Nothing sucks the spirit like a loveless mid-November in Stockholm. As a recent recruit to the ranks of the single, I sat alone in my suburban flat while my friends had cleverly contrived to hold on to their latest squeezes for the darkest season. In spring, I knew, the hormonal hordes would pour back onto the streets in search of love and mere debauchery. But for now the months stretched before me like jail time.
It was Monday evening, deathly dark, and my home had all the furnishings of a prison cell. As an Irishman in this atomized city, where living alone was more rule than exception, I was struggling to find a social outlet that would take me beyond the realm of pubs and playing fields. But as I sat there perusing the TV guide and preparing to be bored, I suddenly came up with a way of avoiding solitary confinement: the advent of internet dating meant that the clunky old computer in the corner could serve as my dynamite, my tunneling tool, my smuggled key.
I bounded across the pinewood floor and opened a browser window. Within minutes, the gloom had lifted as I connected with countless sensitive singles simultaneously surfing the internet in studio apartments from the city centre to the archipelago.
It was the ideal solution in many ways. I had recently cut my ties with the Swedish woman who had once moored me and now I was floating adrift in a sea containing plenty of the proverbial fish. But until now I had lacked a rod with which to catch them. (Presuming we can keep our minds out of the gutter for a second).
Back home I could have gripped the social crutch offered by friends and family, which was certainly an option worth considering. But I liked it here and relished the challenge of finding my feet in an unknown city. And so it was that the_irish_bullfrog took his first tentative leap into the shimmering pond of online dating.
But before gaining access to pages and pages of lovely ladies, I was obliged to fill in forms, tick boxes and provide a general description of myself and my whims. ‘Judgmental', ‘frugal' and ‘socially awkward' all sprang immediately to mind but didn't seem to create the desired effect. ‘Caring', ‘witty' and ‘fun-loving' were some of the qualities that eventually made the cut.
When finally I got to scour the profiles of thousands of comely maidens, I found to my chagrin that many of my prospective dates had similarly edited their personalities to fit the language of mindless happy-babble. Everyone was nice, generous, crazy about animals, fond of shopping, and they all seemed to spend half their lives either in the gym, going to the cinema or drinking coffee with friends.
Out of pure human interest I scanned the profiles of scores of women aged between 18 and 65 in towns and cities from Luleå to Malmö. Cats, cinema, gym, shopping, coffee, friends and general sameness as far as the eye could see. Clearly this was a manifestation of the Jante Law I had heard so much about, which made a virtue out of dreary sameness. Having yawned my way through several tons of these electronic sheaves, I soon found myself looking for women who enjoyed fist fights and spiking their friends' coffee with psychoactive drugs. Just like home.
As I mentioned before, my own profile wasn't much better. So I changed some settings, spiced it up a bit, and morphed into an altogether edgier bullfrog. I quickly learned how much of online dating is an exercise in filtering. If we weren't talking about sentient human beings with relationship deficits, we might say that we were separating the wheat from the chaff.
Sometimes the names alone provided hints as to the prospects for a lasting relationship. Somehow gunilla_luvs_prozac didn't seem quite ready, whereas cum2mama was if anything a little too ready. Messages from hysterical_hilda, katsb4men and imeldamarcos were similarly binned.
But diligent research eventually brought its rewards as I discovered that beyond the mundane Majas lay clusters of intriguing Tinas, Linas and Sabrinas.
Being as shallow as the next man, the ruthless process of elimination meant that photographic evidence was very much taken into consideration. I, however, fearing for my photo's fate out there in the ether, opted instead to upload an image of a very attractive rooster. This could be justifiably viewed as a flagrant waste of everybody's time, since members of the fairer sex are equally keen to cop an eyeful before sampling the wares. But within minutes somebody called satmara_tina76 had alighted on my online coop and laid a message in my tray.
“Nice cock!” read the compliment.
“You sound nice,” I replied. “Would you like to meet for coffee and a cream bun?”
I met Tina at a café a few days later. As it happened, the date, though flawless in terms of physique and biology, was decidedly lacking in chemistry. But it got a couple of single people out of their flats on a cold November afternoon and for that alone it should be applauded.
Next up was Lina4evah, who compensated for her silly screen name with a captivating smile and a willingness to engage in MSN banter.
But herein lies one of the perils of online dating. The hilarity of our online exchanges did not translate to the three dimensional world. As dating novices, both hailing from countries with no real history of the art, we made the unforgivable mistake of going to see a movie. When I spotted her by now familiar face outside the Rigoletto I could see that she had the look of the spoiled brat about her when her mouth actually moved.
And the dislike was mutual. She frowned at my corduroy trousers and winced at my slit fricatives. We each spent the film half expecting the other to make a dash for the fire exit. That evening, cringing in front of our respective monitors, we uttered a final thanks but no thanks and that was the last I evah heard of her.
At first glance, sabrina_boysboysboys also seemed to slot neatly into the bulging category of the overeager. Whereas I at this point had replaced my rooster with a stylishly blurred picture of myself, I noticed that Sabrina was using an image of the busty Italian songstress of the same name. By the powers of the much-touted information superhighway, we fizzed off teaser questions to size each other up for dateworthiness and within days Sabrina and I were clinking glasses at a bar in Gamla Stan.
By the New Year we were hooking up on a regular basis and things were looking good IRL - in real life. We held gloved hands on walks along the city's iced-over waterways. We drank hot chocolate in cosy cafés and nudged each other's noses with growing affection. By March we had become nauseating even to ourselves and by April it was all off.
In spring, the hormonal hordes poured back onto the streets. For once I was ready, galvanized by a winter's gallivanting. By the end of the summer I had met the_swedish_cowfrog in an offline environment and had no more need for online dating. But it was a tonic while it lasted, helping me to assimilate, vastly improve my written Swedish and meet a few beautiful natives into the bargain.
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