By Frances Molina
The names in this article have been changed for obvious reasons. Everything else is 100% true. Hilarious, pathetic, regretful – but true.
It began as a drunken lark. One night during the first semester of freshmen year, after one too many Strawberitas, my friends and I each decided to make profiles on OkCupid. For those daisy-fresh few who don’t know, OkCupid is a dating website, younger and sleazier than eHarmony but downright wholesome in comparison to the popular phone apps like Tinder and Hot or Not. My friends and I filled out the profiles with glib facts about ourselves and put up our best pictures. We watched the number of visitors climb and giggled over the thirsty fools vying for our attention on the internet. And then we lost interest. For a time.
I don’t quite remember when I began to peruse the website seriously. But it probably had something to do with all the hot, older dudes I suddenly had at my fingertips. Fun waiting to be had. And I reasoned maybe, just maybe, I’d meet someone handsome and interesting who liked True Detective as much as I did and who immediately swiped right when he stumbled upon my profile.
Needless to say, I had one foot in the rabbit hole and that was enough to send me over the edge.
I learned quickly. Everybody knows that if you stare into the vast abyss of the Internet, it does more than stare back. Especially if you’re a pretty girl. In the beginning, talking to strangers online put a sort of fluttery nervous feeling in my stomach. I couldn’t help but think of all those high school gymnasium lectures about internet safety, about predators and stalkers and sexual deviants. But that danger didn’t seem very real. Sure, there were creeps. Boys who sent me messages describing what they would do to my lips. Boys who pestered me to meet them in real life. There was even one guy who offered to set me up in my own house if I would agree to be his army wife. Most of the messages were nothing I hadn’t heard before, called out to me from passing cars and spat at me on the bus. It was easy to filter them out of my inbox.
I rarely replied to boys who messaged me first, preferring to pick and choose at my own discretion. I had a loose idea of what I was looking for and for the most part, it was a passive pursuit. During my excursion into the realm of internet dating, I met up with a total of seven different men. My experiences were, in a word, educational.
There was Tom, fourteen years my senior, who fell for me with a swiftness that startled me. But he was tall and built like a fridge and wore a lot of denim, so I figured “hell yeah.”He was sweet and charming and employed, a quality which I have come to acknowledge with reverence and awe. However, when he started to make a regular thing of calling me, drunk and horny, in the wee hours of the morning, I decided to call it quits. He was upset. So upset that he didn’t dead the issue for months, sending countless apology texts and pestering me online even after I made a new profile. It was never a cause for real concern. But that sort of attention would make anyone a little nervous.
Then there was Dick. Dick wasn’t that much older than me but he had the disposition of a fifty year old war-weary ship captain. I didn’t think it was possible to find someone grouchier than my old man, but Dick was the real thing. I fell fast. I went home with him and a six-pack of Shiner Bock the first night I met him, compelled and unafraid. And even for his bitterness, his slow patronizing smiles and pretentious attitude, he made me feel immaculate and encouraged me to believe that I was perfect. I knew him for five days. And then, for reasons I don’t care to disclose, we went our separate ways. I was dazed and wounded for weeks after.
Then there were the Harrys, the duds, the unspecified scrubs – mediocre, slightly painful, and yet not quite forgettable, like my middle school career. When I let my mind linger too long on any particular one, I actually shudder. But they serve as reminders, naïve mistakes I don’t care to repeat. I learned how to spot red flags, how to identify a clingy man-child from only a brief conversation. How to block phone numbers when it became necessary, how to disappear on Facebook, and how to firmly tell a stranger “no” like I didn’t give a damn, like I wasn’t fearing for my life. And I learned it all the hard way. It was certainly a trial by fire but I danced my way up to the pyre every time, eager to forget the last loser for the next one.
Online dating quickly became something dark for me. An impulse, an itch I was constantly scratching. After a while, I was mindlessly messaging boys, making connections and promises I would never consider keeping. Every few weeks it was a new guy. My friends applauded my flirtatiousness and my seemingly edgy lifestyle. And although their praise bolstered my ego, I felt superficial and out of control. It was no longer about finding someone worthwhile. It wasn’t about the excitement of dating. It wasn’t even about sex. It was about me. It was about pacifying some dangerous urge for action and attention. It took me months to reconcile the fact that I didn’t actually want to date anybody. So I decided to take an indefinite break. I disengaged. I disabled my profile. And I haven’t gone back.
As I said, my experience was educational. But I feel the most important lessons I learned were about myself. What I want, what I don’t want, what I’m ready for. This experience taught me how to pump the brakes and how to say “no” to myself for a change. If not for my own sake, then for the sake of unsuspecting, hopeful strangers who may or may not deserve to become the collateral damage of my unhinged journey to self-discovery.
It’s been about one year since I first created my online dating profile and two months since I disabled my account. I am still single and by no means bothered by the fact. However, I’m challenging myself to make real life connections. The internet makes it so easy. Swipe right, thumbs up, five stars. Talking online, even when they can see my face, provides comfortable distance. The space between two people can be easily cluttered with technology and subtext and empty intonation. So I’m stepping up my game. Smiling at strangers when they catch my eye, being ready with a witty comment or a sharp joke. I’ve decided to put my best foot forward, wiser and far more particular, but nonetheless hopeful.
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