Dear God. Single men (and a few women) are now paying strangers to find suitable dates for them online. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, they don't have the time -- or the will -- to do it themselves.
So add relationships to the list of things that can be outsourced, along with cleaning your condo, detailing your car and buying and delivering your groceries.
One web-based company that provides this service, Virtual Dating Assistants, employs 45 freelance writers to pen and submit a suitor's profile. Replies go to a writer's inbox, thereby sparing the would-be suitor the embarrassment of not getting any responses or having to wade through, ponder, perhaps respond to, any he does receive.
The writer decides whom to answer and if a woman responds favorably, a "closer" sets up time and place.
Think about this from the point of view of the woman -- and there's a good chance it's a woman since 80 percent of Virtual Dating Assistants' clients are men. She is charmed by the person she reads about online and more intrigued once she starts receiving emails she presumes are from him. Does she know he's not the sincere, soulful man he seems but actually some corporate suit who can't be bothered to put a little thought and time into deciding whom he takes to dinner? Nope.
Say she sets aside several hours in her busy schedule to get dressed and joins him at a swanky restaurant, then by the second glass of Chardonnay realizes what a jerk he is. This could happen on a traditional first date too, of course, or on a date arranged by partners online who portray themselves as better-looking and smarter than they actually are.
But misrepresentation by surrogate seems somehow worse. Colder. Harder to detect. It has a kind of "I've been lied to" feeling times two.
Additionally, as my son Jeff, 26 and single, points out, the third-party setup may diminish any sense of responsibility a man might feel for making a date work.
The guy "hasn't invested anything emotionally," Jeff says. "So I wonder if it's then easier for him to just get out early if there's something that doesn't work with the person he's dating, rather than try to work through it. If I've spent a lot of energy trying to get a date with a girl, I'm likely to forgive minor eccentricities in the interest of the bigger picture. But if someone just hands me a girl that I didn't have to work for, who knows?"
In the Washington Post story, reporter Ellen McCarthy quotes a 27-year-old man named Luke who outsourced online dating to his receptionist. Otherwise, "you have to go through 10 conversations to get one date," he said.
Imagine having to actually communicate directly with people you might be interested in. What a concept.
Another plus in Luke's mind? He doesn't have to watch his online advances being turned down or worse, deleted without being read.
"Emotionally, I feel a little small pain of rejection every time that happens," he said.
Of course it can be tedious to sort through overtures from people whom you have no interest in, and rejection is never fun. But isn't it worth preserving some sense of personal connection to the selection?
No pain, no gain, I say.
Third-party matchmaking has been around a long time. Think of the village elder, priest, rabbi, parent.
But unlike the relationship concierge, these people of the past usually knew the couple in question and, in many cases, cared deeply about the couple's well-being. Sometimes they were paid for their matches, but often not. The concierge, on the other hand, is in it only for the money.
The whole thing makes me incredibly sad, and reminds me of a book I reviewed last year. In A Vindication of Love, Cristina Nehring wrote:
"We inhabit a world in which every aspect of romance from meeting to mating has been streamlined, safety-checked and emptied of spiritual consequence. The result is that we imagine we live in an erotic culture of unprecedented opportunity when, in fact, we live in an erotic culture that is almost unendurably bland."
People are not rental units or luxury sedans or oven-ready chickens and -- forgive the cliché -- many times in a relationship of any consequence, it's the little things that mean the most. I can't help thinking that regardless of how the surrogate-arranged dates turn out, these men, and the women they take to dinner, can't possibly be getting their money's worth.