New Yorkers, or the affluent ones who are the target audience for New York magazine, like to believe that somehow they have been "grandfathered" out of the ordinary mandates of life. Emotional attachment? My dear, that's so Midwest.
So why did I read this article about the sexual compulsions of New York magazine readers and think: oh my goodness, I know these people? I've met them, or some variation on them -- online.
Let me preface (and if you can't cope with lurid, please stop reading now) my tales with a confession -- I am tremendously curious. I don't know if I am bent towards journalism because of my curiosity or if my yen to know more about people's inner lives is part of a writer's persona.
Signing up for the largest dating website in the country wasn't like putting an erotic ad on craigslist -- or even joining a Unitarian polyamory group. Then why did I seem to have a steady stream of potential suitors with a relentless drive towards virtual sex?
The middle-aged magazine editor who came home from a party two states away and messaged me about how well-endowed he was (he apologized the next day).
The 29 year old New Yorker who emailed me that he liked the poet Wallace Stevens and wanted me to have online sex with him.
The swinger in York, Pa., clearly married, who wanted to give me a grad course in risky sex.
The pastor struggling with an addiction to pornography -- a fairly common problem for male pastors, from what I now know.
I could go on -- but that's probably more than enough. I felt that I had wandered into a dating world in which most of the relational rules had been cast aside. I had no idea how I had gotten there, either. So I listened, before I backed off. I tried to be polite, because I could see that many were really and truly suffering.
Online dating can be a callous affair -- the emails unanswered, the correspondences begun and dropped, the carping remarks about "those women" or "these men." Yet I also found that even the would be-seducers displayed a yearning for love in their profiles. But sex would do -- until the ideal female came along. Wang captures this dissonance so well when analyzing the Diarists:
And yet perhaps the most surprising psychological attribute of the Diarists, despite weeks upon weeks of guarding their vulnerabilities from the brutality of the marketplace, is their romanticism. True love! Who could say these words in public without acute embarrassment? It is nonetheless something that the Diarists keep referencing, despite the impression they convey that it is an ever-receding ideal. It’s an odd, negative sort of tribute—a vague longing for something all but lost, but perhaps worth clinging to nonetheless.
I really had no idea of how to navigate a world in which you invite someone into your bed, real or virtual, before you ever meet them. I hasten to say that indeed I terminated contact with these guys before we got to the meeting stage.
Yes, there were some interesting guys who didn't open with the sex gambit. However, I am left wondering whether somehow I am catnip for swingers, addicts, men who try to lure with Wallace Stevens (why not Byron?).
If so, why? I have no clue. I return to a remark one of my friends at our local paper made to me a while back.
I've mentioned it before here, but it rings true, and gives form to a dilemma that at the moment I find unanswerable. You are so innocent, so naive, Elizabeth, he said with the kindness of a happily married man. You will meet so many cads that you may not recognize it when and if the right man comes along.
Only I'm not so naive anymore. Have I been turned back into a New Yorker -- without the designer clothes? What kind of a bargain is that?
Sometimes I wish I had stayed in "Midwest" Pennsylvania-- illusions intact. Other times -- I saved a few romantic dreams, just in case I ever need them.