August 17, 2006
Dear Mr. Sensitive
Jokes survive on the Internet like Styrofoam in a landfill. Perhaps you've already read these "Actual Personal Ads in Israeli Newspapers":
So I laughed. Silly yet funny. Until the last one came true for me on JDate. I don't usually contact men first. No matter how brief or cheery, my message signals, "Hey, I'm interested." And for some reason, men like to feel that they are the hunters. Or perhaps they want younger women who can still give them babies. That's fine -- but that's not me. I'll be 50 soon, which I'm not afraid to admit in print. Not many men seem willing to date women their own age.
But Mr. Sensitive's ad was different. His opening line, if true, sounded good ("Wanted: romantic partner for an exciting yet sensitive man of brains, wit and integrity"), even if it was arrogant and earnest. No wit to be found, even with a magnifying glass. But if he had the goods to back it up, what's wrong with a healthy ego? OK, he mentioned "fit" in his profile, and though I am -- blood pressure's great, doctor's actually concerned that my cholesterol is too low, I try to exercise every day -- I'm not the conventional skinny/active type.
However, his last line convinced me: "If you are funny, brave, sexy, super-smart and self-aware, what are you waiting for?"
So I responded:
"I am (or think that I am) all of the above, but it depends on your definition of 'fit.' Is that code for thin? Or code for "climbs Kilimanjaro without getting winded"? Neither applies to me. I'm voluptuous in the true meaning of the world -- an hour-glass figure, more Jayne Mansfield than Kate Moss. I've climbed Chichen-Itza but I've never skied in my life. So take a look at my profile, maybe I'll hear from you. If not, good luck on Jdate."
Yes, I heard back. Mr. Sensitive wrote:
"Your profile is extremely well-written, as is your note. You are clearly very, very bright, as am I. That's why I can't understand why you'd be in such absolute denial of a clear reality.
You didn't fill in your weight in your profile because you're not happy with it. If you were, it would be there and you wouldn't be writing all that senseless crap about Jane Mansfield, with whom you have absolutely nothing in common.
Look in the mirror, see the same thing anyone can see in your photos: You are soft, untoned, out-of-shape and, yes, fat. Then, either fix it or accept it, but don't try to make believe you're not. And certainly don't try to convince others you aren't because it makes you seem absolutely crazy.
Now go do the right thing."
I felt like I had been hit in the stomach. His e-mail was breathtaking in its cruelty.
Of course I wanted to argue, it's Jayne, not Jane, you idiot! No, I'm not blonde like Jayne, nor dead either. I meant only that I have curves, and I'm buxom. Jayne was actually not that busty; she had an extremely large rib cage, and she....
Oh, me? Defensive? Apparently. Jayne is beside the point, as is my body. The issue: Whatever happened to personal ad etiquette, to kindness, or at least civility? Whatever happened to the short, sweet brush-off, "Thanks for writing, but I don't think we'd be a match"?
How can a man consider himself sensitive, a person of integrity, yet write a note like that? For all its glories, the Internet allows people to be anonymous and unaccountable. Mr. Sensitive forgets that I, too, am sensitive, and he turned personal ads into impersonal attacks. Let's be honest. Most people on dating sites are essentially saying: "I want love. I want intimacy. I want to be wanted and need to be needed." So why trample on someone who is fragile, open, reaching out?
Why be gratuitously mean?
I didn't ask for a critique; I asked if he were interested in getting to know me. Mr. Sensitive basically answered, "How dare someone like you have the audacity, the unmitigated gall, to even say hello to me?" Navigating dating after divorce is hard enough without being terrified of potential Mr. Sensitives lurking behind every personal ad. How does one maintain dating vulnerability, while developing a thick skin so that such attacks no longer hurt? How does one maintain the tension between cheerfulness and cynicism, between hopefulness and experience?
I don't have the answers. But I'm still searching; I'm still on JDate. I refuse to believe that all men (or women) are like Mr. (In)Sensitive. And if you're not interested in me, all you have to say is, "Thank you. But no." I'll understand.
Diane Saltzberg lives in Los Angeles, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.