News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Stephanie Salter

November 14, 2010

Stephanie Salter: Can’t make a decision? Consult strangers on the ’Net

TERRE HAUTE — A day after I heard screenwriter and director Nora Ephron talking on NPR about that moment in the aging process when you realize you are no longer cut out to be au courant, that moment arrived for me.

“I think when you get older, things come along that you know are a test in some way of your ability to stay with it,” Ephron said on Morning Edition. E-mail, for example, had started out like a heady love affair for her. Then, it became “like one of those ex-husbands that you think, ‘What was I thinking?’

“The point is that you can kind of keep up for awhile and then, suddenly, something comes along and you think, ‘I give up. I am never going to tweet. I’m just never going to.’” Nor, Ephron says in her new book, “I Remember Nothing,” will she ever bother to learn about the Kardashians, “all Housewives, Survivors, American Idols and Bachelors,” and such trends as monkfish and “every drink invented since the cosmopolitan.”

For me, also a confirmed non-tweeter and Kardashian-phobe, my I-give-up moment was a public relations pitch for a social networking and dating site, CanDo

Better.com. Launched in March, the site’s unique shtick is to “let the world” tell you whether a potential date is the perfect match or whether you “can do better.”

No favorite colors, pet peeves, religious preferences or adored activities like walking in the rain need be mentioned. All you do is post your own photo and that of the possible date and open the question to whomever cares to weigh in on the Internet. Then, the decision comes in: People you have never met decide that (a) you can do better, (b) the possible date can do better or (c) you two are a “perfect match.”

More than 100,000 folks joined the site in the first few weeks it was up.

Now, it’s so successful, many users post photos of their current dating partners or even their spouses — you know, just to see what the world has to say about their matchability.

One of CanDoBetter’s creators, Craig Agranoff, admitted cheerfully in a television interview that the looks-only process is, “yeah, kind of shallow,” and has been called “a recipe for divorce.” But, he said, it can be kind of fun, “and fun can turn into true love.”

Unless, of course, the world decides that your wife or husband of 12 years is one of those people you can do better than.

The specific pitch I received via e-mail from CanDoBetter had an economic hook. The site’s resident relationships expert, New York psychologist Joel D. Block, reported “a substantial rise in women under 30 choosing to avoid a potentially bad date” with CanDoBetter because of economic reasons.

“It makes sense to think that women have the inexpensive role in the dating game; after all, women generally don’t pay for first dates,” the e-pitch said. “But what’s making single women extra fussy?” According to Block, at least five recession-related factors encourage young women to ask the world if they ought to risk going out with a specific man:

The cost of buying a new outfit, paying for a cab to leave early if it’s a bad date, taking public transportation to meet a date, having to avoid paying for dinner, and/or buying gas to meet a date.

“With so many singles using the [I]nternet to find a date, we know the problem is not meeting someone, it’s meeting that right someone,” Block says in the pitch. “People on first dates are not looking for meaningful conversations, but are evaluating their date as a potential romantic partner.”

I knew life had lapped me right there. When did meaningful conversation fall off the evaluation chart for a romantic partner? I started dating at 15, and I’ve never gone out a second time with any guy who couldn’t deliver a meaningful conversation — no matter how good looking he was.

Do under-30 women really pronounce a first date worth the price of a new outfit if the guy is just physically attractive? What happens when he opens his mouth and says something stupid or racist or crude? How can someone be “the right someone” — or simply worth going out with again — if you don’t know what he has to say beyond, “Make that two Bud Lites and a pair of Jello shots”?

And while I’m at it, what is with this assumption that the man always pays for the first date? Is it 1958 again?

If they “met” on an Internet dating site and mutually agreed to go out, why does the guy get stuck with the whole tab? Maybe if the woman is homeless or something, but … That is the kind of quid pro quo a lot of us worked hard to dismantle because it so often led to a guy expecting some sort of, um, compensation for his monetary investment. What’s wrong with going Dutch?

All of that said, the worst part of this, the real, true, I-give-up point of departure for me with the CanDoBetter concept is the voting thing.

I know we are a nation of stranger-voters, deciding who moves to another round on American Idol or whether Mama Grizzly’s daughter gets to dance another day. I know we reflexively post our thumbs-up or thumbs-down at the end of every online news story or blog about people we’ve never seen in real time nor they us.

But to invite “the world” to tell you whether a photo you are looking at indicates a person worth meeting for a date or someone you could do better than — how lame can you get?

Americans have never been known for our critical thought processes, but are we so pitiful that we need the help of strangers to tell us if a potential date’s face is equal to, or better or worse than, our own? What’s next? Instant message queries to the online masses, asking, “Should I try to kiss her? French or regular?”

No doubt, it will come as good news to the users of CanDoBetter.com, but I give up. Like Nora Ephron, I’m never going to tweet, I don’t care about the Kardsashians and I’m not going to ask the world to advise me on anything. I can do better on my own.

Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or stephanie.salter@tribstar.com.

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