Zoosk: A Horrifying Mix of Friending and Dating

Back in my dating days, I liked to keep a firewall between my friends and my dates. It was just too complicated to combine the two–in my experience, it's something akin to introducing an alligator to a wildebeest—someone's going to get killed and it could be me. The first interaction between the two was carefully vetted before it happened—a crowded, noisy, neutral spot, no extended trips down memory lane and no photos.

When a boyfriend did finally meet my posse, there was one simple rule: "Agree with everything I say, for now. If the relationship should last longer than a month, please feel free to set the record straight." Perhaps that seems harsh to you, but it was tempered by that Cold War chestnut—mutually assured destruction or MAD. Should my pal tell that story about the time I gave a sangria-induced water-ballet performance in an above-ground pool in Fishkill, N.Y., I could easily get my revenge by telling her new "friend" about the time she almost got a ticket for public nudity in Central Park. It was an ingenious plan, really, with very little downside.

That's why Zoosk.com completely befuddles me. Zoosk is an online dating site that lets you use social networking to make love matches. For those of you not familiar with Web 2.0 practices, it means your Facebook friends can be active participants in your dating life from the exciting beginning to the bitter end. That's a terrible idea—really awful. Friends know things you don't want new boyfriends to know. And nursing a new relationship requires a level of honesty just slightly above compulsive lying. (You think I'm wrong? How many dates have you told that you looooove jazz and you never eat red meat? … I rest my case.) I'm telling you—combining friending and dating is the worst thing to happen to romance since venereal disease.

But my late-20th-century ideas about relationships must be as old-fashioned as grunge rock because apparently the young people like it. (I'm defining young people as those under 35.) Zoosk has grown from 16.5 million users at the beginning of this year to more than 30 million users to date. It's the No. 1 dating application on Facebook and is available in more than a dozen languages. Isn't that shocking?

On its face, Zoosk works just like its Web 1.0 counterparts Match.com or eHarmony.com. You fill out a date card with your vitals, upload a photo and write a few words about yourself, your perfect match and your movie and music preferences. (I started a date card but didn't finish it because I'm married and it didn't feel right. I can't have my husband afraid I'll dump him over a wink from Steve, 34, Chicago, who loves "sarcasm," rehabbed pit bulls, Star Trek and the Killers.) Potential dates can send you flirts and winks and virtual flowers delivered straight to your MySpace or Facebook page. Nothing says "I'm serious about you" like animated flowers!

Your friends come into it in the form of testimonials. Yup, not only do you have to tell your peeps that you're dating online; but you have to ask them to write you a recommendation. Sounds like a recipe for merciless teasing to me. But if you think about it, those recommendations are really useless. If you have buddies like mine, they'll just pork up your profile with glowing nonsense. What are they going to say other than "Raina rocks!" or "I wish I could date Raina!" Any truth-telling such as "Raina hates fennel" or "Raina's favorite band is Hall & Oates" would be strictly prohibited and would result in MAD. (By the way, I do hate fennel. I don't care if it is a superstylish food additive. It tastes like soapy licorice.)

And what if you don't have any testimonials? Does that mean you're unloved, unwanted or unfriendable? That you couldn't even create a pseudonym Gmail account for your mom to write one anonymously? Not to mention that if I asked any of my mates for a recommendation, they'd demand to see my date card. There would be no stopping them from nosing through all my information and "reminding" me that I'm not quite 5 feet 10 and that I do not, and will never, look like Marilyn Monroe. Friends love you for exactly who you are. Dates love you for who they think you might be. In between those two facts is an ocean of embarrassment.

I know I sound like an old woman but for goodness sake, show a little digital compassion. Can't you see that Zoosk has added a whole level of honesty to the search for love? Kids today seem to want to remove all the double-dealing from dating. They'll never catch a spouse that way. It was that Marilyn Monroe lie that got me a husband. Except, wait. It wasn't. The fact is—our first date was so disastrous (involving locksmiths and people (me) falling off barstools that I assumed I'd never see him again so I stopped playing the game and was myself. I even sang out loud and off-key to the Hall & Oates song that I played on the jukebox with his money.

Had my friends been there, all they would have been able to say was: "Yup, that's Raina. Love her or leave her." And oddly, he chose to love me. I'm glad, but if I had to do it all over again, I probably would still play the mysterious jazz-loving vegetarian. Can't help it. I'm a Gen Xer – stuck between dinner-dating boomers and the "let's just hang" millennials. But in a world where To Catch a Predator still catches potential predators despite having been on TV for 2 million years, I'd have to admit that an added layer of transparency online might not be such a bad thing. And I want my son growing up to think that you don't have to lie to get girls.

So maybe Zoosk isn't such a bad idea for the young people. Why shouldn't a match get to know not only what you look like but what your friends think about your profile picture? (My skin shrinks at the thought but hey, I guess I could get used to it.) Plus Zoosk does give you some privacy—interested suitors can't see your pages unless you give them permission. So you can keep playing Facebook's Sorority Life for hours even though you wrote on your date card that you find that stuff soooo childish.