Thursday 24 October 2013

(Mis)Adventures in Online Dating

Against my will, my better judgement and my self-righteous protestations ('I will fall in love with the dreamy man sitting next to me on my next international flight!' and, 'I want romance!  I want to share a beautiful story about how we met!'  and, 'Hello, I meet new people all the time anyway!') I joined an online dating site this past spring.  I did it because my female roommates did.  We would sit on couches in our living room.  I would watch while they checked their profiles for messages and catalogue-shopped for men.  I felt left out.  It was peer pressure really.  And the fact that I was left at home three nights a week while they gallivanted about town on various fun dates.

Catalogue-shopping for our next date.

The site I joined was called OkCupid.  I suppose that means something to the effect of, 'Okay Cupid!  I'm ready!  Take aim now with your cyber arrows and computer clicks...'  Anyhow, my roomies helped me to sign up.  Within an hour I had heard from someone.  A man.  'Oooh!  This is so exciting!'  I squealed.  Except wasn't...The very first man to reach out to me was a very kind person I already knew.  He has chased after me at our local folk festival for the past five years calling out, 'Freckles!' and asking me on dates.  I have spent the past five folk festivals studiously avoiding contact.  I expect that he is an amazing person, but I am most definitely not interested.  Clearly, I've run into online dating pitfall #1:  you make yourself very available to others.  I suppose that's the point.  But maybe you don't want to be found so easily by everyone...

I woke up early the next morning and the first thought that crossed my mind was, 'I wonder if anyone has sent me a message through OkCupid today??'  I reached for my iPad while still in bed.  And abruptly sat up.  'Uh oh...'  I realized that I was already addicted.  I had to quit before this went any further.  And so I disconnected and removed my profile before ever actually communicating with anyone or going out on a date.

My family and friends kept surreptitiously prodding when it came to the topic of my love life...'Well...have you considered dating online?'  I referred to the aforementioned 'Freckles!' example and then to appease them I'd say, 'Well...if I don't meet somebody awesome this summer, I suppose I'll give online dating a try in the fall'.

And then the fall rolled around.  I was committed.  So I took a peek at  I hated it.  It 'matched' me as a 91% perfect fit with someone who had broken my heart in the spring.  Oh, and 'Freckles!' appeared again almost instantly.  So I quit.  I looked at eHarmony.  It is prettier than the other dating sites.  It asks more relevant questions.  'Freckles!' is here as well but heck, I've gotten used to him by now.  Seeing him here just feels like bumping into an old friend. 

There is a saying in the online dating world that certain sites are for folks seeking marriage and others are for people with a much shorter timeline in mind.  They say that eHarmony fits under the former.  I clicked around, reading about various men.  Much to my dismay, I could not view any photos or communicate with people unless I paid 3 simple installments of only $19.99 a month.  I mean, "WHAT?!!!!!!!!!!?!?"  This process is so painful already....and now I have to PAY for it?!!!  You've got to be kidding me.  I should be PAID to share my most intimate personal details here in this way!  Disgruntled, I took the very cheap approach and began to use the one free function of the site.  The 'I might like you' winky face.  I sent winky faces to numerous men at random (you may notice from my blog that I do like the winky face...)  In any case, I heard back from some of these men.  They began to sound interesting.  I shared this with my sisters while home visiting for Thanksgiving.  They insisted that we pay to explore this further and that at the very least, it would be worth it for a night of entertainment. 

So I very unwillingly pulled out my credit card.  And I paid the bare minimum - which in this case was $60.  My sister wisely suggested that if I get one or two $60 dinners out of the deal it will provide a decent return on investment.  I'm not sure about that logic as I tend to pay for myself (and often my date as well)  but I clicked 'confirm' nonetheless.  We poured some Prosecco and began perusing the catalogue.  It was fun for me for the first five minutes.  It was fun for my sister all night.  Below, for what it's worth, I will share my insights.

I expect this picture may make you think I found the love of my life.  No.  It simply represents my sister and I drinking champagne.  The post is too plain without images, ok?

First, I have determined that men who date online do not have any female friends.  Or sisters.  Or mothers...but wait, that's not possible.  They all have belly-buttons (or at least I hope they do...)  I digress.  In any case, if these men DID have sisters, or females of some form in their lives, they would not be allowed to post the profile pictures that they do.  In no particular order, here are the photos that men choose to post to their online dating profiles:

The requisite 'bad mirror selfie' shot

The 'me and my siiick tattoo' shot
The 'me & my buddies love drinking' shot
The 'I spend most of my time with my muscle car' shot

The 'I can't quite cut out my ex-girlfriend' shot
I realize that I am being mean and judgemental.  My own profile could use some work.  But boys, I'm just trying to help!  Please allow me to instruct you as to what a girl wants to see (read: what I want to see)  Your face.  Smiling.  You doing what you love (is it really just drinking beer with your buddies??)  You and your mom.  I imagine us gals have terrible photos and ridiculous profiles too.  I haven't looked.  Though at this rate, I may have to, as I've burned through all my male 'matches' and haven't felt interested yet.  
All the kind people who met their partners at parties ten years ago, in college or (lucky you!) in highschool sweetly assure me that they know tons of people who are using, 'Oh, what is it called...."Lots of Fish in the Sea"?'  And that they even went to a wedding last summer where the couple had met online.  I can't help but find this patronizing and painful.  I consider myself to be a normal, awesome person - a 'catch' if you will.  I believe that I shouldn't 'have' to date online and I don't want to.  Well, let me tell you something.  We all think that.  The reality is, if you're single today, you are probably dating online.  Most of us are.  In fact, Stanford University conducted research that shows that one in three relationships now start online.  (Ummm...what?  Stanford is studying dating?  Don't we still have to cure cancer?)  Anyhow, apparently if current trends hold, come 2015 online dating will be the most common way for somebody to enter into a new relationship or meet their future spouse.
I have hated the process so far.  My distaste for meeting a man through a computer screen biases my writing - and I apologize for all the offensive things I have written.  The truth is, though I have an online profile, I am unqualified to comment on the whole thing.  I have yet to actually meet a single man in person - and that's where it may all change for me.  After all - it's people that I love.  Not computer screens.  I can't seem to feel any attraction to an image.  Nor excitement over an 'about me' paragraph.  I still can't shake the stigma.  Nor can I shake the romantic dreams of love at first sight, 'the one' and having a dreamy man write a guitar song for me.  But the truth remains:  behind each of those profile images lies a unique being who, just like me, is waiting to fall in love.
I commend all of you beautiful and bold people who are posting profiles online.  You are asking for what you want and reaching out to connect with others.  It takes courage and a lot of patience.  It seems that this is the way of our times.  Initial contact may be slightly different from bumping into someone at a cocktail party, but I am convinced that if you can make it past the screen, that falling in love will still feel the same.


Oh!  A very important post-script:

Quite frankly, my mom is THRILLED by the idea of online dating (most people who aren't doing it for themselves are)  Anyhow, back to my case and my mother.  I think she's champing at the bit to log in and find my future husband.  It's the closest access she's yet had to an arranged marriage.  She and her friends jokingly plan arranged marriages between their progeny during their dinner parties.  I find this appalling (and...ok, somewhat hilarious).  But in truth, for modern times, eHarmony, etc. are the accessible and appropriate (?? I'm still dubious) way for a WASPy Canadian mother to plan her daughter's arranged marriage.  In fact, Mom actually gave me a book a few years ago (after a particularly bad boyfriend choice) entitled, 'First Comes Marriage'.  I, obviously, abhor the whole idea.  But Mom, yes, I hear your point.  And yes you can have the login information for my eHarmony account.

Thanks Mom.

Friday 4 October 2013

Whitehorse: Quintessentially Canadian

If moose, float planes and the CBC are what it takes to be Canadian, then Whitehorse is Canadian through and through.

In fact, upon arrival, I stepped into the airport shuttle and was greeted by a familiar and very Canadian voice.  Stuart McLean's comforting and lilting stories about Morley and Dave flowed forth from the radio on the Vinyl Cafe.  The following morning, I headed to the CBC building myself for an interview on the Radical Reels show that brought me to Whitehorse.  And the CBC opened their doors to the public that day as part of Doors Open Yukon - a fabulous French concept providing the public with access to buildings they may not normally enter.

Chatting about Radical Reels with Sandi Coleman on CBC North's 'A New Day'

I'd love to wander through Whitehorse wearing a webcam. People would likely look at me oddly - but that's nothing new for me, as a redhead prone to getting into awkward scrapes (I actually meant to name this blog Little Misadventure). With my webcam mounted on my carrot top, I could easily transmit the beauty I am seeing to the world: the golden leaves, the low-lying western frontier stores on the main street (aptly named, 'Main Street') and the mighty river that flows through it all.

My new friend Jenny let me know that there are two moose here for each person.  She brought me to the colourful, stunning sights of Fish Lake, Miles Canyon and the Yukon river.  People here are immersed in a landscape that is still wild.  And what I have seen reinforces what I just learned in Alaska.  That life is different here.  Out of necessity, people are resilient, resourceful and in some way READY for what life may bring. 

Whitehorse and the mighty Yukon River

But there is one thing I have to expose.  There's a sort of seniority here in these northern climes.  If I were to move here, I'd be considered a 'cheechako' - a Chinook word for a 'newcomer' or 'tenderfoot'.  I may outgrow the moniker if I were to make it through a winter here and prove myself.  I might even earn the honour of becoming a 'sourdough'!  This term comes from the gold rush days when sourdough starter was used to get bread to rise in the absence of baker's yeast or eggs.  It's used now to define an Alaska or Yukon old-timer.  It's fair.  It takes grit to live here.  Or to borrow a line I love, a little grit and a lot of grace.

The northern strength of character (which can make for some real characters! See 'The Colourful Five Per Cent') is their entry fee.  In return for this price of admission, locals earn unparallelled access to a world that is wild and real.  As my new friend Nancy Oakley of The Yukon Historical & Museums Association so aptly noted,

'[The People's] life patterns are more connected to the land up here'

It's moose hunting season at the moment.  People speak of Salmon runs.  And locals are thrilled about the bountiful Highbush Cranberry haul this year, supported by a long, wet, warm summer.  It reminds me of my friend Celina Harpe, a Cree-Chipewyan elder from Ft McKay -another northerner- who lit up as she spoke of her cranberry harvest this year from Moose Lake.

In fact, as I write this post, I am overhearing a conversation in the hotel lobby.
'Have you been out there picking cranberries?'
'Yes!!  Who hasn't?'
It's the most natural thing in the world here.  Scratch that.  It's the most natural thing in the world.  Why aren't we all doing it?

A float plan resting quietly on Schwatka Lake at dusk

Float planes bask in the setting sun on Schwatka lake and I can't hear anything but my own breathing.  I just found the perfect quote to capture what I'm feeling.  I borrow this from the beautiful website of local filmmaker Marten Berkman - whose stunning film '2004 Yukon Quest' toured the world with The Banff Mountain Film Festival in 2005.  Incidentally, Marten was the first friendly stranger I met when I disembarked from the plane.

'The civilized people have lost the aptitude of stillness, and must take lessons in silence from the wild.' ~Isak Dinesen

There is a stillness here, an expansiveness, a sense of SPACE.  Is it possible that we humans are somehow...more HUMAN when there are less of us per square foot?  I bet there is some optimal density of human bodies that creates the conditions for the most adaptive, resilient individuals and communities.  In fact, I'm pretty sure it's been studied.  Actually, I know it has been - I remember now that I came across the concept Dunbar's Number when I was helping to form a cohousing community in Calgary.  The point is, getting the right number of people into a place, and just the right number, can increase group members' sense of satisfaction.  And I postulate that they've nailed it here.  It makes me feel resistant to heading home to the relative bustle of Banff...(or as locals here might say, as I head back 'Outside').

Finally - it's worth mentioning, that those romantic ideals I held of The Yukon were right.  I think that most of us harbour some similar romantic notion of 'The North'.  It IS romantic here.  For goodness' sake, it is home to The Klondike, fourteen First Nations and the cabin in which Robert Service penned, The Cremation of Sam McGee!  It helps that attractive men are in such abundance here.  That always serves to up the romantic ante for me.

Oh, and did I mention - my hotel actually organizes wake-up calls for guests to see the Northern Lights!  Now THAT's romantic!

And beneath the romance lies something very real - an aliveness, a lust for life and a very deep sense of connection to place.

This small and delicious, gamy taste of the north has simply whet my appetite.  Next I've gotta get me to Dawson.  And drive The Dempster.  Any takers?