“So, I think I’m ready to try online dating,” my best friend said to me this summer, and just like that, we entered adulthood. Or, more accurately, a certain phase in the lifespan of people born and bred on the Internet: we had already taken our friendships and TV-watching and diary entries online (hello, Xanga!), and now it was time to move our adult, consenting, romantic attachments there as well. She was the one making the OkCupid account, but I say “we” because half of the person she was — online, that is — was me.
Let me begin at the beginning. Remember when you were twelve, and AOL chat rooms were the cool thing to do with your friends illicitly in someone’s bedroom after school, before you discovered drugs or making out? You’d enter the chat and right away ten messages would ping “a/s/l ?” and you’d decide that today you’d be a forty-year-old man from Boca Raton, or something, and it would be hilarious and secretly thrilling, all at the same time. You definitely weren’t stupid enough to say that you were a twelve year old girl in Massachusetts, because your parents had told you that the Internet was basically like this massive deep pit full of SEXUAL PREDATORS, and the truth about your a/s/l would catapult them over its walls and set them free. Lots of other things were full of SEXUAL PREDATORS, like public restrooms and Greyhound buses, but the Internet was by far the worst.
The main way that sexual predators tricked twelve-year-old girls, it appeared, was by pretending to be other twelve-year-old girls, or sometimes even thirteen-year-old boys who were really into Green Day and wanted to give you a pop-punk mix CD when you met them away from the Internet, like maybe in a Greyhound station. But you were too smart for them! You knew that every single person on the Internet, no matter his taste in teenage emo music, was actually a forty-year-old sexual predator from Boca!
So it was with these childhood lessons in mind that my best friend and I embarked upon her web-based search for love. Needless to say, we were nervous about the prospect. “Everyone’s doing it, though,” I reassured her, which sounds too much like it would be true to actually be true but really did happen. OkCupid asked for her views on abortion, if she liked the taste of beer, what she’d bring to a desert island (“’A record player’ is way too pretentious,” I said, “plus there wouldn’t be electricity”), and many other questions that seemed mainly set up to determine how much of a hipster she was, as opposed to whether she was a sexual predator. The only question on OkCupid that might have provided some kind of answer to that crucial query was about rape fantasies — consensual rape fantasies, though, which I didn’t think was conclusive enough to separate the predators from the merely kinky.
The first guy who messaged my friend had a profile that said he’d be down for some consensual rape fantasy. “I think you should message him back,” I said, because, on deeper reflection, I felt like actual sexual predators wouldn’t say that, you know, to cover their tracks. When she hesitated, I wrote the message for her. She was very witty (if I do say so myself) and some well-placed Googling made her surprisingly knowledgeable about the creative writing program at this guy’s school. He messaged her back. I messaged him back. We flirted our way into a date to which I was not invited.
I had thought that maybe the date would be a disaster. He would be able to tell, right away, that the girl he was talking to over fair-trade coffee was not the one who had been messaging him, and he would scream, “SEXUAL PREDATOR!” and leave. But I was wrong. He never suspected a thing, and he asked my friend out again. She thinks she’s going to say no, though. His OkCupid profile had lied about his height. “Two whole inches,” explained my friend, and I nodded sympathetically as I typed out a more tactful rejection message for her.