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A net loss for a Net dating bumbler

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I've always been auditory, and I'm here to tell you that the online dating site — the 21st century's "cute meet" — only goes so far. You have to call them first. (And, before that, they have to give you their number.) Nothing's easy.

One woman ruled out speaking on the phone until we met in person. Our preliminary relationship was based on seemingly endless back-and-forth email snippets, each of which featured her tiny dating profile photo. I found her smile and how she always signed off with the retro "Peace" endearing. (OK, I'm visual too.) Thanks to that smile of hers, I found her initial tendency not to commit to anything but sporadic messages more disarming than annoying. But I was starting to bond with one snapshot in time and a series of type fonts and knew more about the leader of North Korea. 

So we arranged to meet.

Ever since the time I arrived for a coffee date at the wrong Starbucks and figured I'd been stood up, I try to make a point of choosing a meeting spot that doesn't repeat itself more often than the background of a Road Runner cartoon.  The 18th Street Coffee House in Santa Monica, a refreshingly non-generic place — despite the usual array of screenwriters at their laptops — that was rumored to be owned by Bob Dylan, is such a spot.  

I mentally braced myself for bidding goodbye to the vision of her I'd formed in my head. The moment she arrived, that image sprouted wings and flew away, as I now greeted her older cousin. (When I later stumbled upon her profile photo at home, her smile seemed misplaced. Didn't she know I'd just cheated on her with a woman she'll vaguely resemble 10 years from now?) Her voice hadn't matched my preconceived notions either. Instant mutual chemistry between virtual strangers is like winning the Powerball. It happens, but not to me. Like the screenwriters around us, I guessed we were both already contemplating how to end the scene without overstaying our welcome.   

Too much back story doesn't work either, as another blind encounter, this one at a Cheesecake (no irony intended) Factory, proved. The premature relationship our imaginations filled in over too many phone chats prior to hooking up made the reality of a face-to-face experience pale by comparison. 

Having sensed she worshiped the sun, I decided I wouldn't be pale by comparison, thanks to the first and last time I tried tanning gel. Feeling the smog, I'd also removed the red from my eyes with a little Visine on the ride over. Throughout our kaffeeklatsch, she seemed lethargic, and this was with caffeine racing through her veins. After catching my reflection in a mirror in the restroom midway through, I literally did a double take. The eye drops had seared two telltale tracks down my cheeks, revealing all too literally my true colors. I washed my face, returned to the table a few shades paler, and, ironically, she didn't seem to notice.  

My most recent rendezvous occurred at a nighttime premiere of a Jerry Lewis documentary in early December. I'd been consulting with him on another project, and here I was inviting a JDater I'd not yet met to a red carpet screening at Paramount Studios. Stars with bucks versus Starbucks — how could I not get a few brownie points for that?  

But reliably horrific traffic made me 40 minutes late for a date with a complete stranger at a schmooze-fest. As I jogged to the theater, I broke the right frame of my glasses and transformed into a Picasso painting, only periodically succeeding at balancing the now monocle-like lenses on my nose. Still unable to reach her on her cell, I entered the theater well into the film's run. 

Afterward I headed out to the red carpet, and amid a sea of celebrities, my JDate recognized me, smiled and said hello. I was so pleasantly surprised, smitten even, that my only focus was on her — not that I could see distances when I made a point of presenting myself sans crooked glasses. I even forgot to greet Jerry Lewis. 

Her aura combined a character-driven beauty and slightly sardonic intelligence that seemed refreshingly familiar to me, temporarily blinding me into thinking the connection I was feeling must be mutual. It probably didn't help that the romance of glistening holiday lights at an iconic studio gave a nudge to my not-so-subtly signaling interest. She said she'd be open to getting together again, but it seemed more of an obligatory acknowledgment of my wish to get together again with her. 

After the holidays and a slew of other previous commitments on her part, I saw her one more time for a movie, through un-crooked glasses. The transition from reel world to real world kicked in moments later when she informed me she had to get up early the next morning for a run. I didn't have to be auditory to not like the sound of that. 

As for future computer-generated "connections," I will now lean toward the slightly endangered non-virtual cute meet. Why bump into someone on your computer screen when you can bump into her on the street? If and when you look up from your handheld device, look for the shy guy wearing glasses. The only thing I'll be holding is my tongue.

Cowan is an award-winning writer, producer and performer, whose credits include "Cheers," "Seinfeld" and "3rd Rock From the Sun."

L.A. Affairs is a column that chronicles dating, romance and relationships. If you have a story to tell, send it to home@latimes.com.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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