The Internet, Dating, and Internet Dating

I never dated much. I married young. I was twenty-two on my wedding day, and my groom had been my first official boyfriend.

In the brief span of time between my eighteenth birthday and my first date with Ian (though I would not have called it brief at the time), I went on three official dates that I can remember. I also frequently kissed boys at parties–boys who never really wanted to date me. For a while, I kissed one boy exclusively–a few months, maybe?–but he kind of sort of had a girlfriend in Ohio. I convinced myself she didn’t exist. I convinced myself I was in love. Then she moved to California to be with him and that was that.

I moved to Washington State with a broken heart. Two people had broken it: I like to think the aforementioned boy made the initial chip, and then my best friend went through a lot of life changes, causing that chip to spiderweb. I went from seeing her every day and constantly talking or texting to being penciled into her schedule once a week.

I shattered.

I didn’t think much of myself. Twenty years old and I knew–I KNEW–I would be alone forever. I felt old beyond my years. I felt ugly and fat and defeated. I’d gained ten pounds in the aftermath of my friendship breakup and though I’d love to be that “heavy” now, I felt like a manatee. My teenage acne just wouldn’t go away. I had terrible teeth. My hair frizzled.

I hated me.

This was the year 2005. Online dating existed, but it was not as widespread or socially acceptable as it is now. Back then, if you did online dating, you were probably a loser.

I created an online dating profile.

Mostly, I scrolled through other people’s profiles. I received a few messages from men in their late twenties; I don’t think I ever responded. I knew my profile picture was too flattering, that I didn’t really look like that, and that the internet was basically a cesspool of sexual predators. We didn’t have apps back then. I don’t think we did, anyway. I had a candy bar phone that couldn’t send text messages without costing both parties a quarter. Nobody knew how to swipe left.

Nowadays, I have friends who found their partners through online dating. Facebook friends post about people they’ve met through Tinder. There are still plenty of sexual predators and plain old jerks out there, but people do meet each other and go on dates and sometimes fall in love. Now, it seems like it’s weird if you’re NOT dating strangers you met on the internet.

This fascinates me.

I met my husband through a friend and only ended up dating him because I was lonely and he was the nicest non-threatening man I’d met at my new university. Also I had a major crush on a boy who was dating a girl with tattoos and piercings and an amazing withering stare. But Ian wasn’t dating anyone. In fact, he’d just broken up.

We had one of those movie romances–in that we initially didn’t like each other. Well, he didn’t like me. He thought I was stupid and too sarcastic. I found him disappointing; I’d had this weird instinct when hearing his ex-girlfriend bash him (before he and I had actually met) that this was the guy I would marry. Then I met him and–meh. Actually, I kind of liked his roommate. Not because his roommate was a nice guy, but because he was cute in an unconventional kind of way. He had this gorgeous port wine stain along one side of his face and neck. Call me crazy, but I’m drawn to that kind of thing.

Anyway.

Our first significant interactions happened on the internet–not through a dating site, but instant messaging. I was alone in my dorm room (I had a single in the age restricted dorm–no annoying freshman or sophomores buzzing around). I was bored. I saw he was online. Emboldened by the lack of eye contact and the late hour, I messaged him. We flirted. This happened again the next night, and the next. He had clearly started to like me, and I was starting to like him.

It was a little while before we had our first date, but I sometimes wonder if it would have happened for us without instant messaging. We’re both introverted and at that point we were both shy, me to the point of bona fide anxiety. I had a social facade that got me through–she was witty, sarcastic, and a little gruff–but she’d been the reason he didn’t like me at first. Plus, I had that crush on the guy in my poetry class (and nonfiction and literature–and we always sat next to each other). In fact, it wasn’t until I asked him, “Can you see me dating an engineer?” (hoping he’d say, No, I can see you dating me–wouldn’t that have been romantic?) that I really decided to date Ian. (This boy looked at me, tilted his head and said, Yeah, I can see it.)

With or without IM, though, we didn’t meet on the internet. I have to wonder how it would have turned out if we had.

Though Ian is a cutie, he is far from my type. I was always most attracted to tall, willowy men–almost feminine, most of them–the type who dyed their hair and wore pea coats and wrote poems. I had this picture of myself in the future, living in a one-room apartment on the beach with a gorgeous artist who stayed home and smoked and painted while I worked two jobs to support us and stayed up late to write my novel. We’d sit on the front stoop and watch the sun set and he’d have great insight on life and I’d love him.

Looking at this fantasy now, I realize that I had some major problems and this would have been a shitty way to live. You know how Bart Simpson is always fantasizing these horrible scenarios about his future, like being a bum or an addict, and when he comes out of the dream he always chuckles and says, “Coooooool”? I think that was me. I guess I saw these things as romantic.

So if I’d been online and seen this clean-cut guy, this engineer with a good job and an interest in video games and the outdoors–this Eagle Scout–would I have swiped left? (Swipe right? Which way means you like them?) Would I have shown the picture to a cute poet guy and said, “Can you see me dating him?” and then taken his advice? Would I have dated lots of tall, willowy guys who screwed me over and then sought out my engineer after years of bitter loneliness, still ending up with him in this alternate reality because we were meant to be?

Probably. But I guess we’ll never know.

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