I’ve never paid for friends. Sure, I buy my friends drinks at bars and sometimes when we do dinner together I’ll let my friend eat the last mozzarella stick; I consider these to be kind acts of generosity, and not things that I do to persuade a person into liking me. My friends are great because they talk to me and give me all sorts of advice for free. They’re like therapists I don’t have to pay. And the advice is typically good, like a few years back when my friend Keren advised me to look into online dating.
That’s just what I did – I looked into it. I made accounts on Plenty of Fish and Ok Cupid. Plenty of Fish was abandoned immediately after the first message I got, which was from an elderly woman who looked like the ghost of Bette Davis. Keren advised me to focus and stay on track. Using Ok Cupid, I eventually met one girl and we dated for about two weeks. It was a very ho-hum experience, and I didn’t put much effort into Ok Cupid subsequently. I didn’t send out many messages, and the ones I did send were typically too odd to warrant responses. (The following is actually an excerpt cut and pasted from a real message I sent to a cute girl who worked in AIDS research: “I read on your profile that you work in a lab doing AIDS research. That’s really interesting. As a young man, I read an article that said there’s an agent in saliva called SLPI that stops the spread of the HIV virus. Since then, I’ve been convinced that SLPI is the key to ending HIV. Once in awhile, I’ll talk about it at dinner parties. So, it would be good to talk with someone who actually knows something on the topic, so I can stop sounding like a total moron, telling everyone to inject spit into their blood.”)
Sometimes I wondered if I would’ve met someone outstanding had I tried harder. That thought must’ve overtaken me one Saturday night about a month ago, because I decided to try and give online dating another chance. Cruising the free Internet that I steal from the Samsung building by my apartment, I looked at some Korean dating sites. After a few seconds of deliberation, I decided I wanted to open an account on Korean Friend Finder. It seemed to have the most members, and it was in English. The scary thing, though, is that I would have to pay to open my KFF account. This was another world, different from the free accounts on Plenty of Fish or Ok Cupid. It would be like trying to pick up a girl at a bar with a cover charge, as opposed to just finding the drunkest girl at the dive bar hosting dollar beer night.
I studied the options. There was the Gold Level and the Silver Level. The Gold was obviously better, although it cost more money. I wished other elements were offered. It would be nice to dip my toe in at the Copper Level, or use the site sparingly at the easily affordable Potassium Level. These choices were not to be found, though, and so I bit the bullet, broke out my Visa card, and went for the Gold.
And that’s when things got complicated.
My Gold Level upgrade on Korean Friend Finder was rejected, and the next morning I got an email from my credit card company. It was from the “Fraud Prevention Team.” The email said that a suspicious charge was attempted on my card; there was a phone number in the email and I was instructed to call that number to speak to a representative about it. I tried emailing instead, but was told it had to be done via phone. At the same time, I was locked out of my online account with HSBC, and was informed that my credit card would be frozen from future use until I contacted someone at fraud prevention.
Of course I knew what the charge was – the fifty dollar membership to KFF – and I dreaded calling the credit card company. Finally, I did, and I spoke to a nice girl who was ready to get to the bottom of this mystery.
“It says that a charge was made by a company called Korean Friend Finder,” she said. “Did you make that charge?”
“Er…um…” I stammered, “…I don’t remember.” Suddenly I had turned into Ronald Reagan during the Iran Contra Affair, denying any memory of the incident.
“You don’t remember? Mr. Panara, it was two nights ago. Think. Do you remember opening an account on Korean Friend Finder?”
It was humiliating. “Um…maybe…I was drinking and my memory is a bit fuzzy…”
My response was horrible. I sounded like an alcoholic loser trying to solicit Korean chicks while blacked out. The girl from the FPT and I ultimately decided not to cancel the card, but to remove the charge. I hung up the phone with no pride or Gold membership.
Sitting down at the computer, I knew that my experience with Korean Friend Finder was over. There was no way I could try again. I couldn’t imagine having to talk to the Fraud Prevention Team a second time. I would break down in a fit of anguish.
“Yes! I did it! I wanted to find a Korean friend! I’m so lonely!!!”
In my head I nodded, though, reassured that my credit card is damn secure. In the future, if I must pay someone for companionship, I will have to find a sweet girl who accepts cash.