No, it is not because my knight in shining armor came galloping in, stage left, on his white horse, sweeping me off my feet and up onto the back of the horse with one chiseled, romance-novel strong arm, and then off we rode on a sandy beach as the sun set to live happily ever after.
No. This is not that.
Let’s start at the beginning of my entry into the world of online dating. It started with a phone call from my father in November 2014. It was one year post-divorce for me and almost two years since his second wife passed away. It went like this:
“Hey kid! How’s your love life?” Dad says, unusually chipper.
“My what?? Ha ha, oh, yeah, that. It’s dead,” I say, deadpanning as I always do with him. Not expecting much, I say, “Why, how’s yours, Dad?”
“It’s GREAT!” he says with more enthusiasm than I’ve heard in his voice in months. “I have a date this weekend, another next weekend – and we’re going out on Christmas Eve AND New Year’s Eve!” he says, beaming. (I can hear someone beaming over the phone, can’t you?)
“Wow! Dad, good for you!” I meant it. Seriously. I did.
He proceeded to tell me how he had reconnected with a woman from his ballroom dance group, someone he had known for more than 40 years. Her husband had passed recently and they were enjoying each other’s company. Apparently, when a man hits his 80’s, he is a hot commodity if he still has some hair, can dance and drive. I, on the other hand, had only gone on a handful of dates since my divorce and realized each time that I was not at all ready. My friends had been suggesting I try online dating but I resisted each time. My kids needed me. I wasn’t ready. It wasn’t ‘me.’
Truth? I was terrified.
I was married for 19 years and we were together for 22 years. At 45, the mere thought of ‘dating’ was overwhelming. I had no idea what to do. Or how to do it. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to. Until that phone call. I hung up with my dad and called my best friend.
“Okay, it’s official – I’m a loser. Even my dad has a date for New Year’s Eve. Talk me through this Match.com thing.”
She did. Almost a year and a half later, I can honestly say – it was a good experience. I learned a lot. I went into it terrified and came out – smarter. I met some nice people, but no ‘matches.’ (Obviously or I would not be writing this.) I went into it thinking…I will enjoy meeting new people, be open to the possibilities, but be on the lookout for red flags, and simply let it be what it will be.
I learned a ton.
How to approach a first date; how to end a date when it went sideways; how to block aggressive, crazy people and not feel bad about it. I learned that I didn’t have to respond to every message I received (but still feel a little bad about it when I don’t). I learned how to read profiles and photos, along with messages, to spot anything, anything at all, that I might have in common with the person who took the time to reach out to me (or anything to watch out for). I looked at every date as an opportunity to learn something and tried to take away something positive from each experience – learn about a new band, a new way of thinking, a great idea, a book, or a lesson, i.e., never get trapped into a seven-hour first date again (let’s leave it at that, I don’t want to be Taylor Swift.)
I learned more about what I liked and what I didn’t. I learned what I needed to work on more and when I needed a break from dating. What my deal-breakers were. I learned that there are a lot of people just like me, with stories and baggage, all trying to do the best they can every day. There are a lot of crazy people, yes, that, too. I learned that there are a lot of people out there with broken yet hopeful hearts.
I tried to look at each date as a nice adult coffee, lunch or dinner. No expectations. I will be myself and see where it goes.
But it’s not that simple. Not for me, anyway.
While I tried to be open and laissez-faire, there was always a teensy tiny little flicker of hope, especially in the beginning. Maybe…this could…be something? (As I dress up and apply my makeup with extra care.) Maybe…we’ll hit it off? (As I check myself in the mirror before I leave.) Maybe…he could be…THE ONE?? <Cue cautiously optimistic yet triumphant music here.>
I mean, isn’t that kind of the point? You’re supposed to keep your mind and heart open to the possibilities. Otherwise, you become shut down, bitter, cynical and all of the things that dating advice columnists warn you NOT to do. So I tried. I tried really, really hard.
But online dating is so different from real-life dating.
In real life, you meet someone, feel a spark, then you go out again and see where it leads. With online dating, you are meeting with someone face-to-face to see if there is a spark after exchanging a few words online or by phone (although most dates happen without even a phone call). That’s a lot of pressure. A good text exchange and phone call do not necessarily guarantee a connection in person.
And let’s not forget the pressure.
Online dating gets a little easier the more you do it, like anything. But honestly, first and early-on dates are worse than job interviews. You are both on your best behavior. You are trying to figure each other out. Decide how much to reveal about your story, how much is too little or too much. Spot the red flags. Decide if there will be a second date. Be funny. Flirt. Figure out stuff like who pays and how it should go down (I once had a guy tell me he appreciated me offering to pay my half, took me up on it, then said – I like when a woman has some skin in the game – huh??). Whether you should let them walk you to your car. You wonder – do I like them? Do they like me? Do they like their kids? Is he a good dad? Does he blame his ex for everything from the divorce to his athlete’s foot? Why are they telling me all this horrible stuff in the first five minutes?? Am I missing something (what was that he said about his crazy ex again??)? Can I get over my anti-mustache thing?? Could I learn to like duck hunting/ballroom dancing/country music/antiquing/sushi/fill in the blank? Am I being too picky? Am I being judgmental? Am I settling? Am I talking too much? Am I being swept off my feet or hit by a truck?
All of this over a latte. It’s exhausting.
I try not to overthink it, but it’s hard when you are dealing with something that feels so important – your feelings and the feelings of another person. (This does not apply to players who are obviously just looking for a hookup.) The worst is when you get a few dates in and it falls apart for one reason or another – no chemistry on one side or another; somebody’s not ready; you get ghosted and have no clue what happened. Worse, you find out someone is still married and not technically separated (hello, get on Ashley Madison, creep); is a convicted felon; a narcissist; mean; selfish; a racist; or just plain crazy. Yet you continue to go out on dates, meeting new people, keeping a positive attitude, telling yourself – but this is where everyone is now! How else will you meet someone if you’re not online like everyone else?
I have no illusions that I will meet someone in my everyday life.
I live in a suburb of Chicago where 98.2% of people are married (or at least it feels that way). I don’t like meeting people in bars (maybe that’s worked for you, but it has not for me). I work from home. I am involved in my favorite activities and groups that I enjoy, but it is a tricky business to date someone in a group you love because if it doesn’t work out, it gets really awkward and somebody has to quit the group or everybody is miserable. Been there, done that. Hitting on people at the gym or over the tomatoes at the grocery store has become slightly creepy and there is this general sentiment that it just isn’t done anymore.
What about other dating sites, you say?
The only other site I’ve tried besides Match is eHarmony and that only lasted for a few weeks. I couldn’t take the rigid, structured back-and-forth communication with matches or the inability to write my own profile. I am a grown up, I can have conversations on my own, thank you (if it worked for you, that’s awesome – it just wasn’t my thing). The last straw was the continual list of matches from one, two and three states away (what algorithm hell did I get trapped in??).
I’ve never tried the free sites – Tinder (hook up reputation freaks me out); Plenty of Fish (horrible user interface and the name – you don’t like what you caught, eh, throw it back in, plenty more where that came from); OkCupid (okay, cute name but still) or any other paid sites because from what I’ve heard, all the same people are on all the same sites and quite frankly, I have not heard great stories and it just seems too stressful to manage. I like to read, think and consider carefully who I reach out to or respond to, so it starts to feel like a part-time job. I don’t want to feel like I am punching a clock, checking boxes or swiping across profiles as breezily as I browse through clothes on a sales rack. It doesn’t feel right to me. Maybe I will return someday. Maybe I just need a break.
For everyone about to say, ah, but you will find love when you stop looking/least expect it…
Don’t. Just don’t. To be fair, this statement may very well be true. But I might get hit by a bus tomorrow when I am least expecting it. I could win the lottery tomorrow, too (if I played the lottery). In my experience, the only people who say that are those who are happily attached and/or haven’t dated since dinosaurs walked ten miles uphill to school in the snow both ways. Seriously. Single people everywhere HATE this line. YOU hated this line when you were single. Please. Stop. Saying. It. (Single folks everywhere – you’re welcome.)
So I’m quitting online dating for now.
Spring is haphazardly trying to happen now in Chicago. Summer is close on its heels with everything outdoors that I love to do. I have much to be grateful for in my life: great kids; great friends; my health; work that I love. It is enough. I want to enjoy it and live my life fully in the present. I want to laugh and dance and focus on things that mean something to me – which does not include browsing profiles and stressing out over coffee.
That is not to say I am giving up on the whole knight/white horse/chiseled, romance-novel arm/sunset thing. Not at all. (Deep down, we all want that, don’t we? Or has that changed, too?) I am going to ride my own white horse for the time being and hope that someday, I will look over and Mr. Knight will be riding beside me. And I will say, well, it’s about damn time.
I will never give up believing that someday, I will find someone who looks at me like maybe, just maybe…I am magic.
leaving is not enough; you must
stay gone. train your heart
like a dog. change the locks
even on the house he’s never
visited. you lucky, lucky girl.
you have an apartment
just your size. a bathtub
full of tea. a heart the size
of Arizona, but not nearly
so arid. don’t wish away
your cracked past, your
crooked toes, your problems
are papier mache puppets
you made or bought because the vendor
at the market was so compelling you just
had to have them. you had to have him.
and you did. and now you pull down
the bridge between your houses.
you make him call before
he visits. you take a lover
for granted, you take
a lover who looks at you
like maybe you are magic. make
the first bottle you consume
in this place a relic. place it
on whatever altar you fashion
with a knife and five cranberries.
don’t lose too much weight.
stupid girls are always trying
to disappear as revenge. and you
are not stupid. you loved a man
with more hands than a parade
of beggars, and here you stand. heart
like a four-poster bed. heart like a canvas.
heart leaking something so strong
they can smell it in the street.