I Decided To Try Dating:
In the days before the internet, there were these so called “dating services”. They used video files, questionnaires, list of likes and dislikes, and other methods to divine what might be a perfect match. It was in the early 90’s and there’s not yet a hint of browsers, dot.com explosions, or anything like. Hey, it was actually a kind of depressing time period. The economy was in bad shape anyway.
As for me, I was busy working all day and going to school at night. I would come home tired but ready to plunge into my homework assignments or maybe sit down to read a book (Philosophy, Drama, Poetry) or listen to music. (Bluegrass, Blues) OK, to be clear, I was not actively pursuing my latent interest in romance. I had already turned 30 and the subject of romance was regulated to the “haunted dreams” space or might give me headaches lying awake at night. Fulfillment was not in the cards.
I started looking at advertisements for Dating Services. What the hell, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to put the element of force to work. If I was to make something happen, I would get a ticket and stand in line knowing something different was about to happen, even it wasn’t the natural “way” for men and women to meet each other. Now realize I say “men and women” because this period was a long ways from Brokeback Mountain, and dating services were not yet prepared to widen their scope of influence in bringing the diverse spectrum of humanity together. Anyway, I had my dream to meet a woman, share the action and adventure of life both physically and mentally, and move on to a new stage of life. And now to go along with this dream, I had adopted a new attitude. Here was a Class A fear factor situation and I was going to confront it.
I picked out one matchmaking service called Together. I can’t recall if I’d found Together in the Metro weekly or perhaps the Yellow Pages but the concept seemed simple enough. Men and Women with diverse experience and backgrounds would find each other with a little bit of help from these knowledgeable pros. I called and made an appointment. They were very willing to accommodate my busy schedule too and that gave me a good impression.
The counselor assigned to my case was a woman about my age. She asked me a few questions about why I had decided to come in and then interrupted my response to report that I was in good hands. She personally knew a few good women attendant to this service who would be very interested to meet me. Why not call them in right now? (I thought) But proper etiquette suggested waiting for a punch line and so I waited patiently through her explanation of how the service works. Finally, she stopped and asked me which of their annual plans I intended to sign up for:
1) Meet 2 women per month for $750
2) Meet 1 woman a month for $500.
So which plan would I prefer? Oh my, $750 is a lot of money. They were rumors of cutbacks at work too. So I asked about the $500 plan. Wouldn’t it be a bit scant on the “dating” activity if there was only one name provided each month? “But you’ve forgotten that these are high quality matches. You’ll want to spend time with this one person”, said the counselor. “What if I sign up today” I said and she told me it takes 30 days for the process to work itself out. “What about those women you mentioned earlier?” I had remembered the carrots that had dangled earlier in my star crossed eyes. Unfortunately, things became confrontational at that point. After all, this was still a business transaction and my time in the chair was beginning to exceed the value thereof for my counselor. So out came the hard sale tactics. This woman would have been OK selling used cars or just about anything that required a good lean on. Didn’t I believe in myself? Wouldn’t I think it worthwhile to invest in myself? What was happiness worth? To which I gave some lame reply about job stability and assorted financial concerns. But again, didn’t I believe that I could find another job if that was how the cards played out? Cards? Yes, this is the second mention of “cards” in this little essay. You see, love is a gamble and we need explicit metaphors to assist in discovering the ways of love.
I was hooked! Yeah man, I guess this had been my problem all along. I hadn’t believed in myself enough to take chances, even when it came to facing the prospect of an empty, lonely life. Or at least I hadn’t practiced the time honored strategy of giving myself a chance to win by agreeing to play in the game. “Be careful” said the counselor. “You might think about this during the next few weeks and you might even think you’ve made a mistake. You need to wait for the process to work.” I’m a Libra, so of course this only made me think harder before signing the check to pay for the service. I weighed the evidence before me. Of course! She’s trying to make sure I don’t take advantage of the cooling off period to back out of the deal. But no amount of skepticism could stop me now. After all, I had a new attitude and I was taking charge of my own love life. I wouldn’t be caught on a lonely park bench waiting for a miracle to happen now. I was a Gambler with a Romantic streak and I believed in myself. Besides I’d wasted money on things worst than this. What about that old pick-up truck?
I hope I haven’t misled you. There won’t be a finely detailed description of everything that happened after I walked out the counselor’s office. Nope, the pace of this story increases now. I’ve set the stage for the ending and I hope I’ve made it clear that it all begins with a state of mind. The most important adventure of my life began with a stumble, an act of bravery, and with assorted accidents of chance and circumstance. Think about it a moment. At some point we all take the gamble and set things in motion.
It was almost two months before I received my first “match” in the mail from Together. I had tried to nonchalant the whole thing, but started calling the counselor’s office squarely after 30 days had gone by with no results. Like most things, this “dating” process began under pressure and needed a push and shove to take off. Here’s the summary of what happened, and remember, these activities occurred at 30 to 45 day intervals.
She was a Hispanic police woman who was hard to hook up with. She was only available on weekday mornings. She need a couple of hours a day to “work out”. Somehow we managed a brief dinner at the Pruneyard in Campbell. Was she on duty? She told me she needed to sit in the back of the room facing the door in case some outlaw should decide to “draw down” on her. She’d have to be ready for that, or deal with the the possibility of taking a bullet in the back. First impression? Well, I remember thinking I wouldn’t want this kind of thing happen either. I was OK her taking a seat facing the doorway. We spent about a half hour or so with her explaining how she would “take out” criminals in various situations. I walked away knowing more about the role of women in the police department.
She was an elementary school teacher who was overweight with short cropped blond hair. She offered to help me with college math and commented that I had nice teeth. Sort of like examining livestock for intelligence and breeding, I thought. We spent an hour with her discussing the bad habits of her ex-husband. He liked to watch TV sports. What did I think about it? Well, I could understand a little bit of what their life must have been like and I knew the relationship hadn’t ended well. Later I read some advice that people shouldn’t mention their previous relationships, especially on a first date. The advice had impact and now I had experience as proof. I also noted that my Together preferences were for height/weight proportionate women with medium or long hair. Someone must have missed that, I guess.
She was an administrator working in a law office. She was also a single mother with a young son. Hadn’t I mentioned to my counselor that couldn’t really handle a situation like that? It’s true enough that I was not prepared to deal with this surprise. I had a cheese enchilada and ate lots of chips and salsa and chased ‘em down with enough Coke to give me a caffeine high and help me stay awake late thinking about what to say to those nice folks at Together.
She was a tech worker at Apple Computer. An avid equestrian. She answered my phone call and told me that she had joined Together as a “knee-jerk reaction” to her recent break-up with her boyfriend. In fact, she’d learned that this whole dating service thing was not really agreeable. Did I sound a bit disappointed? She offered to “go out” with me anyway, knowing this might be my one opportunity to get a date this month. Now wasn’t that a nice gesture? I thought I was equally nice when informing her she need not go to such extreme sacrifice on my account. With that, she rode off into the sunset and I felt quite pleased. I was beginning to develop a fair amount of self respect and was even becoming impervious to rejection and disappointment. This was all good for me, you know win-win kind of stuff. I also decided it was time to ask for my money back.
Interlude – I glimpsed Oz behind the Curtain:
I returned to the offices of Together in Campbell and discovered that my counselor had been avoiding my phone calls because she had developed cancer and had to take time away from work to heal. She was back now and appeared to be well, but she didn’t remember me. She referred me to the experts who were responsible for matchmaking, you know, the supposed core activity of the company. After many attempts, I finally reached one of these people by phone. Her “last day” at the company was coming soon, but she’d be glad to help me. We went through the whole process of how the matchmaking was done and why it didn’t appear to be working. Basically, the problem was that there were very few women signed up for the service and it was on the verge of going out of business. The matchmakers had long ago given up on trying to match people by their “interests” and “likes” or even “dislikes” as divulged on the information cards. She shuffled through her "current" deck of info cards and said: “Here’s a nice young woman. She’s tall and she has long hair. She’s very cute. You’ll like her”. Now remember this was a phone conversation. We didn’t have email jpg attachments or url's to look at in the early 90’s, so I would have to take her word for this description of the young woman. I was intrigued! In fact, I was developing a plan. Maybe I could talk to this woman about helping me to gather evidence to sue Together! Perhaps I could use the money to pay for a vacation to the Greek Isles? This was indeed an action plan, and I was angry enough to carry it out too. Of course I'd also developed a lingering sense of curiousity about this young woman with the long black hair.
Fifth Date – I meet my wife to be:
She was difficult to reach and of course did not return my calls. She had a roommate though, so I asked some questions and got enough information to hunt her down at work. It turned out that this “roommate” was her Mother. It was a daring move on my part and I doubt the instrusion of calling her at the workplace was very well received. But I had a plan, remember? I asked her why she didn't want to meet, pushing to the conclusion that she had no intention of honoring the dating agency agreement. Instead she took up my challenge, revealing a humorous and quite charming personality. Her Mom wouldn’t let her out “after dark”. She worked long hours, etc. I made further inquiries. Would she help out by admitting that there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that she would want to date me? I don’t think either of us understood the other’s motives at this point, so instead of trying to explain, we decided to meet for dinner. It was summer in California and we could spend an hour together after work before it got dark and her Mom worried and all that. We met in Stanford University in the shadow of Hoover Tower. She was a little shy but obviously very smart with beautiful long black hair. She seemed to fit well with the matchmaker’s description. We ate dinner together and talked about a few things including Shakespeare. Blame me for this, but I couldn’t find anything wrong! And so it happened that I never gathered the evidence to sue the dating service. As time went by, I began to look at things differently. I would pretend the whole thing never happened. My girlfriend and then within another year, my wife…we met at Stanford. That’s what I told everyone when faced with the “how did you two meet” question. Such a nice couple!
Getting back to the future; It’s no longer shocking to tell someone how I met my wife. I never dreamed that one day there would be online Personals and whole communities of people meeting with the help of matchmaking services. Why it’s not even a very expensive proposition now! It’s mostly just self service nowadays and internet companies supply the tools to help people get their message of desire out to the world. There must be millions of stories about people meeting in chat rooms, instant messaging or email. There are a few things I’ve learned though and I doubt this is subject to change. No matter what method you use, you still need a good dosage of curiosity to get involved in these life changing conversations. You need to overcome the tendency to keep up a guard and you need to gamble a bit with your free time if you want to meet someone and spend a sweet and simple life together.
By Bill Keys
To my wife Vivian, who shares together with me.