"So, you're online dating!" my friend said to me at a party a few weeks ago.
"Um, actually," I said, scrunching my nose, "I'm online pre-dating."
Since I'd signed up for OkCupid a month earlier after a long dating hiatus, this was the number of dates I'd been on: zero.
I started out as I always do with online dating after overcoming my initial resistance: optimistic. Scrolling through countless men's photos, I felt like a kid a candy store, giddy with possibility. Seeing so many bearded Brooklyn hipsters with their intellectual interests and carefully-crafted sentences made me feel like all those years I'd spent being single had been unnecessary. With OkCupid on my side, my long-held belief that I would never be able to meet anyone I clicked with seemed to fade away.
After browsing potential matches on the site for a week, I sent my first message to a cute guy who shared some of my interests in milkshakes and '90s hip-hop. Seconds later, an IM popped up on my computer.
"Hey," he wrote.
I couldn't believe he wrote back right away, and that my response rate was turning out to be so fantastic!
We exchanged IMs back and forth about his favorite milkshake flavors and where he liked to go to get them. After a few minutes, I glanced at the time and saw that I had to sign off to make it to yoga.
"Gotta go," I wrote. "Message me, look forward to hearing about your hip-hop favorites!" I typed, hoping to keep the conversation going.
The next day, I was excited to see a new message from him, but when I opened it, all it consisted of was a list of his favorite hip-hop songs. That was it. There were no questions about me or my favorite hip-hop songs, no date invitations to milkshake shops, nothing to grasp onto and respond to. Just a list.
"What's wrong with people online?" I complained to my friends. "I'm online dating because I want to go on dates, not because I want a milkshake/hip-hop pen pal! What's the point of that? Doesn't anyone actually want to meet in real life?!?"
Then I got a message from a guy who wanted to go on a date... and instantly felt irritated and inconvenienced.
First of all, he was five years younger than me and in graduate school. All of a sudden, graduate school became a huge deal-breaker.
"I don't want to date a guy who's still in school!" I said to my friends, and they agreed.
"You need someone who's established in his career," one friend said.
"Being in school is just a totally different phase of life," said another, nodding.
It made perfect sense, and my reason for not wanting to go out with him seemed completely valid. Until I remembered that last year, I briefly dated a guy I was friends with who was in graduate school, and this did not bother me at all. In fact, I enjoyed hearing about his classes, papers and field work, and his enthusiasm for his studies was one of the qualities I most liked about him.
The other thing that happened when the graduate student asked me out was that I became really busy. I mentally scanned my schedule for the next month and could not find a single one-hour time slot to fit him in for coffee. I had too many important things going on right now! I needed time for yoga and writing. I had to get my taxes done. I was in the middle of decluttering my bookshelf. There was just no time left to waste on meeting someone I didn't know who I probably wouldn't like, anyway.
Which is when I realized that although I want to be a relationship, although I announced that I was coming off my dating hiatus and signing up for online dating, I really, really do not want to go on dates.
When I was on my dating hiatus, I could imagine that dating would be fun. I could picture myself putting on my new eye shadow and a sparkly tank top and bounding out the door to a first date with a spring in my step and butterflies in my stomach. I could focus on working on myself and remind myself that I was not dating by choice, that as soon as I wanted to date, I could and would.
But with a potential date looming on the horizon, I saw just how "safe" my dating hiatus had been, and just how much, when it came down to it, I did not want to go out there and date again.
Thinking back to the few significant relationships I've had in my life, I realized there was only one thing that has been able to override how much I do not want to go on dates, how jam-packed my calendar seems and how one small biographical detail can turn into an enormous deal-breaker for me. That one thing is having an intense, soul mate-type connection with a guy from the second we meet.
When that happens, my calendar miraculously clears and anytime they can fit me into their schedules, I'm free. When that happens, I'll throw on eye shadow and a sparkly tank top at a moment's notice and rush out to meet them. When that happens, first I lose my interests, then I lose myself, then I inevitably wind up curled up in the fetal position in my bed crying for days at a time.
And that isn't really dating anyway, in the sense that dating is a process of getting to know someone over a period of time. What it is is bypassing the uncomfortable getting to know someone phase, jumping straight to instant intimacy fueled by fantasy, and then crashing and burning when reality sets in.
Without off-the-charts chemistry and an immediate connection, I don't want to waste my time sitting across from a total stranger on an awkward, boring, disappointing date. But what I know about how I've non-dated in the past is that that kind of intensity is usually an indication that the person is in some way unavailable, and chasing that instant soul mate connection has led to a tremendous amount of pain -- and still being single.
So I'm trying -- the key word being trying -- to do things differently this time. To let go of finding reasons not to go out with guys who ask me out. To make time in my schedule for a one-hour coffee with someone I don't know and maybe won't like. To sit through first and second and third dates that might be awkward, boring and disappointing with no guarantee of having any kind of connection whatsoever, when I'd rather be preparing my taxes.
After all, if I really want to be in a relationship, there's a lot more chance of that happening if I put on eye shadow and a sparkly tank top and go out on a date than there is if I'm too busy decluttering my bookshelf at home. And if I stop making excuses and start making time in my schedule and space in my life for dating, maybe one day, instead of irritation and dread, I'll happen upon what I've been longing for all along -- someone who interests me but won't be my only interest, someone I didn't have to lose me to find.