November 21, 2011

Internet Dating: When finding love is not based on probability theory

I wrote this piece as a newspaper feature column; to read the original and my newest entry on the Love Letter: Re-define it. Give the gift.   Go to  Not What You Expect, where I write lyrical essays on love.

Life and love connections are not a game show and the name of the game is not Let’s Make a Deal. The iconic almost 40-year-old game show presents the probability that you might win the big prize behind door number one, two or three.
With life migrating on to the computer screen, Internet Dating uses a theory of probability to present options, or doors, you might not otherwise consider.  I speak from experience because I was among the "Internet Daters" at age 60 after my husband, Oh-so-Greta-Garbo like, said “I need to live alone.”
So there, I, or you, are. You want to find love. You think you’re over the hill because you’re 39 or 59 and someone has left you standing at the altar or the door.
What do you do? After you recover from the affront and the heartbreak of ‘being dumped,’ you look for another door.
We "Internet Daters" are not alone. My Pilates teacher, 39, drop-dead gorgeous, long, thin, athletic ballerina body, delicate hands and feet, got dumped four years ago by her live-in boyfriend. While you can pay a matchmaking service to find your match, she’s dabbling on a free site.
She gets 20 to 30 possible “doors” to open a day, meaning men who want to chat, want to date, who open with bad lines like this one: “You’re so cute. Wanna have sex?”
Or the guy who asked her if she was adventurous. She said, “What do you mean?" He replied, “Have sex while a third person watches.” 
Then Angel appeared. Yes, that’s his real name and, even better, he’s an Air Force pilot. He asked for exclusivity after one date: a glass of wine downtown, not even dinner, and a smooch at her door.
He stopped texting and calling after he saw she was still online.
Now Pilates could give up at this point or she could consider the probabilities of Internet Dating. I typed into Google: “Find love on the Internet” and got 1,040,000,000 results in .22 seconds.
She’s not alone. Lots of folks are going there. What is the probability that one of them might make a good date, mate, or might have a friend that you could "swap" for? One theory on probability is named for the host of our game show, The Monty Hall Problem.

My favorite moniker for the theory of odds: The Sleeping Beauty Problem. 
Consider The Sleeping Beauty Problem. The game is “heads or tails.” Sleeping Beauty agrees to take a potion to find her prince. She will be kissed after the coin is flipped and told how it landed. She won’t remember what she was told when she awoke.
On day one, a coin is flipped, she’s kissed, wakened and told “heads won.” On another day, she’s told “tails won.” And so on.
This probability game examines how Sleeping Beauty will compute the odds of heads or tails without knowing how the coin toss worked any of the times she awoke. 
Like me when I entered the Internet dating game, my Pilates teacher wants the prince to kiss her lips and wake her from the sleep of disillusionment with love. 
It happens. And it doesn’t. When it does, it should feel like magic, not like Let’s Make Deal, or even worse, like the flip of a coin. 
Internet dating operates on the theory that the more you know about the other before you date, the better your odds of finding your prince. We give information in our profiles about who we are and who we’re looking for. That stuff helps.
But if you rely only on what you know about the other, you may make a deal, or worse, you may have flipped a coin. Either way, the magic won’t happen. 
The probability theory won’t get her anywhere. I say she should count on knowing herself, on passion and poetry.
I argue that the better you know yourself, the more you understand your own unconscious mind, the more likely that while you date, you will find your prince. 
Here is what I learned. The answer to the question, "Where in the world is my prince?" lay inside my own search for self-discovery. I had to answer the tautological question that begins and ends where it starts: Who am I?
The better I came to know myself, the more likely I would find passionate love again. 
I argue that has nothing to do with games shows or coin flips.
I don’t mean we should all go into therapy but I don’t dismiss that idea. I mean we need to acknowledge that we love best when we know ourselves, when we stay on the road of self-discovery.
The best connections, the relationships that suffer the slings and arrows of misfortune and that last are based on self-knowledge and empathy. I speak from experience. My marriage broke. I Internet dated. I looked for my prince. But most of the time I looked for myself. I found love and wrote a book to prove it.
Transcendence in love comes hand-in-hand with transformation of the self.
We don’t become the beloved. We don’t own the beloved. The beloved alters us because we feelwith the beloved, his or her needs, his or her cares, his or her wants. He or she does the same.
Through empathy with the other, we allow ourselves to become, as psychiatrist Ethel Spector Person says in her book Dreams of Love and Fateful Encounters, “the person we have not yet discovered.” 
D.H. Lawrence put it best in his poem “Wedlock”: 
And yet all the while you are you, you are not me.
And I am I, I am never you.
How awfully distinct and far off from each other’s being we are!
Yet I am glad.
I am so glad there is always you beyond my scope,
Something that stands over,
Something I shall never be,
That I shall always wonder over, and wait for,
Look for like the breath of life as long as I live,
Still waiting for you, however old you are, and I am,
I shall always wonder over you, and look for you. 
And you will always be with me.
I shall never cease to be filled with newness,
Having you near me.
So, yes, Internet date. And yes, love is the answer. But don’t forget this: The angel on your shoulder is you.