Postcard from An Online Dating Binge

“I think you should max it out!”

I was chatting online with N, and at first wasn’t sure whether she was referring to the poem I’d just sent her or my love life.

The poem definitely needed more (I tend to hold back), but I knew she was conferencing with undergraduates in Albuquerque, and therefore unlikely to be reading rough drafts–so guessed the latter.

I would like to take a moment here, if I may, for a public thanks to N: my trusty gchat, poetry and online dating wingwoman, who, despite being in a serious relationship, keeps up an OkCupid login so that she may help me scout prospects.

“The internet dates, you mean?”

“Yes!”

“Do it until I can do it no more??”

“Yes!”

This is a thing that I have done, sometimes do. And, currently (this is where if I knew how I’d include the anxious-face emoji my friends tease me for overuse of in texting) am doing.

(“Wait, which one are we talking about again?” That night I drove home from a concert in St. Paul with my roomie, H–a date that, obviously, beat the rest of em hands down. “There are too many for me to keep track.”)

As anyone who has ever dated online knows, discomforts, frustrations and bizarre moments accumulate quick: you assemble a carefully curated outfit, only to walk into the bar and realize your date is wearing a t-shirt he appears to have bought at a Mexican arcade; you discover that you not only know your date’s ex-girlfriend, but have been told that you look similar (you learn things: people have types!); you go to a block party and feel that you’ve stumbled into a parade of Tinder profiles; you, suddenly, have a Tinder profile.

It is trying work.

And due to the conniving algorithms of certain, profit-driven parties, the more you participate in these online antics, the more attention you tend to receive. And while much of it is easy to dismiss (the men who can’t spell, those posed beside dead deer or Barbie-esque ex-girlfriends), not all of it, thankfully, is: as one recent date observed, in a smaller city where there aren’t that many “people like us,” “people like us” have an easier time finding each other–even on the internet.

And to the man who sent me a message suggesting that I am “too cute” to need an internet profile, I graciously inform you that the last time a girlfriend and I went to a bar with vague intentions of meeting dudes, the only member of your species to approach us was an 80-year old fellow named Vern. (For the record, I danced with him, it was lovely and, I could tell, he once was a looker.)

Seriously, though: there have been long stretches when I have felt that I didn’t need to date online, that I was meeting enough people in person, or that I just wasn’t up for the work. Porch and bike season is upon is, which hopefully means such a stretch will soon resume.

And/or: it is probably a matter of minutes before, as N put it, I max out.

I’ve gotten better at “changing the narrative” around the whole enterprise. I no longer feel a crush of disappointment each time I discover that a first date has zero sex appeal/is not my husband. I try not to talk about dates with friends until there’s something substantive to ask or say. I fib that I’m not feeling well if I don’t have it in me to stick around for a second drink, and if it’s rough getting through even one, I remind myself of the old, writerly adage: it’s all material.

But it is, also, exhausting.

“Why are you so tired?”

At a St. Patrick’s dinner this week with friends, I could barely keep myself awake for a second helping of corned beef and cabbage. (Don’t worry, I pushed through.)

“I haven’t been sleeping well,” I said.

My friend R leaned over to insert her own explanation: She’s been dating a lot. 

It isn’t just dating: as one of my friends with the initial K recently pointed out, when one is busy, one tends to take on even more obligations. I’ve found myself under a heap of imminent deadlines and commitments at the same time that I’ve (inadvertently) launched this sudden burst of meeting men. If I try to sustain it, it won’t be long before you’ll find me hiding underneath that rock that Macalester students are always painting and re-painting on campus. Or, you know, being cranky and anti-social.

But limits and exhaustion and pileup of painful moments aside, here is what I want to tell you, friends: it hasn’t been that bad. I’ve met more men that I’d consider seeing again than men who I wouldn’t.

And whether or not any of em stick, it’s refreshing (and, actually, really important) to remember that there are interesting people around. That I may know more about what I want at 31 than I did at 25, but that I still feel open and unclear in a way that will likely never change. That I’m capable of giving and getting something a little bit like love, even if only for a few awkward hours.

On Art, Ferguson and Fear

I was going to write a post about not seeing a single attractive man during four weeks in Nebraska.

I was going to tell you about the fish fry at the Eagles Club and the wine tasting at the apple orchard where wines labeled “dry” were sweeter than your average juice.

I was going to tell you how I got so tired of myself inside that writing hovel that I resorted not only to binge watching episodes of Nashville, but also to dusting off that old OkCupid account. (At which I have received, among other sundries, the most polite and thoughtful request to participate in a BDSM threesome in the history of such requests.) (Also, and yes I’m using back-to-back parentheticals, panic not: I did make substantial progress on my book.)

I was going to commiserate with you about Minnesota winter: how I’m unsure which is more (so to speak) chilling–not having someone to cuddle with as temps edge to zero, or marching into my early thirties with child-rearing prospects pinned on a crowd of digital avatars, many wearing Packers jerseys or cradling fish.

And then.

And then last week.

Listen. I tend to avoid politics here because that’s not why you come. There are so many others more informed and eloquent than me writing about our world’s varied injustices. (Like him and him, for instance.) Years ago I realized I lacked the ambition for hard-hitting journalism, that my territory is more the stuff of personal relationships.

But that’s only a partial truth. The other part is that I avoid politics for the same reason we tend to avoid many things: out of fear. Fear of offending, fear of getting it wrong, fear of hitting a false note, fear of looking bad.

And if there is one thing I’ve been thinking about a lot in this past week, it’s how fucking dangerous it can be when we let fears drive us.

*

Of all the ways in which I am privileged, few felt more important last Tuesday as the one that allowed me (because my work is flexible, because I’m healthy, because I live in Minneapolis and have engaged friends here who tell me what’s up) to spend my noon hour listening to Bryan Stevenson.

It was the day after the Ferguson verdict, and like a lot of you, I didn’t know what to do with myself, and being in a sanctuary full of people hanging on his words (and crying about them, and standing and applauding energetically in response to them) felt perfect.

And oh, he said so much that’s so important. Much of it hinged on this idea: that our culture is so broken, we are so broken, because we have let ourselves be manipulated by fear: we’ve let those in power exploit our fear to put too many people away, to give up on those people while they’re imprisoned, to abandon them further when they come out. We’ve allowed fear to trump everything: human rights and and compassion and redemption and anything like equal justice.

And then, Friday, I took a break from my hermit-happy holiday weekend (reading thisthis and this, all of which I brightly recommend) and went with a friend to see CitizenFour. And there it was again. Say what you will about the film or the filmmaker, Snowden or the Obama administration, the message seemed plain: post 9/11, we’ve let fear be the primary engine of our public policy. In the process, we’ve sacrificed our most basic liberties. Worse, most of us aren’t especially concerned.

It’s hard to know what to do with all the injustice swelling up around us. (Though, certainly, there are things: from hitting the streets to, fellow white folks, engaging where we can). Still, so many of us feel so persistently heavy when meaningful change–in terms of racial equality, Spying In the Name of Safety and countless other national and international fronts–seems so, so far out of reach.

I don’t want to sound righteous. And I don’t have answers. Too often, I let myself simply clamp my ears to it all. It’s another privilege: I don’t have to worry about being unfairly stopped, I don’t have to spend each day worrying that my father or brother or uncle or child will get killed for their race.

And that’s just it: in fact, we are all driven, in varying ways and to varying degrees, by fear. The thing about fear is that it’s human. The thing about being afraid is that we all are.

We can’t inoculate ourselves from fear, but we can choose how we respond: we can strive to not let fear enable decisions that are irrational, or hurt others, or become dangerous.

But perhaps just as toxic an effect of fear is inertia. Fear compels us to hurt, but it can also compel us to sit still: to not make ourselves vulnerable in whatever way.

As I was reckoning with all this I came upon this A.O. Scott article, along with this conversation, on the role of art in politics — specifically, the premise that artists are missing the boat in this time of critical unrest.

This subject came up recently with a pair of grad school friends who I visited in Kansas City. We were driving to the contemporary art museum when I declared that I didn’t think overtly political art could ever be any good; they disagreed on principle, but between the three of us we could only name a single, World War One era poem that belied the thought.

An hour later, gliding past one another at an exhibition of some of the most stunning, evocative paintings I’ve ever seen (by the Chinese painter, Hung Liu), many of which curators had described on small white placards as “overtly political,” I whispered to them: We better have that conversation again. 

Later, we hypothesized that maybe visual art is different, that it’s easier to separate the aesthetic from the subject matter in painting than it is in a story or poem. I’d say the same is true for a song.

Still: it’s more complicated. And not very satisfying.

A.O. Scott pleads that it’s the job of artists to reflect society and all its woes. That resonates.

But I also agree with the artists he gathered, who express that art’s first fealty is to storytelling and true, human characters. No one wants, as the writer Justin Torres puts it, “literature that functions as a rant.”

The hypothesis I served my friend about art’s trouble with politics is that art should ask questions: complicate, not resolve. One way to make art bad is to make it polemical, to make it have something clear and unwavering to say. I do believe that.

But I also want to think there’s a way for art to wade into important issues without serving up a clear, one-note message.

Too: I want to think that what stops me, and other artists, from wading into the issues that trouble us is something other than fear. Because while it’s true that bad art helps no one, it’s also true that there’s no such thing as making things without risk.

 

Girlfriends, Dependence, Embarassing and Impolite Things

Recently, I reconnected with an old friend: a girl with whom I was extremely close–vacations together, all confidences (and some experimental drug use) shared–as teenagers. During and after college, both of us proved poor at maintaining contact across distance–we hadn’t seen or spoken to each other in at least eight years.

I don’t know another way to say that ubiquitous cliche: “It felt like no time had passed.” But it did. Also: we giggled the way we had in high school. We raised our voices, the way we did then, in heated discussion of important books and films; we gushed, as we did then, about the latest indie bands we’d found. We glided quickly across Manhattan avenues, as we did then, both of us a bit perplexed about our place and precise destination.

All to express: neither of us had much changed. Also: certain friendships endure.

And, perhaps most significantly, for me, right now: friendships mean something different, now, than they used to. Throughout my life, they’ve taken shape in different ways:

In high school, like this: seeing each other during the day–passing (impressively prolific) notes to each other in physics class, sneaking out for cigarettes during gym, huddling together at diners during lunch and Upper West Side apartments after school–when apart, talking, endlessly, on the phone.

In college: preening, crashing, crying in each other’s dorm rooms, discovering sex together, and independence, and postmodern theoretical frameworks that none of us understood but made us feel significantly elevated; cycling through each other like seasons until we found ourselves, finally, nestled in families, fallen together.

After college: skeptically, slowly, we joined–at work, at parties around town; we navigated our newfound adulthood, catering it with dinner parties and solstice fetes and crowded concerts and sloppy happy hours. Slowly, we came to trust one another, until trust became love, and love a kind of mutual, grown-up dependence.

For me, that dependance is still there.  And what scares me, now, is not being single. What scares me is being single, alone.

One day last week, I met A for a work date in the afternoon; I had come from lunch with another close girlfriend (another whose initial is A–an issue I’ve yet to resolve); the night before I’d been with a new guy–emotions were seeping, raw and confused, from my pores–and I breathed deeply because of these wise, worldly women, right there to receive them.

“We have got to meet husbands at the exact same moment,” I said to A.

Exact same moment,” she repeated.

It’s a tricky thing: we want to urge each other on. We love each other fiercely, and we want to want the things you want for people you love that much–namely, happiness. We know that many of us want, and may be happier finding romantic love–something our friendships can approach, but not, quite, replace.

(I don’t mean to suggest there’s a hierarchy in which romantic relationships surpass friendships–they’re just different. You know, sex. Anyway.)

And yet, our livelihoods, our day-to-day sanity, our strength to resist the external pressures constantly bearing down–telling us we’re freakishly flawed because we don’t have perfectly toned triceps or hairless breasts or faithful boyfriends who look like Mark Ruffalo–depend on none of us finding it before another.

(One more sidenote: it’s recently come to my attention that many women think they are the only ones in the world with hairs on their nipples–I hereby venture the risk of never getting laid again for the sake of one less Inane Female Anxiety. You’re welcome.)

But back to jealousy, which isn’t cute. When a dear girlfriend tells you she’s into someone new, it is not polite to reply with, But what if you fall in love with him and then have to spend Saturday nights making dinner at his house instead of hopping around the Lower East Side with me? Or, Who will I have to commiserate with about condoms and OKCupid and impossibly cryptic flirtatious texts if you have a fucking boyfriend?

We are all known to sometimes think impolite things.

But most of us are well trained to avoid speaking them. We say, instead: That’s so great! and Tell me everything! and I’m so happy for you!

And, those aren’t lies: we do (mostly) think it’s great, we do (usually) want to know every minute detail, we do, (pretty much) genuinely, feel happy when our friends find love.

But we also can’t help but feel a little bit sad, and a little bit fearful, for ourselves–because being alone is a lot more fun when you’re not, really.

On Avoiding the Internet, with Middling Success

So, here are my two past experiences with online dating:

(Please excuse me if I’ve shared these before–hibernation in one’s parents’ house can be, among other things, a not-so-minor obstacle to fresh material.)

There was the time, in 2007, when I went on JDate in Washington and met a guy who, after two meetings, I told my mother might be my future husband–mainly because he was nerdy and Jewish and not a musician and I still wanted to kiss him. One year later, a former college roommate–much more like him than me–sent a gchat that began with “funny story!” and ended with the information that she and he were going to get married. (My ego is still recovering.)

Not to be deterred, I went online a second time in Albuquerque, circa 2010. This led to a couple of months dating a divorced father with whom I could hardly hold a conversation, but who very much enjoyed making me posole and truffles whilst I lie on his couch grading papers. (Sidenote: this guy may well hold the title of Man I Dated the Longest Who I Liked the Least–which, more than anything, reflects the Power of Food over Me.)

There was also the incident, I should mention, involving OkCupid, a Trekkie with elastic waist jeans, a Flying Star bathroom and a fake-emergency call from my roommate.

And the fact that the guy I only joined JDate in order to ask out turned out to look nothing like his photo and drank too many margaritas to care.

All to say, if my history with online dating were a politician, you would call it’s record spotty at best: marred by constant flip-flopping, poor calculations, and a repeatedly disgruntled constituency. (Which, I guess, would be me–awkward analogy, sorry.)

But still: when I planned on moving, single, back to New York, there was little question in my mind that I would give it another go. New York is a big place, I reasoned. Besides: it’s 2012–you can’t bring up online dating without hearing a recitation of how many Match or eHarmony weddings someone who knows someone has attended since March.

(It must have somehow slipped my consciousness that I did go to high school here, a massive high school, and that therefore have a risk of awkward sidewalk as well as online encounters that runs somewhere in the low thousands. And that, for whatever reason, New York’s enormous population makes your odds of running into people-you-don’t-wan’t-to-run-into about one hundred and three percent. I don’t know why this is true, but it is.)

All sorts of deception emerge to talk oneself into the internet.

For a while, though, I put it off. And then: “Elizabeth, you write a dating blog. I think you kinda have to online date.”

A comment from a friend that would perhaps not have cut so deep were it the case that I was doing any other sort of dating. (You know, the non internet-enabled kind.)

Alas, that was, and is, not the case. Friends, the closest thing I have to a love life right now is an email penpal who lives two thousand miles away and an on-again off-again romance that takes place primarily over text. (If nothing else, I’m consistent.)

And so, I find myself: with an online profile I’m sure I didn’t make as clever as I should, with an inbox of messages from undersized or over-eager men, (including, already, one from a guy who tried and failed to hit on me at a coffee shop this summer–I told you this town was small) and newfound insecurity about whether my smattering of photos make me more or less attractive than I actually am.

And, with a lot of questions: which site am I actually supposed to use? How long do you interact with someone before you meet them, knowing that no matter your virtual chemistry you may instantly conclude there’s no in-person potential? Why are there so many short and South Asian men online dating in New York? Am I really going to find a husband this way?

Stay tuned.

 

 

First Adventures Online

In my writing, I’ve been over some of the reasons that a person–in particular this person–might hesitate to embrace online dating. To summarize: vanity, pride and an irrevocable fear of coming across someone to whom I’ve taught freshman composition.

I’ve spilled less ink enumerating the reasons one might be compelled to date online. And they are, of course, considerable. So here we are:

For one, it’s become entirely normal: the last statistic I heard was that one in five couples meet online. I’ve taken to interrupting people who start describing their “mother’s best friend’s cousin who…met on match…” I know, I tell them, I know.

For another, it’s a good way to ensure reasonably consistent male attention during those phases when one is more couch than bar prone. (And let’s be honest: Albuquerque’s biggest and hottest barfly is hardly guaranteed a single pick-up in a given week; has the internet made people forget how to flirt?)

And, oh yeah, you might actually meet someone to go on a date with. Potentially more than one. And sometimes it’s nice to go on dates. And sometimes it’s nice to have some faith in the possibility of another.

I guess the most compelling reason to date online, though, is that all the reasons not to are actually pretty dumb and embarassing to admit. (I mean, I think the former student thing is legit–but it’s something, I’m told, I have to swallow. Apparently that’s what grown ups do.)

That was the reasoning, at least, that led to me sitting in front of my laptop yesterday with my NY best friend R, perusing the local lads of OKCupid.

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