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Her journey was never dull, featuring marriage proposals, invitations to Tangier, badly timed food poisoning and much younger men – but was it ultimately successful?
I am not usually comfortable in a bar by myself, but I had been in San Francisco for a week and the apartment I sublet had no chairs in it, just a bed and a couch. One Tuesday I had lentil soup for supper standing up at the kitchen counter. The bar had red fake leather booths, Christmas lights and a female bartender. At the other end, around the corner from where I sat, a bespectacled man my age watched the game. The couch had a woollen blanket woven in a Navajo-inspired pattern, exemplary of a trend in San Francisco that a friend of mine calls ‘White People Gone Wild’. I had fiddled with the knobs and the gas, but couldn’t figure out how to ignite it.
‘Ah, Minnesota,’ he said: ‘Have you ever been to the Zumbro River?
’ The Zumbro flows south of Minneapolis past Rochester, home of the Mayo Clinic. ’ Then he had another idea: what if he had a database of all the single women in the world?
Interested single people who did not yet have email could participate by fax.
By 1994 modems had got faster, so Kremen moved to take his company online.
One afternoon a routine email with a purchase order attached to it arrived in his inbox. At the time, emails from women in his line of work were exceedingly rare. Then there was the scarcity of women with online access.
What followed were 693 days of encounters, on screen and in person: dates in cafes and over glasses of astringent red wine, short term relationships and awkward sex, but mostly there were phone calls and emails (many, many emails).
But the age at which Americans marry was rising steadily and the divorce rate was high.
A more mobile workforce meant that single people often lived in cities they didn’t know and the chummy days when a father might set his daughter up with a junior colleague were over.
After I finished, I moved to the couch in the empty living room and sat under the flat overhead light refreshing feeds on my laptop. As the only man and the only woman alone at the bar, we looked at each other. He handed me his mobile and pointed to a Facebook post. When I moved in, the receipt for the blanket was on the mantelpiece. At night the room had the temperature and pallor of a corpse. I returned to my mobile and opened OK Cupid, the free internet dating service. ‘Tattoos are a big part of my friends’ and family’s life,’ he wrote.
I sat on a stool at the centre of the bar, ordered a beer, and refreshed the feeds on my mobile. A basketball game played on several monitors at once. I allowed myself a moment’s longing for my living room and its couch.
It turned out that Kremen had once driven, or been driven, into the river. In Miami Kremen recounted the genesis of his ideas about internet dating to a room full of matchmakers. If he could create such a database and charge a fee to access it, he would most probably turn a profit.