Internet Dating and its Discontents
By: Anita G. Gorman

Harriet wanted to meet the man of her dreams, but where was he? Not in her apartment house in Ashleyville, not so far as she could tell. She had thought about organizing an apartment house party so the residents could get to know one another, but did people do that? And if she organized such a party, would anyone show up, or would they all stay holed up in their residences?

She thought of enrolling in a woodworking class or a class in car repair, but would those classes attract the sort of man she wanted? Not that she was a snob or anything, but she had her standards, and she was well–educated.

Her friend Caroline had met her husband on the internet, and they seemed happy so far. Of course, they had only been married for three months. Then there was Tess. Tess kept going on the internet and getting rejected. Harriet wondered why. Didn't she have any decent photos of herself? Once in a while Tess would get a bite, as they say in the fishing world, and she would meet a guy for lunch or a drink. Sometimes the guy wouldn't show up. That was embarrassing. Sometimes the guy was boring or had strange table manners or could barely frame a sentence. It was not a good situation.

Still, Harriet was willing to try so she signed up for a dating service, Ashleyville Dates Online, also known as ADO. One evening in June when birds were chirping outside her open window and night was falling, Harriet filled out her application, paid the fee, and waited.

The next morning when she collected her mail in the lobby, Tim was mopping the floor.

"Careful, Miss Harriet, so you don't fall," he said without looking up.

"Sorry, I shouldn't be walking on a wet floor."

Tim stopped, looked up, and smiled at her. "Not a problem. You can walk anywhere you like."

Harriet started to blush, and she wasn't sure why. A sweet young man, she thought. But just a janitor. A janitor wearing a Cincinnati Reds hat. At least they rooted for the same team.

She had her first nibble that same day. A man named Horace, thirty, a lawyer, wanted to meet Harriet, the twenty–five–year old social studies teacher. It was promising.

They met for lunch at Vera's, a small cafe near the village green. ADO had a rule that dating prospects were to pay their own way, no ifs, ands, or buts. That was the rule, and it worked for Harriet and, she supposed, for everyone else.

Horace was not as handsome as his photographs. He looked older than thirty, closer to forty.

"Well, Horace, what sort of law do you practice?"

"Divorce, mostly. When people decide they've had enough of whatever marriage they're in, first or fourth, they come to me. I make a good living. Lots of people want to get divorced."

"Even here in this quaint, old–fashioned town?"

"Sure, but I get clients from other towns as well. Some people prefer getting taken care of by a stranger, someone who doesn't know their cousins or their neighbors."

"Sounds fascinating," Harriet muttered, but she didn't mean it.

When they parted, somehow Harriet knew that she wasn't going to see Horace again. Not unless she wanted to get divorced, and that wasn't likely, given how tough it was just to get a date.

Later that afternoon she noticed that the light switch in the kitchen wasn't working. How was she going to make dinner? She called Tim.

"Sorry to bother you, Tim, but the light switch in my kitchen stopped working."

"You're sure you don't need a bulb?"

"No, I'm clever enough to first check the bulb before calling for help. Do you know an electrician I could call? Is there someone who services the building?"

"Be right there." And he was, with a toolbox and wearing a cap that said Electrician. Harriet laughed when she saw him.

"Something funny?" He took off the cap and started pulling out tools. She went back to her computer while he worked.

There it was, another prospect. This time the man's name was Henry. She looked over his data: twenty–six, a teacher, single. Why did he put that down? Surely married people didn't sign up for a dating service. Not in the old–fashioned town of Ashleyville, at least. She was glad it was June and she had the summer off. Lots of time for dating. By the time Tim was finished and the light in the kitchen was working, Harriet had a date for the next day.

This time she met her date at a local pizzeria, and soon she found out why Henry, who was probably at least thirty, had listed himself as single.

"Listen, to be honest, I've already been married. Divorced. With two kids. The kids need a mother."

"Did your ex–wife die?"

"No. She's just useless as a mother. Just want to be up front with you." He grinned at her.

Harriet felt guilty about not wanting to help Henry and then gave herself a metaphorical slap on the head. Wait, I don't have to help everyone who needs help. OK, I feel sorry for the guy, but it's not my job to fix his life. I'm young, I'm free, I want to meet someone else who's young and free. Where is he?

The following week, the drain in the bathroom sink was plugged. She tried a plunger, then baking soda and vinegar (recommended by an all–natural website), then gave up and called Tim.

"What can I do for you, Miss Harriet?

"Sorry to bother you, Tim, but I've got a stopped–up drain in the bathroom. Whom should I call?"

"I'll be there as soon as I can."

Within an hour there was a knock on the door. When Harriet opened it, there was Tim carrying an even bigger box of tools and wearing a hat that said Plumber. He winked at her.

"You do this sort of thing as well?"

"Of course. Just point me in the direction of the drain. Well, you said bathroom. I can figure that out."

Soon Tim was making noise in the bathroom, and Harriet was back staring at her computer screen and looking for eligible men.

She hadn't noticed that the noise had stopped and that Tim was standing behind her.

"A dating site? You don't need one of those."

Harriet tried to cover up the screen. Her hands weren't big enough.

"Don't feel bad. Lots of people do that. It's the thing to do these days. Not sure they work very well."

"Oh, why not?"

"Because people pretend they're younger or smarter or richer or better–looking than they actually are."

"How do you know that?"

"OK. You tell me. Am I wrong?"

"No. No, you're not." They looked at each other for a minute.

"Listen, I think there's a problem with a basement pipe. I'll go check. Don't use the bathroom sink while I'm gone."

Harriet nodded and went back to her search for Mr. Perfect but kept thinking about Tim for some reason. Why am I thinking about a janitor, she asked herself. Oh, don't be such a snob, Harriet. But she was.

Then, within the next half hour, Tim was back. "All fixed. The pipe in the basement was clogged. It's working again. I'll put everything back together and leave you to your search for Mr. Right."

Harriet scowled at him and give him a terse "Thanks." Then she forgot about Tim as he finished his job and exited her apartment, whistling as he went.

Back on the screen she found another ADO possibility. Sebastian. A professor at Ashleyville College. He looked nerdy, but that was all right. At least his photo seemed honest. Soon she had a lunch date with Sebastian after he finished teaching a summer class.

Harriet was excited as she left her apartment building. Tim was mopping the floor in the lobby.

"Off on another date, Miss Harriet?"

"None of your business." Then she apologized as she opened the front door. "Sorry. Didn't mean to be rude."

"No problem. Hope this guy's the one."

But Sebastian wasn't. Shy beyond belief, he said nothing as he ate a hamburger while Harriet toyed with a shrimp salad. She kept asking questions to avoid an uncomfortable silence: What do you teach? What's your specialty? How long have you been at the college? Where did you go to school?

His answers did not interrupt his munching: History. Industrial Revolution in England. Two years. Ohio State.

Harriet wondered why he wasn't asking her about herself. What was wrong with this guy? Did he want to know her, or did he just want an excuse to eat a hamburger on a summer day? She decided she'd better talk.

"I teach social studies to seventh graders. Part of what they learn is the history of the modern industrial age. Maybe you could visit my classes and give a talk."

Sebastian was silent.

"Or maybe not." Harriet sighed and went back to her salad. She felt sorry for Sebastian, who was obviously well–educated; after all, he had a Ph.D., and that might be an indication of something. Not an indication of social aplomb, however. She felt sorry for him. OK, I'm sorry for him, she thought, but I can't fix his problem. Living with him would be painful. Or boring. Or both. No, it's not my job to fix anybody else.

Soon they were paying their respective bills and saying goodbye.

"I'll call you," said Sebastian.

Harriet mumbled something, gave a little smile and a wave and walked slowly back to her apartment.

Tim was not in the lobby. She wondered what he was up to. Maybe putting out fires, metaphorical fires, somewhere else in the building, or in another building. She thought he might work elsewhere as well.

Back to the computer. There it was again, a parade of guys, some of whom looked promising and some who didn't. Then she began wondering about how she herself measured up. Did men take a look at her photo, her occupation, her hobbies (none), and decide she was a loser? She shivered as she pondered the nameless men, the unseen faces who had probably rejected her. Maybe the really great guys were contacting the really great women, the glamorous ones, the ones with exciting jobs and fancy cars. I am really making myself depressed, she thought. This is absurd.

She poured herself a glass of wine. Shouldn't drink alone. She knew that. Maybe if she turned on the TV she wouldn't be drinking alone. Someone else would be in the room talking, maybe not to her, but talking just the same.

The TV wouldn't work. She turned on a lamp. That didn't work either. Had there been a power outage? She tried the radio in the kitchen. Nothing. Time to call Tim again.

"What can I do for you, Miss Harriet?"

"There's no power in this apartment. Nothing works. Is there an outage?"

"Not that I know of. Be there in fifteen minutes."

And there he was again, but he wasn't wearing a cap. She noticed his light brown hair and brown eyes.

"No cap this afternoon?"

"No. Not necessary."

"Why not?"

"It's fixed. Turn something on." He gave her a knowing smile. Was he talking about something else?

The lamp worked. So did the television. "What did you do? Or wasn't it broken?"

"I checked the circuit breaker. That's what happened. Not sure why." He seemed to be almost ready to laugh.

"Why are you looking like that?"

"Like what?"

"Like you're ready to burst out laughing."

Then he started to laugh.

"Are you laughing at me?"

"No. Just at this, this situation."

"What situation? That the circuit breaker had tripped?"

"Yes. No. Listen. I'm an honest guy. I turned off the breaker while you were gone, while you were having lunch with still another Mr. Right."

She winced. "Not another Mr. Right. Haven't found one yet."

"I know."

"How do you know?"

"Am I right?"

"Yeah."

"Maybe I'm your Mr. Right. After all, that's my last name. Wright, spelled with a W of course."

She started to laugh. "That's pretty funny. I forgot that was your name. Timothy Wright. Wait. You said you turned off the breaker. Why?"

He looked a bit sheepish. "I turned off the power in your apartment so I could see you again."

"Oh." They stood there awkwardly for a few minutes. "Would you like a glass of wine?"

"Sure."

She found a crystal wine glass and poured some cabernet into it. Then she retrieved another crystal glass and taking her old, everyday glass she poured its contents into the more elegant container.

Then they sat down on the couch.

"Actually, I was thinking of removing a tube from your TV, but I didn't get the chance. And I'm not a TV repairman."

"You're not? I thought you repaired everything."

"No. Only permanent items that people don't take with them when they move. Water, electricity, bathroom fixtures. I also know how to paint walls and ceilings and install cabinets."

"A good guy to have around the house, it seems," she said and then blushed.

"I do know how to turn stuff on," he said.

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