I was thrilled to see Alice Munro’s win for all sorts of reasons – first, she writes beautifully in a way I am only understanding now in my later years. Second, she writes short stories, a much maligned form that I also have just come to appreciate. And third, she’s a Canadian woman, both unrecognized powerhouses of artistic talent, generally speaking.
So I’ve been reading her work and it reminds me of my life in internet dating. My kids would snort and say everything reminds me of internet dating, and in a way they are right. The process includes so much: guile, deceit, excitement, mild threat, lust, trust, disappointment and occasional joy. Sometimes there’s a whole plot included in the early emails – tales of hearts broken in the past, hopes for the future, old hatreds, unresolved issues, early established boundaries, too soon declarations of love, too late approaches, opportunities lost or regretted.
Lately I’ve been approached by a man who is so effusive in his emails it’s as if we’d been lovers. He is extensive in his missives, going on about what he wants in a woman, what he will give her, about how he is only talking to me, how he is looking for a woman for the rest of his life, and he thinks I am that woman. Now, cut me down and call me a suspicious witch, but something’s fishy in camp wigonishee.
Be that as it may, each internet date seems to me to be a short story on its own. The initial meeting, the crescendo of either acceptance or denial, the crisis as the secrets are brought forward, the eventual resolution. One or two have been serial novellas, with a longer story arc, more involvement, deeper losses.
Some have been flash fiction, over in a moment. Others are humorous essays, good for laughs of embarrassment or shock. Clue: if the only books on the man’s bookshelf are self-improvement ones, run for the hills. If they start off asking if you are a sensual woman, be warned – as with the man who, over our first coffee, asked me if I thought I could handle him in bed, you may run into expectations you can barely imagine.
I have to say the experiment with internet dating has led me into meeting people I might never have even known existed. It’s been an honour to know most of them, even a little bit. Each one, like a short story, is worth the time spent. Each one, also like a short story, is over before a commitment is made.
But many of them, like a story by Alice Munro, leave me thoughtful and wiser.