I’m at a local Starbucks with my sister. We chose Starbucks for our structured sister time because hip independent coffee shops don’t exist where I live. (Incidentally, many black boarded massage parlors do.) The sleeve that had been sitting snug around my tall blonde coffee now sits on the table, distressed and reformed into a contemporary sculpture of sorts. This is what happens when you’re nervous; things like coffee sleeves become works of art. It starts off with a low-threat ‘’so…how is everything going?’’ that launches into a terrifying two hour interrogation about my love life. If I knew why I am still single and what I could do about it, I would have done those things and no longer be single. My sister then initiates phase two, in which she walks me through a detailed plan of how I was going to find my boyfriend. I know it’s out of love, and I know she is delivering what she perceives to be an uplifting motivational speech, but I can’t help but feel a little assaulted by the time I get home.
All this is to say, I am now online dating. It’s not the scary territory that most people make it out to be, only because I have done it before, three years ago. I forget the circumstances that culminated in my exit. Either I met someone in real life at my friend’s birthday party, or the experience was so dreadful that it just had to stop. Kinda wish I remembered which it was.
Although it’s been around for years now, there is still a most definite stigma around online dating or, to be more specific, around the people who do it. It’s the old ‘’truly cool people are those who don’t try to be cool’’. Following that logic, one expects only certain types of people to populate online dating sites: cretins, douche bags and perverts. While I am not any of those things, I am not without faults either. I don’t know how to flirt or be sexy. I’m emotionally unstable and have an ongoing history of mental illness. I have never been in a relationship, and the thought of being anything other than an innocuous platonic creature terrifies me. Of course, none of this information finds its way onto my profile, which leads me to wonder-what is everyone else hiding?
What I’ve learned from having gone through this process once before is that you can’t expect too much. It’s like going to a buffet for the first time. You are literally surrounded by aisles of tasty possibility. Succulent lobster, gooey lasagna, naughty French fries; the number of options is both overwhelming and exhilarating. ‘I’m going to have the best meal of my life!’ you think. Then you put the food in your mouth. The lobster tastes like rubber, the lasagna is actually rubber, and you don’t even have room for those French fries. The sheer volume creates an intoxicating illusion that you are much better off here than at a regular, boring old restaurant, when really, you probably could have stayed at home and made yourself a bowl of instant noodles and it would have been fine.
That is why this time, I’ve decided not to bother clicking through profiles and ‘’liking’’ the people I’m attracted to. From my experience, these aren’t the people who will like you back. You get your hopes up, only to have them deflated by an influx of messages from the other half of the spectrum, guys who open the conversation with ‘’I would like to meet and sex with you’’, ‘’Are you at all submissive??” and ‘’I’m looking for a movie partner, I pay.’’ (All are messages I’ve received, verbatim). This time, I will wait for them to come to me, so as not to give myself a false impression of what I could be getting. The majority of my potential suitors are still disturbing and creepy, but at least I’m not primed to expect otherwise.
Thankfully, I’ve met a few nice guys (so far) already. I was talking to a few of them but I’ve come to realize that I’m not one to multi-task. I know it’s casual and I have no obligation to be loyal to anyone at this stage, but splitting myself between multiple message threads makes me drained and uncomfortable. So I have decided to only maintain active communication with one person at a time, once I’ve found someone I have an ongoing conversation with. It may be a slower process, but it’s faster than what I have been doing otherwise without the site, which is absolutely nothing.
The one I’m talking to now is a cutie who says things like hihi and makes very liberal use of keyboard generated emoticons. If the above did not give it away, he is also a bit younger, seven years younger than me, to be exact. The last time I liked someone seven years younger than me, I had a mental breakdown and my friends hosted an intervention telling me to stop hanging out with him. (True story). While I’m not anticipating anything remotely close to that happening this time (since I am in a much healthier mental state and he, from what I can tell, does not have narcissistic personality disorder), I fear that I may have a pattern of choosing the wrong people. Some douchey looking guy messaged me asking, ‘’Are you into younger guys?’’ (Incidentally, he was only five years younger than me.) While I have liked people of all ages, I have found myself in the past stating my reason for not liking someone online as ‘’he seemed too mature’’. Realistically, what kind of future can I have with a 21 year old? ‘’Live today as if you were to die tomorrow!’’ they say. But how far can we extend these beautiful Instagram slogans into real life before we become reckless to the point of irreparable damage?
Maybe I’m making this into something when it doesn’t need to be anything. He doesn’t seem bothered by the age difference, which is saying something because I have used the words ‘’old fogey’’ to describe myself, fogey being a word that only true fogeys know and use. I worry that I seem old and uncool, but overcompensating by acting young and hip is most definitely much worse. In any event, we haven’t even met yet so it is irrelevant. The other thing I’ve learned from my past online dating experience is that hitting it off with someone online does not necessarily translate into real life. There was this guy Andrew who, in our online conversations, was witty and funny and cute. In person, he talked about buying Christmas presents at Wal-Mart.
The one thing I didn’t learn from my past experience of online dating was how to enjoy the process. It was a means to an idolized end. I put so much pressure to find myself a boyfriend that I was left disappointed, bitter and ultimately, still alone. I’m going to enjoy it this time.