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Cynthia Macdonald Headshot

Love Is a Surprise Party, Not a URL

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WOMAN AND COMPUTER

Contrary to what you'd think, most Internet dating sites don't expressly promote the eternal conjoinment of their customers. That's because the definition of "dating" has changed. In the 1950s, it was often the first thing a couple did on the long road toward that cozy graveyard snuggle. Now, it means something much more fleeting: a snog, a shag, a couple of beers. Maybe tennis.

However, there is one dating site that bestrides all other like a cyber-colossus. This is eHarmony, the "serious" one, the one you go to if you want mature, adult love instead of nude Twister and a litre of Thunder Berry cooler with two straws.

Now, in my experience, eHarmony not only likes, but demands that you be a Jack LaLanne of emotional fitness before gaining admission to their grown-ups' table. They make you answer a long questionnaire, in which you must do an end-run around the fact that you might be totally pissy about control of the radio on long car trips. Admit that, and it's back to PlentyofFish.com for you, bucko.

So naturally I was thrilled when eHarmony approved my application a few months back. But maybe not shocked: after all, I was once deemed "well mentally adjusted" by a neighbour kid's toy handwriting analysis machine!

It pains me to report, though, that I did not find everlasting love. In fact I met a grand total of one person on eHarmony, and it didn't work out, and within weeks I had myself blasted off the site with a power washer.

I guess meeting only one person is not exactly the old college try. It's just that I got to thinking -- how can anyone really "search for love" on the Internet? I know that's a stupid question, since eHarmony commercials routinely boast actually matched couples, the guy of whom will typically hoist his new lady aloft and swing her around, slightly riffling her sensible corduroy skirt.

I'm also aware that Internet love is hardly a new invention; I might as well ask how people can possibly eat cheese. But I'll dive in anyway, and say that there is just nothing sillier than sitting across from some complete stranger and waiting for the fairy d'amour to sprinkle magic dust in your cappuccino. This is a huge problem with offline set-ups, too.

Because whenever I have fallen in love, it's been by sheer accident. My favourite swains and I just happened to bump into each other at a party, or be cast in the same school play, or were thrown together to prepare a memorandum on Aboriginal self-government (bite that one, Romeo and Juliet). Love came as a surprise, incidental to some other activity.

Many people say that the forbidden is what stokes attraction, but I don't believe it. Dating someone comatose, four years old or closely related to me would be extremely unpleasant. Married people are also off-limits, for much the same reason. In fact, most cheating spouses caught in workplace affairs absolutely hate the forbidden aspect of their conduct -- but they can reliably be counted on to say that they'd "never meant for anything to happen." True, that: if they had meant for it to happen, it probably wouldn't have.

I know I'm not alone in my desire for the unexpected, because the element of surprise turns out to be a real dopamine-jounce. There's even this company in New York called Surprise Industries. What they do is take your money, then escort you and your date to some activity you don't see coming (e.g., trapeze lessons). It may not be what you'd plan on your own, but the element of the unforeseen makes it totally worth it.

I actually do think Internet love is possible for people like me -- but only when it's never intended to be love in the first place. The reason that one in six newlywed couples now find each other online is likely attributable to the fact that many dating sites (unlike eHarmony) traffic in nothing more than lighthearted fun, without anyone going in insistent on more.

Face it -- people who look for love are "lonely" and that's hardly the most attractive of adjectives. People who look to date, on the other hand, are "curious" or "adventurous" or "in possession of an extra ticket to the Led Zeppelin reunion." I realize that a good, stable relationship beats all, but the gravity attached to that search can make Robert Scott's ill-fated run at the South Pole look like a rockin' good time. So until it happens, I'll stick to tennis and Twister. Because the thing is, you just never know.

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