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I am new to the dating scene. I haven’t been here since 2009, and let’s be honest, I didn’t really date then either. I’ve been in a monogamous relationship from then until now, and the whole premise of dating has changed since I was looking last. Everything seems to have moved to dating apps. There’s always a new one, and my social media ads are flooded with promises to find me “The One” or at least someone to keep me entertained. It’s a strange world, and I’m not sure what to do with it other than dive right in, with my friends scanning the waters for sharks.
This whole online dating thing feels like a video game. If you hop on Bumble (which I have) or Tinder (which I haven’t) you have a seemingly endless number of guys at your literal fingertips who you judge based almost solely on their first picture. If that first picture doesn’t immediately turn you off, maybe you look through the others and see if they wrote anything interesting in their bio. “Something interesting” means they have the same generic list of enjoyed activities that I do. I like reading, music, dancing, and watching reruns of The Office at all times. These are pretty low bars for connecting with someone, so really it’s just a constant influx of “Hot or Not.” And even weirder is knowing that presumably all these men are out there playing the same game with my pictures.
It has happened a few times now that I “match.” Someone played the game and agreed that I have similar interests to them and I passed the “Hot or Not” test. Then we get to play the game of “how do you talk to a stranger on the internet.” I hate this game. With a passion. I struggle. Mightily. Not being able to read facial cues, see if they laughed or not, not being able to present my own social cues with expression, intonation, inflection, makes communicating very difficult for me until I actually know someone. I’m highly sarcastic but rarely feel like that translates well in text. I dislike using emojis with people I don’t know, as they can come off pretty childish, and I judge men who use those as their primary form of communication. But despite all these lacking levels of communication, maybe half of the men who swipe right ask for a date. Which brings the next level of weirdness to the situation as a woman.
I am a hyper vigilant, small-ish framed, 5’8” woman. I have no doubt in my mind that if someone wants to, they can easily overpower me. Which means that actually meeting these strangers from the internet whom I have judged via pictures comes with a certain amount of anxiety about my own personal safety. My friends and I came up with some ground rules as I started this, to make sure I was as safe as possible.
-I always meet in a very public place.
-I do not tell anyone where I live or work.
-I do not tell them my last name. I made this mistake once and instantly regretted it. He did not take the rejection well and edged towards stalking.
-I let my friends know if I am going on a date, and
-If it’s late at night or nearing dark hours I let them know his name and send a photo. Just in case someone needs it to investigate my disappearance.
Again, I’ve always been hyper-vigilant. I’m very aware of the dangers of being female at night, and always have been. Most of these are common sense to women. Many of these things are just how I have always lived, but with the added danger of meeting strangers and living alone, I’m even more cautious about them. I strongly suspect that none of these issues cross men’s minds, unless they are one of the conscientious men who look at those things for the woman they want to date. Again, not for their own safety.
Despite all this weirdness, I have managed to meet a few guys. So far the dating experience itself has been interesting.
My first date who got a repeat was Monday Guy. Monday Guy was thus dubbed because he would consistently ask for a date on Mondays (creative, I know). Monday Guy was wildly attractive, very in shape, intelligent, and held a conversation well for a first date. I thought he would be fun, until our second date. At this point, he waxed poetic about the joys of being able to hunt and kill things, hit other men, and just generally know that he could handle himself in an attack situation due to his Jiu Jitsu training. This is all fine and dandy, but became an issue on the walk back to his car. He went out of his way to swagger through a group of motorcyclists standing outside, and I cannot emphasize the word “swagger” enough here. He intentionally went out of his way to walk directly through the middle of their group. Even better was that it was the wrong street, and his car was not actually parked there.
Needless to say, that was our last date, but not because I didn’t try for another. No, at this point, I was still putting up with what I thought might be the expected level of asshole in a cute guy. We all have faults, and I assumed machismo was his. I asked to hang out again, he gave me a maybe, then ghosted. I was upset at first, as this was the first guy I had dated and thus the first guy to reject me. After a few days, I recognized how toxic his attitude was, noticed more of the things he had said that were deeply problematic, and felt much better about no longer being in contact. I learned not to put up with assholes.
Next was Tractor Guy. We had some great dates that always involved live music. He was fun, kind, and great to talk to. He was also overly attached and emotionally messy very quickly. After two dates, he started waxing poetic with actual poetry, which was incredibly uncomfortable for me. He wanted to lend me books and borrow books from me. He sent me a collection of recipes with the “healing spiritual properties” of various fruits and vegetables (as in “figs will open your heart and heal emotional wounds” type properties). He’s clearly a really sweet guy, but was ready to jump right into a full fledged relationship after a couple dates, which was not what I was looking for. After the recipe incident, I sent him the classic “I appreciate your time but I think we’re looking for different things” text (which I first drafted with my friends to be sure I wasn’t being insensitive). He wished me well and we moved on with our lives.
Move on to Aladdin, thus named because looking like Aladdin was all he had going for him. Younger than me but not by much, his profile made him look well traveled and well educated with a master’s degree. All true, but he neglected to say that he lives with his parents “except on the weekends.” I cannot tell you how confused I am by that statement. Where does he live on the weekends? I did not ask. He walked me to my car, tried to put his hand up my dress while kissing me. When I stopped him he cracked a joke about me being a prude. I told him to walk away and did not talk to him again. Disturbing as that experience was, it’s something most women can relate to. Somehow this stranger that I had met two hours before thought he was entitled to my body and had the right to cut me down for having boundaries.
The next date had the same problem, with 6’8” Professor. Again, touted himself as an intellect, well educated, nice guy. We met for a date in the middle of the day, kissed at some point, and he slid his hand onto my ass in broad daylight in the middle of a bookstore. I moved his hand. Later he did it a second time. I moved his hand and told him I wasn’t comfortable with that level of PDA. On our goodbye, he did it a third time and laughed. Clearly my boundaries were a joke, and something that he didn’t have to respect. I am grateful this date was in a highly populated, well lit area. I am grateful I didn’t give him a second chance. My “No” was clearly heard and just as clearly ignored by someone a full foot taller than myself. I did not feel safe.
Farmboy was a beautiful air force guy who seemed incredibly nervous on our first date, which was flattering. He didn’t try to kiss me, which made me feel like my boundaries were being respected. He got a second date, and I realized that what I had mistaken for nervousness was actually just his personality, which was disturbingly reminiscent of my ex. He continuously guided the conversation to point out how good he was at certain things. We went to a bar with very niche decor, somewhat horror story-esque (think Poe more than slasher), and sat in what can only be described as thrones. He talked about how much he loved the bar, how great he thought everything in there was, from the black ceilings, walls, floors, drapery, and candles to the taxidermied animals. I politely nodded along but had very different opinions, which when he asked about, he then proceeded to negate and tell me why I was wrong with that opinion. He attempted to manipulate my emotions and actions multiple times throughout our date. I ended it after recognizing why this pattern felt so familiar, and told him we would not be seeing each other again. At this point, I was feeling pretty confident in my ability to read people as well as my ability to turn someone down without being mean.
My most recent experience was the strangest and most worrisome. I’ll call him Angry Guy. We got drinks and talked for about three hours, during which time I enjoyed the conversation but noticed some red flags and did not feel any real attraction to him. However, he seemed like a nice guy, so I gave him my number and told him he could see me again. That night turned into a lot of texting from him, and I started to second guess my decision. He seemed to be getting very attached and somewhat territorial after one date. He asked for two more dates within the week, and when I said I was busy he cracked jokes about my popularity on Bumble and how I should try not to let anyone else impress me before our next date. He assumed I was going on other dates, but was already setting a precedent that I shouldn’t. Things he had told me on our date came back that I had somehow overlooked at the time. For instance, thinking it’s appropriate to tell me on a first date about how his ex called the cops on him because he was burning pictures of them in a barbecue while drunk is definitely a reason to get out of there fast. But I laughed it off and chalked it up to crazy exes even though HE WAS BURNING THINGS WHILE DRUNK AND SHE CALLED THE COPS.
I never said I was smart.
After I reevaluated spending more time with this guy, I sent another “Hey, I appreciate your time, but I’m actually not feeling it” text and expected a similar response to my previous rejections. What I got instead was hours of progressively angrier and more accusatory texts that continued sporadically from 8 pm to 6 am. His first text was reasonable and asked for clarification about what had changed my mind so suddenly, which I replied to. The following texts declared me cold, heartless, confused, told me what a missed opportunity this was and I would end up regretting my choice, that we should still be friends, etc. When I didn’t respond to any of his texts, he sent a similar message on instagram because surely the issue was that I just wasn’t seeing his texts. He told me I had misinterpreted his interest, that he wasn’t actually as interested as he seemed and we should go on another date. This is strange logic. He told me he was out drinking with a buddy and that’s why he sent so many texts. When I woke up to another text the next morning stating that I was cold and cruel, I blocked him on every platform I have. Lesson learned about not paying attention to very obvious red flags.
Gentlemen, these are not acceptable behaviors. Why anyone thinks that guilting someone into a second date (or third, or twentieth) is a good idea, I will never understand. The appropriate response to “I’m just not feeling it” is to say ok and move on. It’s not up for discussion. It’s not a debate. I do not know you, I owe you nothing, and I have no interest in keeping you in my life. Drop it.
Online dating is strange, but I’m learning. I’m strangely growing more confident through it all. I’ve discovered that I am decent at reading people, and I have learned to trust my instincts. If something feels off to me, it usually actually is. I’m learning to pay attention to how people treat me and have it mean something. I’m learning how to give and accept rejection gracefully, and experiencing firsthand people who haven’t yet. I’m learning to spend time with myself, and feel strong in my independence. Yes, dating is fun, but it’s not the be-all end-all that it’s often made out to be. I’m glad I can say I tried dating apps, but I’m happy to give them a break. I’m logging off for now.