September 4, 2003
When I heard his voice on my office voice mail, I knew right away that I'd like him. My girlfriend in San Francisco had just left a message forewarning me of this eligible divorcé's phone call.
"He looks like JFK Jr.," she raved.
Though he was extremely geographically undesirable, I decided to keep an open mind.
"Golfboy" (he was addicted to the sport) sounded fabulous on paper: Smart, funny, well-traveled and athletic, he had Midwestern roots and was divorced with no kids (like me), just the right age (three years my senior) and even had two little white dogs (I have one myself) that he cherished. In no time we started to e-mail each other daily, playing a never-ending round of trivia. E-mails were also supplemented by amusing phone conversations where the repartee flowed smoothly.
Golfboy lived in and was raised in a decidedly WASPy milieu. Between the nonstop golf at the country club, a family that celebrated Christmas, an older brother who was a "Jr." and a last name that was unbelievably WASPatized, I wondered if he would or could ever be Jewish enough for me. Conversely, knowing that his first wife was a blonde non-Jew made me contemplate whether this guy could be attracted to me in all my Semitic splendor.
After about three weeks of some sort of daily communication, I arrived at work and received my dream e-mail: My knight in shining armor-to-be was coming to Los Angeles! For an entire weekend? Uh-oh. Two nights and two days with a man that I've never even laid eyes upon? Not even a photo? I decided to put my faith in my friend and let the weekend date fall as it may.
As the days grew closer to Golfboy's impending visit, the e-mails became more and more endearing.
"I can't wait to see your pretty mug," he gushed. "I have a really good gut instinct about us," and similar sentiments.
I was definitely curious to meet him and loved his enthusiasm, but I wondered, could I ever live up to the image he had created in his mind? I tried to downplay my expectations.
"He's building you up so much that you can only come crashing down," cautioned my mother, aka "Mrs. Right." "Since when does a 44-year-old, successful, straight man have trouble meeting a woman in a city full of gays?" she inquired.
Yet as the days to our big date grew closer, I noticed I wasn't alone in the game of high expectations. Many of my friends were being set up and meeting men on the Internet and getting sucked in quickly by this insidious "build-up phenomenon."
They'd have a few great phone conversations and e-mails and then I'd hear, "I've met my future husband. I just have such a great feeling about this!"
Is it possible for us mere mortals to keep our feet planted firmly on the ground until we meet these guys in person and get to know them? Or must we immediately project our fantasies and create these perfect men that we so desperately want to meet?
These thoughts competed with my excitement on the day of the date. My excitement turned to nausea and my heart dropped into my stomach as I dialed Golfboy's room at the Peninsula Hotel (classy!) from the lobby, just as we had planned.
No answer. Did he change his mind?
I turned around and there he was: Not exactly JFK Jr. (who is?) -- more like a Jewish George Hamilton sans fake tan. Still, he was cute enough; and anyway, wasn't I interested in his personality?
But my heart dropped again -- this time in disappointment, not nervousness -- when I caught his first look at me. It was a look that said, "Less than thrilled."
What did he expect? Bo Derek on the beach with cornrows in her hair? I thought that I had described myself fairly accurately as a Julia Louis Dreyfus type -- petite, long curly hair, etc.
That weekend, we stuck to our agreed-upon schedule of activities (hiking, dinners at fine restaurants, massages at the hotel, etc.) and got along famously, as I knew we would. Although he was the consummate gentleman, sadly, it hardly was the amorous weekend that I had hoped to have. As much as I had tried to avoid the build-up phenomenon, it had hit me, too.
I was rather appalled by his perilously high level of self-disclosure (did I really need to know that he has issues of abandonment with his mother on our first weekend together?) and disappointed that throughout the entire weekend he barely made me laugh.
As I dropped him off at the airport knowing that I'd never see this man again, I realized that my mother was right. How could two people who had been fantasizing and building each other up for so long ever satisfy each other?
Next time around, I'm not going to get carried away: Fantasies are great, but there's no room for them in the brutal world of dating.
Elizabeth Much is a partner with Much and House Public Relations, where she runs the entertainment division. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.