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 Downton Abbey, Obligation, and Awkward Tiny Nerdy Men From the Internet

“So, looking back, are you sure there was no way to know that he was going to be tiny and nerdy and awkward? You know, from his profile?”

Back from my first online date in New York, I had called my friend Ashley to complain. More specifically, I had called to tell her that my date was tiny and nerdy and awkward. (And, on top of all that, had not paid for dinner.)

“Also,” she said. “Didn’t I tell you never to commit to dinner?”

I sat at the dining room table in my parents’ house and hung my head in shame.

“I know,” I said. “And yeah…I mean…probably, I could have figured it out. That he was tiny. And nerdy. And probably awkward.”

So, why had I agreed to go out with this man? Obviously, had a I met him at a bar or a party I would never have given him a second look. (In my defense, bars/parties–even those with helpfully dim lighting–reveal far more about size and personality than online profiles ever will. Fuck.)

And yet, as I confessed to Ashley, there was some part of me that knew what I was getting into. That knew this guy wasn’t my equal, in more ways than one, and that it wasn’t going to go anywhere.

There was some part of me, in other words, that went out with him because I felt like I had to. Like it was the right thing to do. Like I was obligated.

There is something about the whole enterprise of online dating, it seems to me, that feels quite bound up in obligation. As though one has given up on the whole project of meeting someone through “natural” means–whatever those may be, more on that momentarily–and has resorted to a forced, two-dimensional form of interaction because one has accepted that this is what one is supposed to do.

What is the “this”? Meeting people of the opposite (or whatever) sex. Checking them out for those eminent markers of potential partnernship: will they make a good lover? A good parent? A reasonable provider and/or respectable cook?

The same thing that women have long felt obligated to do–except, usually, with the more generous cover of artifice.

Lately, I’ve been re-watching episodes of Downtown Abbey. If you haven’t seen it, a) we aren’t friends and b) what the fuck. It’s set in early 20th century England, on an estate that makes Versailles look meh.

One of the main projects of the show is, of course, the marriage of the family’s four daughters–most importantly the eldest, whose match will have much to do with Downton’s future.

Thus, a recurring plot includes the parade of potential suitors: men who strike up via handwritten letters, who arrive via elaborate entourage, who take their tea on horseback and are swept from dining room to drawing room to study with the officious aid of stone-faced men in tuxedos.

The objective is the same: to check each other out. But instead of scoping one another’s online photos and responses to cheeky questions like, “your perfect Sunday” or “obscure knowledge you posess,” these women move through drafty, high-ceilinged rooms being served various kinds of puddings while wearing beaded, floor-length gowns.

Glamorous, yes. But awkward? Totally. How could there not be something a bit forced about having a potential partner sit down to eat ham and smoke cigars with your entire family?

And in a certain way, now, things aren’t much different. Still, we’re coming up with clumsy, seemingly contrived ways to pair ourselves off. Still, we feel obligated to perform certain distinct and uncomfortable rites in order to find romantic love. (Or, you know, an appropriate heir to our grand estates. Whatever.)

Ugh. At least they had cucumber sandwiches.

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.

 

 

What Do You Do When…

So: what do you do when fall comes, you’re enrolled in a creative writing program, you write a blog, and you have absolutely no inspiration to write?

In short, you inhabit a constant state of guilt and panic about the things you aren’t writing. (Especially the magnificent silence you produce in response to a massive New York Times Magazine feature addressing exactly your subject matter and on which seemingly everyone on the internet has at least 140 characters to say.)

You allow yourself to focus on various other tasks that more readily demand attention, like planning classes and making attendance spreadsheets and doing your own reading multiple times because you were too distracted the first few contemplating bad essay ideas and thinking about how unproductive you are. You try and reassure yourself that you aren’t the only person in the world who is deadline-driven, and attempt to ignore the comment made by one of your professors that usually, people who say they write best on deadline, only write on deadline.

You read a nonfiction essay in which the narrator equates the discipline of running marathons with that of his writing practice, only to realize that his logic is flawed. You go to the gym.

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Why I Hate Dating/Reading Helen Fisher and Feeling Vindicated

Remember that time, about a week ago, when I concluded that all of the reasons not to participate in online dating are stupid?

Let me amend that: all of the reasons not to date online are stupid unless, like me, you actually hate dating.

This admission may sound strange coming from someone who writes a blog with a title that contains the very word; I understand this. I would not blame you for assuming that my obsession with romantic love translates to a general enjoyment of meeting people and going on dates.

I think I too, at times, have assumed this logical correlation as well.

And then, at such times, I go on dates with random people and remember that, actually, dating sucks. I mean, I hear there are some who enjoy it. I don’t think I’ve ever met one, but still. (Is it me, or does everyone speak of “people who like dating” by way of identifying themselves as someone who is not among those people?)

It is easy to lose sight of this when you meet someone who is really tall and interesting and attractive and you think you might marry–or at the very least have life-changing sex with. In such situations, dating seems fun.

And in the online world it can also seem fun: for that brief initial period of time when you trade witty messages and compulsively admire each others’ profiles and the fact that you have absolutely no idea what the other person sounds like or–honestly–looks like only enhances the anticipatory excitement which leaves tantalizingly open the possibility that you might, in fact, marry.

But then–as has happened to me twice in the past week–you meet: any hopes of a second date, much less more, are quickly dashed, and you must then suffer through one-to-two hours of forced conversation with someone who looks nothing like their online photos/asks you not a single question/is startlingly arrogant and, moreover, very unlikely to be your husband.

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What I May, or May Not, Want

Even on the internet, people.

Even on the internet: the place where single people go to be sensible, calculated, methodical in their romantic pursuits–I have gone to behave just as irrationally, impulsively and–dare I say–foolishly as is my bane in real life.

Or have I?

Truth be told I’m still rather squeamish about the whole project, and hesitate to write anything. Also, when one shares something with a person, and said person responds with shock and dismissal that borders on disgust, one might hesitate to share said thing with hundreds on the internet.

Fortunately for me, I need not listen to your dismayed responses the way I had to my sister-in-law’s the other day over the phone.

And in the end, I can’t very well announce to you all that I’m going to start dating online and not follow up with some sort of report.

So: within days of posting a profile, I have begun trading messages with a handful of men. One, a 24-year old fresh from a serious relationship. Another, a 40-year old with a ten-year old son. And another in his mid-thirties who is father to three children.

(Insert sister-in-law’s disapproval here.)

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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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