The last time I went on a date as a single man my companion and I exchanged pager numbers. Once smitten, I called her dorm room and recited a poem I wrote for her on her answering machine. This was only after purchasing a long distance calling card. Roughly eighteen years and one child later I find myself again single and to be frank, I’m too old for this shit. As I return to the world of singledom, I am greeted by a landscape that consists of microwave relationships forged on smartphones and a hookup culture that occurs with the flick of the wrist. It’s a landscape that, despite the woes of my single friends I thought I could navigate and maybe even enjoy. What I found instead was the confirmation of my loneliness.
While dating services have existed since the inception of dating itself, the smartphone-driven version I and millions of others find themselves immersed in today is, relatively speaking, extremely young. Like any other young digital platform, it still feels steeped in its wild west phase (think of what social media was a decade ago versus what it is now). When Tinder first launched in 2012, I was fully entrenched in husbandhood, but even then I remember thinking “Wow, cute girls and the potential for nearly instant sexual encounters that won’t end up with me in the back of a patrol car? That sounds amazing!” Because, after all, the proverbial grass is always greener.
Now as a single man in 2016 I’m faced with two facts that I conveniently ignored in back then. First, blind hookups freak me out. While push-button sex would alleviate a lot of (ahem) frustration, there is a Russian roulette quality to hook up culture I, as of yet, have not been able to get out of my head as random diseases and baby mama’s freak me out equally. The closest thing I have had to a hookup happened at a conference last year, and even then I ended up developing a friendship with the woman with whom I slept, which leads me to the second fact. I am a serial monogamist.
Over the last twenty years (I’m 38 now) I have had three girlfriends and have been single all of five weeks not counting my day’s post marriage. My father taught me as a young man to never quit a job until you had a new one. I unwittingly carried that advice over into my relationships. If a relationship of mine ended, it was a sure bet that it was because I met someone I found more compatible. To put it simply I’m not built to be alone. There is a grounding that comes with even the simplest of romantic entanglements that I have always found quite comforting. I’m sure that there are a variety of reasons for this that could be easily discovered with some therapy.
Ask anyone who has ever ended a particularly long relationship and they’ll tell you, regardless of how amicable the break up is, you come out at the end with scars. Deep ones. After nearly a year of us trying to save our marriage, trying to prove how much I loved my ex and how much I was worth loving in return, the final decision to call it quits had and has left me feeling empty. The routine of loving someone for sixteen years was suddenly gone and along with it the validation that comes from having someone dedicate their lives to you and vice versa. The simplest analogy I can come up with is that of the retired football player who had a passion and a routine that they have known their entire lives come to a sudden end. What do they do with that time and energy? What happens to their identity? He was once a professional athlete. I was once an, admittedly flawed, but loving husband. That is until I wasn’t. The serial monogamist was suddenly single, alone with his flaws, his insecurities, and a handful of apps.
Following the break up most of my friends and family suggested that I do not think about dating right away, that I needed time to focus on myself. In hindsight, they were probably right. I was and still am processing my feelings about my marriage. I was mostly underemployed as I was grabbing whatever freelance work available while trying to find a regular job that paid anything worth walking out the door for, and I still had a son who needed daddy’s attention. I should not have gotten caught up in dating or much anything else for that matter, but loneliness and technology prevailed.
Tinder, OKCupid, Plenty of Fish, Badoo, and some others I can no longer remember became a daily pass time. Flick left, flick right, flick left, flick right, hope for a match, hope for a message, hope I was cute enough, hope I was witty enough, go to bed alone and a little sadder.
There were so many things about digital dating I was unaware of, so many things I never had to consider in real life a decade and a half ago. Things like the sexual economy (the average woman is under a constant barrage of sexual advances, both in real life and online, the results being the devaluing of men due to an oversaturated market. In short, vagina is a blue chip, penis is a penny stock), hardline dating preferences including race, sexual preference, body type, and economic stability make meeting someone interesting and attractive laborious, to say the least. And for every “no thank you” and unrequited swipe the bruise on my ego and self-esteem grew bigger and darker.
I’m sure to some who are reading this I come off as some romantic curmudgeon. I’m the guy who is salty because he can’t get laid and blames the world for his unfulfilled desires. I very well may be feeding my self-delusion, but I prefer to think of myself as an analog lost a futuristic version of what I once knew as romance. A future where even the simplest relationships have melted to their most base form as the world becomes ever more streamlined and fast-paced. A future where the complexity of the friendship in friends with benefits evaporated and became Netflix and chill.
It would be a lie to say that I haven’t met a couple interesting and attractive women. I have. It would be a lie to say that I’m looking for a soulmate. I’m not. Not at this moment at least. I do want to connect. I want to feel an excitement for my presence. I want to feel the hurried anticipation of someone’s arrival. I want to miss and be missed. I want sweetness. And yes, someday I want to love again.
The worst part is negotiating these desires with the reality that technology has, in many ways, offered up seclusion dressed as access as personal stats stand as gatekeepers to authentic interaction. It’s a high wire act I find myself still having to learn. It’s at times frustrating, and on rare occasions entertaining. I’m hoping that eventually, it might be fulfilling. Until then I’ll swipe and chat and flirt and hope someday soon someone finds me as charming in real life as I try to be on Kik (GuyWhoWritesStuff). Meanwhile, I’ll be learning how to be comfortable on my own and fall back in love with me.
Wish me luck.