Search Limits

In honor of Valentine’s Day, a piece that I wrote nine years ago (!) for the Times Union. Enjoy, while I rest from the enormous effort of not editing my 34-year-old self. (OK, I couldn’t resist a few footnotes.)

♦ ♦ ♦

Would have led me to this guy?

I just signed up with I made up a screen name and created a profile and entered various search criteria to find the perfect guy for me within 10 miles of my ZIP code.

Did I want to post my profile, the Web site wondered? No, thank you. It’s not that I’m shy or unsure of myself, it’s just that I’m … married. Happily married, with two[1] mostly lovable kids and a mostly delightful life. I have no desire to find a new man; I just have a desire to Internet date.

I never really dated before I met the man I would marry. I didn’t even really date him: it was at college, and we proceeded straight from hanging out to staying in. Having never dated, I flatter myself that I would be good at it, that I’m good at talking, listening, and flirting, that I’m pretty darn cute. I imagine the lost thrills of all the first dates I never had, the suspense of meeting a new possibility across a candlelit table.

And then I imagine being bored silly. Until recently, my dating fantasies were always trampled by the parade of tedious guys I’d picture myself having to humor and gently rebuff before I’d find one who was worth a second date. I may be a friendly flirt, but I’m picky.

Then came Internet dating, which offers the promise of front-row seating along the parade route, from which vantage point (comfy in your pajamas) you can pick out the one or two potential mates who have real potential. If you start by reading profiles and exchanging e-mails, it seems, you can weed out the ones with no sense of humor or just no sense, the ones with politics that repel you or interests that baffle you.

First, you create your profile, an exercise that primarily teaches you how unreliable everybody’s profile must be. Even trying to be honest (without, of course, mentioning the husband and kids) was hard: Do I show my best self or my worst? Am I “curvy” or “average” or “a few extra pounds”? Do I say I read the New Yorker or do I say I’m almost always an issue[2] behind and I always skip the poems and I usually make it about halfway through the Seymour Hersh pieces, and to be quite honest the first thing I turn to is the movie review in the back?

I skipped ahead to the search. I want someone local, 30 to 45 years old, at least college-educated, left-wing politics, nonreligious. Up popped three pages of profiles, and, gleefully, like a kid in a very creepy candy store, I clicked on each photo. No smokers, please, no New-Agers, no sports freaks. Nobody meek. Reality TV? Tom Clancy novels? I don’t think so.

But wait. There is a problem with finding someone this way, a problem represented by the man in the living room reading to our boys. The man who made a life with me, the man who made my life. If we’d seen each other’s profiles in 1989, we probably wouldn’t have made it to the first date. The problem with Internet dating—and this is true also of Internet shopping and Internet research—is that when you enter your search terms, you limit your search by what you already think you want, by your idea of who you are and the person you could love.

But what if you’re wrong? What if there’s a 29-year-old with uncommon wisdom or a 50-year-old more youthful than I? What if there’s a philosopher artist with a great sense of humor who never made it through college? When I met my future husband, I didn’t want someone who spent Sundays watching football, preferred a diner to a bistro, thought of reading as work. He didn’t want someone who hated competitive sports, knew books were superior to movies, thought of card games as work. I didn’t want someone who yelled when arguments turned ugly; he didn’t want someone who cried when they did.

We got each other, though, somehow sensing qualities that we would never have known to look for. We got each other, and magically, 15 years later, he’s learned[3] not to yell and I’ve learned[4] not to cry. Which is all well and good for me to say. A 19-year-old can afford to bet that, with time, a good man will turn into a perfect match. At 34, I’m not sure I’d have the patience to rely on chance either. At least not chance alone. So to all you Albany-area Liberal, Very Liberal, or Nonconformist 30- to 45-year-old guys who have rejected organized religion and are searching for love, good luck, and try to keep an open mind. And, “justjustin17,” if you’re reading this, e-mail me. I think we could be friends.[5]

[1] Now three.

[2] Or five.

[3] Mostly.

[4] Mostly.

[5] Didn’t email. Yet.


  1. I’m curious what, if anything, your 9-year older self found “young” in this piece, which of course I loved and wondered with my wife what other treasures you’ve got stashed away.

    1. Mostly just little things, I guess–if it had been too far off, I wouldn’t have posted it. Perhaps the rhythm is off in some sentences or the emphasis doesn’t read as it should. Things you notice when you come at it almost as a new reader. I’m glad you liked it. This one was actually published, but yeah, there’s a lot of stuff buried in this hard drive . . .

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