26 July 2009

To Be Known

About a week ago, a new friend recommended OKCupid, a social networking site that places more emphasis on matchmaking than Facebook but less than Match.com. It's a fun site with its focus on tests and surveys, playful sense of humor and diversity of methods by which to make contact with other members. The "staff robot" searches for people who might make good friends or lovers and delivers them to the user's "Quiver" for consideration, listing "Match", "Friend", and "Enemy" percentages to the right of the harvested member's photograph.

Some of the matches delivered to me so far have been very interesting people. Their voices in the narratives on their Profile pages are strong and intelligent and open. I really imagine I am perceiving the minds and souls of these people. Like this one--

I'm very warm and compassionate but intensely intelligent and curious. I prize people who are self-aware and self-honest. I want to understand everything but am really baffled by the human race. Nature makes the most sense to me, I am a wilderness kind of person. I love literature, poetry, philosophy and making music.

--from a woman who lives right here in New Orleans. I want to meet this person. I dropped her a line

Subject: I would like to meet you

Would you like to meet?

There's a lot I want to say in response to the self-description in your Profile but I'd like to see if you're listening or interested before I "launch".

If you decide you'd rather not meet, please accept my sincere best wishes for your life. I'm glad you're on the planet.

It was easy to write her because, just from reading her profile, I felt somewhat acquainted with her. She was familiar to me. I understood her words and I also felt something more of her between and behind the lines.

For a month before I learned about OKCupid, my experience at eHarmony had not been as positive. There is a sterility and blandness about eHarmony that feels somehow "Mormon" to me. But disguised. Like Dick Cheney in a Hawaiian shirt.

In an effort to preserve the utmost privacy for subscribers, eHarmony maintains a negotiator-gatekeeper role through the open stages of communication between members/matches. For me the resulting separation between my "match" and me has left me feeling frustratingly distant and powerless.

In addition, the delivered matches are...well, they're not matches. I have closed 71 matches: 18 because I felt no chemistry while reading their Profile; 53 because they never responded to my initial communication. I give them 2 weeks and then close the file. How can an unresponsive man be a good match for woman for whom communication is the first rule? It's a deal breaker and I indicated this in every way possible when I registered at the site.

I feel no familiarity with these men as I read their Profiles. They hunt and play golf and train dogs. They are 5'7" and never read and God has been the most important person in their life. They never drink. Their Profiles do not include a photograph and they are uncommunicative online. It seems a very long journey to make a friendship, let alone a marriage, with most of these guys.

Out of the blue, a brief, cryptic email from SG landed in my email box two days ago. Steve G. My first boyfriend. About 34 years since I last heard from him. The cryptic email mentioned something about Facebook and I was prompted to reactivate my account there. Ah, Facebook. They don't even pretend to be a dating site. Their mission is to help me "connect and share with the people in [my] life." It's a strange space: where I can feel both invisible and over-exposed at the same time. Where someone's attempt to "connect and share" with me can feel like an invasion of privacy.

Or like a gift.

A few friends quickly fired "welcome back" messages and that felt good. Steve's request for friendship was waiting for me and I granted it. A recent thumbnail photo of him appeared alongside the request. Who is that man? I thought. Perhaps in a larger image I would have seen some trace of "My First Love" in that face but he just looked like a middle-aged white guy yesterday.

This morning he wrote a longer message. But for awhile yesterday, as I pondered the first mysterious email and could make nothing of it and my brain frantically sought meaning, tried to translate or decipher or intuit the mind and heart behind the words.

My emotional clock rolled back 37 years and I was 17 years old again and in love with a boy. I remember how lost and drowning I felt in the relationship. My self esteem was much lower then and I desired more than anything to be what he wanted. I thought if I became exactly what he wanted, he would love me forever. But I couldn't figure out what he wanted and he couldn't tell me what he wanted.

It was hell: but being 17 and naive and inexperienced (and having watched too many Hollywood movies and heard too much popular song and spent too many years in church...) I thought Love was suffering.

The intensity of the fear, abasement and need that washed over me yesterday was surprising. After all these years! Whoa! I thought. "What was that?!" I think it was the last gasp of The Girl Who Loved Steve.

It helped that this morning's email was addressed to "Dearest Donna Maria," my birth name. A name that no longer rings even a distant bell of identification in me. The greeting distinguished Then from Now with crystal clarity.


A young friend of mine doesn't see the point of marriage, whether formal or common law. She views attempts to form lasting partnerships as unnatural, running counter to the innate and pervasive fickleness of human nature. When she told me, I jumped into a response argument without first shaping it completely in my mind. She remained unconvinced at the end of the conversation.

I want to relate the yearning for commitment to reaching a certain age or a universal hunger for something boundless or for some persistent certainty but I couldn't put it into words.


I wasn't allowed to see "They Shoot Horses Don't They" when it first ran in 1969; but from the trailers, I knew it was about a marathon. The concept fascinated me because I sensed a potential for stripping away pretensions and defenses.

I fantasized about marathons for years after the film was released. The facade of personality finally penetrated, shattered, worn down! Nothing left but the bare, unadorned essence of the person! The ecstasy for me was not about being relieved of the weight of pretense; the exhilaration came from the warm gaze of the Other on my exhausted innocence, from finally being seen.

And that -- the yearning to be known, to be seen -- is probably the prima materia of all my dreams of love. It fed my desire for Steve 37 years ago. And sparked my decision to cancel my eHarmony membership. It's there when I step onto a stage to play or sing or speak. And it inspires me when I write. Here. For you.

Note: There is a beautiful poem by Irving Feldman called "Recognition" that belongs at the head of this post. It seems I cannot hold onto the poem. I first saw it in The New Yorker magazine and clipped it and taped it into the journal I kept at the time.

Of course, that journal is lying in a storage unit in CA and I am in New Orleans. Twice in the almost-five years since locking the storage unit, I've craved the poem strongly enough to contact the New Yorker and request a copy. And twice they've complied.

And twice I've misplaced the poem--storing it on a computer that didn't belong to me or inadvertently deleting the email containing it.

I wrote to them again tonight and if/when it comes I'll post it here.

1 comment:

  1. 1) The Feldman poem is in the New Yorker digital archives. It's in a pdf format within the magazine pages, I think, and is pretty clunky to copy and paste.

    2) I never had in luck in my short experience with E-harmony, and yours seems to be the prevailing opinion from what I've gathered. They do seem to have this superior moral tone, which is sheer pretense.

    3) While we change/develop/evolve over a period of years, I think that we still seek some sort of partnership/marriage/alliance with fellow travelers. Sometimes one's former and current companion(s) evolve in the same direction, and sometimes they get stuck or diverted.

    About all I'm good for now.



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