A few weeks ago I was having a beer with a guy named Scott. It was a date—a first date—with a photographer I’d met online. I like to think I’ve gotten good at this online dating thing*, or at least proficient, but Scott was a pro.
Shortly after we sat down on a charming–if potentially rat-infested (the folks at the dive bar insisted on calling them mice)–patio, another couple walked out. The guy looked at Scott, paused, looked back and said, “Hey, I know you.”
Scott gave me an awkward smile.
“Aren’t you the guy who ran after me the other day when I dropped a fifty dollar bill on the sidewalk?”
Scott looked embarrassed and shrugged.
“Yes. It’s totally you,” the guy said. He looked at me. “Can you believe this guy? Who does that? Returns a fifty-freaking-dollar bill.”
“Pretty amazing,” I said.
“Hey man, let me buy you a drink,” the guy said. Scott laughed politely and said no thanks and the other guy made his way to his seat.
Scott smiled at me for a moment, then said, “That’s my buddy. I ran into him outside before you got here. I wanted him to do a bit about me saving a kitten but he thought you might not buy that one.”
We had a long talk that night. When he heard I was writing about love stories, he had a lot of questions. Mostly, he wanted to understand the function of love stories. He agreed that they probably don’t make us better at loving each other, and, while they might transmit certain values, they don’t, as some researchers have suggested, seem to make us better people.
“Well, they probably offer us a lot of vicarious pleasure,” I offered.
“Yeah, but they must do something constructive,” he insisted.
“It’s obvious to me that we really need them—not just other people’s stories, but our own,” I said. I mentioned the common phenomenon of online dating profiles containing some iteration of the phrase “I’m willing to lie about where we met.” Continue reading