From Big Bar Tabs to Beautiful Babies
I always believed in meeting people “the old fashioned way.” I had to meet someone face to face before I could think about dating her, so I spent a lot of time and money hitting clubs, bars and parties around the city. And from time to time I did click with a woman I met out on the town, though sometimes I was so blitzed that the next day I barely remembered talking to her at all. I always hated making that incredibly awkward phone call to a complete stranger to set up a date, in light of day and hours if not days after our alcohol-powered chemistry became just a hazy memory.
Nine times out of ten, it was one to three dates and adios, muchacha. Generally, all we knew we had in common was mutual attraction and if there was more to it than that, well—chalk it up to dumb luck. On dates, I found myself asking the same questions (“what do you do,” “where’d you go to school,” etc.) that I probably did in the bar or at the party when we first met. This kind of thing isn’t unexpected in your early 20’s, but ten years later it starts to get tired.
Maybe I was going to change my ways anyway, as they hadn’t led me to a soul mate, that’s for sure. But fate intervened. Like a lot of people, my hours got cut back at work. I went from getting overtime most weeks to being basically part-time. I had always made enough money to not think about money—I had a feel for how much I could spend every month and just went with my gut. If the old bank account seemed to be shrinking, I’d tighten the belt for a month or two and the problem would work itself out. But now, for the first time in my adult life, I had to come up with a budget and stick to it.
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Putting a dollar figure on my monthly going out expenses was an eye-opening experience. As I totaled up all those $20 to $80 credit card receipts, I was amazed to find that I was spending about half of my income hoping to meet women “the old fashioned way.” The hilarious part was that paying a membership fee seemed unthinkable to me, even though one Friday-night-worth of bar tabs would probably cover the whole thing. I wouldn’t “pay to date,” but I would pay $9 for a martini. It seems crazy now.
Given my new circumstances, I knew I had to make a change. I wasn’t meeting anyone “the old fashioned way” and I couldn’t keep up the lifestyle, so for the first time I took a hard look at online dating. While at first free sites like Plenty of Fish caught my interest, the old adage “you get what you pay for” came to mind in a hurry. My best relationships have been interracial, and a lot of the women on the free sites just weren’t on that wavelength. I was really hoping to find a free site where everybody was into interracial dating, but no dice. The only sites specializing in interracial dating were smaller and subscription based. Not only that, they provided much better customer service, advice and support than the freebies, who wouldn’t lift a finger for me. I guess businesses figure that if you’re paying us, we’ll help you, and if you aren’t, we won’t.
But first, let’s back up a bit—remember how opposed I was to dropping one dime on a membership? “I’ll never pay to date” was my mantra, for years. So I started with a free membership at one of the specialty sites, just to dip my toe in the water. Right off the bat, I knew my kind of lady was here and she was open to dating guys of my ethnicity. That sure beat waiting for the beauty across the bar to bat her eyelashes at me, or sending out a ton of emails just to find someone simpatico with my skin tone.
But the free membership proved frustrating. On a subscription site, the free members are kind of at the mercy of the paying customers. Who wants to be limited to replying to other people’s emails? The biggest attraction of online dating is that you get to pick and choose whom you talk to and when. It wasn’t long before I was feeling kind of ridiculous about my “no-pay” stance. Even on my tightened budget, I could swing a subscription, and I didn’t like people thinking I was too cheap (or even too poor) to shell out for one. It was also obvious how much time I would be saving with full communication privileges. Time is money, after all. I could be using it to look for a better job, take on some freelance work, and hit the gym more often.
It was only after I sprung for a month-to-month membership on the site—just to see how it went—that I really understood what I had here. The beauty of the idea is inescapable. Your computer is your portal to other people—you can find out so much about someone, and the degree of chemistry between you, before you ever walk out the door. Instead of sitting down with someone I remembered being pretty hot on Friday night but didn’t know much else about, I was only dating women who shared my interests and with whom I’d already “clicked”—at least via email or IM. Pretty cool.
But I had to pay to play. I feel sorry for those guys who expect “flirts” to work for them—you have to show a little personality to really attract a woman’s attention. I mean, these gals get so many responses on a daily basis that you have to win them over a little bit. I couldn’t stand not being able to see who’s viewed my profile or “favorited” me, either. It’s like hearing that a friend of a friend thinks you’re cute—that’s the alley oop, all you have to do is dunk the damn ball!
Now I’m on a six-month subscription, which is cheaper, and only painting the town red once a month or so. Here’s the irony of it all—I pay a helluva lot less to date now than I ever did.
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