Mid-life singlehood in the post-millennial era is definitely not for the thin of skin or the faint of stomach.
Casual dating is also not for the blindly optimistic. Or maybe even the vaguely optimistic. In fact, if you’re looking to boost your opinion of the human race, or, even more riskily, your opinion of your own worth as a carbon-based life form, I would highly recommend that you consider instead a long-term arrangement with an expanded cable provider, a book group populated by supportive, sexually-neutral contemporaries, or a Hitachi Magic Wand Massager.
And I would definitely, deeeefinitely recommend that you avoid joining any manner of online dating site. Really. Just don’t.
But wait. Before you label me the emotional equivalent of a dehydrated plum, allow me to clarify my worldview. Come on. Take my hand and let’s walk a minute.
I consider myself a guarded optimist as a rule. I think we are all capable of improving ourselves. I fret over my friends’ romantic campaigns when they go poorly, and I celebrate noisily, with plenty of encouragement and booze, when they succeed. I appreciate the place of romantic comedies in the cinematic canon, even if I’d sooner smash a warm, gooey handful of Sourpatch Kids into my eyeballs than shill out $16 to see one. Per my father’s advice, I always buy the insurance, but usually only the cheap-ass, catastrophic kind. And I hope for the best. To wit: I’ve had a swollen lymph node behind my right ear for a month now and I am still reasonably confident that it will simply go away on its own if I ignore it long enough, and maybe catch up on my sleep. See?
Also, most improbably of all at this late hour of my youth, I still believe in true love. Abso-fucking-lutely.
Problem is, my optimism only seems to transmogrify me into a pessimist by the end of most days, because I regularly expect more from others and from myself than is either wise or possible. And definitely more than is usually forthcoming.
And this, in turn, means that anytime you run into me on the street or in a bar, I am internally negotiating a small but prickly glade of vague disappointments – bounced checks, plugged toilets and brake trouble one week, social slights, careless left turns and incorrect change the next.
Notice how I always have my hands in my pockets when I come rambling along? That’s because I’m trying like hell to make it through just one afternoon with unclenched fists.
And if I look a little unsteady on my feet, it’s because that theoretical glade is peppered with a vast cadre of untripped mines. Thus, I must move gingerly to avoid blowing myself and all in my proximity to smithereens. Those ex post facto emotional explosives are a doozy, let me tell you.
Hyperbole aside, I’m sensitive. And in the immortal words of folk-rocker-turned-raver-turned-horse-wrassler Jewel: “I’d like to stay that way.”
I really would. However, my recent rentrée into the world of the Unattached But Looking has me wondering if I might not benefit from a little more psychic armor. Tits of steel, if you will.
Awhile back, I created profiles on a few dating websites.
I took care to represent myself honestly. I posted flattering photos, yes, but also unflattering ones. I trumpeted my accomplishments, but I gunned for approachability.
Think: Over-educated, Underpaid, Cheerfully Humble Creative Type seeks same.
OK, I didn’t actually use that tagline. But something fairly close.
The only dealbreakers I listed? Kids, cigarettes, arrogance, bad listening skills and a lack of educational bona fides.
I thought I was being perfectly fair. I wasn’t reaching. I wasn’t slumming. Just putting myself, or the closest approximation of myself I could conjure up in 1000 words or less, out there for examination. And asking for a chance, a completed undergrad diploma and at least a modicum of emotional-financial-physical-mental togetherness in return.
Or so I thought.
Not long after the profiles went up, I got a note from a 42-year-old guy who called himself “pdxvortex.”
He was not impressed. He wrote:
“Are you serious? You are asking for a menu of educational requirements, do you really think guys like that are on this site, and if they are what makes you think they would respond to something like that?”
Because I’m an editor, my first impulse was to retort with a list of suggested grammatical/syntactical corrections and improvements. But I refrained.
Because I’m a blogger, my second impulse was to egg him on in the hopes of drumming up some new and interesting material to write about. And I did. But first I checked out his profile.
He wasn’t too bad looking: pink and starting to bald, a bit gray about the eyes, with a subtle gin blossom spreading out across the tip of his nose, but not terrible. (See how magnanimous I can be? See also: the picture above. I actually picked the most flattering one he had up. You can’t hardly even see the gin blossom.)
He described himself as “creative,” “artistic” and “open-minded.”
He listed a variety of professions, including computer art (not sure what that means), photography, and the running of a “small web design and marketing company.”
He also boasted of touring Europe with a punk rock band in ’92, when I was 10.
He did not, however, have a completed college degree, which was the likely catalyst for his virtual, spittle-laced harangue.
Fueled by mild affront and the warm, fuzzy feeling of affirmation you get when you realize you’ve been rejected by someone whose company you’d certainly never have solicited, I wrote him back.
“Sorry; I didn’t realize attaining a college degree was so lofty a feat! I have two, so I must be, like, a genius. Cool! Mom always said so, but you know how moms are.
I’m sorry if you are having trouble meeting women, dood, but that’s got nothing to do with me. You might try redirecting your ire at someone who remotely has something to do with it instead of sending angry messages to people you’ve never met.
xoxo, peace on earth, etc.
To my unmitigated glee, he wrote back within a few hours.
“Lotsa luck, hopefully you will find someone just a snooty as yourself and you too can have a miserable life together looking down on the rest of the world. P.s. With an attitude like yours you are more likely to be simply used and tossed aside by doche bags who can see that your quest for a guy with “education” is simply another form of discrimination. So yah once again, we see the reason you have a hard time finding guys in the real world, perhaps you should be less of a self serving snob and less of a bitch.”
I must admit I was taken slightly aback by the harshness of this second e-mail. Was a total stranger really cursing me to a life of misery and rejection? Did he even have that power?
Because I am thorough, I quickly hopped over to urbandictionary.com to look up the term “Doche Bag.” It was, to my eyes, a novel insult, and I wondered how its etymology might differ from its more pedestrian cousin (and a perennial personal favorite diss), “douche bag.”
Turns out that “doche” signifies the “orgasmic awesomeness of any person, place or thing,” according to urbandictionary.com.
So it was just a typo after all. He had inadvertently called me awesome, and my hard-earned command of American street slang was safely intact. This was gratifying, but it wasn’t enough. So back to his page I went for more material.
This time, I scrolled to the little box that asks respondents to list what they are looking for in a date.
Under “You should message me if,” he’d written: “You are not mean and are looking forward to meeting a positive and upbeat person with a healthy outlook on life.
What I am looking for in a woman is an equal partner not someone who will be subservient. I am seeking: friendliness, a positive attitude and intelligence most of all.
I will not put up with abuse, and if you have anger issues directed to men please skip me. If you are bipolar or like to get drunk and get violent please move on. I have had it with that kind of thing.”
After I’d read my fill, I devised a speedy, scathing reply.
“Thanks for the well wishes. I, too, have high hopes for my own prospects. But I think you already knew that.
As per the discrimination accusation: dating is not and has never been an equal-opportunity endeavor. It’s about selecting for the person you think is right for you, not doling out charity or keeping standards as low as possible so as to avoid offending dickbags. Get this now and you’ll save yourself a lot of punk rock-style angst. You’re a bit old for it.
I like the use of the royal “we” in your last sentence, though. Really nice rhetorical flourish. It really made me feel for a moment as if I were standing before a large chorus of angry men. Then I realized it was only you! I’m silly.
Most VERY sincerely,
Mr. Vortex never did write me back. I’d like to think it was because I beat him into semantic submission with my superior linguistic-verbal abilities, but aside from being a Guarded Optimist with Pessimistic Leanings, I am also, in my own peculiar fashion, a Realist. In a strange way, this wasn’t about either of us.
The thing about rejection is it often compels us to reject others in turn. A balancing of the cosmic scales, if you will. It also moves us to heap upon others the very same punishments that we ourselves have unwillingly endured and then protested loudly against. When we are confronted with irrational anger, we rampart ourselves by becoming irrationally angry in return. When we hurt, we hurt.
The repayment for heartache is more heartache, which seems like such a strange and nonsensical kind of calculus.
Why had an aging Punk Rocker chosen me to be the recipient of two decades of frustration and ire? Why had I responded to his attack in such enthusiastic kind? And what did our behavior indicate about who either of us really were, deep down?
Probably, very little.
Dating is bloodsport cloaked as recreation. The lion in a gazelle’s coat. And it just gets nastier as the years – and the notches on your bedpost – tally up.
It’s like, when you become single in your 30s after a few years off the market, you find yourself transported to this huge, clamorous barroom populated with these endless swarms of people who are holding their jackets and tapping their feet impatiently and chewing ice cubes excavated from the bottoms of long-emptied tumblers because they were so ready to leave, like an hour ago, but they can’t, and there are grimy mirrors all over the walls and the stereo is playing bad Lenny Kravitz songs and the air smacks of crap beer and the crap beer smacks of stale nuts and the stale nuts smack of a urinal and the urinals smack of a bigger kind of desperation.
And, every once in awhile, maybe someone casts a desultory glance around the perimeter in the hopes of catching the eye of another poor soul exuding an equally potent cologne of loneliness and indignance, but it almost never happens, and when it does, there’s usually a pending divorce or a mental illness or a crazy ex or a foreclosed home or a latent commitment aversion to jam up the works, so why even bother, right?
They say love conquers all.
I’m thinking maybe they should have dispensed entirely with the last bit and just said instead that love conquers.
Because it really does. It conquers absolutely. It destroys and rearranges and recalibrates with total indiscrimination and complete impunity.
It conquers you with its coming, and then it conquers you with its leaving too. And even in between, when things get quiet and you’re dropping to sleep each night alone, it kicks you around a little, too, just because it can. It tells you you’re being too picky. It reminds you that you woke up this morning another day older, fatter, grayer and closer to oblivion. And don’t forget alone. It points to all those gone-away lovers you bet against, and the ones who bet against you, and gets you asking yourself if some colossal mistake might not have been made somewhere along the way.
But here’s the cool part: if you can learn to take the beating, and if you’re willing to let love defeat you, and I mean really, really defeat you, every once in a very great while, it will take a break from its floggings to kick you something beautiful back.
Every so often, the coordinates will align and the door to that big, noisy barroom opens up, unexpected-like, as if by a gust of wind, and in stumbles somebody entirely singular. And the dim light cuts neat, clean shadows across this person’s face, and the cigarette smoke clears like magic and all the Mr. Vortexes drop away through trapdoors in the floor and your eyes meet and the hope and optimism comes roaring back and suddenly you can’t hardly even feel the blisters on your heels or the hard-knock bruises that line the inside of your ribcage. And your heart beats wild as they get closer, and you don’t even care that once, in some other world, some guy on a dating site called you a snob and a bitch and said you’d end up alone in your dotage, or that some girl got drunk on rum punch and punched you out some sorry Christmas Eve a thousand lifetimes ago.
I believe this. I really do.
So. Yeah. Tits of Steel. I like the sound of that.