My mid-life adventures in the sometimes great, often gross, always weird world of online dating
Nobody sets out to start dating in middle age. And yet that’s exactly where I found myself after my marriage ended in 2014. I had no idea how to find a new partner. I had always met people at parties or at school or through mutual friends. Suddenly I was compelled to enter the circus that was online dating. I admit: I was curious. How did people present themselves on the Internet, and how would I do the same? I wanted a man who knew himself, ideally with kids, who was ready to get serious. I was writing a novel, Strangers With the Same Dream—I wanted someone I could dedicate it to.
My friends told me Tinder was the way to go. I downloaded the app to my phone and began swiping giddily, like a child with a new toy. There were men draped over the hoods of their cars, men flexing their muscles in front of bathroom mirrors, men posing with bulldogs or boa constrictors. Finally, Tinder presented a candidate with a kind smile and a witty description. I swiped right. Stars! Confetti! I felt a rush of endorphins—we were a match. He texted, I wrote back, and then I did what any sane Tinder dater does: I looked him up on Facebook. I barely made a dent in his photo history before my heart sank: there he was on a beach with a beautiful woman, his arm around her shoulders.
“She said yes!” the caption read, followed by a flurry of congratulations. I texted him: “Mazel tov on your engagement!”
“Thanks,” he wrote. “How are you, gorgeous?”
My mouth fell open. I thought of his fiancée, beaming at the idea of her happily-ever-after. I shook with rage and deleted the match. Later, I saw him on another site, using a false name.
I became more cautious, swiping no to nearly every guy who popped up. Still, my inbox overflowed with everything from boring non-starters to overt solicitations by men with boot fetishes who wanted me for my Fluevogs. I was getting discouraged. I turned my focus back to my book, seeking solace in my writing.
The day I finished my draft, my phone kept pinging while I was trying to work. I gave up and looked. It was a photo of something beige and gnarled. Some kind of root vegetable? A yam? Nope: it was a penis. The vegetal erection was followed by snaps of a man’s hairy chest. And the single line: “Suck my balls.” I screamed, then put my head down on my desk and cried. I wasn’t ready to give up and delete the app, but my Tinder activity grew more tedious, more dutiful, like I was swiping the kitchen counter.
I did meet a few nice men, guys who were smart and accomplished. It turned out people in their 40s were more interesting than the ones I’d met in my 20s—the last time I’d dated. Many of us had kids and the accompanying emotional maturity they bring.
One day, a man’s face popped up on my screen. He was handsome, but that wasn’t what made me swipe right. I had learned to value what people wrote more than how they looked. He described himself as happy, funny and fully evolved (or nearly), and I laughed at the sly acknowledgment that as 40-somethings we are better than we once were, but still far from perfect. He texted right away and was funny, as advertised, as well as honest and self-aware. He was a labour lawyer, recently separated, and said he was looking for a real relationship.
I had fallen prey to good texters who turned out to be duds in the flesh, so I was wary, but willing. We decided to meet for dinner at a Middle Eastern restaurant in my neighbourhood. When I arrived he was already there, seated, and I felt a calm happiness spread through my body. I smiled and waved to him across the restaurant like I was greeting an old friend. I don’t remember what we talked about, only that there was an immediate comfort between us. It was February, and at the end of the date we stood outside on the freezing cold street. I had been on lots of first dates and experienced plenty of first kisses, but he was the first person to hug me as well. We stood on the sidewalk with our arms wrapped around each other while the traffic whizzed by.
Things moved quickly after that. We inked in a month’s worth of dates. By the time spring rolled around, we were exclusive. Then came the blissful act of deleting my Tinder account.
The major drawback of Internet dating is that it’s impossible to render the complex truth of a life in a small box on a screen. And yet somehow technology, for all its maddening qualities, had worked its magic, landing me a partner I never would have met in real life.
Despite the logistical challenges of two sets of kids and two busy lives, the chemistry we had between us at the beginning has remained. It still seems strange that we met this way, both of us up late at night, peering into our screens like they were pools of water, as though if we looked deeply enough we might find our futures. I often think about how easy it would have been to swipe the wrong way. I would never have known what I missed. Against all odds, the Internet led me to a person I adore. Strangers With the Same Dream has just been published. It’s dedicated to him.
Alison Pick’s latest novel is Strangers With the Same Dream.
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