The Kübler-Ross Theory of Online Dating and Aging Out
Denial and Isolation
The first reaction to realizing that you’re never going to meet someone “in real life” is to deny the reality of the situation. This isn’t happening. I am successful and hot and can cook and yet somehow I am downloading an app that allows thousands of strangers to see my vacation photos. No. This cannot be happening.
The next first reaction, after downloading the app and realizing that men who are fifteen years older than you aren’t interested but for some reason 23 year-olds are dying to meet you, is to continue to deny the situation. Did that 58 year-old really say “no one over 35” on his profile? Why do 23 year olds keep telling me that older women ‘have their shit together?’ No. This cannot be happening.
Denial is a useful defense mechanism that protects against the immediate shock of online dating over 40, numbing you to the reality that none of the men on these apps seem to have jobs. You pretend that their invitations to meet at 2 in the afternoon Wednesday (really, they don’t have jobs) didn’t actually happen, or the phrase “looking for someone who takes care of herself” isn’t really just code for “thin.” For most women over 40 on dating apps, this stage is a brief and temporary response, designed to carry you through the first few weeks of abject humiliation.
As the protective effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality hits. You are not ready for this. You are hot, smart, successful and adventurous. In a previous life you hung out with diplomats and floated down quiet rivers in Thailand. You’ve met two presidents, and both looked deeply into your eyes. You read the New Yorker and the Economist and you know exactly why trickle down economics didn’t work. You do pilates and yoga and have a cool dog and make an incredible bolognese sauce, and yet here you are: swiping right on men with beer bellies who can’t spell and wear jorts. Un-ironically.
The intense emotion that was contained by denial is now presenting itself as white hot anger. One minute you were a 24-year-old in grad school with abs that came naturally and no need to buy KY Jelly, and boom! The next minute Bob from El Segundo just mansplained hybrid cars to you.
Your anger may be directed at the men on Bumble, or at your friends over brunch after they innocently ask if you “did anything fun last night.” You feel guilty at lashing out at the strange men and your friends, and this in turn makes you more angry.
But remember, online dating is a personal process that has no end in sight, nor one “right” way to do it.
You have the most anger for your one friend who told you to go on the app in the first place, but somehow refused to set you up with her adorable but shy brother. In any event, do not hesitate to ask any of your friends to fuck right off, because unless they are swiping endlessly while stuck in traffic, they really don’t know how horrible it really all is.
The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and despair at the plethora of jobless mansplainers (who aren’t swiping right on you anyway), is a need to regain control through a series of “if only” statements, such as:
- If only I had just married that pothead Marty, even though he was secretly against gay marriage and once cooked pork chops in cream of mushroom soup with jalapeños (just a hypothetical).
- If only only I had agreed to go out with Jared, that nice shy scientist who was too nerdy at the time but is now on sabbatical in Copenhagen.
This is an attempt to bargain. Secretly you try to make a deal with God or whoever in an attempt to make a soul crushing endeavor somehow minimally less bleak. Guilt goes hand in hand with bargaining. You start to believe there was actually something you could have done to avoid being over 40 swiping endlessly in the glow of your phone, while your three rescue dogs snore nearby. (But really, there wasn’t).
There is, of course, another type of bargaining that goes along with online dating. After finally scheduling a first date, you’ll realize that you have only one wild and precious life, and it should not be spent driving to Northridge to have sugary drinks at Señor Frogs with some dude who posts only photos of grilled steaks on Instagram: Please God, let him be the one to flake. For Chrissakes, does he really think I have nothing better to do on a Thursday night than sit in traffic on the 405? When am I supposed to sleep?
There are two types of depression associated with online dating while over 40. The first one is a reaction to the reality that these losers aren’t interested in you either, and by extension the reality that yeah, you really might die alone.
Sadness and regret predominate this type of depression. You worry about the costs of home healthcare workers and whether you’ll be lonely when you outlive all your friends and pets. Is it ethical to get a pet when I’m 80? you wonder. What if they outlive me?
You worry that everything was supposed to be completely fucking different and somehow, inexplicably, it isn’t. This phase may be made easier by the knowledge that in the end, we all die alone, married or not.
The second type of depression is more subtle and more private. It is your quiet preparation for being single forever. You make your sofa even more comfortable and subscribe to Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu while still keeping your cable so you can watch Bravo, because fuck it: there is no one to impress and there never will be. You buy a box of Ocho chocolate peanut butter bars and allow yourself one every night. You eat carbs in public. You go to bed at 9.
Reaching this stage of dating online after 40 is a gift. This phase is marked by a calm sense of withdrawal. It is peaceful. You delete the app. You buy some herbs for your garden and spend all day Sunday planting them, talking to the dog and making a huge pot of spaghetti with plain tomato sauce. You talk to your favorite cousin on the phone and laugh, and realize wait a second, I’m happy. You regain your dignity and grace. You limit your social interaction to people you actually like, and come to the realization that brunch food is awful and always has been.
But to get to this place, you had to go through all the stages of online dating — there are no shortcuts to coping with this deeply personal and unique experience.