Story: Kelli Fuqua Hart, Ocala Magazine’s Executive Editor
Photography: Chris Redd
It was a typical Friday night. My hair pulled back in a messy bun, wearing the sweatpants of some fellow I used to know – if I could only recall which fellow? Hmmm… Poor guy, leaving behind what would become my favorite pants. My face was glowing, covered in night creams and serums. And I had just wiped away a bit of nacho cheese dip that clumsily fell on to my “Ain’t Got No Time for Fat” t-shirt.
After having my fill of reality television and the infomercial about some at-home laser hair machine, I took in a deep breath and exhaled a groan – one that was soon followed by a hesitant mumbling of words, “What has freaking happened to my life?”
I was 35, divorced and spending more time talking to Siri than actual human people. My Friday nights and weekend pastimes had become opportunities to wash my dog and clean out my refrigerator – and even those things were starting to feel too wild to get a handle on.
Basically, life was passing me by and I was letting it. I felt like everyone I knew was happy and in love, spending their nights cuddling on the sofa, sipping wine on the deck or accomplishing a Pinterest to-do list, which I will admit I was more jealous of than anything else. I wanted to make that hugs and kisses banner. I wanted to do creative photographs where our hands made cute little hearts. I wanted to make adorable stepping-stones that would lead to a front door I shared with someone I loved!
That was it, dammit! I decided to get a grip on my love life and open myself back up to a cruel world where I had become familiar with a love that lurked like a rabid dog, ready to dig its teeth into me and devour all hope. But, I was determined, confident and ready to find a new pair of sweatpants! Then came that moment of cluelessness – What now?!
It had been 15 years since I had been out single and dating. I certainly wasn’t a mother the last go-round and let’s just say things were a little different physically. These boobs hadn’t needed to be squeezed into a “Go Get Him” shirt in quite some time. I was a professional now, a mature, law-abiding citizen. I was a mom and the idea of meeting Mr. Right at some honky tonk bar didn’t really sound appealing – at all.
I took to my friends who all seem to have managed to find their Mr. Right or, as one friend calls it, “Mr. Mediocre so no one else wants him.” Their stories concluded finding love in college, by being set up by friends, on MySpace and at work – hmmmm. I had long been graduated from college so that wasn’t happening. I’ve seen whom some of my friends date so I certainly wasn’t leaving it up to them to do my choosing. MySpace has been obsolete for years. And unless I was suddenly into women or married men, who don’t think I hadn’t considered at one point, co-workers weren’t going to qualify. I needed a new plan of action.
I had seen advertisements for websites that almost guaranteed success in finding a match, but I always scoffed at them. How desperate must a person be to need an online assembly line of muscle-heads and pretty boys with exaggerated profiles and sugarcoated taglines to find love? Me. I was that desperate. And so, my online excursion for love began.
Keep in mind, my decision to explore a keyboard relationship was something I wanted to keep very hush-hush. I didn’t need anyone knowing Kelli Hart had succumbed to such a pit in her life, she’d have no options except through personality matches and a cheesy screen name. I’d simply log on, do a little quiet searching and maybe send a “hello” or two. I’d log off and no one would know the difference. No one except the 30 or more local guys who saw me and messaged me to say, “Hey Kelli, I didn’t know you were on here!” Humiliation, the gig was up.
The initial blow to my ego was over and my life as an online dating member was evident. At this point, I’d be expecting my tacky Member’s Only jacket to arrive at any moment. I was branded, out there, so I may as well turn it up and give it all I’ve got!
Many sites exist. There are sites where a simple swipe can connect you; sites where, after filling out five-hours worth of questionnaires, you can be matched by a moderator; sites that are free to use; and sites that deduct a substantial amount of cash from your bank each month. Most every site has apps that make knowing you have an interested suitor almost immediate with a chippy little “ding.” The point is, if you are a human, there is a site out there for you. (This doesn’t mean, however, everyone on there is human and this is important to note.)
I joined nearly every site and started spending nacho cheese and movie night swiping and clicking and “liking” – and grimacing. Yes, there was an awful lot of shuddering as if watching the Human Centipede 2. It was that bad. Yet, there I was, under the glow of a pendant light, pecking away at my laptop to a potential 300 or so men, in my bed.
What is the deal with guys holding a fish? I know it’s been a while since I’ve been “in the game,” but is this fish-holding thing code for something phallic or possibly worse? I wasn’t understanding and with many quick clicks, those guys had to go. Likewise, I understand most women enjoy a partner with a tone, muscular body, but do we really need to see gym pictures? We assume if you are fit, you go to the gym. Must you be flexing in a mirror, often shirtless, to convince us? Yikes. Swipe.
As my inbox filled with more and more sappy, cheesy and often embarrassing messages, anything potentially worthwhile was at risk of being overlooked or smothered under a mess of soon-to-be deleted “Hello Sexy” and “My mom said if I didn’t say ‘hi’ to you, she would.” – Yes! That really happened.
Every so often, however, someone managed to catch my attention. A simple, “Hi. How are you?” looks pretty good when you’ve received a multitude of requests for naked photos. Some conversations ensued and I had myself a few first dates.
Meeting a person through an online experience is unlike any other. I know the strategy I put into choosing my profile photos – selecting a collection of what I believed captured me at my very best. I chose photos based on the following criterion: If I ever went missing, what photos would I want Nancy Grace to expose to the nation? These were the photos I felt should go online. Is it what I look like on a daily basis? Hell no. Some days brushing my hair and putting on lipstick is a chore. But, I figured a guy could see the big picture and I’d be let down easy later in a Starbucks if perfection was what he was looking for. I, however, wasn’t anticipating being duped myself. Since when is 5-foot-8 the new 6-foot? And is there a photo filter that adds hair? I’m guessing so.
My first internet-induced date was a nightmare. Well, the actual date itself was fun, at least until the part where he became so inebriated he fell on top of me, cracking my tailbone. Imagine sitting on a donut for three-plus weeks courtesy of 6-foot-tall traveling nurse who can’t hold his liquor or himself upright. Sadly, I went on a second date with this piping hot mess.
Then there was the guy my mother warned me against – the guy who professed his love for me after one date and a few weeks of texting. Did it come off as a tad desperate or perhaps psychotic? Yes. Was he extremely hot with a really cool car? Yes and yes. That one didn’t quite work out in case you were wondering.
I’ve gone for wine with a tennis pro, watched a movie with a realtor and bowled a pretty impressive game with an entomologist. Did you know dung beetles prefer to eat the poop of herbivores, mainly? It’s a fun fact to discuss while sharing a pizza – or not.
The more I went out, the more tragic any attempt at love seemed. I started to focus less on content and more on the “screenshot, share and laugh our ass off game” I was playing with my friends. We’d literally assign a point value to different types of photos and keep score of who could produce the most ridiculous ones. I may not have been succeeding at dating, but I was dominating this game!
Men, let me take a moment to offer some helpful tips when it comes to online dating profiles. First, we’ve already covered the whole fish-flaunting issue. Just don’t do that. Really. Please. Second, when choosing a username, avoid ideas like “ThePleasureExpress” and Captain_big_johnson.” Do I really need to go into reasons why? Also, a group photo as your profile picture is very confusing. Are you the tall hunk or the squatty guy wearing crocs? Let’s just keep things real. Lastly, what is the deal with the use of props in your pictures, men? I’ve come across everything from liquor bottles to watches and jewelry to guns! If any of you ladies are in the market for an alcohol guzzling, carb-consuming, materialistic hit man holding a fish, you are in luck! They are out there.
Guys, do you know what most women would like to see you holding in your photos? How about a guitar or paintbrush that shows some sense of culture? Maybe a camera that shows you have a healthy hobby over playing video games or beer-pong? Call me “crazy,” but I can’t imagine a situation where boasting about your rope chain while flashing your pistol supersedes an opportunity to meet someone, let’s say “a bit less gang-bangerish.”
I know women are equally guilty when it comes to our stupid duck-face and “look at me in my sports bra at the gym” photos. But I can’t speak for those ladies. I’ll leave the rebuttal to this article up to some man who is feeling my pain in the dating game. What I can say is, yes men, we know you have a penis and no, we don’t want to see the rooftop view of it in your photos any more than we are attracted to a mug shot or orange jumpsuit photo. What in the hell is wrong with some of you guys?
Sadly, this is what I, along with 66% of other people who have caved-in to online love-looking have been subjected to – a cesspool of repulsion with some glimmer of clarity in maybe 1 out of every 100 nightmares.
Can it work? Absolutely! My sister met her husband online and they are genuinely happy. I have several friends who braved the online game and found what they call “true love.” My co-worker met, moved in with and became engaged to the guy she met while online fishing all within a matter of weeks. So, I know it’s possible, but it’s not always that easy.
I’d love to conclude this sad but true testimony with some surprise happy ending. I’d love the last sentence to read, “Now, thanks to some match-making site, the only man in my bed is my new husband,” or something grossly poetic like that. The truth is, I’m still in the midst of the battle. Each day I still check in to my accounts and become frustrated that Mr. Right hasn’t said, “Hello.” I search through the virtual man-factory hoping someone, anyone, stands out. In fact, as I have been composing this story, I’ve stopped here and there to check messages and I’ve even obliged to coffee on Saturday with someone new.
I believe in dating, I believe in love and I even believe there could be someone amazing sitting in front of his laptop searching for “me,” while feeling the same frustrations right now. It’s worth dealing with the literal pains-in-the-butt and tarantula lectures to find someone who will one day touch my soul and make me realize why it never worked out with anyone else. (Yes, I stole that second part from a Pinterest meme – I’m addicted, ok?!)
Until then, I log off and the rest is romantic history – or shall I say “mystery?”