Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Anatomy Of An Online Dater (Or) A Year of Tiny Catastrophes in NYC

Anatomy of an Online Dater (or) A Year of Tiny Catastrophes In New York City 


I had been living in New York for 5 months when I came home to my sublet in Crown Heights to find an unexpected eviction notice and an unfamiliar lock on the door. Four months later I was laid off after slightly under a year of employment. Five months after that my boyfriend of 6 years broke up with me in an email. By December of 2013 I had already been on two online dates, and had another 4 planned, all with different people. It was the first month in a year in which I spent zero time weeping in a stairwell.

I had been single for about 3 months when I grew bored with my own self-pity. Though the idea of having to win over a new person seemed not only impossible but utterly terrifying, I knew that it was important for me to at least entertain the possibility that someone, somewhere, might one day want to endure my company for longer than the length of time it takes to finish a Jameson on the rocks.  

It is notable that my ex and I were friends for over a year at school until I decided to drunkenly caress his thigh while watching Midnight Cowboy in his dorm room (which was, incidentally, right across the hall from my dorm room). After outing my nefarious intentions, I vomited violently both in the communal bathroom and in my own trashcan. I had been mixing orange vodka with Sunkist Cherry Limeade and had earlier consumed a noxious combination of skittles and redbull so the vomit in question was visually stimulating to say the least.  Somehow, he was still interested and we went on “date” to the campus dining hall later that week.  I was 19 years old.

We lived together after leaving the dorms, first with roommates for one year,
and then in our own one bedroom apartment for two years including one year after college. Life in our college town felt dull and stagnant once we were out of school, so we decided to move to New York City where he had grown up. Or he decided. I wanted to move to New York for my own reasons outside of the relationship, but I didn’t have a family and free rent waiting there for me so he went without me and I moved in with my parents to save money. We stayed together because it felt insane not to. It never occurred to me that he didn’t care whether or not I made it there or whether or not I cared if he was waiting for me if I did. To be honest, I never thought too hard about it at all. By then the relationship had a life of its own.

We almost broke up once while living apart but then we didn’t. When I finally made it to New York things were somewhat less than romantic. They might have always been that way but now his family was there quietly expecting things which in turn caused him to expect things loudly. I had my own life to lead. There were jobs to lose, sketchy apartments to fail to avoid, friends to almost make, and train schedules to misread. He had an entire life waiting for him there and I did not. It was no one’s fault, but it was not an easy year.

When it finally ended I looked around and could not find a trail of my own wants or needs leading up to that point.  I only saw the version of myself that failed to live up to  someone else’s expectations. So I scrapped it; the entire system of priorities that had previously informed all of my decision-making.  I preferred to be a blank slate than someone whose identity was wrapped up in another person. That summer I spent most of my time wandering alone in parks, drifting alone in museums, exploring alone in unfamiliar parts of the city, and skulking alone in graveyards. I was discovering what it was that I actually enjoyed doing without worrying about the notion of “company”. I still felt unfinished, but I was filling in the gaps.

Then one day, somewhere between Sunnyside and Greenpoint-during a particularly aimless bought of wandering- I remember thinking “some company might be nice”.

Perhaps you can understand my apprehension about entering the adult dating scene as a recent NYC transplant with an incomplete personality and a very dubious dating background. Last time I was single I had the freedom of the dorms on my side; now I lived in a slightly removed and untrendy Queens neighborhood with two random girls from craigslist who kept magnetic bible verses on our fridge. My breakup more or less demolished my social life and I was somewhat less than awash in other single ladies with whom to share my Saturday nights. Instead I spent my evenings troubling over what I might say on hypothetical dates that no one was asking me on.

Will I be able to let him know that I’m interested without coming on too strong...or let him know that I’m NOT interested in a mature and respectful manner? Will I realize that he isn’t interested before I get too excited?  And let’s not forget about the potential danger. I don’t THINK that I’d accidentally agree to a date with a predator, but how can I be sure? What if I’m not as smart as I think I am? What if…what if he hurts my FEELINGS? Crap... I’m going to have to feel things, aren’t I? I wasn’t anywhere near ready to consider another relationship, but I needed to know if I was even capable of sitting across from a new person without letting my anxiety shut me down completely.

This is how I found myself on the night before Thanksgiving of 2013, with half a bottle of cheap champagne in my system, staring at a blank OKCupid account. I had the username. I had the profile picture. Now all I needed was something honest and endearing to say about myself- Something appealing without seeming overconfident.  My whole life felt like a red flag and while I knew I didn’t have to reveal the entire grisly truth, I also didn’t want it all to flop out unexpectedly later on.

I grew frustrated and decided several times that dating is not important anyway and I should forget it and focus on growing my hair out, but no matter how I tried to distract myself, I kept clicking back into that first blank box, watching the cursor flash impatiently. Something about that blank page felt so hopeful and empowering that my previously screaming anxiety dimmed to a faint murmur, drowned out by a clearer message: This is going to be very different than the last 6 years of your life and it might be fun.

I sat there for almost an hour, tapping the table next to my computer while the alcohol seeped into my brain. Finally, I put down my drink and placed my fingers on the keyboard. In the “About me” section I wrote:

In the past year I have been unexpectedly evicted,  unceremoniously laid off, and dumped in an email from a long-term relationship.  I have no reason to believe that this impressive losing streak is over, but I am pretty sure that everything is going to be OK anyway.