Sometimes we just have to laugh.

As Frederick Buechner wrote, “Laughing is better than crying and maybe not even all that different…(because) no matter what the immediate occasion is of either your laughter or your tears, the object of both ends up being yourself and your own life.”

Several months ago while driving on Loop 289 with my girls, Annie said out of the blue, “Daddy, we need to get you a girlfriend. We’re going to be graduating soon and we don’t want you dying alone.”

She packed three traumatic events into one sentence. I was proud of her for her efficient word usage and communicating with maximum punch. And frightened that my 10-year old sees her graduation and my passing as imminent events.

“Yeah, Daddy”, says Emma, “Why don’t you get on one of those “Date.com” things?” Apparently they’ve seen the commercials. Apparently, so have a lot of people.

It’s estimated that in 2011 the U.S. online dating industry will hit $1 billion in revenues. That’s a lot of people hoping to find the happiness they see in the commercials for sites like E-Harmony and Match. In the UK, 1 in 5 marriages of those age 30 and under are relationships that began online. And to think my parents and grandparents managed to meet and marry, all without the aid of computers. “Instant Messaging” for my Grandfather meant tossing a pebble at Grandma’s window to get her attention.

I was on E-Harmony for awhile. The sign up process made me nervous. I was very leery of this online stuff. Maybe I’m more like my Grandfather than I thought. We gave him a new radio once for Christmas. He set it up on the refrigerator in a prominent spot, while continuing to play the old radio he had stashed behind it. Technology is not to be trusted.

Not being sure if I’d like it or not, I decided not to use my first name, thinking I could change it later. You can’t. So now I’m “Rambo”. Not really. I used my middle name, “Stud Warrior”.

I took the multidimensional personality profile that E-Harmony boasts. Supposedly it will cut through the superfluous data and match me with highly compatible females who share my interests and values. I’m sure the profiles I saw represent nice people. But for the longest time it seemed the only matches E-Harmony sent me were 55-year old retired librarians who live in Missouri in a big house with 12 cats. I’ve got nothing against librarians or Missourians. But I live in Texas and I like dogs. They must have adjusted the algorithm slightly because I started getting matched with 48-year old women from Arkansas whose goal in life was to work for the ASPCA and rescue all the cats the librarians had yet to get to.

In the online environment, as in face to face environments, everyone wants to put their best self on display. Except the anonymity of the cyber world allows the opportunity to exaggerate one’s information and appearance. A recent study done in Europe found that over 55% of those involved in online dating had experienced some form of deception. Italians seemed to have the most trouble being honest with each other, saying over 70% of them had lied or exaggerated their profile. Mamma Mia! That’s putting a lot of extra cheese on the calzone.

If I’m meeting a girl in person for a first date I can’t say that I look like a young Sean Connery because before she can say “007”, she’ll be able to discern that Sean never had a forehead that high or a hairline in rapid retreat. Yet online one can post any photograph of themselves. A guy once told me that he had a chance to finally meet the lady he’d been corresponding with online. “In her picture, she looked young. When we met in person I realized the picture was probably her drivers license photo and she was on the last year of a ten year license.”

Getting to know someone in an online environment is challenging for anyone. It’s not easy being single. Harder being a single parent. And even more challenging when you’re divorced. Add to that, I’m an older single person. All these together are daunting for anyone.

But nothing is ever easy for me. I’m “divorced, older, single parent guy with a plastic eye.”

In the interest of full disclosure, how do you gently work that into an online instant message chat?

And if the relationship has potential, how do you sell that as an upside? “If you marry me, you can make faces when I’m driving and I’ll never know.” Or, “I promise to only see half of any mistakes you might make.” Or maybe, “Hey, just think! Our contact lens budget will be reduced by 25%!”

After going through the process you start to think the chances of meeting someone compatible are about the same as marrying the person who pulls up next to you at a red light. Which, now that I think about it, might not be a bad idea. People have gotten engaged, married and had their first kid in the time it takes traffic lights in Lubbock to turn green.

Single or married, divorced or widowed, God loves us. Quirks and all. How wonderful that He does. He’s right there in the middle of it all whether we’re happy or sad, connected or disconnected, joyous or grieving, loved on or lonely.  He’s always here, caring constantly about the details of our lives. However frayed our edges are, He promises in the end to tie up all the loose ends. Psalm 138:8 promises that “The Lord will accomplish all that concerns me.” One translation reads, “The Lord will perfect all that concerns me.” Which is to say however incomplete we feel, God will never leave His purpose for us undone.

Next time you see the commercials, remember not everything is as it appears to be. “Rick and Becky – matched on E-Harmony, July 2010.” Him spinning her happily around in a field of wildflowers while she laughs at the sky.

The commercial I think we’d all like to see is what happens when she meets his mother and he forgets Valentine’s Day.

That’s what you call “reality television”.

“The Lord will accomplish all that concerns me.” – Psalm 138:8

Todd A. Thompson – April 27, 2011

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