In the previous installment, Lisa changed her online dating name to the more upbeat SunshineGirl and lowered her age by five years. The response is overwhelming. After one meeting with Stan, she rashly agrees to travel with him to Iceland.
SunshineGirl bailed out over the Atlantic, leaving me on a plane with a man I didn’t know, going to a country I’d never wanted to visit.
We got in around 6 a.m., picked up a car and headed out of Keflavik. (Like most Icelandic names, the airport sounded like a high-fiber cereal.) It was a scene as bleak as you can imagine. That’s exactly what the guidebook said, although a geologist wrote that and meant it as high praise. Most of Iceland is a lava plain formed by volcanoes that erupted centuries ago. We drove through mile after mile of fields of black lava crust. With each mile, I felt my spirits sinking a little lower; I slumped in the car seat. Stan loved it.
The part of Iceland that isn’t lava crust is geothermal springs, producing geysers that constantly shoot up out of the earth—sort of like Old Faithful, times thousands. That wouldn’t be so bad—at least it was a relief from the black fields of lava crust—if they didn’t smell like rotten eggs. The whole country was like a goddamn National Geographic Special.
You know how some people get off on geology—fault lines, tectonic plates, igneous rock? To them I say: Schist happens.
Around noon we decided to get a room and take a nap. Icelanders, I learned, weren’t great on creature comforts. It must come from growing up on lava crust and inhaling geysers. Each hotel room we visited was identical to the next: a pair of twin beds—the narrowest I’d ever seen—at right angles to each other. It was an arrangement Mother Teresa would have loved. The towels were so rough I mistook them for loofah sponges.
Stan insisted on checking out several hotels, but not for a double bed. He was hoping to find a place that gave a discount for AARP.
“In Iceland?” I asked him. “For the American Association of Retired Persons?”
“Doesn’t hurt to ask,” he said. “How about Triple A?”
The next day was midsummer night’s eve, which meant 24 hours of daylight. Stan took advantage of the solstice to play 72 holes of golf, so I strolled over to the Parliament building in downtown Reykafik to check my email. What a progressive country! The hotel rooms were like prison cells but the government operated the equivalent of a free Internet cafe. Then I took myself off to the Blue Lagoon, an immense outdoor geothermal spa on the edge of the capital. It was the perfect symbol of egalitarian Iceland: no crystalline Caribbean waters here, just a milky opaqueness where we were all the same.
That afternoon I boarded the whale-watching boat, though I knew I wouldn’t see anything. If you believed the guidebook, you’d think you couldn’t drop a line in the water without reeling in an orca. I knew better. Wherever I showed up on vacations, the area’s famous features went missing. I once spent three days at Disneyland without running into Mickey Mouse.
The water had turned choppy, and the small boat pitched violently with each wave. A busload of Japanese tourists huddled in the hold, vomiting politely into their plastic cups. Overcome with nausea, I clung to a corner of the deck.
“Whale at 9 o’clock!” the captain bellowed. Everyone raced to my corner. “Brilliant, aren’t they!” said a cute Englishman. I threw up over the side.
I recovered my land legs and my appetite at the same time. That was unfortunate because 1) I was kind of hoping to lose weight on this trip, and 2) I was getting sick to death of fish—so sick that, for variety, I sampled Iceland’s famous rotten shark. At night, I dreamt about the Mission’s street carts—the chicken and rice at the Adobo Hobo, Murat’s fabulous raspberry tarts at Amuse Bouche. Stan said I purred in my sleep. “We’re doing well, aren’t we?” he said.
On balance, Stan and I did get along pretty well. Between the all-night golf and the whale watch, we didn’t see that much of each other. In fact, I would say we were like an old married couple, which was odd for people who were on their second date. It wasn’t until the flight back to San Francisco that our relationship hit turbulence. I was relaxing with an Icelandic beer while Stan, stirring Metamucil into his orange juice, tallied the expenses for the trip. He suggested I pay half the cost of his Viagra.
“Why? It’s your prescription.”
“It’s something we shared,” he said. “You got as much pleasure from it as I did.”
So while I’d flown out as half of a couple, I returned alone. With both boys away at camp, home was almost as bleak as Iceland. I took my laptop to La Boheme and checked my email. SunshineGirl had a few nibbles, but I wasn’t biting.
* * *
It was time to try something entirely different, so I signed up for eHarmony.com. I wanted to be one of the happy couples it featured in commercials, although all that laughing got on my nerves. I also liked the scientifically proven, patented Matching System based on 29 key dimensions of compatibility necessary for “a lifetime of joy.”
But the real appeal was that I wouldn’t have to sell myself. I wouldn’t even have to look—eHarmony would do it all for me. Dr. Neil Clark Warren, its genial founder, said he was “passionate” about helping me find the love of my life. It was close as I could come to an arranged marriage without being Pakistani.
I spent an hour completing the Relationship Questionnaire. It was an exhaustive form that, Dr. Neil said, would connect me with singles who were highly compatible with my unique personality, values, goals and beliefs.
The questionnaire started off innocuously enough: Are you generous? Ready to compromise? A good friend? Then it stripped off the kid gloves and went in for the kill. You’re lazy? Introverted? Irritable? How often in the past month have you felt sad? Misunderstood? Plotted against??? Would you agree with the following statement: My house is often cleaner when I have company coming over. (Well, duh!) Of the four personality traits, which is most like you: fussy, dutiful, unconquerable, frisky? Unafraid, inspiring, submissive, timid?
How about none?
Then, when you’d been put through the wringer and you thought not even Dr. Neil could find anything lovable in you, eHarmony created a Personality Profile that put the nicest possible gloss on things. The spin doctors in Washington had nothing on Dr. Neil. Even after I checked “yes” to laziness, irritability, introversion, etc., etc., here’s what they had to say about me:
· Lisa is very supportive of other people.
· Lisa is good at “troubleshooting” potential problems in a relationship.
· Lisa takes pride in being very loyal to friends and family.
Isn’t Lisa great?
It felt like unconditional love. In fact, it felt like I was 10 years old again and my mom was still alive, making me hot chocolate and praising me to her friends. And every night, while I snuggled under the blankets, eHarmony would look for my perfect match.
* * *
dan from san jose was my first eHarmony match. For some reason, dan didn’t like to capitalize he wasn’t too big on punctuation either. dan was too tall for me (6-foot-two) and too young (44 years old). But he sounded like a go-along, get-along kind of guy. Here’s what I knew about dan:
3 Relationship Strengths from dan’s Personality Profile:
- dan is good at reconciling (i.e. doesn’t tend to sulk after a conflict is resolved).
- dan is skilled at finding “win-win” solutions when conflicts arise.
- dan meets new people easily and makes them feel welcome.
The one thing dan wishes MORE people would notice about him is:
- my passion for life
dan typically spends his leisure time:
- reading working around the house sleeping in the sun
I liked dan well enough, though I couldn’t help wonder: If you’ve got so much passion for life, why are you spending your free time sleeping in the sun?
Now that Dr. Neil had found dan for me, the next step was to Start Communication: I was to choose five questions to ask him, from a total of 50. I could ask him whether he’d relocate for me (seemed a little premature), what kind of relationship his parents had (seemed kind of nosy) or how he felt about premarital sex. With dan and me both in our 40s, I assumed the answer would be, “Urgent!” So instead I asked him how much personal space he needed, what quirks in a partner would bother him most (Bad grammar? Superstition? Where did eHarmony get these multiple choices?), where his ideal getaway was, how many books he’d read in the last year, and his opinion of traditional gender roles.
What was wrong with this picture? That wasn’t one of my 50 possible questions, but my answer would have been: plenty. If I’d met dan at Borderland Books, say, I might have asked him what kind of sci-fi books he read, not how many. If I’d bumped into him at the Curiosity Shoppe, I could have tried to find out what made him laugh. As a reporter, I knew that people often told you what they thought you wanted to hear, and that you had to ask a dozen questions to get one meaningful response. As an editor, I would certainly wonder why he rejected Capitals and punctuation. I sent dan my five questions, but I thought, There are no right answers.
* * *
Wake up, dan! I pictured him, like an oversized cat, dozing in a pool of sunlight in the window of Ritual, yawning and blinking and swiping with a clumsy paw at my email. In the meantime, eHarmony sent me Scott.
Scott (He capitalized) had a handlebar mustache, which was a major turnoff—Dr. Neil had never asked me how I felt about that. Also, Scott lived in Seattle, which made it hard to get together for dinner and a movie.
These were Scott’s Relationship Strengths:
- Scott is socially poised and people-oriented.
- Scott places a high value on being direct and honest when expressing thoughts and feelings.
- Scott generally dislikes the “status quo,” and is exhilarating to be around.
It would be nice to be around someone who’s exhilarating, especially compared to dozy old dan. On the other hand, these were the three things that Scott was most thankful for:
- thankful that we had eight years of George Bush
- thankful that we are protecting the world from terrorists
- thankful that I am able to talk about what is real
What’s real, Scott, I thought, is that what we are doing isn’t protecting anyone from terrorists. What’s real, Scott, is that you seriously need a civics lesson.
And lose the mustache, while you’re at it.
I signed off. Between match and eHarmony, I felt I was living my life—such as it was—online. On top of that, I was now getting spam from dozens of other dating sites. ChristianMingle. Real Mature Singles. (“Over 40 and still looking for love?” it began in a tone of incredulity.) Sexy Hot Singles (not to be confused with Real Mature). What I needed was a filter that put all those sites off-limits from 9 to 5 so I could get some work done.
* * *
Eharmony emailed to say that Jack had absolutely no interest in me.
“Who’s Jack?” I wondered. I hadn’t even been aware of Jack’s existence a couple of minutes earlier. Now I wanted him, passionately. But Jack “wants to pursue other matches,” the message read. Dr. Neil tried to soft-pedal the rejection, but it was hard to hear that Jack had decided to “permanently close communication” with me without ever having opened it. I was invited to send a final message—which, of course, would also be my first message.
Give it a chance, I implored Jack. You might like me if you got to know me.
EHarmony had turned out to be a heart breaker. Jack didn’t want me, dan was still dozing, and Scott was hankering for the worst president since Ulysses Grant.
“If you feel that passionate about politics, maybe you ought to go on DemocraticSingles.com,” Amy said. “That’s what a lot of people do. Either that, or RepublicanSingles.com if you want to go over to the dark side.”
It was a thought. I checked out the two sites. They looked virtually indistinguishable; they must have used the same graphic designer. So much for the two-party system.
Yellow-dog Democrat, former journalist, currently freelancing for magazines while trying to figure out what to do when I grow up. Smart, funny, reasonably attractive, feminist, sexually liberated—I prefer my Presidents to screw interns, not countries. I’m divorced with two wonderful sons who’ve turned me on to Roosevelt Tamale and the Radio Habana Social Club. (I’m not looking for a dad for them—I’m used to both roles.) Seeking a man who passes all of my litmus tests: pro-choice, pro-gun control, opposed to the death penalty, and monogamous. Oh, and I really do want world peace.