When I come upon the latest reports from the frontlines of what's euphemistically called "the dating scene" (Thurber called it The War Between Men and Women) I'm reminded of a moment from When Harry Met Sally: Harry's best friend Jess and Sally's best friend Marie (i.e. Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher), a happily committed couple, get off the phone with their respective traumatized buddies, friends who've just slept together, the idiots, and ruined everything -- and Marie turns to Bruce, saying: "Tell me I'll never have to be out there again." Bruce puts an arm around her and tells her soberly, "You'll never have to be out there again."
Oh, Lord, yes: the dreaded Out There. I haven't done the math, but I've probably spent more of my adult life Out There than I have In Here (i.e. in the midst of a relationship), and thus I have nothing but sympathy for those who are in that lonely place. So I was heartened to read in the NY Times this morning that those looking to hook up and stay hooked are getting more seriously pragmatic about making it happen. An article entitled Let's Say You Want to Date a Hog Farmer explores a relatively new online dating phenomenon: niche sites.
A growing number of people have found love on dating sites that pair members based on a specific shared interest or background — sites like HorseandCountrySingles.com, Nerdsatheart.com, DateMyPet.com, STDmatch.net (for singles with sexually transmitted diseases), MatureSinglesOnly.com (for people over 50) and Veggielove.com.
“Singles are increasingly eager to narrow the audience and really target their needs,” said Mark Brooks, a dating consultant who keeps his own blog, OnlinePersonalsWatch.com. “It’s the same reason why Procter & Gamble makes so many detergents. We are all drawn to things that cater to our very specific desires.”
According to Times journalist J. Courtney Sullivan, such sites are booming. FarmersOnly.com, for example (their trademarked slogan is "City folks just don't get it!") has gained 50,000 members in the past year alone. One satisfied customer who grew up on an Ohio horse farm, the successfully hitched Sarah Edwards, recently told a friend to give up on Match.com: “I said to him: ‘You’re wasting your time. You’re not going to find girls on there who like hunting and fishing and four-wheeling,’ ” she recalled.
The article concludes with a quote from a Jewish man who found his fiancee on Jdate: "When you’re looking for a lifelong partner, you probably want some winnowing down. You probably want someone who’s a lot like you.”
Sure, I say, and more power to ya. I'm reminded that my own honey Tater claims she conjured me out of the ether weeks before we met, by compiling a very specific list of what she wanted in a mate. Instead of generalities, she filled her list with such attributes as "he must be a good driver" and "he must love books and be as well-read or more well-read than I am." She landed a guy who handles his Mini pretty well, thanks, and reads and writes for a living.
Her foresight was definitely a factor in our courtship being suffused with moments of delighted "you like that, too?!" discoveries. Specificity works. But as a diehard romantic comedy fan, I can't help but ask: Whatever happened to opposites attract? There must be a rom-com waiting to be written about the boy from DemsForClinton.com who meets the girl who's an Obamacan.
I've argued on occasion that the subtext of "opposites attract" is usually: one sees in the other a quality that one, being deficient in same, might benefit from acquiring (call it the Darwinian theory of evolutionary dating). But this alternative theory of hook-ups aside, here's what I've come to conclude about romantic affinity: the best relationships are often just a kluge.
Kluge (again, from the Sunday Times, in a review of a book called Kluge), as defined by author Gary Marcus, means “a clumsy or inelegant — yet surprisingly effective — solution to a problem.”
Marcus, a professor of psychology at New York University and director of the N.Y.U. Infant Language Learning Center, borrowed the word from the field of engineering, where it has long been the term of art for a useful but ungainly improvisation.
An engineering example of a useful but ungainly improv is the kluge the astronauts on Apollo 13cobbled together to save their mission. A romantic kluge is likely to be whatever patch job contraption might keep, say, James Carville and Mary Matalin a functional couple.
The awful truth of most enduring romances, comedic or tragic, is that no matter how much the other person seems to be like you (it's uncanny! magical!) there inevitably comes a moment when you find yourself gaping at your beloved in deep incomprehension (it's inconceivable!): how is it possible that they could be like... that?!
We're snowflakes, remember? The difference is always going to be there, no matter how alike you look or how close you're able to fine-tune your affinities. Ultimately, what successful romantic partnerships create is a Rube Goldberg-like assemblage of inspired workarounds. I've learned to love Vegan food and Tater's learned to tolerate, if not always enjoy, the occasionally aggressive motoring skills that come with the Mini-mastery her list requested.
The ancients believed that one lover finding another was really one half of a soul finding its other half. I'm down with that, too, but there'll always be the issue of cole slaw. Just tonight my sweetheart exclaimed at me in disbelief, "What kind of a person doesn't like cole slaw?!"
Meanwhile, yet another Times article proves that some really do live the romantic comedy: it's about a real life Harry and Sally who shifted from being friends to getting physical (the ensuing high jinks led them to the altar).
I guess they were already exactly like each other enough to survive the awkwardness of their first kluge.