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Inside Internet Dating... Genève-Style!

Julz’s World: Flying Elephants and Orange Caterpillars

By Julie Symons

“Flying Elephants and Orange Caterpillars I’m a happy kiwi girl living in Genève who wants to meet a guy who loves travelling, cinema, meals out, hiking and the mountains. (I’m a hopeless skier but I love sliding down mountains on garbage bags!) I also love photography, writing and chocolate. Jerks who only want a one-night stand need not apply.”

So proclaimed my ad in one of Switzerland’s premier internet dating sites two years ago.

It started off as a joke really. I’m desperate I admit, but not so pathetic that I’ll lose all sense of dignity and standards and go out with just anyone. But maybe due to the fact I’m a Gemini, or maybe because of an inherent nosiness that’s peculiar to journalists, curiosity definitely got the better of me.

It all began when I found my flatmate of the time giggling hysterically over her computer with her best friend. “Those two are up to something,” I thought. “Computers aren’t that funny.”

My feet took on a mind of their own and drew me into the living room, where for the next hour or so we laughed at the corny ad headings - “Seeking Lasting Love” and other such unimaginative calls to the opposite sex – and opened every photo attachment to see what kind of sad and sorry souls were reduced to advertising on the internet.

One heading declared the owner as a “Male Model”, so of course we couldn’t resist the temptation to check out his photo. There stood the half-dressed arrogant young lad, a cocky expression on his face, with his description of himself and his ideal woman simply saying “Sex, sex, sex, girls, girls, girls”. To this day I wonder if he received any replies.

Finally the anticipation became too much to bear and I typed in an ad for my flatmate. It took a while, between the peals of laughter. My flatmate, who conveniently happened to be a nurse, could only look on in half-bemused horror as an ad went up on the internet proclaiming “lonely nurse seeks doctor to make her feel good all over”, and listing her hobbies as “wearing sexy lingerie and licking wine off people in restaurants”. We didn’t seriously think anyone would reply, but naturally a number of sleaze-bags came out of the woodwork, with offers of no-strings-attached sex and photos of men holding bottles of wine in provocative poses.

But after that night my curiosity was really aroused, and I decided to place my own ad. Just for a laugh. No intentions to actually respond to anyone or anything.

One week and 45 replies later – I guess guys really go for the Flying Elephant approach – I found myself arranging to meet someone. It’s just harmless fun, I told myself. A way to expand my circle of friends in a foreign city, if nothing else. Unfortunately it was also, as I realised later, very addictive.

My “maybe I’ll just meet three” suddenly became six, and probably would have headed into double figures except for the fact I actually did meet someone I liked. And when we split some months later, I vowed never to use the internet again for such purposes. But every now and again I would receive another reply to that old ad and suddenly start wondering if perhaps this was “the one”. I wouldn’t be fair to myself if I didn’t at least check the guy out, I would think. Just in case?

Interestingly, the guys you meet via the internet in Switzerland are surprisingly normal. I would never consider such a method of meeting someone in New Zealand, because it would be bound to attract every weirdo and loser on that side of the equator. But in Switzerland, the vast majority of the internet guys are professionals, good looking and have great personalities to boot. I received replies from bankers, lawyers, wine makers, scientists, accountants, pilots, and fellow international organisation employees. The one downside is that you have no idea about the chemistry until you actually meet someone. In that regard, the old fashioned way of meeting men in pubs is infinitely better, even accounting for the fact you select people on purely physical grounds and have no idea if they crucify chickens at midnight or have boxes of McDonalds leftovers sitting under their beds.

Of course, I was careful. I always met the men in public places, avoided getting in cars, and usually left their details on the dining room table with a message for my flatmate to call the police if I didn’t come back by a certain time.

The most difficult thing was reconciling myself to the fact that the person I met in reality was often nothing like what I had imagined in my mind.

There was the research engineer who was incredibly handsome and sounded unbelievably romantic on paper, talking romantically about watching the clouds and such things, but who was so nervous when we actually met that I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.

I got my hopes up before meeting a fireman, imagining a strapping lad with the body with a Chippendale, but instead I met a roly-poly chap with a fabulous personality.

Then there was the guy who made a joke out of the fact he smoked (I can’t stand smokers) and promised he would “try not to smoke too much while we’re together (if I go to the bathroom twice an hour, you’ll know it’s not a bladder problem)”. Actually I had high hopes for that one, after reading such goodies like “I like to go out and have fun in bars and pubs but I’m also always happy to stay home, watch a movie and talk all night while having a glass of good wine”. He sounded lovely. But I never had a chance to find out for certain, because he stood me up. He had a brilliant excuse though – apparently a friend went into labour and he had to help.

Lots of guys offered to help me ski too but I didn’t take anyone up on the offer (watching me scream and ski into innocent bystanders would be the fastest way to put any man off).

But don’t get me wrong. I totally disagree with people who have internet relationships. The ones who email each other for months or even years before actually meeting. That, I think, is unnatural. I have two friends who flew to the other side of the world to meet guys they’d fallen in love with over the internet. Needless to say, it didn’t work out.

But now I have definitely quit this particular addiction. I eventually fell for someone who didn’t fall back. That was an aspect of internet dating that I didn’t consider before. And it hurt – a lot.


Copyright Julie Symons 2002

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