You tell yourself that you're not a loser for using a dating service, that there aren't really a lot of options. After all, most of your friends are married, and most of their friends are married, too. And since you're not the type who'll go to a bar to meet someone, and since you're not keen on dating co-workers, you don't really have a lot of options.
So you join, getting the smallest package available because, you tell Laura, the owner of the service, you won't be doing this long. You just want to jump start your dating self-confidence, move on from your last relationship, and meet some other single people.
You've met her at her office, and she's already explained to you how it works: no pictures, no videos. Just a dating profile that you and she will write together. Then she matches you up with guys with whom she thinks you'll have something in common, sends you their profiles and sends them yours. If both parties are interested, she will tell the guy to call you.
Laura's maybe ten years older than you, and early in the conversation, she says that she's married, as if this will inspire confidence in her matchmaking abilities. She promises you a deal on the membership fee, and assures you that the guys you'll meet through the service will be interesting.
Interesting, you'll soon discover, is an understatement. There's Joe, the vacuous forty-year old who meets you at a bar popular among the twenty-something crowd. He brings along his best friend; the two of them rehash their rugby-playing days at Groton while you drink the fastest pint of Guinness you've ever had.
Next is Adam, whom you meet at—his choice—a Mexican restaurant. You've had a bad feeling about him ever since he called to set the date up, but when you told Laura this, she said that you should give him a chance. “Just get one drink,” she said, “and then you can leave if you don't like him.”
You don't like him. For starters, Adam's a talker. He says that he took his parents to the Shaker museum the last time they were in town, then spends the rest of the date espousing the glories of his swanky SUV, the rotisserie oven he bought off the Home Shopping Network, and the miniature greyhound he purchased at the pet store. You don't harass Adam about getting a dog from a pet store because you're too busy downing your drink; you'll be ending this date faster than Adam can list the features of his home stereo system with surround sound.
There are other matches, like the doctor, who, on the first date at a swanky wine bar, tells you about all the other women he dated through the service, many of whom, he says, were fat. You don't point out that he's a tad overweight himself, but for some strange reason you do go out with him a second time. Maybe it's because he makes sushi, or maybe it's because he's the best so far, or because you're lonely. You drive that night, and after you pick him up, he spends the next fifteen minutes itemizing repairs you should make to your car. You don't mention that you're driving because his truck is in the shop, nor do you tell him that he spent more on his kitchen renovations than you make in an entire year and car repairs are low on your list of priorities. You do, however, remind yourself to say no when he asks you out again. After all, you can buy sushi now at the grocery store.
It's Max, the golf pro, who does you in. You've chosen the meeting place this time—a dive bar on the waterfront that serves good gin and tonics. Max shows up in his golf clothes, orders a light beer and says that, like you, he's a writer: he has a column in the country club newsletter, and he gets his column titles from Country Western songs.
As he talks, you sip your gin and tonic and think about Matt, your ex, who has been inflated to superhero status by these dates and your bad memory. In your head you compose a letter that sounds like your own Country Western song telling him how much you miss him, how wrong you were, and how much you'd like another chance.
But you'll never write the letter, let alone send it, he will never call, and Golf Boy will never shut up. You tune back into the conversation just in time to hear him say that maybe someday he'll see your work in Reader's Digest.
You don't answer. You are hoping he'll never see your work—and more importantly, that he'll never see you again, and you're imagining what you'll say when you call Laura in the morning. Probably what you always do: “Nice guy, but I'm not interested in getting together again.” You'll wonder if she thinks you're a loser for using her service. You'll wonder if she realizes what losers she's set you up with. You'll wonder if you asked real nice, would she send you a better selection?
You'll be in the parking lot, saying good bye to Golf Boy, when you decide that the next time you contact the service, it'll be to cancel your membership. Maybe I'll just date myself, you will think as you unlock your car. You picture yourself on your porch, enjoying a gin and tonic, vegetarian sushi, and the last of the sunset. Maybe you'll read the paper in the dying sunlight. Maybe you'll listen to the far-off roar of baseball fans at the local stadium. You'll definitely be by yourself.
Darcy Wakefield teaches at two colleges in Boston. She is working on an M.F.A. at Emerson College.