A couple of years ago, O Magazine was looking for exciting, funny stories about online dating. I submitted this piece. I shopped it around to a couple of other magazines, as well. And, after a year of “Covid College” (as Anne Lamott calls it), I felt now was a good time as any to put it out there.
I’m 42, been divorced for eight years and have had my heart significantly broken in the meantime. After two brief post-divorce relationships, I was hotly pursued by my best friend’s brother. I fell hard for him. I started to believe in marriage again.
Two and a half years in, he dumped me over email. I was blindsided.
It took a long time to heal, but I eventually did. And I unexpectedly fell in love again. Harder. We were a great match, but our issues weren’t. This time, we mutually ended it.
I settled in for another long winter, so to speak, of healing after a broken relationship.
Several months and too many spilled tears later, my friends were on me.
“You’ve got to get out there again!” they said. “Move on! Have some fun.”
So, I downloaded Bumble, a swipe-right-or-left dating app that “challenges outdated heterosexual norms”, empowering women to make the first move.
Looking for a stable, grounded, emotionally available and healthy partner who knows the difference between “your” and “you’re”. Ideally, you’re wittier than me, I wrote, proudly. I uploaded my most-liked photos from Facebook, sans duck face or bathroom selfies.
And the games began.
Initially, I looked through every single picture and read every single word on every single profile.
After a while, however, it grew tiresome. And to my disappointment, most men didn’t write anything, at all. The ones who did I found insipid, in open relationships, couldn’t spell or ended every sentence with “LOL”.
So I decided to change the rules. I stopped looking for the right one, and swiped right on everyone.
When I matched with a man, I wrote him a message right away.
I think the best part about being single is the freedom to unabashedly consume copious amounts of garlic. You?
1:27 p.m. 7th and Hope. A homeless woman called me “ghetto ass.” I’m quite certain it made my day.
Do you think people who are passionate about CrossFit had terrible childhoods?
If he responded with something witty or engaging, I would continue the conversation. Two days in, I matched with a man six years my junior who was smart, attractive and seemed to have it together. He asked me to “tacos and boozy lunch”. I told him I had to work that day, but I could meet him for happy hour. At 4:30 p.m., he sent me a message:
Come to The Greyhound!
I asked if he were there at that moment. Indeed, he was. I told him I was finishing up at work, but could be there in an hour.
I’ll prolly be home by then, he replied.
I sighed. The guy couldn’t wait one hour? “Prolly” not.
I did end up on an actual date with an intelligent, down-to-earth guy who was a chef. His passion was pizza ovens.
We conversed easily over dinner and a bottle of wine. As I sat across from him, I tried to force myself to be attracted to him. He was nice enough, seemed normal enough and was attractive enough. I just didn’t feel a sense of urgency in my loins.
When the last of the wine had been drunk and I had passed the quiz on the history of masonry, he walked me outside. Almost without warning, he pawed at, then kissed me. In a last-ditch effort to decipher chemistry, I allowed it to continue for a minute or so. When it was over, the lower half of my face remained wet and raw. The smell of his saliva lingered on his beard and, worse, up my nostrils.
I tried not to dry heave in his face. Instead, I cleared my throat.
“Thank you for dinner,” I managed, weakly.
We parted ways. Later, he messaged me.
I really liked kissing you, he wrote. We should do it again sometime. Naked.
This time, I allowed myself to heave all the way.
I met a man in the elevator that same week. I was on my way to the basement in pajamas and flip flops, toting a rather large bag of cat poo in one hand, and recycling in the other.
He was a beautiful specimen: tall, dark and upsettingly handsome, with creamy, smooth skin and bulging biceps.
“Hi,” he said. His piercing eyes locked with mine.
“Hi,” I giggled. Suddenly, I was 12 again.
“I like that color on you,” He pointed at my blue shirt.
“Thank you!” I smiled.
He looked me over. “Oh, and you have really cute toes, too. Wow! I’m just handing out all the compliments today!”
I laughed and shifted the bag of cat poo further behind me.
“I love beautiful feet. I’m quite good at massaging them, too.”
The elevator stopped at the ground floor.
“So,” he lowered his voice. “Are you lonely? Want some company?”
“I appreciate the offer,” I responded, matter-of-factly. “But I’ve got two cats upstairs that are keeping me company. So, no thank you. But, may I ask — does that line actually work for you?”
He flashed a brilliant smile.
“Almost every time.”
I made it four days on Bumble. In the end, I came to the conclusion I always do after re-installing dating apps: online dating just isn’t for me. That is not to say it isn’t for everyone. People can be creepy online and in person; you don’t need an app for that.
Maybe I’m old-school. Maybe I think “heterosexual norms” aren’t so outdated. I have nothing against women initiating the first move, but I like it when a man pursues. I enjoy having doors opened for me. I want to be wooed, wined and dined, and, at the same time, respected.
Am I crazy? Perhaps. But I believe it still exists. I also believe online dating has robbed us of patience, authenticity and an overall sense of decency.
Our culture is addicted to immediacy. One can order up just about anything with a tap (swipe!) of a finger on a smart phone. Food, entertainment, transportation, sex — all at once, even! And if you aren’t impressed, just keep swiping until something better comes along.
If you’re like me, you’re tired of the sifting through the never-ending cesspool of vapid choices presented through today’s dating apps. If you’re like me, you’re looking for a long-term, committed relationship. And relationship takes time to cultivate. It takes effort. It takes chemistry and compatibility. It takes two people willing to come together, bravely reveal their deepest self and personal brand of crazy, then commit to choosing one another, daily.
Is it possible to find that on a dating app? I’m not going to say no. In fact, my sister met her boyfriend of five years on OK Cupid. They were both looking for a relationship when they matched, and they’re a great couple. Even my sister’s cat approves. Not forgetting my own experience: my first post-divorce relationship was with a good man I met online.
Something happened when I put an end to mindless swiping and permanently deleted Bumble off my phone: I felt empowered.
Instead of searching for someone to fill the void when I get lonely, I reach out to a friend. Sometimes that turns into a spontaneous hike, wine tasting or evening enjoying and supporting a fellow musician or actor at one of their gigs.
Instead of staring at my phone for hours every day, I’m reading a lot more. Books! Actual, physical books. I turn the page and smell the paper and write notes in the margin and everything.
Instead of deciding in a split second if a guy is HOT (right) or NOT (left), I’m investing my time and energy in the people I already know. And the more you get to know someone, the more (or less) attractive they become.
Instead of back-and-forth messaging with some stranger who may or may not ask me on – or show up to – a date, I’m getting out of the house and chatting with strangers at the grocery store, gym, or those seated next to me at happy hour. I’ve actually made a couple of new friends.
And by choosing to trust the right partner will come along in due time, I am choosing me.
“How?” You ask.
By saying no to swipe culture and immediacy, I am choosing to slow down. I want to grow, learn and ultimately change for the better. I’m not looking for my “other half”, because that other half is me. I am a whole person, and striving towards being an authentic, wholehearted one, at that. It’s not easy, and sometimes the road is terribly lonely, but loneliness is only temporary. Investing in myself is a priceless gift, away from the distraction and noise.
So, if you end up sitting next to me at happy hour one of these days, please say hi. I’ll be the one doing my very best to engage authentically and with an open heart; my phone buried deep at the bottom of my bag.