For the most part, my aversion to online dating is about vanity. Simply put, I think that I'm too attractive, too interesting and too young to need to subject myself to the trauma of courting on the Internet.
But there's another reason, too — it's that I love a story. One of my favorite parts of dating is a charming "how we met" anecdote. And I'm sorry, but there's nothing charming about eHarmony. So when someone I know admitted that part of getting over his first love meant realizing that he'd been "in love with the story" — the two of them met in the desert in Israel — I immediately recognized my own experience.
Specifically, I recognized my Missed Connection. It was the Internet that brought us together, ironically, but there was plot. We made eye contact on a Brooklyn-bound F train and then found one another through the Missed Connections page on Craigslist. I posted the ad, for the first time in my life, and he hadn't even heard of the site until reading about it in the Times Book Review two weeks prior.
On our first date, he unassumingly disclosed a critical mass of Ideal Boyfriend qualities: he was 6-foot-5 and a lawyer for a labor union. He asked me questions and read the New Yorker. He had become an ordained minister online so that he could perform the weddings of both of his younger sisters.
He was so completely good-natured that, initially, my attraction vanished. (I questioned my sexuality the way I had after the first time I kissed an attractive man and felt nothing — only years later realizing it was because he was meek and unintelligent.) But the story of my Missed Connection was so compelling that I persevered, eventually convincing myself that I should probably marry him. When life plans pulled us apart after just three months of dating, I felt devastated. Recently, though, when our paths crossed briefly for beers and conversation, we had a great time — but the chemistry wasn't there. I had to admit that, on some level, it never truly was.
Sometimes we encounter the opposite: We find the connection, but not the story. The other night I talked with a friend who is navigating an increasingly serious relationship. Outwardly creative and liberal, she always anticipated that she'd end up with someone similar. The man she's dating isn't: He's clean-cut and has a "conventional" job. He's right for her in deeper, more fundamental ways — but she admits it's a struggle to accept that, superficially, he's not what she thought she wanted. He doesn't reflect the story she believed about herself.
No matter where we meet people — on the subway or online — all of us make up stories that reinforce notions of our relationships and ourselves. It's the way we make sense of the world: I'm not sure any of us could survive without giving our lives some compelling plotlines. I certainly couldn't. But even as I do, I will try to remember that any connection I'm lucky enough to find with someone is far more important than whatever story that connection might tell.
Elizabeth Tannen is a student in the creative writing program at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. You can find links to her other essays and read her blog about dating here.