Recently, I received a message from a guy on an online dating site. It was just a number, 6.5, and nothing else. Not even a hello. I didn’t get what it meant, so I looked at his profile for a clue.
It was then that I understood. He was rating me.
I started online dating last December. I’d been single for almost four years, but had only been on a few dates. My friends were starting to worry about me. I guess the pleasure they once found in my awkwardness around men was turning to panic. They urged me to try dating online as a way to get out of my comfort zone. I protested, and explained, probably in whining tones, that I like my comfort zone, and that it smells like cookies, and that no one ever wants to see me naked there. They rolled their eyes at this, and helped sign me up for Tinder and OkCupid.
It was terrifying at first. It felt so inorganic. But the last time I was single and dating was over a decade ago. I was in my late twenties, and cuter. My badly broken heart wasn’t holding me back. There seemed to be more single men to choose from. It was less complicated back then, and much easier to meet people.
Online dating was also daunting to me because I have always been shy and awkward around total strangers. I’m incapable of small talk. Not to mention I have no idea how to flirt, and, in turn, have no idea when someone is flirting with me. So having dinner with someone I’ve never met, where there is an expectation of something romantic is not my best look.
At first, simply getting a message from a “match” was enough to make my palms sweat. The first time a guy asked for a date? I ignored him for three days. Trying to return a message would leave me twisting in my chair, and asking my girlfriends to help me come up with witty responses. This was a great source of entertainment (and relief) for them.
After a couple months I got the hang of it. I came up with my own witty responses. I even got brave enough to call men out when they were lame, or weird or inappropriate.
Sometimes that was a boatload of fun (Darin, for example), other times it was horrible. I learned that the normal rules of etiquette do not apply in the virtual dating world – for instance, it is standard operating procedure for messages to be ignored. I didn’t get this at first, but now I do. It is the gentlest, and easiest way possible to show that you are not interested.
Once I mastered some good practices, I got more comfortable. By nature, I am curious and open-minded, and it turned out that these traits helped keep me motivated and willing to engage. But these traits worked to my disadvantage as well, leading me to message much longer with people I knew would never be a match. But I was too fascinated sometimes to stop, and excited about my new found confidence with this format.
I quickly realized just how naive I was. Kinks, and fetishes, and open marriages, oh my. Did you know there are men who get off on having their small penises made fun of? I didn’t either, but spent a couple weeks chatting with one. I got quite proficient in making small dick jokes, though we also talked about real things. He was sweet, self-aware, and sex-positive, but I was too scared to meet him in person.
And speaking of sex-positive, I wasn’t even aware this was a social movement until someone used the term in a message. I’d like to think it’s because I never needed to put a name to my personal evolution from a repressed Catholic girl to a sexually healthy forty year old woman. But as open minded as I think I am, I’m embarrassed to admit that I thought that people had fetishes because they were damaged in some way. I learned otherwise, after asking a lot of questions of the men who were willing to share their experiences. They were eager to explain to a listener who wasn’t judging, and I’m guessing that’s because they’ve been misunderstood and shamed all too often.
I’m less judgmental of the open-marriage thing also. I don’t have much to report on it, other than I don’t recommend dating a guy who is married if you are single. It’s tough on the ego, even if the sex is good and they are respectful and cautious. Do yourself a favor and save that experience for when you are both in open marriages. I will say that I understand the model now a little better, and judge away, but it’s more common and not as weird as you might think. I’m not saying it’s superior to traditional, monogamous marriages. But I don’t think it’s worse.
I did manage to date a few unmarried men without fetishes. But it didn’t pan out so well with them either. One of them gave me a three month long, real life demonstration of what approach-avoidance behavior looks like. Approach (text a lot), Avoid (don’t text for a week). Repeat. I let the cycle happen a few times, but had enough on the third go-round. Also, I was fairly certain he gave me an STD. When a good friend pointed out that his name rhymed with “STD Nightmare”, I laughed so hard that I wanted to kiss her on the lips. But I waited until all the tests came back negative before doing so.
Another guy showed me that men, as well as women, can be Class Five Clingers. He seemed sweet and passionate, and really into me, which felt great. But he wanted to fix things around the house after two dates. Then, when we were in bed one night he asked me to kiss him like it was our wedding night. I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in. I don’t know what it means, but it doesn’t matter, because he ended up being mean to me. I was stunned by his cruelty, but it barely penetrated. I’d only ever been with kind, level headed, good men. This particular experience was, at the very least, a reminder of my good fortune in this area of my life.
My response. I know. Not my proudest moment.
I don’t know why 6.5/Douchelord guy got to me so much, but I shut down the online dating accounts, and washed my hands of the whole thing. Being rated, even by an anonymous douchelord, put me over the edge. I’d known for a while that trying to date this way wasn’t for me.
I know this brand of cruelty happens in the real world too, – but online, it happens constantly. And I just don’t need to be tested that much. I’ll keep my thin skin, thank you.
There is good news though. I did have a lovely, proper, normal date recently. It restored some hope, even if it didn’t turn into anything.
And I did learn a lot about myself these past ten months. I gained some much needed confidence back. I learned that I have a sturdy backbone, and a healthy sense of self worth. Most importantly, I realized that I am ready to let someone into my heart again.
Which I now see was the point my girlfriends were trying to get me to. And I love them dearly for this.
More Food, Less Pain,