Online dating

So there’s this site, okay? I mean, there’s a dozen like it — eHarmony, Match.com, stuff like that — they’re all over the place these days. People are too busy or shy or socially awkward or who even knows to get a date the old-fashioned way, so they end up turning to the internet. That’s where we’re all going to end up in the end, online, our relationships and our interactions broken down into a series of 0s and 1s.

And I mean, hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. Some of my best friends are people I’ve met online. My girlfriend is someone who started out as one of those people. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, just that it’s a kind of inevitable thing, from where I’m standing. Everything about this whole world is hurtling towards digitization, and romance is already kind of halfway there.

So, anyway. This site. I can’t actually tell you the URL, because it’s super hush-hush. One of those things that you can only tell in whispers and secret messages passed along. PMs or something like that. But the thing is, come on, we’ve all heard about those other sites and we’ve all rolled our eyes at how ridiculous they are. (I know I have, at least. I’m going to guess most people have, even the ones who’ve gone on to use them, and hey, more power to them.) When you actually step back and look at what they’re promising, it’s pretty ridiculous, yeah? Even if it’s effective. (Which is not to say it isn’t always, but I’ve got some horror stories about an ex-roommate who was convinced she’d met her True Soulmate! on eHarmony and the whole rollarcoaster of suck that their relationship was for everyone else who was even peripherally involved.)

But this site, man. It’s the real deal. One hundred percent — one thousand percent. I’d guarantee it with everything I’ve got.

I mean, in the interests of full honesty and disclosure and blah blah blah (I’m no lawyer, but I’ve got friends who are): it’s not the site I went to; that’s not how I met my girlfriend. It’s not like I’ve actually had the guts to put in my name to see what would come up. I like my relationship. We’ve had our ups and our downs and our occasional gross sobbing fights, but that’s only normal, right? You’d expect that from anything where two different people are suddenly living together and learning to deal with someone else in their space, and the adaption thereof.

I’ve got a friend, though — well, okay, more like a friend of a friend — who did it. We’ve known each other for years, always kind of on the edges of each other’s social circles. Between our mutual friend and a few others, we were usually kind of aware of each other, but there was no real friendship between us. Friendly acquaintenceship? There should be a word for that sort of thing. Anyway, this friend of a friend had a pretty bad breakup a year ago. It was the sort of thing you see in terrible movies or at least soap operas — screaming and shouting and throwing things until she stormed out of the apartment and called up our mutual friend, who happened to be hanging out with me that night. Normally I wouldn’t be one to tag along, especially for something that private, but before I could make my excuses and call a cab, I guess she heard my voice or something, and said I should come too. At that point, it’d be kind of shitty to back out, right? It’s not like there was any trouble in my paradise or nothing.

So yeah, we went and we got her, and we loaded up on chocolate and also booze, and we drove back to our friend’s apartment and we sat down and listened to her rant and complain and judiciously applied mood-lifters. It was the sort of thing you’d expect: he never listened, he was never there, he was dismissive of her interests and made fun of her hobbies while expecting her to adopt his without complaint. It was also just kind of sad, because you could hear all the ways that two people just sort of … smashed against each other and broke off pieces of themselves until all they could see was the ugliest parts.

We ended up talking until sometime after midnight. I admit, I passed out first — I have to get up early for my job, I had gotten up at six or something awful like that — and I guess they dropped a blanket over me and let me stay where I fell, because the next thing I knew, I was waking up and it was completely dark, except for the glow of a computer. And the girl who’d had the breakup — man, that’s awkward, let’s just call her Bea, okay? — was sitting on the floor with her back against the couch, staring at the computer. I’m going to guess you’ve seen someone lit by only a computer’s screen before, because let’s face it, a lot of us people who spend lots of time on the internet are pretty late owl types. It makes you look kind of weird, angles and hollowed out places, like chunks of your face have just been cut away and leaving only shadows behind. I was too sleep-stupid to really get that, though, and though I didn’t say something, I’m pretty sure I made a noise, because she looked at me.

Okay, okay, let’s take a break for a moment to get this straight: I don’t scare easily. I startle like nothing else. Jump scares get me all the time. But being scared? Like, deep down, punched in your soul, claws in your throat and your chest and seeing all sorts of hideous things in the shadows because your imagination has just kicked into overdrive scared? That doesn’t happen to me a lot.

But looking at her, right then and there, still more than half asleep, I was more scared than I’d been in my entire life. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the way she looked right then. Someone had scooped out her eyes, I remembered thinking, and left nothing but sockets that were ringed in blood.

Then I blinked and suddenly things were normal again. Bea was smiling, and there was something kind of creepy about that too, but she just told me she was sorry if she’d woken me. And like hell I was going to admit anything, so I just shook my head and put it back down.

I don’t think I slept any more that night, though, to be honest. I heard her close the computer and leave at some point when the room was less dark and more muffled gray.

(Here’s the other thing, that I only realized later, when I was more awake and less on the verge of piss-my-pants freaked out: she hadn’t brought a computer with her when she’d come with us. I didn’t have mine, and our friend kept hers in her room; she practically slept with the thing. There was no way anyone could have taken it from her.)

My friend thanked me for sticking around, I made all the right sympathetic noises — it sucked, I was sorry, I hoped she’d be feeling better soon. After that, we didn’t really talk about it, and then, two weeks later, Bea calls us both up to say she wants to introduce us to her new boyfriend. Which, okay, kind of fast? Especially for someone who’d been sobbing about how she thought she was being cheated on, but hell, I’m old-fashioned sometimes. My timetable isn’t someone else’s, so we all agreed we’d meet for drinks.

And the guy that Bea brings with her is like, pretty much drop dead gorgeous. Celebrity-level pretty. Prettier! It was kind of weird, too; he was the sort of guy who literally had heads turning to follow him, women and men both, but to tell you the truth, I’m not sure I could actually describe him. His hair was black except maybe it was blonde, or it was dark red or brown or … it’s hard to remember. His eyes were blue with green and gray but then they were such a light brown they were almost gold and I kept trying to look into them to get an idea, but whenever I thought that’s it, I would get distracted and something would seem different.

But he was a nice enough guy. Really your old fashioned sort of chivalrous — he took Bea’s coat for her, pulled out a chair for her, the whole works. And he didn’t even seem condescending about it either. There’s a really fine line about that sort of thing, and he never crossed it, not once.

His name was Dave, and he was sort of ridiculously perfect. He knew everything about everything, but he wasn’t obnoxious about it; he had enough modesty and genuine humor at himself to keep him from tipping over. I could tell our friends liked him a lot, and even my girlfriend kept giving him the eye now and then, but me …

There was absolutely nothing wrong about him, except that sometimes when I looked at him, I saw scooped-out hollow sockets in his face instead of eyes, and when he smiled with his teeth, it looked more like a skull’s rictus grin than an actual human expression.

Later, I went to get us more drinks, Bea followed me. She was smiling more than I’d ever seen her before, this secret little grin, like she had the best kept secret in the world.

“Isn’t he great?” she asked me, as I placed our orders and was waiting for the bartender to get to me. “He’s perfect.”

“He’s nice,” I agreed, kind of cautiously. I didn’t want her to think I was the weird one, here, and it wasn’t like he’d done anything to really deserve me treating him badly. “I’m glad you met him.”

She looked at me with this weird look in her eyes. My girlfriend says that one of my big problems is that I always overthink things, but right then, I definitely had the feeling that she knew about what I’d seen in Dave, and in her, two weeks ago.

Bea reached into her purse and took something out — it was a slip of paper, with something scribbled on it. “You should look it up sometime,” she said, smiling. “I mean, I met Dave through this site. Just in case.”

“Hey,” I protested, “I’m not the one who’s single right now. Girlfriend, remember?”

“There’s always someone better,” she told me. “You should remember that.”

She grabbed her drink and walked away, leaving me to carry the rest. I could definitely say that I was glad she wasn’t really my friend in that moment, even if she thought she was doing me a favor.

Later that night, after we’d split up and my girlfriend was getting ready for bed, I took out the piece of paper that Bea gave me. I was going to just throw it away, but even when I crumpled it up, I couldn’t make myself toss it. I ended up stuffing it back into my pocket, and then I told my girlfriend that I was going to stay up for a bit longer. Writing to do, the internet to waste time on, stuff like that. She just kissed my cheek and said to not stay up too late, don’t forget you have an early morning tomorrow, too, and she went to bed.

Me? I booted up my laptop in the living room, and I typed that URL in.

At first glance it didn’t look too different from those other match sites — there were various photos of couples hugging each other and smiling for the camera in all their Photoshopped glory, and the site’s name in big blocky red letters. There was the usual spiel about love and soulmates, and then an invitation to take their personality test, to be properly sorted and matched.

And I clicked the link. It’s not like I was unhappy or anything — but I’d filled out an eHarmony survey once, for laughs (and with my girlfriend doing the same, though she’d gotten bored with the fifty thousand questions about halfway through, and I’d given up maybe three-quarters of the way), so I figured it wouldn’t be too different.

The screen went black for a moment. I could see my own face reflected in it, and I saw that my eyes were hollow sockets. Even though I wasn’t smiling, I could see all my teeth spread in a skeleton’s bare grin.

Before the survey could finish loading, I killed the tab and immediately cleared my cache. And for good measure, I emptied my trash and cleaned out my tempfiles and basically did as much of a wipe as I could. My fingers were suddenly so cold that they were shaking as I tried to type. Then I turned off my computer completely and I went to bed.

I don’t really know why I didn’t want to do it, but I know that when our mutual friend — mine and Bea’s — broke up with her boyfriend, she must have gotten the same URL from Bea, because she turned up with Joe, who was just as perfect and just as hard to remember as Dave.

That was six months ago.

This morning, though, I got a phone call from that friend of mine, and she was hysterical, on the verge of tears. Bea was dead, she said; Bea was dead and there was blood everywhere and ripped her heart out, jesus christ, it was in my bathroom and I had to identify the body and oh god, oh god, oh god and have you ever heard someone have a nervous breakdown on you over the phone? It’s pretty high on the “utter suck” list. I managed to get her calmed down and drove over to sit with her for a bit, and I got the rest of the story out of her: she and Bea had hung out the night before, with their perfect attentive smart handsome charming boyfriends, and then I guess Bea and Dave got into a bit of a disagreement over — who even knows what. Something stupid, probably. She had gotten up to go to the bathroom after that. While she was gone, our friend had been talking to Joe, and then turned around to realize Dave was just … gone.

Then she heard Bea screaming. She’d run to the bathroom and that’s where things got really bad.

Because Bea had been still alive at that point, leaning against the counter and she was coughing blood and her eyes had been scooped out and her lips had been peeled away and there was Dave, standing there and just watching as Bea dug fingers into her own chest and somehow snapped the bones of her own ribs to pull out her heart (still beating, and wasn’t that gruesome?) to offer it up to him.

And he took her wrists in his as she collapsed and he kissed her heart, getting red red blood over his strange smiling mouth, and our friend heard him say: Thank you for the lovely year.

“When he looked me,” she said, “his eyes were just — he didn’t have eyes, they were just … gone. It was like looking into a skeleton’s face.”

I sat with her until Joe came back from … man, I don’t even know where he’d been. He came for her and put his arms around her and held her as she sobbed and said soothing things into her hair, but I looked him in the eye, and I saw that his eyes were completely, solidly, and utterly black, through and through. I saw it, and he saw me, and we knew we’d seen each other, and he smiled at me. All of his teeth were sharp.

When I left and I went home, I took a hammer to my laptop. Took the whole thing apart, until it was nothing more than dented wrecked plastic and electric parts.

(I told my girlfriend that I’d dropped it down the stairs and never let her see the ruined casing. We went shopping for a new one the next day.)

So yeah, that was a thing that happened. My friend’s still seeing Joe, and sometimes she invites me to hang out with them, get drinks and catch up, but I keep coming up with excuses not to. Sometimes I have fights with my girlfriend and once, at a bigger group thing, my friend tried to pass me a slip of paper, which I pretty much shoved into the trash without touching it more than absolutely necessary.

I know there are still six months to go, and sometimes I think about trying to say something — but I don’t know what happens when you fill out that survey. I don’t even know what the page looks like. I do know that the person you get from it is pretty much everything you’d ever want (and everything that would make most people jealous), and you’ll love them. You’ll love them so much, enough that you’ll get along with them perfectly and wonderfully give them your heart on a platter the moment they show any sort of disagreement with you.

Maybe some people find that kind of love worth it. And I mean, we are flinging ourselves forward into a digital age, where this sort of thing will probably be commonplace. Find your absolute match by the power of computers and algorithms. Why settle for anything less? If you’re going to offer your heart to someone, why not make sure they’re no less than absolutely one hundred — one thousand — percent perfect?

Me, though, I think I’m pretty happy with imperfection.

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