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Jewish World Review July 14, 2003/ 14 Tamuz, 5763

Suzanne Fields

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Looking for Mr. (Word) Perfect | Since women are from Venus and men from Mars, it's inevitable that a lot of them will look for love in cyberspace. Seeking romance online is today what looking for Mr. Goodbar was in the previous century.

If feminism deprived a woman of the myth of the man on the white charger and the illusion that someday her prince would come, post-modern women are looking for Mr. (Word) Perfect to pop up on the screen in front of them. The damsel in distress suffers from data overload.

"Online dating, once viewed as a refuge for the socially inept and as a faintly disrespectable way to meet other people, is rapidly becoming a fixture of single life for adults of all ages, backgrounds and interests," reports the New York Times. "More than 45 million Americans visited online dating sites (in May), up from about 35 million at the end of 2002."

Internet dating services are big business, advertising on prime time shows, such as "Joe Millionaire" and "American Idol." By one estimate, more than 17 million people looked at online personals last year and 2 million of them paid for such ads.

Computer dating is a reflection of our cyberspace sensibilities. If cupid is a cursor, rejection is as close as the delete key. Workaholics can have a conversation online without ever leaving their terminals. This gives new meaning to "office romance." If the e-mailers are hungry, they can enjoy a byte on the Internet without those messy debates over what kind of restaurant to choose, or what time to meet. They don't even have to worry about being late for a date, since online lovers can log in any time they want.

Some of the old rules, however, still apply. Men like to be the aggressor in initiating the e-mail and a woman could find herself waiting at the computer like women of an earlier generation waited for the phone to ring. A married man can still deceive a woman about his status and a man remains vulnerable to a woman lying about how old she is. Of course, when photos are exchanged, both men and woman have been known to submit one taken 20 years or 30 pounds earlier.

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In a culture where the medium is the message, these exchanges offer the depth of the new thin screens, high-speed modems and a long-life battery. They're light, but some have limited memory and none of them have that much staying power.

Caught between the sexual revolution and high technology, courtship has come upon hard times. Gone is the delicious face-to-face process of discovery. The seductive tentativeness of romance is replaced by the deadly earnestness of seeking a "relationship" - love at the end of a search command.

Nor is it much better on campus. Undergraduates no longer date, they either go out in groups or "hook up" for a night. The pressure changes when they graduate. The third date among young adults is considered the tipping point to have (or not have) sex.

"If lightning doesn't strike by Date Three, you can end up walking away from a perfectly lovely person who might just be a little shy, or having a bad hair day," observes Elizabeth Austin in The Washington Monthly. She urges a longer period of "pre-intercourse courtship" to bring back the flair and fun of flirting.

Sex-too-soon has other problems. When chemistry pushes a man and a woman into a sexual relationship before their less passionate interests in each other have ripened, the ardor that propelled discovery is reduced to a half-life.

In 1928, a splendid little book, "The Technique of the Love Affair," by "A Gentlewoman," appeared in bookstores. It was both practical and eloquent in its counsel for grace and restraint.

"A successful love affair," writes Gentlewoman, "is one which results either in permanent mating or in mutual friendship, and for this nothing is more efficacious than to inspire in your subject an admiration kept so perpetually alert that it almost reaches the high pitch of infatuation, but does not quite."

Can anyone imagine that happening in Cyberspace or on campus?

Poets going all the way back to the Greeks wrote that love begins with glances as a man and a woman look into each other's eyes and see their own reflections. Eyes locked in intimacy become a metaphor for lovemaking. The eyes are pools of sensual enticement.

If you feel the urge to merge today, you simply go to the toolbar and click. Copy. Paste. Send.

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