Adventures in Online Dating

Funny, what triggers a memory, and what rabbit holes your mind goes down from there. Just over a year ago – September 29, 2018 – I posted a story about Holst’s The Planets and the boyfriend who introduced me to that music on my personal Facebook page. Yesterday, I saw an ad for a concert featuring The Planets in Boise. And this morning, I read an entertaining blog post by Carrot at The Dihedral about climbers using online dating, specifically Tinder. At the end he asked for readers’ experiences.

Sad to admit, I have way too many stories from online dating of the spectacular fail sort that Carrot so expertly parodies in his piece. But dammit, sometimes it does work, and those are my favorite memories. Carrot, here’s my contribution to the thread.

dating ad

Personals Ads

My best “online dating” experiences predate actual online dating. They go back to the personals ads era, those short classified ads that appeared in the back of alternative newspapers in certain cities in the 1980s and 90s, including Seattle. You know, those ads that always started with something like, SWF, 29, looking for smart, fun, athletic guy to share outdoor adventures and dinners in the city…. You paid by the line so one didn’t get too wordy – three, maybe four lines, max – unless you were showing off. Anyone responding to your ad would write to the newspaper’s PO box; they collected the letters and forwarded them to you once per week, preserving your anonymity. I admit, getting a big manila envelope stuffed with 20-30 letters from men hoping to meet me, two or three weeks in a row, is flattering and ego-boosting. I still have a shoebox in a closet that contains many of those letters. (For those of you mystified by what a personals ad in a newspaper or magazine looked like, here’s a sampling from New York Magazine circa 1980s and 90s, courtesy of The Cut. Somewhere I’ve got a cheat sheet for all the abbreviations and acronyms seen in dating ads back then.)

I met two extraordinary men through those classified personals ads. The first one I dated for five years (the story that follows this long intro, “The Planets”), the second for twelve. Since that latter relationship ended and I moved to Idaho in 2005, I have not enjoyed similar success using the online versions of personals ads, Match.com and OkCupid. I’ve met some nice guys over the years, but we’re always “geographically undesirable” to each other, hundreds of miles between us. Rarely do I see the profile of a local guy I would want to meet.

And then there are some I hope I never meet. I swear, this was a real profile from Match.com, in 2016, someone Match thought I might be interested in because he lived near me and fit within my age parameters. He described, in his own words and misspellings, the woman he’s seeking:

red neck woman. Probably none left. Dont need one that makes my bumper drag. only got a 3/4 ton truck. Dont want no horse woman. I dont like dogs much so thats out. Dont like short hair very much. Some times its not bad but mostly makes women look stupid.

So picky! He didn’t include a photo of himself or his truck.

More recently, checking to see what sort of manly pulchritudinous might be hiding in my vicinity, I stumbled upon this profile. Again, words and misspellings are his, not mine.

I’m honest, I do not “need” somebody, I wanna want somebody. I will appreciate you , and consider you , if there’s a puddle , I’ll carry you . Don’t want high maintenance , need a companion who wants LOVE to flow to and fro …. …My parents are still in Love after 66 years..I value that but, have not been so fortunate. I LOVE GOD …..I will be your Tarzan or your Grizzly Adams or the incredible Mr. Limput…,Not really into the big city, maybe for a 3 day shopping spree or the show or a fancy restaurant or 4 , I really like to eat…..every few months or weeks .. I just can’t live in it… Humility is all “so” important…If the beauty of a womans Heart makes mine dance, then the melody lasts a lifetime !! …..My armor is a little tarnished, but has persevered …..

That profile was accompanied by a closeup photo of a 62-year-old guy with a goatee (an aside: can we puhleeze get over that bit of facial hair affectation here in Idaho? Full beard, right on, but I’m so, so sick of the goatee), wearing sunglasses, watch cap, greasy wife-beater t-shirt (sleeves ripped off) with suspenders, standing next to an old yellow bulldozer, sticking his tongue out at the camera.

So enticing. Be still my heart.

I confess, I had to look up “Mr. Limput”  because who doesn’t want Tarzan and Grizzly Adams and … who? I discovered there was a 1964 movie called The Incredible Mr. Limpet, starring Don Knotts, who according to Google, “…falls into the sea and transforms into a fish, quickly becoming pals with a crab and developing a romantic bond with a fetching female fish.” So now I’m really confused. Is this guy looking to fall for a fish, or is he already in love with a fish? He does include additional photos of him fishing….

You can see why I’ve given up. I’m an outlier here in rural Idaho, politically, socially, and in terms of the non-throttle-twisting, non-killing activities I enjoy. I refuse to give up hope, though. I have those two positive experiences from long ago to buoy my spirits, and who knows, maybe I can eventually find someone to import.

The Planets (written September 29, 2018)

This morning on NPR I listened to a story about the 100-year anniversary of Holst’s “symphonic blockbuster” The Planets. It’s been a few years since I listened to the entire symphony. I was first introduced to The Planets by a man I dated in the mid-80s, Ron Gregg.

Ron was one-of-a-kind; everyone who met him agreed. We met in 1986 after I placed a personals ad in the Seattle Weekly to which he responded. I was 29 and had just returned to Seattle after living and practicing law in small-town eastern Washington for a couple years. Ron was 38, had a PhD in Applied Physics (nuclear physics) from Cal Tech, and was an accomplished mountaineer, white water kayaker, backcountry skier, cyclist and sometime runner. He had a true enthusiasm for life, packing as much fun and experience into every day as he could. He always went big. In some sports I couldn’t keep up with him, in others – running – he couldn’t keep up with me, so we were a good match.

When we met, Ron was operating the business he created in 1980 – Outdoor Research, better known as OR – out of the basement of a rental house in North Seattle, designing and making clothing and supplies for outdoor recreation – gators, hats, gloves, first aid kits. I was given, and still have and use, lots of great OR gear. When Ron was designing the Seattle Sombrero and asked my opinion, I told him it was the ugliest hat I’d ever seen and I’d never wear one. Good thing he didn’t listen or care about my opinion; it went on to be one of his most successful products and still sells well to this day. (And I have and wear two! I can admit my mistakes.)

Ron and I had a memorable first date. He arrived at my home on crutches with his foot in a cast, a canoe strapped to the top of his beat-up blue-green 1964 Dodge Dart. He was going to take me boating on a mountain lake in eastern Washington, an all-day excursion. He broke the calcaneus (heel) of his foot earlier that summer scrambling down a cliff on the Green River to rescue a boating friend. Because it was his right foot in a cast, he drove by using his left foot for both gas and brake, his right foot sticking over the center hump into the passenger foot area. I fought with myself before getting in that car with a near-stranger – we’d only talked on the phone once – thoughts of Ted Bundy flashing through my mind, but Ron was charming and so seemingly trustworthy that I went. So glad I did. Even though the exhaust from his car, filling the interior because of a hole in the floor, nearly killed me.

people talking outdoors
A few dates into our relationship, at a family picnic in 1986, the cast is off and Ron’s down to one crutch. I’ve never seen anyone move as fast as he could on one leg and one crutch, skipping, almost jogging.

Eclectic in his interests, Ron regularly attended the Seattle Symphony. (He played violin as a kid but the only instrument I saw him play as an adult was the kazoo.) It was on one of those dates that I first heard The Planets and finally found classical music I could love. In the five years Ron and I dated, I heard the Seattle symphony play The Planets twice and Ron gave me a cassette tape of the symphony. When we listened to The Planets in the car, he’d pretend to conduct with his right hand and arm, always with lots of gusto during the dramatic parts; I learned to lean toward the passenger window. I upgraded to a CD version of The Planets years later; I’m listening to that CD as I type this.

Ron had boundless energy, was incredibly strong, and a natural athlete. He taught me to white water kayak and to add telemark/backcountry skiing to my lifetime of downhill. My first introduction to Idaho was thanks to Ron, a group kayaking trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River around 1988. (Ron had wonderful friends.) We all came back twice more and also boated some of Idaho’s other rivers. We skied at Brundage and visited McCall during Winter Carnival one year. Even though we broke up in 1991, we always remained friends.

man standing in trees
Backcountry skiing in 1987. Despite making his living designing and manufacturing high-tech outdoor clothing, incorporating lots of GORE-TEX, Ron often skied in low-tech clothing like jeans and flannel shirts. He was the first person I knew who wore his sunglasses on his forehead. He more often smirked than smiled at the camera, but in life he was always grinning, inwardly and outwardly.

In the early 2000s, when I shared with Ron my dream of leaving the noise and traffic of Seattle behind and creating a dog boarding and training facility in rural Idaho, he – by then very successful with OR – was enthusiastic and willing to help buy the land on which I could do that. We talked about it again in January 2003 as I planned my first scouting trip to Idaho. Two months later, on March 17, Ron was killed in an avalanche in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, B.C., just shy of his 55th birthday. I was devastated.

One key paragraph from his obituary gives a sense of who Ron Gregg was: “Ron was a life-long learner and self-proclaimed expert on all subjects, whose enthusiasm for life and whose keen fashion sense set him apart. His generous nature, his dependable, loyal friendship, his dance moves, obfuscating verbiage, puns and smirking countenance will be missed by family and friends too numerous to count. Knowing him has made the world a more colorful place.”

“Keen fashion sense” was code for gawd-awful velour pullover shirts and other unusual choices. Ron did not follow trends. Anyone watching him dance dissolved into laughter, which seemed to egg him on; he loved making people laugh. He was wicked smart but never made anyone else feel stupid. He was funny and fun, always upbeat. He wasn’t about being better than anyone else; he was all about helping you reach your potential while also hoping you might enjoy tagging along with him on adventures. He used to say, “I’ll sleep when I’m old” and by that he meant, the time to live is now. He didn’t waste a moment.

I’ve spent much of today listening to The Planets, thinking about Ron and all the adventures we went on together, and about how much I’ve missed his friendship and support over these past 15 years. I ended up moving to Idaho, even though I wasn’t able to realize my initial dream now that he was gone. I was lucky to know Ron and call him friend. Ron, personals ads, and The Planets will always be inextricably tied in my memory. Thanks, NPR and Gustav Holst, for sending me down this nostalgic rabbit hole.

Enjoy! You can find versions by other symphonies as well.

15 thoughts on “Adventures in Online Dating”

  1. How sad, he sounds like a wonderful man.
    But omg… those ads! What woman in their right mind would answer those? It makes me very glad I found my husband. He may not be perfect… but he’s perfect for me.

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  2. A moving tribute. I’ve had to explain personal ads to my kids. Like all things pre-internet, they found them hilarious. My two dates resulting from placing a personal ad were disasters. One lasted the exact duration it took us to eat dinner, the other, I almost died mountain biking in a thunder storm.

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  3. Ron sounds like a great guy. I’m glad you got to know him. I’m not big in to classical music but I am playing the YouTube link above right now and I have to say I’m liking it. I met my wife online. It wasn’t a dating site, it was on the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) that was more popular in the late 90’s to early 2000’s. I always found that just chatting with someone was more real than the dating sites. Seemed you got to know the real person over time as you chatted instead of what they were trying to “sell” on places like match.com. Anyway, we have been married for 16 years now so I guess it worked.

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    1. I do love an online meeting story with a happy ending! I hadn’t heard of IRC; googling it, I guess a more current similar application would be Instant Messenger? I can see how that would be a great way to get to know someone with shared interests. There was a time when my online dating profile might say something like, “I’m a sucker for a guy who can write” but all that did was encourage those who couldn’t spell or form complete sentences to send long, cringeworthy emails! Congrats on 16 years 🙂

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      1. Weird. To the best of my knowledge I wrote that comment on a different blog called “Autism in our Nest.” I’m not writing Autism content on my blog. I have an anonymous blog where I write some Autism stories. Gotta be respectful of my son’s feelings. The message at Autism in our Nest is that people shouldn’t need a blue pumpkin to tell them to be kind to kids. I agree with that. Over the past several years, I’ve worked really hard to recognize that when someone isn’t acting in a way that society dictates as ‘right,’ I need to cut them some slack. Now I’m trying to educate the teachers and administrators at school. That’s going poorly.

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