Hot Or Not

INTERNET DATING I met my girlfriend on the Internet
em Feature
by Johnny Gasoline

I met my girlfriend on the internet. This lies somewhere between having genital herpes and membership of the Ku Klux Klan in the scale of ‘things not to reveal about yourself’ at trendy parties, as I recently discovered in rather embarrassing circumstances. A relationship born in the pub, fuelled by alcopops and ignited by two peoples’ need for mutual support to remain vertical is more socially valid than one that begins online - fact. I don’t care, mainly because after a barren patch stretching back several months I am finally getting some on a regular basis. It does strike me as odd however. I’ve never been much good with that chatting up business. Never know how to start. Any opening gambit is doomed to sound like a lame pick-up line, mainly because that’s what it is and I simply don’t have the bluster or verbal dexterity to carry it off without looking and feeling a complete tit.

Big City Nights
Living in London simply exaggerates the problem since everyone is permanently on Def Con 3 for the next weirdo to cross their path. Only the other day I was sitting on the tube opposite a man with no shoes who kept bursting into a very loud song about how happy he was to be on the freedom train. No one had the heart to tell him he was actually on the Picadilly line to Uxbridge. In fact no-one looked at him at all. That’s the strange thing about the tube. You can do absolutely anything short of killing the person next to you with a hammer and no-one will bat so much as an eyelid.

Scientific studies show there is exactly one loony for every train on the London underground at any given time. Each one is different but you can only recognise them after the doors shut, leaving you stuck with them for the duration of your journey (subway loonies never leave the train). Theoretically you could always move to a different carriage at the next stop, but no one ever does for the exact same reason you never establish eye contact with subway loony. That being the fear of coming to their attention, and that is a tube traveller’s darkest nightmare. As a result everyone wanders around London in a perpetual state of paranoia manifesting itself in apparent none awareness of anyone around them. You’re never more alone than when you’re alone in the big city.

"The language of the chat room is, to the untrained eye, unintelligible pointless drivel."

It’s no wonder internet chat rooms have become so popular, but they can also be incredibly baffling for the ‘newbie’. For a start no one is called Dave or Nigel or Sarah. Everyone has names like sexxxy_princess_uk or hardcock69, and the language of the chat room is a curious mixture of acronyms, swearing and assorted brackets and colons that signify facial expressions and emotions. It is, to the untrained eye, unintelligible pointless drivel, but to the net savvy, perfectly lucid pointless drivel. As an experiment I once entered a chat room with a girly sounding name and within seconds was buried under a deluge of messages from men. One of these - no kidding - was “Do you come online often?” I could give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was being ironic, but I doubt it. I didn’t reply.

A magical mix of desperation and lust
I did not meet my girlfriend in a chat room. I actually met my girlfriend on a dating site. Yep, that wheeze you just heard was the shrivelled husk of what remained of my credibility winking out of existence in a puff of scorn. It’s funny, but despite the fact almost everyone under the age 40 goes online at least semi regularly, the perception of a net user is still of NHS specs, spots and unwashed hair. It’s alright to do it, but never talk about it in public - like masturbating over pictures of rock formations.

So, taking the two most desperate means of meeting people – the net and the dating agency – and rolling them into one equals one pathetic loser who’ll do anything for a date and probably frightens small children on the bus, right? Dating sites aren’t like I imagine an actual dating agency would be. I say ‘imagine’ because I’ve never been to one, oh no, not that desperate! No, the average dating site let’s you write a few words, post a picture and say what you’re looking for, job done in ten minutes.

I stumbled on the concept one evening while surfing bored when one of those irritating pop-up ad banners appeared. For the one and only time in my life I didn’t immediately close it in irritation. I clicked on it and was transported to a decent enough looking site offering me 70 000 women around the world. What the hell, I figured. I conjured up a mildly witty and not too inaccurate profile of myself, uploaded a picture that just happened to be sitting on my hard drive and had forgotten about it by the next morning.

Two days later three messages from my date site appeared in a cunningly anonymous Hotmail inbox I keep for such things. Three birds after a piece of me already. The first one was too old, the second one was fat and had only replied to tell me I didn’t know what I was missing because I put ‘slim’ as one of my dream date’s characteristics. I’m not trying to be mean or anything, but at the end of the day it’s whatever floats your boat. I don’t like Turkish Delight or bananas either.

"I finally walked in the appropriate bar fully expecting to be gored by Godzilla’s less good-looking sister."

The third entry sounded human, about the same age, well travelled, and gainfully employed, no picture though. Now you’re thinking exactly what I was thinking – that no-one is going to be replying to ads on a dating site unless they’ve got some serious baggage with them. And no picture means she must be a right munter! Then I thought, hang on. I regard myself as a reasonably ok looking, well-balanced, self-supporting individual and I’m doing it. I don’t think I can be the only one.

I realise Hitler, Fred West and Jeffrey Dahmer probably all had similar opinions of themselves, but I’ve yet to start a world war, have sex with a corpse or bury body parts under my patio - so, before another negative yin materialised to discredit my positive yang, I sent a reply, asking for a picture. The next day another email arrived, this time with an attachment. What manner of beast would be revealed I wondered as the picture started to reveal itself, bit by bit. Bloody 56k modems. A few seconds later and there she was. Real and, er, fit!

Cupid, please hear my cry
A few more emails were exchanged before we arranged to meet. A busy pub in central London was selected to provide ease of escape if things didn’t go well; from my point of view her turning out to be a man for example. As the appointed hour approached I was, I’ll grant you, nervous. My brain, in that curious way that brains do, had subconsciously concocted a selection of the most fiendishly nightmarish ways the evening might pan out and drip fed them to me all day long until I finally walked in the appropriate bar fully expecting to be gored by Godzilla’s less good-looking sister whose only saving grace was that her beard acted as a filter to take the edge off her weapons grade halitosis. I ordered a nerve-steadying drink. Being a veteran of one previous blind date in my life, I had learned well the lesson that the best way to deal with these situations is not to get leathered before she turns up, so I fought the urge. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried.

We’ve been going out for two months now and still no sign of any bunny-boiling tendencies, which I take as fair indication that things went okay. I never had to sit through an embarrassing interview or fork out a huge wad of cash as you would at a bricks and mortar dating agency. The net’s a bit of a lottery, but the advantage is you get to make your pitch without any pressure. After all that’s all a chat-up line is. You have five seconds to convince the person you’re worth talking to? Meeting someone from the net you don’t have to worry about all that. You make the pitch without embarrassment because you’re anonymous and if you get as far as a meeting then you know you’ve got their undivided attention for at least a couple of drinks. If you blow it then you’ve only got yourself to blame.

A couple of weeks and three dates after our first meeting I was at work and happened to mention my girlfriend in conversation when the net monkey who sits opposite me looked up over the top of his monitor, I swear this is absolutely true, and asked me “Did you say you’re having an offline relationship?”

I suspect he thought me a little sad.

johnny gasoline

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