I had tried everything. I’d had enough, so I decided: This was the last time I’d use the dating site. Oddly enough, I was right.
When people ask me how I met my wife, I want to tell them we were set up by mutual friends. Or we met in a women’s drumming class, and sat next to each other while we learned to keep a beat and discussed the primal power of menstruation and percussion. Maybe we were partnered together during a gay ballroom dancing workshop, and she forgave me for stepping on her toes.
Unfortunately, none of these things are true; the truth is boring and modern and lacking any element of romance.
We met online.
That’s it. That’s the story. We met through a dating site, and I won’t admit which one, because it makes my teeth hurt to give that service any credit for our relationship. It didn’t suggest us to each other; its complicated algorithms didn’t find that we were a good fit; the only thing it did was provide a place where we could set up our profiles and post our unrealistic pictures, and find each other through relentless effort.
I am a hopeless romantic, so I hated that I had to use a dating site. But by the time I turned to online dating, I’d tried so many old-fashioned options that I was out of patience. I was 28, and I was very tired of being the only person I knew who was single; of being the solo sore thumb on double dates, and enduring weddings alone.
Being single wasn’t terrible, of course: I learned how to take care of myself, and even to love my independence, but I also began to ache for human contact; for the deep comfort of someone by my side. Through a combination of loss and illness, and my struggle to embrace my sexuality, I had been single for years. So many years, in fact, that I was afraid that when I did meet someone, I wouldn’t know how to be with her.
I’d tried to meet her, anyway. That gay ballroom dancing class was real, but it was a catastrophe of awkward couples in a musty studio with tired salsa songs. I was the only single person there. I had to dance alone, my hands holding the air in front of me, swaying my hips at the mirror while the couples stepped on each other’s toes.
Switching tactics, I joined a lesbian book group, which was more successful: I had an engaging monthly discussion with some well-read lesbians, none of whom wanted to date me, or me them. In desperation, I dragged my straight friends—whom I cherish, but who have never been helpful in introducing me to other single gay women, because they don’t know any other single gay women—to ladies’ nights at bars. I even considered joining a women’s football league at the urging of some friends, until I remembered that I cannot throw, catch, or kick a ball to save my life.
Finally, I had to acknowledgedefeat: I joined a site, paid for a three-month membership, and started trolling for dates. It didn’t take long to realize that I had entered a weird new world. I would sign in to my account and find excited messages from the site, exhorting me to send an email to a particular woman, because we both liked dogs! We were meant to be together!
These enthusiastic proclamations seemed forced, but as I already knew, my options were thin. I selected a few of the best-looking profiles, composed simple three line emails that took hours of painstaking work to strike just the right tone, and sent them off.
And then the responses came in. And the dates.
There should be a word for the feeling I got on those dates. The feeling of walking into a restaurant, seeing my date for the first time, and understanding in a sickening flash that this was not the woman for me. It’s a gut feeling, as instinctive as it is irrational, and it’s central to the online dating experience. These dates do not come with the luxury of time, of meeting someone as a friend and building an attraction over many months or even years. So when the feeling struck me, it was the death knell of the date.
This feeling happened to me on every single date, and I began to wonder if the problem was mine. Was I unconsciously sabotaging myself so that I wouldn’t have to risk being intimate with anyone? This neurotic train of thought was blessedly interrupted when I went out with my latest “perfect match!!!”—a blonde marine biologist—and didn’t get the feeling. I didn’t get much of any feeling, either positive or negative, and by that point that was enough to convince me to go on a second date, and then a third.
Unfortunately, while the marine biologist was bright and kind, those dates proved that having no feeling was not a good thing. She kissed me at the end of the third date, and I spent the entirety of that kiss thinking about my schedule, and worrying about how I could fit in another date, wondering if I should cancel on my friend Erin and feeling irritated because I wanted to see Erin, and what did I want to buy at the grocery store again?
In despair, I turned to the women the dating site hadn’t recommended, and found myself rejecting one after another. The first was too old, the next had an alarming number of cats, and the last a profile with so many punctuation errors that I lost all patience and shut down my computer.
A friend urged me to give it one more try. “You never know,” she said, and although I was sure I did know, I chose a profile I’d previously dismissed, because it was so brief and sparse that I couldn’t tell anything about the woman who’d written it. Her picture, though, stuck in my memory: her face, small and delicate, turned away from the camera; her dark hair framing her eyes; her gaze distant and thoughtful.
I sent an email to her, and got a brief, sparse reply, to which I responded with a bit more length, hoping to encourage her. She wrote back another short message, and in this meager and unexciting way we decided to meet at a local coffee shop on the coming Saturday.
My walk to meet this woman was not an optimistic one. I trudged along in a gloomy haze, certain that someone who had so little to say about herself would be a terrible conversationalist, and that we’d spend the date in awkward half-silence before I made some apology and slipped out the door. I’d had enough, I decided: This was the last time I’d use the dating site.
Oddly enough, I was right.
She shocked the wits out of me that morning by proving to be smart and adorable, and so chatty that I kept wondering if I could possibly be on the wrong date. Where was the reticent woman who’d written the world’s emptiest profile? One hour turned to two, and only when we both realized we had somewhere to be did we at last stop talking.
At the end of our second date, I kissed her; and in my memory that kiss lasted hours. I floated home, and not once that night did I think about my grocery list.
If you’d told me then that I would end up marrying this small, exquisite woman who I’d met by glorious chance online, I might even have believed you.
Liz Blocker lives and writes in Boston, MA. Her plays have been produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and the HERE Arts Center. She is currently at work on a novel.