Sometime this winter, I answered a work-related email from a man I'll call Joe, whom I'd never met before. Joe responded in turn; he lived in New York, near me, and had some further questions. Suddenly, at the unpredictable pace with which attraction flares out of nowhere, our exchange became charged. Within an hour we went from professional niceties to quick-fire one-liners; we were teasing and playing and showing off our wittiest plumage. We were flirting. And I was Googling him, wondering: Who is this guy? Is he straight? Single? Hot? Hitting on me? Then came his invitation, "to take this to a bar where it belongs."
Before I could even work up a suitably piquant reply, I had another email in my inbox. It began, "Hello, I've added you to my Joe'sJournal group at Yahoo!" Joe'sJournal's "introductory message" to me read, "I hope you'll enjoy this. It's fun, if I do say so myself, and you can learn all about me before we meet!"
He wasn't kidding. Among the things I learned about Joe? He was planning a big party in the next couple of weeks, at which he'd be serving cucumber sandwiches made specially on spelt bread; that his seventy-year-old mother would be a guest, that she had just broken up with a boyfriend and had reactivated her eHarmony account, that she has a blog, that her blog is all about her dating life, and that her son's blog is all about her.
And with that, so many question marks surrounding my promising email exchange with Joe evaporated. Attraction? Squelched. Fun? Over. Mystery? Sucked dry. Curiosity? I know all I ever want to know, please do not write to me again, it's been real, good-bye and good luck.
There used to be few moments in the sexual universe better than those early, butterfly days of love . . . or lust . . . or like. Whether it was the did-I-imagine-it look over beers, the gaze held across a party, or suddenly saucy email banter, the pleasure leaping from belly down the legs was all about the lurching joy of early-stage discovery. The first acknowledgements of chemistry made way for the slow reveal, the hopefully languorous unfurling of personal intimacies: who are you, where are you from, what do you read, who do you do and how do you like to do it, where do you live, who do you love? These are the questions that determined how many ways I would be pulled toward a man or repelled by him as he began his transformation from stranger to fling, dud, or lead character in my romantic narrative.
Alas, no more. Gone are my days of lazily unwrapping new prospects like birthday presents, asking intrusive questions as seductively as possible over brunches and lengthy drinks.
Nope. These days, you can't swing a cat in this town without hitting a boy with a blog . . . or a chat group, or listserv, or food diary, family website, online poetry monograph, or collection of unpublished photos of meerkat babies accompanied by a lengthy bio that he is eager to share with you, the stranger he's just met.
One of the soul-squooshing truths of computer-age congress is the speed with which we can turn up information on people we're curious about. It's useful, I guess, if you're trying to screen for convicted stalkers or major Republican donors, but not so much if you're hoping to preserve even a bit of enthralling mystery about your latest catch.
It's simply not hot when, after an evening of come-hither stares and maybe some foot frottage, you receive an email inviting you to visit ComeHither.com, "a random collection of thoughts on life and love!" Random thoughts on life and love are the crap you put up with — happily, perhaps — once you've decided that Mr. Hither fascinates you so much that you'd like to temporarily bind your own life and love to his. Until then, they are just embarrassing journal entries guaranteed to tamp the flames of desire.
Trust me, it happens all the time. Joe's mommy-and-me tea party wasn't even unique enough to be intriguing; at about the same time, a friend received an email blast from a guy with whom she'd been on two dates, advertising his blog about his elderly mother's adventures on JDate. (Perhaps there's a another story to be done about single guys' online investment in their single mothers' online sex lives, but I hope never to be the one with enough experience to write it.)
Last fall, I made it through one dinner date with Max, a sweet filmmaker I met at a party, before he signed me up to get updates from the site he maintains with his brother and sister, on which they post their short stories, line drawings and MP3s of their family folk performances. Dan, a journalist I first encountered professionally, sent me his blog, featuring confessional prose about a recently shattered relationship with an ex-girlfriend whose identity and biographical information he revealed. Hey! Who doesn't have baggage? I guess I'd just prefer not to know its name and birth sign going in.
To be fair, I have occasionally brought this on myself. Once, while pre-Googling a set-up, I came across his online journal, on which he made careful notation of everything he ate on a given day, and included a bio going all the way back to nursery school, reviews of every book that he'd read in the past two years and a lengthy description of his political views. In other words, it covered pretty much everything I might have hoped we'd chat about on those first awkward dates. It was like reading spoilers . . . for life . . . with typos.
But besides that, it ruins the whole game of mating, a pursuit that is often only winnable if you charge stupidly forward, blind to your swain's faults and peccadilloes until you're so chemically and emotionally entangled with him that they cease to be deterrents.
It reminds me of the time years ago when I was set up by a friend with a man she told me was "brilliant and intense and so perfect for you." Oh, and he happened to be recently released from the hospital after a severe bipolar break. As I explained to her then, there is a chance that I will someday meet and fall in love with a man whom I later learn to suffer from bipolar disorder. However, the chances of my falling in love with such a man if I know about the condition in advance are much slimmer.
So too, with Joe and Max and Dan, and with Jimmy, the man who sent me a blog that revealed his unending allegiance to the Eagles. Could I learn to laugh off some Don Henley down the road? Undoubtedly. Does it get in the way of my ever having sex with this man to begin with? It certainly did.
I have met men who have sent me blogs with their baby pictures on them, blogs with photos of their pets. Don't get me wrong: I have pets, I have baby pictures! This is the kind of personal information I expect to unearth about anybody I might someday fall for. But the unearthing is really the fun that facilitates the falling, isn't it?
When it's handed to me — and to the rest of the world — it's hard to find it particularly appealing. I am probably just fogeyish about an internet culture in which the more people who read your diary, the happier you are, but in my world, these kinds of revelations are the intimacies on which close relationships, not public spectacle, are built. And if Mr. Hither has seen fit to share his goddamn blog with me, then I can bet that he has sent it to every other human he's ever spoken to or accidentally bumped into on lower Broadway.
And what if, against all odds, I like him anyway? What if it turns out that the way he turns a phrase about his housecat moves me to my core? What if I fall in love with a man with a blog? Well, then I guess I'll get stuck with a dude so fascinated by the goings-on in his own digestive tract that his ex-roommate's sister's husband is also kept abreast of them. I'll have to suck it up. But do us all a favor, blog boys: Keep it in your pants. At least till date five.