In 1995, I won a poetry contest for kids on Compuserve. The prize was an America’s Funniest Home Videos t-shirt. Once I
repressed got over my dad’s refusal to let me get AOL (FATHER, WHY?!) thereby rendering me a giant loser/pariah who couldn’t instant message, I became hooked on using the internet for everything possible, even if it had to be via Compuserve.
Fifteen years later, I’ve upgraded to broadband, kind of wish I still had the AFHV t-shirt, and still like to use the internet for everything possible. The realm of “everything” has expanded well beyond poetry contests, though, to include more grown-up pursuits such as watching cat videos and dating. In fact, I have regaled many a dinner party with my collection of OKCupid horror stories and victories (the victories occur less frequently). But no matter how many times I am forced to listen to a date sing MGMT at karaoke after six shots of vodka (this happened), I’m always open to trying the latest online dating platform, because hey–you never know.
So, when I was recently invited to attend an event a new online dating startup, Meetmoi, was hosting, I jumped. As it turned out, this wasn’t your typical startup event: I wasn’t expected to select an outfit that exudes professionalism yet joie de vivre, show up at a venue, put on a nametag emblazoned with my Twitter handle, and get to mingling. Instead, I was instructed to turn my phone on, sit back, and wait.
Unlike other online dating communities, Meetmoi doesn’t ask users to filter through potential matches based on their preferences (“You’re a Scorpio with an average build who likes but doesn’t own amphibians!? ME TOO”). In lieu of active searching, users install an app called MeetmoiNOW on their smartphones. They don’t hear a peep until matches that meet their pre-specified guidelines wander into the vicinity. Then, and only then, MeetmoiNOW sends an alert, which arrives in the form of a kitschy heart inscribed with a compass-like arrow in the notification bar. If both users indicate interest by “accepting” the match, a chat functionality is enabled and they can figure out how to meet up right then and there.
The company had cooked up a special promotion, entitled “Drinks on Us,” whereby if two participants met up at a predetermined bar suggested by Meetmoi via email, their first round of drinks would be on the house. Free things appeal to me as a general rule, and I was also intrigued by the spontaneous nature of the mission I’d chosen to accept. There’s something a little sterile–and perhaps a little reminiscent of junior high–about instant messaging with a potential date. Dropping into a corner cafe at a moment’s notice, on the other hand, is downright serendipitous! And it’s appealing in the way that a Lifetime Movie Network feature starring Jennie Garth is appealing. A little farfetched, but likely not without entertainment value.
In practice, though, my attempt to land a date NOW proved a bit more difficult than anticipated. The freeform event lasted for a week, Monday through Friday. Monday, I was out of town. On Tuesday evening, back in the city, my phone buzzed–potential matches were within range.
Surprisingly, these men seemed normal, and so, purely as a matter of professional curiosity, I began chatting with them on my way to an industry event (the New York Tech Meetup–sweet irony).
A conversation with one clean cut, criteria-meeting bachelor trailed off. But another, with a soulful-looking guitar player (musical hobbyists, my Achilles heel!) got to the point of discussing location. I was walking past Washington Square Park, hoping we wouldn’t have to meet at Josie Woods, when my potential date dropped the bomb that he was all the way over in Midtown East. Close as the crow flies, but not close enough for an immediate drink. I headed into the NYU auditorium to distract myself with my personal favorite geek panacea: tech demos.
When Wednesday evening rolled around, I felt the now familiar vibrating signal that indicates a nearby match. Another viable candidate popped up. But there was no reason to engage–I was already on the way to meet friends for drinks and couldn’t take a detour to an impromptu meeting. By Friday, my proverbial battery–not to mention my cell phone’s–was exhausted from the missed connections. A match came along, and though he seemed like a gainfully employed, dashing fellow, I couldn’t stomach the 10 year-plus age difference, and I declined.
And just like that, the week, and the offer for free drinks, had passed me by. Still, the application hadn’t failed exactly–it had put me in contact with people I actually sort of wanted to meet. But now, in the “matches” tab, there was a graveyard of pictures marked “expired”–the connections I wasn’t able to act on in time. I was the one who had failed, hesitating when I should have been prepared to meet someone NOW.
Despite the undeniable efficiency of most online dating sites, I still find myself—and many other single New Yorkers I know—kvetching about the inorganic nature of paging through all those disembodied profiles. But if we weren’t so overscheduled to begin with, maybe we’d have time to meet people IRL, if you will. MeetMoiNOW aims to facilitate those in-person meetings, yet it was still so easy to pass each other by. We’re booked.
Don’t get me wrong–I love OKCupid. But anyone who’s ever tried to sift through their matches, listlessly sorting people by language spoken (I prefer dates to speak English, but did you know that C++ is a possible selection too?), knows that having the right person sent directly to you like a mobile gift is an enticing proposition. Yet in order to let spontaneous matching work its magic, I knew I’d have to carve out some more room for spontaneity itself in my life.
Several days after the Drinks on Us event had ended, the telltale heart showed up in my notification bar. This time, I was ready. The suggested match fit the bill–tall, dark, and handsome enough–and I accepted right away. And waited. And waited. Perhaps stuck in the subway, or in a meeting, or just uninterested in a 5’4″ Sagittarius with a petite build, my would-be Romeo was taking his time. After an hour, a message showed up below his username: “He didn’t respond in time.” I accepted the dose of electronic justice and vowed to keep on trying, free drinks or not.
alindow [at] observer.com