Summary: It's a whole new kind of computerized dating.
Author's Notes: A team_prose writerverse entry for the prompt of "Automated Romance."
I saw the ad while riding the CitiRail home last week. Now, why would anyone ever use a surrogate dating service? Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of dating? You’d completely miss the chance to find out whether you and someone else had some compatibility or spark.
But by mid-week, I’d started to reconsider. I was a busy guy, and I liked to use my off-time in quality pursuits, you know? So why not get a head start on the whole process, see if there was someone out there worth devoting part of the weekend to actually meeting?
As a guy who swung both ways, I should’ve had all the dates I could handle, right? Fat chance. Other men always thought I was too chicken to commit to ‘the hard truth’ (or some bullshit like that), and women thought I’d leave them for almost any random person on the street (seriously—guys with pencil-thin mustaches and old ladies with little mutant dogs, like I’ve got no taste or sense). So I filled out the background and survey info and waited to see what Cyber Soulmates had to offer.
The first matchup was a woman who looked to be about 50-percent tattoos. Not my thing. You’d think the survey would’ve flushed that out. The second was a churchy type in her 30s, also a bust. Hey, I like the solid middle—is that such a crime? Next, a good-looking guy around my age who liked video games and indoor rock climbing. That was better. Then some boardroom queen in her fifties (No), and a guy with nervous eyes who had ‘cat fancier’ written all over him. Did they even use those survey inputs, or what?
The last person was a cute little thing with mischievous eyes and spiky blond hair, named Lexie. I decided that Wednesday night coffee would be a good place to start with her, and I let the system set it up as a cyber-simulation. As an afterthought, I also arranged a Thursday night movie date with the rock-climbing guy, Alden.
Well, what can I tell you? Cyber Soulmates said that Lexie and I had a good time on our simulated encounter. Our surrogates talked music and politics, and even necked a little in the parking lot, which I honestly did not know surrogates could do. The company suggested a simulated walk or picnic in the park on Saturday, which sounded fine. I’d let it play out and see how it went. The Thursday night date with Alden had also been a success, apparently. Alden’s surrogate thought the movie was funny, and my surrogate thought he was funny. The two of them finished off the night killing aliens in the virtual version of some old-fashioned sidewalk arcade. I had not heard of the place, personally, but it sounded like something I would enjoy. A follow-up Sunday brunch date awaited approval, so I confirmed a Yes. Cyber Soulmates ran a dancing graphic display across the screen then, assuring me that I was on my way to finding that ‘someone special,’ I wondered how the programming felt about the fact that it was trying to match me up with two people, which seemed like a conflict of interest or a betrayal or something, depending.
My surrogate took Lexie’s out for a paddleboat ride around the lake, even though the real me isn’t all that comfortable getting involved with large bodies of water. Still, it was romantic, I guess. Then on Sunday, Alden's surrogate and mine met up at his apartment (or someplace that didn't even look like his apartment, maybe. Who knew how it all worked?) They made pancakes and bacon, watched some football, and started going at it right there on the sofa. Jesus, I didn't even know the guy—that was only our second date!
Wow. Thanks, Cyber Soulmates, for making everything incredibly awkward between us. I could never go out with Alden for real now, not after my surrogate made me out to be some kind of shallow man-slut. If I wanted results like that I could screw up my own dates for free. Boy. I wondered if I could get a partial refund?
After that, I got more cautious.
Cyber Soulmates sent me a few more matchup suggestions. A bookstore clerk named Jerry looked interesting, but I just saved off his information for later. One person at a time seemed like enough for the programming to handle.
Lexie's surrogate and mine went to a Thursday night flea market, and then got gelato at a place nearby. They seemed to be getting along surprisingly well, maybe better than a lot of real people I knew. I watched the simulation of them walking through sunset-colored streets, noticed the way Lexie's surrogate's eyes twinkled. She would lose herself to laughter now and then, and the way her nose wrinkled under its tiny spray of freckles was the cutest thing ever. Would the real Lexie laugh like that? Would she bump me with her shoulder and ask me who my favorite hockey player was?
I set up another simulated date with Lexie for Saturday night. I know what you're thinking—why in the hell was I holding back? My surrogate was half in love with hers already. How much clearer a sign did I need?
But the truth was that I was afraid of jinxing things. Just a little more time, and I'd know for sure…
Hot dogs at a Mets game on Saturday—a little slice of heaven. God, how I wished that date had been real! The Mets' season hadn't actually started yet, but it would, and wouldn't that have been a perfect way to spend an evening, going out to a ballgame and having a great woman with a terrific smile with you for company?
And that was what did it, what finally pushed me into asking her out in person: if I waited too much longer, our surrogates would wind up having all our magical moments first.
I suggested dinner, and she accepted. We were both confident there was enough attraction that we could skip over the early-stage guessing games and go for something more solid. We met up at La Trattoria, a nice little family-owned restaurant, because who doesn't love Italian?
Lexie was wearing a brown dress, which was kind of a surprise. Both that it was a dress (her surrogate always wore jeans), and also: brown. Really? Brown? That was a first. Her eyes dropped down toward my waist, and yeah—I might've fudged my weight a little on the survey, but nothing ridiculous. I've been that weight before, I could get there again. I went in for a cheek kiss, but she leaned away and squeezed my arms. It felt like an apology. I was the one who probably needed to apologize for being so familiar, though it wasn't on purpose. It just seemed like I already knew her. I had to remind myself that before now, the two of us hadn't really met, no matter how far along this path our surrogates had already gone.
We ordered, and then chatted about life in the city. Lexie was originally from Michigan, while I had lived here all my life. There were trees on Charles Street that probably still had my initials carved into them, and at least one that was slowing choking to death on a nail. Kids and their stupid pranks—what could you do?
Pretty soon, I noticed that Lexie was acting kind of strange. She volunteered very little about herself, and if I asked her something in particular, she either ignored it or took so long to answer that I started wondering exactly what she was trying to hide.
I finally asked her if something was wrong, and her response told me the whole thing was hopeless:
My voice, she said. It sounded exactly like her fifth grade teacher, and it brought back memories of an event that was too miserable and private to share. She hadn't realized before, because she'd never turned on the sound when looking at our simulations, and her surrogate had no way of knowing.
The result was the same: the two of us, together, just wasn't going to work.
We finished the rest of our dinner quietly, each thinking our own thoughts. "How about earplugs?" I said at one point, but Lexie just laughed and shook her head. That little moment was as close as I'd ever get to seeing that glimmer of pure Lexie-ness that shined when her sense of humor got the better of her self-control.
We parted, with her apologies barely sinking through my regrets. I went home and watched TV for a couple of hours. We could have been something good together, me and Lexie, but we never had a ghost of a chance.
I slogged through my usual routine the following week: work, gym, transit, home, dinner, television, bed. Repeat every day until the sawdust fell out.
But by the end of the week, I started thinking about that bookstore clerk again. I let Cyber Soulmates negotiate a simulated date… five encounters later, my surrogate and his were still going strong.
Jerry requested a meet-up in person, but I pleaded job stress and bought myself another couple of weeks. I was probably being ridiculous, trying to delay jumping into the human phase. But I kept thinking of Lexie, and how all that had turned out.
Right now, Jerry's surrogate and mine had the perfect relationship. There was nothing but hope and possibility in our simulations, even the chance we might catch the brass ring somewhere down the road. Was I itching to wade in and try to pull that whole fantasy down onto the ground? Absolutely not.
I wasn't saying Never or anything like that, but I wasn't kidding myself about the truth either: dollar to doughnuts, with a great future like that waiting ahead, me getting personally involved would probably result in somehow messing it all up.
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