Feature

It Happened to Me

The Ruthless Economics of Internet Dating

February 2009

Several years back, I ended my sixth encounter with a woman I'd met through an e-dating service in the ultimate destination: her bed. Not 45 minutes after I left, her sleepy goodnight having warmed my drive home, I logged on to our dating site to "hide" my profile—showing my new mate that I was off the market in a euphoric act of online self-deletion—and discovered that she'd evidently roused herself enough since my departure to repost hers.

Welcome to the esteem-crippling, soul-bruising world of online dating. Yes, it's an efficient way to meet people. Yes, it pries you from the couch after a tough breakup and helps you hone your floundering game. But after six-plus years and seven-dozen semiblind dates—it beats you down. Each mystifying encounter triggers a new round of self-doubts, and even if you ninja-train yourself to detach emotionally, that romantic glint still flickers—that hope that maybe this date will be The One. (Otherwise, why go?) And every time that elusive magic stands you up, you die a little inside.

This is the dark side of e-dating, an efficiency that spawns a kind of ADD: voracious love-seekers tantalized by the possibility that a slightly better catch might be just a webpage away. It's why promising flirtations so often evaporate without explanation, leaving the suddenly jilted wondering where they erred.

Denver in particular adds a special layer of pitfalls to online dating. Front Rangers crave ceaseless vertical adventure and demand that you share their undying adoration of animals—see the kazillion Denver profile pictures of gear-bedecked North Face-wearers clinging to a mountainside or hugging their dogs (sometimes both).

I prefer my adventures horizontal. And how could I possibly know if I love your dog when I haven't even met you yet? Still, I masochistically persist. Because the object of my would-be affection could right now be sitting before her glowing screen, mouse finger impatiently twitching, willing to carpal-tunnelize herself in the search for romantic perfection, and maybe that perfection is me. I should repost my profile, just in case.