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Toilet Paper and Aliens

Very much against my better judgement, I finally caved in a few weeks ago and took the constant nagging advice of a long-time friend and turned my fruitless, pathetic, and embarrassing search for unrequited love to the internet. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, mostly because it feels like defeat. Oh yes, I know, all of those precious, eHarmony, and Zoosk adverts make it all look so perfect and brilliant and the best possible thing you could ever do for yourself, full of smoking hot and inconceivably single women and tanned, well-chiselled, and tousle-haired men resting comfortably on their six-figure incomes, but the truth, is those particular case studies in perfection are, at best, anomalous and, at worst, utterly fantastical. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

It felt like defeat to me because it occurred to me, whilst filling in the little forms and agreeing to various terms of agreement, that I was doing this because no-one I know or have met recently really appears to think of me as anything more than a drinking buddy, presuming, that is, they even think of me at all, and would prefer to keep me at arm’s length and would be especially thrilled  if they could only make their arms grow just a wee bit longer out of sheer convenience.

It felt like defeat because it seemed as if I had exhausted any notion of meeting someone through traditional means and was now turning to a faceless and emotionless intermediary with at best only a superficial understanding of who I was. And I don’t mean my name, age, race, gender, education, occupation, or if I like puppies and long walks on the beach. I do, but that’s irrelevant. And anyway I haven’t been near a beach in more than twenty years. What I mean is all those odd, scattered, random, often contradictory and frequently idiosyncratic bits which make a person who they are and the sorts of things to ultimately connect you to someone else – like do you put the toilet paper over or under and will this be a cause of some distress and potentially lead to an argument if done incorrectly?

Granted I am not going to sit with someone on the first meeting and blurt out that I believe that we as a species have a greater antiquity than mainstream science wants us to know, or that the internal architecture of the Great Pyramid or places like Puma Punkhu and Tiahuanaco raise practical questions about their construction that defy current definitions (and I’m not saying it was aliens… but it was probably aliens) – although I have actually done that, sadly – because most people will sit like animals trapped in car headlamps and start to inch nervously away. Trust me. But at some point those scary bits are going to sneak out, whether it’s toilet paper or aliens, and to the uninitiated who aren’t aware of these curious predilections or to those who don’t know you well enough or to those who don’t share a similar interest, you’re simply going to appear mad. Like some strange person who lives alone with cats. Which I do. And, again, that is irrelevant.

But mostly it felt like defeat because it seemed to solidify the feeling that I’ve become nothing more than some sort of Jay at The Desk to most women: empty as the plot of Twilight and as invisible as the talent of Milli Vanilli.

Considering the fact that my friend hadn’t exactly had rousing success with her short on-line dating experience (before meeting her current boyfriend on a blind date set up by a co-worker), I couldn’t understand why she pushed and pushed so hard for me to do it – or why I was even toying with the idea – but her argument that ‘You haven’t met anyone yet have you? What’s the worst that could happen?’ finally made me give in and try. I opted for a couple of places offering both free profile placement and free browsing of the profiles of others only to find that if you wanted to send a message to someone you found interesting, you had to pay for it. So much for ‘free.’

Probably the worst aspect of it all was the almost daily email alerts of so-called ‘new’ members with whom these sites rather bewilderingly imagined you would be a perfect match…


…or the constant bombardment of ‘messages’ from the potentially compatible love interests who’ve investigated the contents of your profile and have, you are told, expressed a desire to learn more…


…and absolutely none of whom live even remotely within the vaguest parameters of the geographic location you specified, making the likelihood of a face-to-face meeting with them – barring a windfall in lottery cash or finally getting that novel published – virtually nil.

So on it went, week after week, the relentless flow of email alerts filled with farfetched suggested companions with whom I clearly shared nothing apart from being the same general species; the subtle intimations that if only I would upgrade to the next status level and pay the extortionate monthly or annual fee I would, at last, experience the rich power of the type of deeply committed relationship only money could buy, and a flagrant lack of possible matches in, and thus an inexorable disregard for, my stated terrestrial preference which finally culminated in receiving this:


Seriously? I thought. Obviously on the surface it all seemed very innocent and mostly harmless, but I had some issues with it. The glamour shot notwithstanding – because I’d seen plenty of them intermingled amongst ridiculous cartoon graphics and loads of especially bad self-portraits snapped hurriedly in lavatory mirrors – I could see no clear reason why anyone who looked like this would find anything of even the tiniest bit of interest in my profile. Though there are two types of women in this world I am uniquely attracted to – redheads, brunettes, and blondes, in that order – and though I don’t consider myself to be a Quasimodo, this recommended love connection seemed to be almost as fanciful as if Kate Winslet or Anne Hathaway had finally responded to the hundreds of pleading emails I’ve sent them.

Compelled by curiosity, naturally, I logged in, read the ‘I’m intrigued’ notification she had purportedly sent – which stated simply ‘I’m intrigued’ and was the only allowable bit of ‘free’ communication members could have until they paid for the full privilege of unfettered contact – and then followed a link to her profile. There I discovered that she was a 38-year-old single mother, nominally Christian, somewhat apolitical, held a Master’s, and was the owner of a design studio – in California.

Perhaps the oddest thing, however, was that she had quite craftily buried an email address amidst rather a lengthy paragraph of personal information in the About Me section, thereby circumventing the monetary requirements of the site.

After a moment of consideration, I sent Vanessa74 an email wherein I thanked her for being ‘intrigued’ but politely explained that the nearly 2200 miles between us rather tended to undermine the probability of having a nice chat over a pint or few and then apologised for the fact that the doggedly obtuse web site continued to ‘match’ people of widely disparate compatibility and geographic locations. But thank you for playing.

Three hours later I received a reply thanking me for thanking her and yes how silly it was that these impossibly thick sites can’t get anything right but – since you’ve gone out of your way to respond, which most people wouldn’t do – why not tell me a little about yourself? She went on to briefly outline some of the same general information from her profile and added that she’d got her ‘BA in Landscape Architecture from the University of Edinburgh and my MA in Interior Designs from University of Central Lancashire’ and that

I am sorry if I misled you with my profile which says I am in Manhattan Beach, Ca. I have someone looking into the area for me. Manhattan Beach is somewhere I would love to have a property when I get back to the States. I will be coming to the States after taking care of a few things that is somewhat personal at this point of our communication, as it concerns my birth father.

The first of many red flags which immediately went up was the utterly appalling lack of proper verb tense – ‘a few things that is.’  How does one operate their own business, much less graduate from the University of Edinburgh or hold a Master’s Degree with such abhorrent English skills? Taking the chance that perhaps she was only just typing quickly (because not everyone can be an English major) and with some trepidation, I sent a brief reply which, very vaguely, sketched out why I had joined the dating site and asked her to elaborate, providing she felt comfortable doing so, on just where she was and why she was out of ‘the States.’ Roughly a day after she responded, explaining that

the reason why I registered on the website is to get to know someone I might end up meeting and start a serious relationship with. Presently, I am in Ogun State, Nigeria. I followed a thread from Essex, UK to Budapest,  Hungary on the quest to search for my birth father. You probably wont understand why this is so important to me but I will tell you later, if later ever comes. I gathered he owned a brewery, textile company and a few oil blocs here. I was born Hungarian, lost my mother at birth and my father put me up for adoption. I was raised by another family in Scotland. I lost my (Scottish) parent a few years ago. I have been on the quest to find my real father all my life but I decided to get back to this after loosing the people I cared so much about. I am an only child to both family, so I am all by myself with my son. While here I was contracted to decorate the interior of some govt. hotels and apartments, and quite a number of offices, ahead of the festive season. I have been on a few trips abroad to get the things needed for the job and will be returning to the States after finishing the interior decor job! 🙂

She went on to describe how her husband had been killed in a car crash in Greece a year or so after the birth of their son, Jimmy (also called Billy which, I presumed, was short for ‘Jimmy’) and that she’d finally located her birth father somewhere in a small town in Italy where he, too, was dying of an undisclosed illness. Why she was in Ogun State, Nigeria if the parent she’d searched for all these years was dying in Italy or, on the other hand, what her father was doing in Italy when he had ‘oil blocs’ and other holdings in Nigeria to maintain, was not an issue I necessarily wanted to pursue.

Over a year ago, Professor Sanuse Lamido – or Dr Pat, as he apparently preferred to be called – from Lagos had wanted to wire me $12.4 million from the Federal Republic of Nigeria providing I would submit a vast amount of personal information to him via email and I politely declined. So I was not especially eager to follow this particular thread to its preordained conclusion.

I sent a short response wishing her well and thanking her for her time and thought that would be the end of it. Another day later I received a lengthy message about how she had hoped we could maintain a correspondence, how she felt that we had some sort of connection, giving me an enormous soliloquy on what she wanted in a new relationship and enquiring as to what I was searching for.

My return email cautiously asked if she’d actually read my profile, as most of the questions she had were answered there. Her answer was that she’d been so busy of late trying to wrap up the ‘interior decor job’ that she’d not had an opportunity, plus she had closed her account because she wanted to spend more time getting to know me and was not interested in anyone else.

By this point I was increasingly suspicious and a forest of red flags were now flapping wildly in the wind. The same bit of back and forth lasted a few more days until she sent me an urgent message at 1am EST on a Sunday (or 7am West Africa Time). I was still awake at the time, having only been home from work less than three hours, and I get my Gmail messages in real time on my mobile. She pleaded that I get on Yahoo chat as quickly as possible – sending me her screen name to type in – as something horrid had just happened.


I found her on Yahoo in seconds and asked what had happened. It was horrible. Just awful. Jimmybilly had taken ill late the previous evening (or roughly 5pm EST) and, because ‘The Driver’ had taken the night off, Vanessa had been forced to drive herself into town to acquire vital medicines. Here she was robbed at gunpoint and everything was taken from her. A short while later, Billyjimmy was rushed to hospital with a case of gallstones but the mean, wretched doctors refused to do anything for him until she made a substantial down-payment for his life-or-death operation and could I please just wire her a few thousand dollars to help?

Not wanting to sound insensitive, I enquired as to whether it was possible for her to withdraw the money from her savings. Granted the thief had taken her purse and her wallet but surely she had placed the needed telephone calls to her bank to stop her credit cards being used but she could still have them issue a cheque for the required sum. Or perhaps she’d be able to convince the government to pay her for the decor she’d done for them.

No, no, it was all tragically going pear shaped and Jibillimy was going to be the next important person in her life to die and oh can’t you please send me something?

No, dear, I can’t. Firstly, it’s one o’clock in the morning and I’ve no means of doing so. Secondly, had you in fact read the bit of personal information I’d sent you, you would be aware that I’ve got nothing to send to you even if I did have access to means of wiring you cash – at one o’clock in the morning. And have I mentioned yet that it’s one o’clock in the morning here? On a Sunday?

‘OK,’ she wrote. ‘I hope things get better for you. Bye for now.’

And that was the last contact I had with her.

About two weeks later, just a few days ago as of this writing, I received another of the typical daily email alerts regarding the many ‘new members’ who had recently joined one of the the sites and with whom I might take a fancy and, of course, a few of them had visited my profile and been ‘intrigued.’ dating-4Amongst those so smitten was a familiar face with an entirely new name and profile – apart from the now easily recognisable glamour shot.

I sat and stared for quite a while until, once again compelled by curiosity, I logged in, read the ‘I’m intrigued’ notification she had purportedly sent, and then followed the link to her profile. There I discovered that she was a 38-year-old single mother, nominally Christian, somewhat apolitical, held a Master’s, and was the owner of a design studio – in Washington DC.

And, just like before, buried amidst a lengthy About Me segment was a craftily-placed email address.

Doing a short internet search for ‘Nigerian money scams’ and cross-referencing both of her email addresses, I quickly learnt that this person had more than 75 identities scattered across the web. I provided a copy of this information in a bemused email to the administrative contact of the site in question and reported her profile as fictitious. After that I closed all my accounts.

But I also sent this email:

My Dearest Vanessa,

I’m so glad to see you are still intrigued by my profile and that you haven’t given up on our special new relationship! Thankfully it seems you’ve managed to get out of Nigeria and move back to the States, but did California not work out after all? Did you finally get paid for your government decorating job? Did Jimmy or Billy finally manage to struggle heroically back to health after his tragic brush with death? Did you finally get all of your financial troubles sorted out?  Are you still called ‘Vanessa’ this time? Oh my god I was so worried!  Please write soon!  

‘If you can make a girl laugh, you can make her do anything,’ Marilyn Monroe once said. I doubt Vanessa is is laughing but, then again, neither is anyone else…

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