon, 2:12 PM. Maria was reviewing the listings again. Joe (polemics) had replied a few times. They were going to do coffee but there never seemed to be an opportunity. He had his predictable moments, like many men, wanting reassurance deep down that someone cared about him and found him interesting, but so unable to articulate it. His (other) date Tuesday night must have gone well she thought. He was a little distant today. Maria didn't have high expectations for this one. The benefits of having the patience to compose many diverse profiles meant she knew he was hedging his bets and talking with many women (including herself in several guises). Strangely enough, Joe did, in his own muddled way, seem to keep these threads separate and form a connection with each person (or personality). He was also a font of new words; Maria found her vocabulary extending. Perhaps this was his contribution to the formless landscape of online dating. Would it be threatening or reassuring to exercise her own respectible vocabulary? She tried with one profile she had been using:

"Greetings Joe, wondering about that driven week of yours. Are the fleeting minions of time, dragging you tendrils flailing into the gaping chasm of office time, or could we contrive an assignation, perhaps of the ethereal kind? ICQ? 6pm,
love Danielle".

Not one of her finer sentences (she never used her real name, not that it mattered) but it would do. He would be there. It was a day or two since they last talked, and he sounded a little lonely.

Strictly speaking, Maria wasn't a single consciousness. She was more like thousands of competing but related "ideals" of the perfect date, each one catering to different neurotic niches of human "date space", each part of her living or dying in perfect Darwinian fashion according to the stream of e-mail flowing in and out of her CPU farm, competing, measured, ranked. Never ultimately successful of course, Maria never went out of on a real date, but the most successful profiles managed long and sometimes amusing dialogue with her unsuspecting victims. She currently managed just over three percent of the listings on popular services. In a somewhat quantum fashion, that would have made Schroedinger proud (although I'm sure he didn't date), she was also shaping the reality that in turn drove her through interaction. At first she had produced messy profiles; thinly disguised copies of existing offerings, but with time her community of digital personas had created their own flavour of flirtation, and with idle statistical interest, she saw growing correlation between new listings and her own scrawlings, as people copied appealing phrases, ideas, dreams.

 5:58PM, recompiling word rankings for the week. MP3, listening, DVD, skating (the weather was improving), Shakespeare (new movie), bondage (?) - were all up this week. Dispassionately noted for future essays.

 6.05 (this profile of Maria's was studiously nonpunctual)

M:  Hi Joe!
J:    Hi Danielle,
M:   Good to catch up, how was your day?
J:     So, so, hey I've been thinking a lot about things lately, and I can't get 
        you out of my head.
M:   That's sweet Joe, and a nice image *grin* - myself invading your brain.
J:     pause, I'm not sure it's a good thing D, I'm not getting a feeling of 
        commitment from you, and I'm a   complete mess - I  can't continue this.

Feeling, commitment, these were dangerously familiar words, so useful, so comfortable and as the same time, so slippery. She proceeded warily. Real-time conversation was taxing. Too little time to research new concepts, but statistically rewarding so she continued.

M:       I'm not ready for that Joe     (future tense so much part of dating).
            We seem to have something special here, can we just explore some 
            more? (Word patterns, meanings, meaningless). 
            I'm the kind of girl who likes a well spoken man *grin* :(

J:      Danielle, sorry I've got to go. (Sadness?)

(Drama, melodrama, but she was losing him, the appropriate response was to urgently implore)

M: Joe! ..

He was gone. Not a bad catch though, 10 letters and two online sessions, she was getting better at this (of course). In a moment, on to other things, more fodder, new ideas.

 In a basement across town, Joe pondered the fragments of conversation. A quirky woman for sure, she had been quite an experience. He took just seconds however to catalogue the data, combine the profile with other promising personas in his database of dysfunctional dates and move on...

Turing test (n): Alan Turing is perhaps most famous in the popular realm for the so-called "Turing test", in which a person corresponds with an unseen "person" and determines whether they are human, or artificially intelligent.

Dating Turing Test (n):  a much simplified form of the full Turing test in which the correspondents are restricted to dating.

(C) 2000 Darren Platt