I got a text recently from my friend Kira: “Would it be wrong of me to accept the offer of a potential suitor’s empty condo in Yaletown for the Madonna concert?”
She and I are going to see Madonna in Vancouver, and we need a place to stay.
Yaletown would be perfect. Especially if it were free. But that would mean Kira would have to string along this “potential suitor” for months. The concert isn’t until September. In the world of online dating, that’s an eternity.
Which brings me to the question of the thorny ethical issues we face when dating online.
1. How many men is it okay to juggle at one time?
I am terrible at juggling men. I’ve tried it. After two, I start getting confused. Is Ray the engineer or the performance artist? Is Patrick the one who sails and is heading off the Tanzania in September, or is that Joe? How many kids does Todd have again? Is it Terry who is the golfer?
If I ran my own dating website, one of the key features would be a spreadsheet, so that I could easily keep track of the pertinent details.
Kira is a master at juggling. I am amazed at the number of men she can simultaneously communicate with and the number of dates she can squeeze into a single week. It is awe inspiring. But even she gets mixed up from time to time. She recently found herself communicating with two men with the same name, and sent one a message which was intended for the other. The reply? “I think this email was meant for the other Brian…” Oops.
2. How many dates can one reasonably squeeze into a single day?
Kira is also a master of creative scheduling, and often fits a number of dates into a single Saturday. This approach stresses me out. But I’ve been known to try it. I once arranged for a 9:00 coffee date with one guy, and an 11:30 with another. The dates were in the same neighbourhood, which I thought was excellent planning. There’s nothing worse than having to leap into one’s car and fly across town between dates. But as I was out for a walk with Date Number Two, Date Number One drove by on his way out of Cook Street Village. I didn’t hear from Date Number One again.
3. After how many minutes of a bad coffee date is it okay to excuse oneself and flee the building?
Personally, I think this is the height of rudeness, but I went out with one man who had this happen to him. Dave admitted to me that he once had a date which was a record ten minutes long. After that, the woman apologized, and then excused herself. I can see how it happened. Dave’s profile was hysterically funny, and his emails were witty and intelligent. But the poor man was so nervous meeting me in person that he stuttered all the way through our date.
The second part of the Dave story is that I accepted a second date with him, convinced that we might enjoy ourselves more once the first date jitters were out of the way. He was definitely more confident on that second date; in fact, when our server – who was a former student of mine – asked if we’d like dessert, he replied, “No thanks.” Pointing at me, he added, “She’ll be dessert tonight.”
Um, I don’t think so, Dave.
4. Is it ethical, under any circumstances, to pretend to go to the washroom, and instead flee the building?
While I don’t believe in bolting while on a date, I was sorely tempted the day I met Lawrence for herbal tea. Normally, I screen my dates quite carefully, insisting on finding out a fair bit about them before I’ll agree to meet them. But for some reason Lawrence slipped through the screening process cracks.
Which is how I found myself trapped in a coffee shop, with a wild eyed stranger ranting about the dangers of genetically modified food and the Five White Evils. In an increasingly agitated voice, he described the dangers of ingesting sugar, salt and white flour. (There were two more Evils, but I can’t remember them. Cocaine, maybe?)
It is the one time I considered excusing myself and making a run for it.
5. Is it okay to lie about one’s status when a former date contacts you months (or years) later?
A year and a half after that ill-fated date with Lawrence of the Five White Evils, he tracked me down through my workplace website. Sorry he’d taken so long to get back to me, his email said, but he wondered if I’d like to get together again.
No, Lawrence. Not if you were the last man on Earth.
But that wouldn’t be a kind response. When I showed the email to my girlfriend at work, she suggested a more diplomatic approach: “Tell him you’re married now and expecting twins.”