My first memories of online dating date back to before I even knew such things really existed. It was the end of my senior year of high school, when I still had a long ratty-red ponytail and my black beat-up leather jacket that I slunked around the school in sneering at people and trying to find places to hide, like some sort of college-prep troll.
In those strange days, Facebook was just opening up to more colleges. Just as we were about to graduate, we were already logging in to our new school's networks, already checked out from high school. I remember lounging around in the stucco-built computer room during free periods, checking or searching to find the people I'd be in my small film program with, feeling intimidated by others' experiences and smiling profile-pictures and searching for, combing the unknown.
At that point, just as we'd all given up on high school, I'd given up on trying to make friends -- just as people who hadn't talked to me before were realizing in that brief, last flash the fruitlessness of their cliques and social mores, and trying to strike up a conversation. Tantalizing, that Facebook reached out to me, the young and disconnected. Could I find someone on there? Would there be others like me? Others so peculiar?
I looked and I did find "people," though I don't know if I found friends. Instead, the people I "friended" would later come to dislike me in real life, or we would just be around each other, or we gravitated as our social awkwardness drew us in. But unknowing of all of that, I relished in my new-found "friends" and "peers" from that high-school computer room. I felt the coming of, at least, something else.
In this newfound haze of virtual popularity, I'd look at girls' pictures, look at their interests, look on the smiles on their faces and their talk of Futurama or Freaks and Geeks or "being an oddball," and I'd see the possibility of connection. I'd send them messages. I'd see who would reply. I'd flirt. I'd use florid prose. I'd show confidence.
And then high school was over and through the summer I might continue my occasional Facebook flirtation, a policy I found when I arrived at school, not unusual. But when it came time to meet face-to-face, when I saw those people in reality, some part of me knew they saw how ugly I was, how slumped and slouched, how undesirable and unwanted. I was shy and awkward.
Nothing ever came of my Facebook flirtations.
Months would pass, semesters. Eventually, college gave me immeasurable gifts, like knowing that people liked me for the strange person I was, like knowing that I could call people and they'd want to see me, like going home at night and crying out of happiness that yes, I had friends. With all of that came real life confidence, of some kind or another, but I stayed away from online dating, considering it the refuge of the desperate and the dumped.
And it stayed that way as I watched an ex-roommate stop in for Craigslist dates on his own road to post-breakup depression, as I tried unsuccessfully, but amusingly, to date the put-upon girls at my 80-20 male-weighted film school, as someone recognized me from my distinctive hair from high school and that chance encounter found me in my first reciprocally-loving relationship. And then it ended again, in real-life. I was out of college, out of a relationship, out of things to do, out of knowing what would happen to me.
And so I turned back online.
Nowadays, I find myself doing those same things I did in my free-periods. Looking at pictures of girls smiling. Seeing their interests and TV shows. Feeling something exciting any time I imagined a connection I'd have with this person on paper. I write messages in this same voice, ask questions I want to know and, "reality-fame" or no, experience, roughly, the same lack of success.
I'm a different person now then that pony-tailed sloucher. But like film runs through a projector, frame by frame, with the reel waiting to be shown and the spool to take it in when its finished, it can be interesting to juxtapose those framed moments, before and after the now, that resemble each other, but for their difference.