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My JDate with Destiny

by Michael Aushenker

February 11, 1999 | 7:00 pm

Originally, I was dead set against online dating. True, a colleague met his fiancée in a chat room. And a friend of mine swears by JDate, the online Jewish singles matchmaking service.

"I've gone on many dates through JDate, and they were all great guys," she'll say cheerfully, unwittingly providing an argument to the contrary. So where did all these great guys go, I ask my friend, who is still single and searching. She just shrugs.

After all, why would most of us waste our time if we weren't looking to find "The One?" Thirty-thousand members strong, JDate blatantly dangles the beshert carrot, displaying couples who have warp-sped from sharing cyberspace to sharing living space.

Despite my friend's hard sell and glowing endorsements from people who do not date through JDate but know others who do, I was resistant. I spend all day working at a computer. So frittering away my free time at a keyboard doesn't leave me shivering with excitement. This idea of "computer dating" seemed cold and Orwellian, as I imagined being fixed up with the android from "Metropolis" or Bride of Pinbot (both, incidentally, not Jewish). Personally, I lament our society's increasing dependency on technology, so I sure as hell didn't want to contribute to a culture bent on alienation. Besides, whatever happened to romantic serendipity -- the eyes, the crowded room, all that corn? You know -- the human element.

That said, I caved in. Perhaps I was being closed-minded about the whole enterprise, I reasoned. Perhaps 30,000 people can't be wrong. Perhaps I'd rather spend Saturday nights watching dull British sitcoms on PBS. And, so, I dutifully signed up at JDate's Web site. I diligently filled out the service's form, going public with personal tidbits about myself. I selected the traits and activities from its menu that I thought best reflected my personality and interests, and posed heartfelt responses to essay topics such as "My Ideal First Date" and "Things I've Learned From Past Relationships." Then I checked off preferences I desired in a woman -- age range, body type, observance level, favorite breakfast cereal, etc. -- meant to pare the infinite female options down to a manageable "marriage material only." Within minutes, I emerged with a new identity straight out of Ayn Rand's "Anthem": Michael43501 (or "43501," as I became affectionately known in some circles).

Scanning the site became a ritual. Each morning, I shuffled through 150 computer-matched profiles, which, at times, felt sleazy and voyeuristic, like going through some Taiwanese mail-order bride catalog. After a few false starts, I received a message from "Destiny," an attractive 23-year-old brunette. That message turned into an exchange, and the exchange into a routine. Weeks transpired. I learned all about her world, and she, mine. Things flowed. Homegirl appeared to have all her marbles.

A couple of weeks into our correspondence, Destiny finally broached the topic of our First Date. We decided on a movie, followed by coffee; we rationalized that if we didn't hit it off, we could at least talk about the film. Not simplifying matters was the impending release of "You've Got Mail." Even though we had no real interest in seeing it, we almost felt obligated. Thanks to its e-mail romance gambit, this otherwise superfluous flick suddenly carried the symbolic weight of uranium. After all, what a great story that would make should we rush out and have grandchildren. To my relief, we dumped "Mail" for "Babe: Pig in the City," and, on a sunny Sunday, I hopped the hill to make our rendezvous.

When she appeared, she didn't quite match the person in the photo. But I wasn't going to let this overshadow what could be Ms. Right (and, if we married, Mrs. Right-Aushenker). Besides, I myself have wrestled like El Santo with the same 25 pounds all my life. I pushed those thoughts aside and purchased our tickets.

Inside the theater, another alarm went off when she started cracking up...at the trailer for "Jack Frost." I mean big, whooping belly laughs. I thought she was going to explode. At the time, this seemed monumental. Could she really have found those painful gags so hilarious? I thought. Hadn't she ever seen a sitcom? I wondered. Nerves, I concluded.

Afterward, we found a nearby Starbucks, and we each chose our poison. The more we conversed, the faster my first impressions grew obsolete. Turns out she was very educated, thoughtful, fluent in English (a recent prerequisite). We spent hours chatting about everything under the sun, moon and constellation of Ursa Minor. Babe the talking pig didn't even dominate our discussion.

However, I also realized that she wasn't exactly my (to flaunt my Starbuckspeak) venti cup of latte. And vice versa. There was a click, but not a spark. Although we didn't verbalize it, a dullness of spirit in our goodbye hug confirmed that we would probably not see each other again. And that's exactly what has happened.

My friend was right: You can meet decent, well-adjusted people online. But in the stroke of a delete key, after weeks of e-mail foreplay, my Internet investment was rendered void. For Destiny and myself, all that high-tech matchmaking couldn't guarantee the one element missing from our periodic table: the human element.

Maybe I've given up too easily on cyber-Cupid, but, for me, computer dating wound up being just that. I had spent too many hours seduced by my Macintosh, caressing the firm, smooth curves of her mouse, before realizing what I knew all along: that I was better off leaving behind my mousepad and exiting my bachelor pad in search of some good old-fashioned human contact.

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