Here I sit on a Saturday night, staring at a blinking cursor on the screen, trying to figure out how to sum up who I am as a person in 150 words or less for my profile.
I’d always considered myself pretty lucky that I missed the age of internet dating, but here I am, newly divorced in my late thirties, tossing my hat back into the ring. I know next to nothing about online dating (and it’s been a hot minute since I’ve done any sort of dating, to be honest), but I’ve taken plenty of advice from friends and even listened to a few helpful podcasts, so I feel semi-prepared.
But I’m not sure that anything could have prepared me for what I was about to find.
Have you ever been out hiking on a trail and lifted up the edge of a heavy rock, only to be disgusted by a bunch of squirmy creepy crawly worms and insects writhing around underneath? This is akin to what I felt when opening a dating app for the first time.
After putting so much thought into curating the classiest photos and perfect wording for my profile, I am met with a selection of men who have put no care at all into making a good first impression. Some of them are depicted passed out in a bathroom after a hard night of drinking. Some of them are showing their middle finger to the camera. Some of them are lying shirtless in bed with an empty pillow next to them as if to say, “Just imagine your face here.” Many of them are under the impression that I want to see photos of every vehicle they own. Some only post photos with the top of their heads mysteriously cropped from the frame, in the hopes that I won’t suspect them of balding. And the deeper I go, the stranger it gets.
I get so caught up swiping through bizarre profiles that I forget the guys on the app are also looking at my profile which has just gone live. Before I know it, the pings start coming in — people are liking me! At first this feels exciting. I open another tab to see who is trying to match with me, only to be horrified at my numerous prospects. Many of these guys live in another city or state, some 8+ hours away. Some of them are 50+ year-old grandpas, while others are only 19 or 20. Some of them seem to have taken their profile picture by accident while looking at their phone down in their lap, and they just decided to keep the photo. Some of them are married and looking for someone “discreet,” or they openly declare themselves as swingers. Many of them are using their profiles to express excessive anger at girls who use photo filters and wear false eyelashes, and some of them are ranting about their political views on vaccinations. There are lots of full-time Uber drivers and people who are vaguely “self-employed.” I’m not really sure what to do with this.
After swiping through so many horrific profiles that my standards and expectations have been completely obliterated, I swipe right on the first guy who isn’t a total train wreck. He notices immediately and begins chatting with me. My heart rate kicks up a notch. This is kind of intimidating! He went from a mere face in a picture to a real live person chatting with me!
It gets scarier when I see the types of questions he’s asking me. He wants to know my height and weight. He’s curious about my eye color. He wants my phone number so we can chat outside of the app. I think he’s about to ask my blood type when he mysteriously disappears. I refused to give him any of the information he wanted, so perhaps he found a more willing victim elsewhere.
I eventually make other matches and have more conversations on the app with other people who seem a bit more normal. There’s a firefighter medic who has a divorce story that is similar to mine. There’s a never-been-married man who lives in a recently renovated house just down the street from mine (I only know this because when I compliment him on his kitchen backsplash and open floor plan, he sends me the link to his Zillow so I can see the whole house — a move that I find surprisingly attractive). There is also a very funny guy who seems to know lines from all of my favorite obscure romantic comedies. I’m starting to feel a bit hopeful.
This online dating thing might actually work!
I start exchanging numbers and having some phone conversations. The podcast I listened to before online dating suggested doing either a phone call or Facetime before meeting in person, just to ensure that the vibes are there before wasting time and money on a babysitter to go on a date. The phone calls go well. I can’t help but think that the last time I talked on the phone with a guy like this, I was on a landline twirling a long curly phone cord around my finger. It feels weird to be back in the same spot at age 37, keeping my voice down this time so that I don’t wake my kids rather than my parents.
Pretty soon I start actually going on in-person dates, and the experience ends up being kind of a mixed bag. I schedule many of the dates back-to-back to maximize the time I have while my kids are with their dad. I realize that may have been a mistake when I say, “But I thought you loved to cook!” to the guy who doesn’t cook. I’m getting the guys confused. I may need to slow down and focus on one at a time.
One of my dates is an absolute disaster.
It seems as if we exhausted all possible topics of conversation during our pre-date phone call, and now there is nothing left to say. This guy is on the Keto diet, and he talks to me at length about the kinds of foods that are “allowed” and “not allowed” for about an hour. He gets out his phone to show me pictures of Keto dishes he’s made. He lists ingredients for many recipes. At 75 minutes in, I realize that I’m having no luck in getting Keto guy to switch topics, no matter how hard I try to change the subject. At least I got some free Hibachi for my trouble.
Zillow guy is super attentive and kind, and he is just the right level of flirty. He seems like a promising prospect. He takes me to eat ice cream. We walk around downtown holding hands. But Zillow guy wants me to stop dating all other guys, and he begins texting too often (all during the work day) and calling every night. Zillow starts making references to the two of us being together in the distant future. He has our next six dates planned. He’s going all in after knowing me for a total of ten days. So I break things off with Zillow, and I feel eternally grateful that I never told him exactly how close he lives to my house. (Note to self: Avoid binge-watching the series You while online dating.)
Romantic Comedy guy moves up to the top spot on my list. He is witty, charming, and confident, but I feel like I’m making all of the moves. I ask him for his phone number. I suggest a location for our first date. I am a little too eager, and Romantic Comedy guy becomes a bit unresponsive, eventually ghosting me entirely. I feel like after both ghosting and being ghosted, my first life cycle on the dating circuit is officially complete.