E-Harmony Dot Crap

“I think what caused my last break-up was a simple conflict of interests.” I explained to my roommate Adam, as I drove the two of us to Target. “And she was a bitch.”
Adam laughed even though had heard me say that before. Adam was 23, freshly graduated and the younger of the two of us by three years. He was from Alabama, but, to my surprise, he was without an accent. There was no drawl. There was no lag time between words. Frankly, I was a little disappointed. He did, however, call me a “Yankee” at first, as I hail from Indiana, so at least he wasn’t completely without Southern flavor. We had both moved far from our homes to work for a big computer company in Nashville, Tennessee, and for the first time in our lives we actually had more money than spare time.
“Adam, I’m older than you, and I’ve seen the world like you can only imagine,” I told him flamboyantly, as I parked the car in the Target parking lot. “I’ve dated tall girls, short girls, fat girls, skinny girls, rich girls, poor girls, smart girls, and stupid girls, and do you know what I’ve learned from all of that life experience?”
“I don’t know, Jesse. What?” Adam responded with a suspicious grin.
“How the hell am I supposed to know what I’ve learned?! Stop asking so many questions!”
Adam shook his head with a grin. He was used to my impromptu rants about life, love, and the absurd nature of both. Adam was like my younger brother. He put up with my grand overstatements and irregular behavior, and I put up with what I called his “general state of naiveté.”
“I’ll tell you another thing!” I raved, as we walked from the parking lot into Target. “It’s not that I can’t get a date! We can both get dates! Especially you, with that baby face of yours!” I joked, reaching to pinch his scruffy cheek like a creepy old lady. “But I’m telling you, friend, confidant, and, dare I say, brother from another mother, I am having serious doubts about whether there is actually some special girl specifically destined for me. Adam, there was a time when I literally felt possessed by love, like a demon possession only without the spinning head and stuff. The last few relationships I’ve been in were fun, but they felt hollow compared to the tornado I used to feel inside when I was your age. Of course, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about since you’re so naive, but sometimes I wonder if this whole business about love being written in the stars is just a fancy way of talking about the interpersonal effects of hormones.”

I was talking way too loud for being in public, but we were in Target. So, I didn’t care. I was, however, genuinely concerned about my relationship status, a status that had been “single” for far too long. I was starting to wonder if something was wrong with me. Of course, I couldn’t let my self-doubt bleed through to my peers. I’ve got my pride to think of. Pride is the illusion of being in control. I hide behind this illusion every day. It is such a part of my personality that I have a hard time asking for help. On this day, I needed to express my frustration, but I refrained from expressing my fear.

“What about E-Harmony.com?” Adam asked, as we loaded dozens of boxes of Easy Mac into our red shopping carts. “You’ve seen the commercials. You just take a personality test, they hook you up with girls like you, and next thing you know, you’ve got a perfectly compatible blushing bride!” Adam said with a cheesy grin and a TV evangelist voice.
I laughed and pretended I wasn’t actually curious about such things. It couldn’t it really be that easy, could it?

We finished our grocery shopping by topping off our karts with frozen pizzas and drove home to enjoy our day off. We got back to the house and turned on the TV. Of course, like a directive from on high, the first thing that appeared on the screen was the geriatric spokesperson for E-Harmony.com. There was something reassuring about the old man’s voice. It was like somehow he should know things because he was so old. Like maybe he spent his entire life trying to make sense of the human condition, and somehow he actually figured it out.
“We match you based on 29 dimensions of compatibility,” the withered matchmaker said. “Just listen to one of our success stories!”

Of course, everyone else in the commercial was beautiful.

“I don’t know what I would have done if not for Eharmony.com,” a successful business woman testified. “I was just so tired of the bar scene, and I wanted to connect on a deeper level with someone. That’s when I met Brad.”

The picture faded to a scene of the two walking together hand-in-hand. This is when I became the sheep they were looking for.
“Hey,” I thought. “The experienced old man says he can match me with Miss Right based on 29 dimensions of compatibility! 29! That’s a lot, probably. Plus, he’s a doctor! He has to know what he’s talking about if he’s a doctor!”

This stream of thought was punctuated as the couple smiled into each other’s embrace for the camera.
“Just log on today and take our free compatibility test to find a mate that is truly right for you,” Dr. Old Guy said, as the happy couple walked lovingly across the screen.
“It’s free?!” I accidentally blurted out.
“Yeah bro,” Adam replied from his side of the couch. “The personality test is free, but you have to pay to actually interact with the people they set you up with.”
“Well, that’s fair.” I thought, as I faked disinterest. I don’t remember what show we were watching, but eHarmony must have been its biggest sponsor, because the ad played at some point during every commercial break.

“God? Are you trying to tell me something?” I wondered.

A week passed, and it was time to go grocery shopping at Target again. It was a weekly ritual that always began with Buffalo Wild Wings and ended in the frozen pizza isle.
“Adam, I have something to say,” I began, as we entered the superstore “I think it’s time you joined eHarmony.com.”
“What?!” Adam asked with a confused look. “What makes you say that?” he asked as we loaded Easy-Mac into our red Target karts.
“What makes me say that?” I replied defensively, as if it was obvious. “How about my caring heart? Ever think of that? Huh? Maybe I’m concerned about you, and I don’t want to see you go through all of the heartache I’ve gone through, Adam. How about that? ” I asked rhetorically.
“You just want me to try eHarmony because you want to try it, and you don’t want to try it alone,” he replied with a smirk.

Somehow my closest friend could see through my smoke screen. The truth was that I did want to try Eharmony.com, but not alone. I was lonely, but I didn’t want to feel like a loser who tries an online dating service. So, I conscripted my roommate to be a loser with me, lowering the degree of loser in my mind, thereby assuring my pride’s enactment.
“What?!” I said, as if he had actually fallen for my ploy. “You want me to try it so you don’t have to try it alone, huh? Well, obviously, I don’t need that sort of thing, but okay, I guess I can do that for you. It’s only because I want the best for you…buddy.”

Adam shook his head and laughed.

“But if you tell anyone…” I added “I’ll kill ya.” I said it with as sincere of a face as I could muster. “Now hand me a couple more pepperoni’s please.”

After leaving the frozen pizza isle, we went back to the house. We each took the personality test, which consisted of a lot of duplicating questions worded in different ways, personal questions that no one could answer objectively and questions about what the ideal mate would be like. So, in other words, it asked a lot of questions that I didn’t have answers to.
We uploaded our most flattering pictures, wrote cheesy things designed to make girls swoon in the “optional field,” and then clicked the flashing button labeled: “Find My Matches!” We decided to look at Adams matches first. The screen was filled with average to absolutely gorgeous pictures of potential dates for my friend. I thought to myself that perhaps this internet dating thing was the answer I was looking for.

“Nice!” I said, patting my friends shoulder as if to congratulate him on a fine catch. “Let’s look at mine!”

We huddled around my laptop as the screen populated. Our eyes grew as the screen displayed another cornucopia of beautiful females. In other words, we were reduced back to the exact thing that this site claimed to help people avoid. We were just looking at the pictures.

We also noticed that we were both compatible with a lot of the same women. Curious. This was a little troublesome for me since Adam is 10% better looking than I am, but I had faith in Dr. Oldie Old and his scientific method.

If God was behind my joining E-Harmony.com it was a real jerk move on His part. Every week E-Harmony sent new matches. Adam’s matches seemed to stay the same: pretty girls that he never had much luck with, probably, we theorized, because they were flooded by hundreds of communications from other guys just as compatible as he was. My experience was quite different. As fate would have it, E-Harmony decided that I needed to expand my horizons. Each week my matches got worse. If she was pretty, she had some awful over-the-top baggage. If she was normal, she was missing a hand full of teeth or had a mullet. Actually, the mullet and the missing teeth thing usually went together. Occasionally, I would get a girl who was attractive and seemed somewhat normal. I even went on some dates.

Asking for a date online was different from what I was used to. In high school and college, I just saw a girl I thought was pretty and asked her on a date. On E-Harmony, I looked at a picture of a girl, and if she looked pretty, I emailed her until I felt that it was appropriate to ask for her phone number. Then I talked to her over the phone. Then I asked for the date. To me, this was a complication of an otherwise simple interaction. Why all of the steps in between? Dr. Older-Than-Thou’s Frequently Asked Question’s section provided an answer. It said, slowing the process down allows for couples to get to know each other on a deeper level than if they would just go on a date after meeting. It takes the surprises out of meeting for the first time..

My first date was with a girl named Sarah. From her pictures, I could see she had a pretty smile, and she was witty on the phone. I liked that. Her profile stated that she had an “athletic build,” liked live music, and enjoyed occasional drinks with friends. I thought it was kind of odd that she only posted pictures of her face, but when I met her, I found out why. She was a big fat liar! I think the only thing that she was truthful about was that she liked to drink. She ordered round after round, and then she tried getting fresh with me in the most awkward of ways. She then proceeded to tell me that she lost her virginity one week into her first year of college to “a big black guy.” It made me wonder if she really meant to come off as a racist lying slut with a drinking problem. So, I asked her.

The next date I went on was with a divorcee named Becky, who could not stop telling me: “I just like to have fun!”  She mentioned it over the phone, but I did not infer how intensely she felt about having fun until I met her in person.
“Hi Becky! You look great tonight.”
“Thanks! I just like to have fun you know?” she said.
“Yeah, me too!” I sarcastically replied. “We have so much in common!”
“You do?” she said, missing my joke. “That’s so cool! It’s so hard to find people who want to have fun you know?”
“Really?” I asked with a confused look.

I wasn’t quite sure if she was messing with me at this point. Who doesn’t like to have fun? Is there a big demographic of people out there that I don’t know about who do not enjoy fun? I thought back to her profile. She seemed like such a promising match online. In person, it was like trying to set the record for how long a conversation can last without having any substance. We didn’t even digress into things like, what she liked to do for fun. No. This exchange of statements regarding “I like to have fun” somehow went on and on.

“I’d rather have fun than be bored any time!” she enthusiastically continued. “My ex didn’t understand me like you do.”

Unfortunately, I was taking a drink of soda when she said that last part. I inhaled it and coughed for what seemed like another half hour, but at the time, painfully gasping for air seemed more comfortable than trying to address what she had just told me.

“Are you having fun?” she asked with a man-hungry smile.

“Um, yeah,” I coughed, “I just like having fun, you know?” I said in desperation, still unable to make my voice sound normal.

“I know exactly what you mean!” she replied, clapping with the tips of her fingers.

I cursed the old guys name on the drive home that night. “Curse you Dr. Old Guy Who Is Surely Living Comfortably Off Of My Monthly Payment!” How was this worth a monthly fee? Where was the lovely business woman I was promised in the commercial? I might have quit there, but, as if the bastards running the site knew what I was thinking, the next week’s results were incredibly enticing. Of course, this just happened to be the case on the last week of the month. “Can’t stop now! Run that credit card again baby!”

Meanwhile, Adam was having better luck with his matches. He had been on dates that were actually quite promising. I was happy for him, really. He had been a good sport, putting up with a best friend that was too embarrassed to try E-Harmony alone. Eventually, I admitted to him that I was just really lonely and worried that I was never going to find someone. It wasn’t the pride crushing experience I thought it would be.

Oh, and those gorgeous girls that were somehow matched with both of us in the beginning never responded to either of our communications. I really think they were just fake profiles put there to trap idiots like me under the rock of false hope and monthly fees. Strangely enough, the beauties that were sent to me at the end of the first month never responded to any communication either.

As the weeks went by, I just quit messing with it. Adam volunteered to look at my matches for me to see if things would ever get better. Of course, the truth was that he wanted to make fun of me for being compatible with the strangest women in Nashville. Each night when we got home from work, Adam would laugh himself stupid looking at my matches. It got really bad. Before long I was being matched with people who didn’t even realize they were on E-Harmony. Their friends or mother made a profile for them out of pity, in the hopes that Dr. Old Guy could work a love-miracle. Maybe that’s how we were compatible. We were all expecting internet magic, a Boolean equation for finding a soul-mate. Instead, we just got a monthly bill and a link to others with the same pipe dream.

“Adam, why did you force me into doing E-Harmony?” I finally asked one night after we reviewed my disgraceful matches.

Adam didn’t dignify my question with a response. He just smiled and clicked on a picture of one of my matches that, I swear, had a baby head on an adult body.

I had tried to buy something genuine for a monthly fee, but I ended up acting more superficial than I ever had before. Ironically, when the site gave me a list of women they claimed would all be compatible with me, I just looked for the prettiest ones out of them. Why not? They’re all compatible for me deep down right? Why not go for the prettiest one? Why not get my monthly payment’s worth out of the deal? Is that the inevitable result of mixing a monthly fee with a deep human desire? I’m sure some people would say, no. I would say, yes.

I wanted that feeling again, the intoxicating mixed drink of hopeful apprehension when I was with the object of my affection. E-Harmony’s crafty sales pitch of loving images and implied experience in the matter gave me an excuse to believe in retail love. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but if I want to know if I’m compatible with someone now, I just talk to her first. Unfortunately, life is full of other ways for me to prove to myself and others just how much of an idiot I am.

“Adam, I have something to say.”

“No, Jesse.”

“What’s that? You want me to order some of those penis enlargement pills from the TV commercials to see if they actually work? Well, obviously, I don’t need that sort of thing, but okay, I guess I can do that as a favor to you. And, if you tell anyone…”

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Good Work

She stands there looking up at me, smiling. Her teeth, white, chewing on the tied part of a condom. She runs a little further ahead, turning back to see if I will chase after her. I smile and she giggles, waving for me to follow her through the alley. I shrug and hold up my tool box and point to my bags. I’m carrying too much stuff to go any faster. I over-gesticulate, hoping she will understand. I can’t tell her with words. I only know how to say “good work,” in Creole. Everyone says it here. Of course, I wish I could say, “Jesus, little girl! Stop chewing on old dirty condoms you find on the ground!”  Instead, I just smile awkwardly.

Another girl finds her, and she points at me. They laugh. Look at the hairy white man. I’m an alien here. They find my appearance amusing. I’m a clown alien. The other white Americans in the work group get a similar reaction. The orphans pet us. They pet our hair. It’s so different. They pet my head, my arm hair, my leg hair. They examine our hands. One girl begins rubbing a spot on my hand with her thumb. She occasionally pauses, holds hers next to mine to compare, then resumes.

 She gives the condom to her friend, and her friend starts chewing on it. I think to myself, “No wonder AIDS is so bad here. They think its chewing gum.” I feel bad about my willingness to make a joke, even one to myself, in the midst of this depravity. I feel guilty for having the luck to be born so privileged while there are people born so indigent. Hogs and goats walk through the muddy garbage laden village. It’s hot. Shit and burning trash is all I can smell, and my eyes have not stopped burning since we arrived. Kids run with bare feet over gravel, rusty tin cans, burned remains of fire pits, glass.  A week into the project and the reality of this place is nothing like what I saw in pictures. Haiti is a trash pit. Lacking any valuable resources, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. It also has highest fertility rate in the Western hemisphere. We’re working on an orphanage to house two dozen children. Oceans of orphans, and we’re digging a swimming pool.

I go to sleep and dream about home. I had been told, but I never realized how much I have just because I live in the United States. I love flat roads. I love clean air. I love traffic lights. I love gas stations. I love police officers, fire departments, hospitals. I love antibiotics. I love flushable toilets. I love regular showers. I love water on tap. I love my electric life. I wake up.

“You know Belle,” I say to our group’s interpreter, “back in the USA, we don’t eat goat.”

“What?! Why not?”

“I don’t know, because this is delicious.”

“I like it best when it is fresh like this.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, they butchered it just before.”

I’m not sure if I would have tried fried goat testicle, but our project leader offered me one at dinner and said I should try it. He didn’t actually mention the “goat testicle” part though. His chuckle and whip about how it was considered a goat’s prized jewels didn’t register until I was already swallowing. Belle heard that I got a goat testicle and said I was lucky. I began to laugh, but stopped when I realized he was being sincere.

“We eat beef in The States.”

“Beef?”

“Cow.”

Belle squints with a suspicious grin. He laughs and shakes his head. His laugh dies down to a chuckle, and then he looks at me with disbelief when he realizes I’m being sincere. Cows are like tractors in Haiti. I watched a man work in his field using a cow, a generations-worn wooden plow, and a rope. Everything is done with barely anything. Hammers and nails are the most sophisticated tools on our work site. No blueprints. No machinery. Sheer will is the most commonly used tool in Haiti. I saw two men dig the well for the orphanage with a bucket and what looked like an oversized crowbar. “Good work,” I could hear them say to each other in Creole.

 

I shake his hand. It feels like concrete. He smiles and tells me his name. It’s nothing like my name. The phonetics seem all wrong to me. It’s almost like the name can’t be a real. A real name is one that I’ve heard of. Where I am from, people publish books of real names in case you can’t think of one on your own in nine months. I try to say his name. He tries my name. We laugh.

Haitian Creole is a combination of French and various African languages. It is further complicated by Spanish influence, and though it bears a resemblance to American Creole, the two languages are very different. I know English. I can recognize French when it is spoken. I mean, I can recognize that someone is speaking French when I hear it spoken. Just knowing that it’s being spoken is about as close as I come to understanding French. I do know that “bon” means “good” in both French and Creole. “Bon travay,” means, “good work” in Haiti. I hear it said between cheerful workers every day on the work site.

In Haiti, the concept of “good work” feels different from where I am from. I’ve never met harder workers. I’ve never met happier workers. When I return to The States I will complain about having to go to work. I will look at my electric alarm clock from across my comfortable room and feel sorry for myself for having to get out of my comfortable bed. I will complain about the banality of a steady job, worry about my 401K and wonder what will happen to Social Security. And these people are happy to do hard physical work all day in the hopes there might be more work tomorrow. Here, work is good.

 “Are you married?” He asks, adding water to the concrete. I use a shovel to stir the loose concoction of limestone, Haiti’s one usable natural resource, with whatever else goes into concrete. I say, no. He looks at me like he feels sorry for me. I ask him if he is married. He says, yes. He smiles.

“That’s great,” I say. He fights a proud smile and tries to remember his English numbers. He raises one finger and says he has one son, and his wife is pregnant with their second child. I smile and lean in to shake his hand again. I say, “Congratulations!” He takes my hand, and with a big smile, he points to my chest and says, “Someday, you have too.” He pats me on my shoulder to encourage me. I think about trying to explain how financially difficult having kids would be for me right now, to the man raising his family in what would be called a shed where I am from.

His teeth shine in the equatorial sunshine. How is it that everyone’s teeth are so perfect here? In a place where no one gets the chance for a dental exam, let alone braces, all I see are straight teeth as white as snow.

            “Have you ever seen snow?” someone asks Belle, our interpreter, as we walk from the work site to the truck.

            “No. But I have seen it in pictures.”

            Belle said snow looked soft and beautiful.

I uploaded pictures to Facebook when I got home. People looked at my photos and said I did good work in Haiti. And when I got home there was a snow storm. It made me think of Belle, back in Haiti. Yes, snow is beautiful in pictures, but snow is coarse, cold, irritating. I thought about the pictures of Haiti I had seen before the trip. Pictures capture an image. We misunderstand and believe we experience reality in them. I smile when I get my picture taken, but I’m usually not especially happy. People looked at my pictures of Haiti and saw me smiling, doing “good work.”  In reality I was discovering how little I understood about happiness, how little I understood about the goodness of work. There are real smiles in Haiti, where all I could see was the hopeless reality of poverty, where I made jokes to myself to avoid the lucid sting of reality, where each day smiling men wake up on dirt floors in broken down shacks, happy to find good work.       

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