Un Ragazzo and I have a little group of agricultural scientists to partly thank for our encounter.
It was almost midnight on a weekend one recent spring and I was making my way home after a long work event on farming, food, and the health of Americans. The scallops and steak had been amazing and the wine to help wash it all down was even better; I left the party slightly buzzed yet wired to continue the conversation on the world's food chain.
A food chain discussion on a weekend night, anyone?
Throwing myself in front of my MacBook to finish the food science presentation due in eight hours, I opened up a second window to browse for interesting chatter on a dating Web site that I had occasionally visited, at times like these when I would yearn for intellectual banter with a male specimen of substance.
Plenty of fish in the sea: a cornucopia of online matchmakers to suit the tastes of every New Yorker
Let's pause here for a second. You are probably thinking:
Online dating in New York? Is that even necessary? Aren't you in testosterone haven simply by being in the sexiest city in the world? Are there not amazing-looking and intelligent men around every corner, ready to whisk you into the nearest French bistro or wine lounge for the most fantastic date we've all seen on Sex and the City? And, aren't dating Web sites full of losers who probably cannot carry a two-minute conversation without looking or sounding like Napoleon Dynamite?
Allow me to respectfully disagree. Having perused dating Web sites on and off for about 18 months, while at the same time meeting guys under "regular" circumstances in New York – including at dinner parties, on subway platforms, in bars, movie theaters, bookstores, gyms, and parks – I find online dating to be but another medium to meet people. The main difference, and a key one, is that online dating is a much more productive and efficient process, providing answers to fundamental questions that may take up to a handful of dates for "regular" daters to find out.
The New York subway, a relatively common place to throw a line at a cool chick with some time to kill
Have a preference for guys of a particular age, height, race, religion, body type, or hair style? Like a gentleman who enjoys chess, Mexican food, zorbing or Tolstoy? You can play as many rounds of speed dating as you like in one night in your pajamas, without having to put on any mascara or even repeat your own elevator pitch a single time. In that way, the odds of a negative first-date experience with a guy from Match.com may actually be lower than those of a date with a guy who'd picked you up in a Village pub.
The taboo of online dating is outdated, and its stigma of being a magnet for losers is also ill-placed. A quick Google search would reveal multiple pleasant and even attractive profiles on dating Web sites, many of them with academic and professional titles to match the looks.
As for the Sex and the City dating experience, it really boils down to which of the ladies you'd like to emulate. If you're a Samantha, you may think of dating in Manhattan as being in Dylan's Candy Bar. If you're a Miranda, you would more likely think of it as being in Home Depot – full of stuff but none of which you'd want to bring home, let alone into your bed.
Dylan's Candy Bar, an institution for the sweet-toothed
In fact, I consider online dating a complement to regular dating. New Yorkers are competitors. Kiasu competitors. If there were 248 places in which men are looking for women each evening, why stick to 242? With the ability to control the first moment of truth – to take a leaf from the soap giant P&G's handbook – through a well thought-through pick-up line and a picture of your sober self, why limit your chances of success to the probability of an eligible bachelor strolling through the doors of Apotheke or Employees Only at 1 a.m. to find you still coherent and charming, with great hair?
Checking out the chemistry at Apotheke
And so that was how I met Un Ragazzo. Between paragraphs of writing about poultry, tomatoes and cheese, I got pinged by a guy going by the alias of "School on Saturday."
"Why the name?" I asked.
"It's an old joke from the Fat Albert cartoon TV show," Un Ragazzo replied, sounding a little sheepish. "'You're like school on Saturday: no class.'"
That sense of humor, along with his very smart technique to pay me a compliment about my writing (in my profile), earned him an e-mail response from me. That led to nearly five hours of online chatting that flew by as we went from Ricky Gervais to Little Britain, to The Larry Sanders Show, to green technologies, to Monty Python, to Da Ali G Show, to North Carolina, to Fabian Cancellara, to exchanging pictures (verdict: cute!), to Woody Allen, to Almodovar, to previous disastrous online dating experiences, to Trivia Pursuit, to traditional Chinese medicine, to running down the West Side Highway, to not being able to run down the West Side Highway, to very old grandfathers, to Asterix and Tintin, to Belgian beer, to pool, to carrom, to Trader Joe's . . . to finally realizing we could be exchanging phone numbers to carry on the conversation.
I typed the last of the 10 digits of my phone number, and the silence was deafening as my eyes fell onto my cell.
I didn't have to wait long. Seconds later, he'd called and we were reintroducing ourselves to each other, this time verbally for the first time so he could hear my accent that didn't come through in my writing.
I guess neither of us screwed that up, because within minutes, we had agreed to meet for a drink halfway between our apartments, in Midtown, that very next night.
As I hung up the phone, my brain quickly reminded me that I'd need to get some shut-eye before getting up to look refreshed in two hours to speak with my farming colleagues. It then promptly switched gears to tell me that I could wear my new Club Monaco top to the more important meeting that evening.
Good to know. Because this guy might really be worth that blouse. . . Optimist or hopeless romantic? You decide.
As for the challenge du jour? The answer is clear.
Internet: 1. Meatpacking District bars: 0.
A review of the Meatpacking District in its heyday (2006)
(Some pictures taken from the Internet)