While having coffee with a friend the other day, we got on the conversation of dating in Germany. Quite a hefty undertaking for expats, since this is where I think I've seen the most cultural differences. Granted, I'm pretty inept at dating in general, but adding culture shock into the mix certainly doesn't help. I told her about my experiences with online dating, which she in turn told me that she had considered trying.
Let me first make one thing perfectly clear: I despise online dating. The only reason I've gone back to it time and time again was to “give it a chance” as my mother is always encouraging me to do. According to her, this is the “way people do things” these days. And it's true. Some of my cousins and friends back at home have found themselves perfectly nice people online. And from what I've seen, none of them have turned out to be creepy psycho killers...at least not yet.
To me, online dating is the epitome of the unromantic. It represents the dry, clinical, distant, instantly gratifying way our society seems to be going about human relation. When I was a kid and I wanted to play with someone in the neighborhood, I would ring their doorbell. Or ask them at school if they wanted to hang out later. Now, why would we need to bother with any of that when we can instantly talk with 50 of our friends at once on Facebook or Twitter? And sometimes we don't even need to talk with them. We can just stalk them and see what they're doing. This way, we have the distance to prevent ourselves from getting hurt and to step back and evaluate a situation before we physically put ourselves into it. Ok, yes it's true I use these social networking sites as well. I have to for my job and while living abroad, I find it a great way to connect with the people I know from home and those also living abroad.
Still, when it comes to romance, who wants to get to know someone from behind your computer? Back when the internet started becoming accessible to everyone (now if that doesn't make me sound old...), those kinds of things were huge red flags. DANGER! DANGER! POSSIBLE PEDOPHILE ON THE LOOSE! When did it all of a sudden become ok to meet and get to know someone online? And then meet them in person? This was always a huge no go. But these days, it seems to be commonplace, and apparently is “the way to do things”.
But allow me to come back to my point. Say you're starting your adult life in the year 2012. What do you need in order to create your life? You need a job. No problem. Hop onto Monster.com, Craigslist, Toytown, whatever the acceptable job search website is for where you're living. Scour the listings, pick the ones that seem relevant to you with an appropriate amount of pay, send out your resume and cover letter, go into the interview if you get one, if all goes well, mission accomplished. You have a job.
Place to live? Hop onto Immobilienscout24, WG-Gesucht, Craigslist, apartments.com (I'm not so up to date with the American sites...bear with me. We used to do everything via Craigslist). Have a look through the listings, where you want to live, cost, proximity to public transit, if it has a kitchen or not (yes, this is a problem in Germany), how much the dreaded deposit and brokers fees are. Then as with the job search, send your letter with credentials, with luck get to actually see the place, see if you feel comfortable there, interview the person who lived their last on why they're moving, what they liked about the place, then duke it out with the countless others looking at the exact same place. But with luck, mission accomplished. Dream home (or something close to it) obtained.
So you have your job and your home. Through your job maybe you meet some friends. Social life begins. What's missing? Oh yeah. A relationship would be nice right?
Hop onto match.com, eharmony.com,...Craigslist? (probably not). Scroll through the listings. Age range, interests, pictures, occupation. Pick the ones you like and send out an email, usually with credentials, send a couple back and forth, make a date, interview each other on origins, jobs, interests, (basically the things you've covered in the email already...), and if their answers seem satisfactory to you, make another date. With luck, mission accomplished. Boyfriend/Girlfriend.
Wait a second.
Is it just me, or do all three of those things sound dreadfully similar? I mean, ok when it comes to looking for a job or an apartment, yes it is a rather similar process. But for a relationship?! When did we become so cold and routine? Does the above scenario strike you as having any romance or passion involved in it? I have to wonder, how do people who are in relationships that began with online dating really feel about each other. Do they just think, “Well, we have a lot in common and our profiles seemed to match up well, so this must be the right person to me.” Because a computer said so?! Because it looks good on paper?! Ladies and gentlemen, pardon me for being a hopeless romantic, but this just doesn't do it for me.
What happened to being tied up in each other's dog leashes in the park? To the handsome stranger who picks up your scarf that you didn't notice you dropped on the street a couple steps back? To the secretive and seductive smiles from across the bar? Have all those things simply become fairy tales from days of yore?
If finding your partner in life has been reduced to the simplicity of buying a pair of shoes on zalando.com, then maybe I really should give up on love all together.
But I refuse to believe that's true. In order to keep my sanity, I have to believe that people can still meet by chance on the street or anywhere and have a real, true connection. Not through wifi or bluetooth, but flesh and blood. I have to believe that you can still feel sparks when your hand lightly brushes the hand of another. That sometimes it doesn't make sense if you were to look at it on paper, but somehow, some way, you both just know it's right. Human connection is so much more than words, pictures, likes and favorites. It's about chemistry and warm, breathing, blood pumping reality.
We can't lose that. And I will try to hang onto it as long as I can.