My first foray into online dating was on a website called Nerve. I refused to even entertain the idea of Match, because hello I was not a 50 year old nerd. A friend of mine had tried Yahoo’s dating arm, and like, are you kidding? Yahoo? That was just asking to get chloroformed. I had heard about Nerve from a friend in one of my grad school classes. I was HIGHLY suspect of online dating because when she first told me about Nerve, it was like 2005 and just no. But, Grad School Friend had killer bangs and awesome shoes, so I trusted her. She assured me online dating was not scary (it was) and that it was fun (it wasn’t). I dabbled apathetically in the mid-2000s, but didn’t really commit to online dating until I moved back to the US in 2009.
Online dating was not A Thing when I lived in Ireland, and I really had no overwhelming interest to date while I lived there anyway. Yes, duh, had a strapping rugby player Beckett scholar with an incomprehensible brogue chatted me up I would have immediately become an ex-pat. But, dating, as Sport, wasn’t really on my radar at that time. For me, dating was still very much random, haphazard and based upon meeting people in bars and class or willing the dreamy guy in the coffee shop to come over and ask what killer song I was listening to as I drafted my stunning paper on Anglo Irish Ascendancy. Sure.
Sometime in the fall of 2010 I decided I was over The Lawyer (good riddance) and Ready to go ahead do it: Get Out There. So I signed up for Nerve and filled out my
probaby trying too hard to be way too cool and drop obscure music and literary references (N.b.: I for sure dropped Animal Collective in there, like, okkk Erin reeelax) devastatingly charming profile and began winking my relationship-hungry little heart out. The wariness and embarrassment I harbored toward online dating was somewhat assuaged because Nerve was, according to moi, Edgy. They wrote about sex and relationships and all sorts of hipstery Brooklyny things. My bangs and penchant for obnoxious allusions were all set to wiggle their way into the hearts of tattooed boys with skinny jeans and shitty Bushwick walk-ups.
No matter the vehicle and no matter the year, online dating is a lot like throwing spaghetti at a wall: it all feels very random and you are, more often than not, left in a daze wondering, “Wait, why am I doing this? This is stupid. I’m going to stop doing this. Ok. Fine. One more. Gawd, this is stupid right. Oh. But wait. That one almost stuck. Ok. After this next one. Then I’ll stop.” And then you don’t stop because you’re just so very sure that the next wink, the next email, the next abs-for-days selfie, that one that’s gonna be the one that sticks. And who can blame you? It’s only love and companionship and your heart on the line. NBD whateverrrssss.
Wading through a sea of dudes, it becomes easy to gaslight yourself. People you’d never consider in a million years become possibilities because of a stylized black and white photo or a bio that describes the perfect day as just “listening to Tom Waits and wandering around looking for Old New York, then maybe popping into a record shop and finding some vintage vinyl to listen to later as we drink two buck chuck out of chipped coffee mugs trading Foucault quotes kill me now.” (We went on a couple dates. It’s fine. Ugh.) Anyway, being spoiled for choice leads to some out-of-character winking. The sober vegan photographer might be like a good influence or something and think of how much weight I’d lose and we could be super intellectual together over our macrobiotic tea and he won’t be at all pedantic, condescending and humorless right? The hot I-banker with the NSFW towel selfie and aversion to ‘fatties’ is like totally just keeping his standards high? Right? Somewhere underneath all that Brooks Brothers, coke dust and self-loathing there’s
Patrick Bateman an altruistic heart of gold? I’m like totally sure of it.
And while there were so many (like just so many) obvious red (neon, flashing with glitter) flags in so many of the profiles, it was all too easy to get wrapped up in the What Ifs and Well Maybes and try on different futures for my single self. Being professionally lost and unfulfilled, having just quit a PhD and feeling like a failure, being broke and wanting MORE… well, it was easy to stumble blissfully into the morass. It was all one big Well Why The Fuck Not. Plus, it becomes its own vice. The dopamine hit of someone winking back. The thrill of logging in to see a message reply from the latest Possibility. It’s a weird land of mostly make-believe, because, as if the carefully curated profile isn’t enough to contend with, there’s The Banter.
Early online dating was a minefield of meticulously crafted witticisms and quips painfully tailored to invoke each other’s carefully curated biographical blurbs as if to say, See, I’m paying attention. For funny, smart, women, The Banter was (and still is) Heroin. Because all of us were a little iffy on the whole meeting strangers on the internet thing, The Banter could go on for weeks. WEEKS. And, if it was good immediately start smiling when you see their name in the inbox banter, well forget it. Hours of your day were lost to drafting replies and rereading responses in an attempt to glean every last morsel of connection and hilarity and devastating urbanity. Listen to this prog rock playlist you sent me, over and over on my commute, so I can slip in some little known fact about Spacehog on our first date? Will do! Scour every inch of the newspaper so I have a supes timely and searing insight to throw into the mix? On it! Good thing I was only an adjunct professor at the time. I’d never been able to hold down a full time job with all the
research flirting I had to do.
Banter was the way we began to feel safe. It was absolutely a false sense of security, a false sense of intimacy and, more often than not, a warning flare of what would become anxious attachment, but The Banter made online dating feel less sterile, less desperate and more like you were meeting people instead of potential psychopaths. So, when The Hair messaged me with the very simple (and elegant, yet slightly unctuous), “Forgive me for being so forward, but I’d like to meet you. Have a drink with me?” my first thought was: “This guy is 100% a murdering sociopath.” There was an audible record scratch in my brain. NO BANTER?! What kind of lunatic was this?? At that time, this just wasn’t done. Sorry, wait, forgive me. It was done.
By murdering sociopaths.
And sex weirdos.
However, after much crowdsourcing (screenshotting his profile, his message, Googling for his dental records and pre-school diploma and sending to approximately 5-10 friends), I decided to reply with nary a banter in sight and say: Yes. Although, I’m sure it was something attempting to match his ingratiating tone. So, I decided to reply with
a smidge of nary a banter in sight and say: Well, that does sound quite lovely. Have you a day in mind Hup, hup, raather raaather cheerio my fine fellow. Or something toats chill like that. Much to my horror The Hair responded like right away and suggested: How about tonight?
Pretty sure I turned my phone off and hid it under the couch cushion.
If I had been talked off the ledge of thinking he was going to dismember me and dump my body in the East River (N.b.: single women who live alone should never ever EVER watch Law & Order SVU.), then the prospect of not having AT LEAST 24 hours to agonize, do more Googling and also try to bully this sociopath into *some* banter, put me right back out on the ledge with one foot dangling.
Finally someone convinced me to say yes because they
were tired of draining their phone battery replying to me knew it would be fine and some spontaneity would do me good. So, I found myself agreeing to meet up with him in a few short hours, sending my customary “This is where I’ll be, this is his name and phone number and shoe size” texts in case I did in fact get kidnapped, and traipsing off into Manhattan.
At this time I was living in a delightful little studio in the still old-school Italian, not yet uber hipsterfied corner of Williamsburg. The BQE was so close to my window that there were nights when the air brakes from 18-wheelers would have me sitting straight up in bed, heart racing, only to have to remind myself that a Mac truck was not, in fact, barreling through my wall. I could barely afford it on my adjunct salary, but it was my first real apartment on my own and I never saw a roach or a mouse there, so basically it was paradise.
It was New Year’s Eve Eve. The Hair suggested we meet at Lillie’s in Union Square. I agreed but wondered if it wouldn’t be too boisterous for a first date. It was. An ornate Victorian bar, with elements sourced from Belfast churches, Lillie’s is a beautiful spot, but when I arrived there wasn’t a seat to be had. It was wall to wall with revelers in the full swing of the Bermuda Triangle of indulgence and sloth that is the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. First dates are awkward enough without having to shout, or issue I’msorrywhat’s over and over. I stood there, nerves mounting, wondering what I should do when he walked right up to me, ran his hands through his hair and said, “Well, this won’t do.”
I’ve always known, before any of the dates even opened their mouths to utter Hello, if This One could possibly be a fit, or at least a reoccurrence. Romance, infatuation at first sight, these things are not written in the stars, they are written in stature, in sartorial nods, in chivalric gestures, in bald looks in the eyes. They are written in our primal, gut reaction to the other’s all of a sudden presence standing in front of us in a crowded bar.
My eventual relationship with The Hair was far FAR from perfect, but in that first moment, as the cold rolled off his winter coat when he leaned in for a half hug and kissed me on the cheek, I felt instantly comfortable, instantly safe. I knew the New Year would have his mark on it. And, that he probably PROBABLY wasn’t going to murder me.