There I was, sitting across from number 16, half hope, half dread.
“Do you ever think about your life as a movie, with you as the main character and all your friends and everyone else as the supporting characters?” he asked.
I was actually just wondering how long he would be a character in my movie. I glanced up to look at his face, but my eyes flickered back to the napkin before our eyes could meet. I fidgeted with the napkin on the table, folding it into a square, then a triangle, then a smaller triangle. I remembered doing the very same thing on our second date, the date that had made me realize he was someon...
Months earlier, I’d created an OkCupid profile to scope out the online dating convenience market. He was listed under my Matches — 92% compatibility, recent LA transplant. His pictures: artsy DJ’ing default shot (he had a passion), friend-group shot (he had friends), solo shots (mediocre), and a selfie with an adorable cat (cute points). He was skinny, average-to-attractive. His profile was too lengthy, but one part caught my attention: “You should message me if: you’ll let me play with your cat (no pun intended).”
“I sometimes think about making an Instagram profile for my cat, Sir Walter Elliot, but that might be a little too much haha,” I messaged him.
“It’s not thaaat weird lol,” he replied.
And then we were on a date, and even reached our second date. We had good chemistry, good conversation. At one point, I made an off-handed, slightly buzzed comment about guys who are jerks, and his thoughtful response took me aback.
“Even the guys who have a sense of entitlement to women have their own issues that make them act like assholes,” he said. “Bullies have their own issues — everyone has their own issues. What matters is what you do with it.”
I was preoccupied wiping the condensation off my beer glass at the time, but I turned to look at him, faintly lit by Brooklyn’s streetlights gleaming through the bar’s window. He was wearing square, black-rimmed Ray-Ban glasses, a raw-denim-looking button down t-shirt that could’ve been at least one size smaller and fit a bit looser than I would’ve preferred on his lean body.
“I mean, I used to see a therapist before,” he continued. “It was helpful, I got to take a look at the issues I didn’t know I had,” he said, and the way he said it was so confident — like it wasn’t a sign of vulnerability but of strength.
In dating, I prided myself on deceiving people, exuding cool shades of independence and romantic indifference, casually skipping from one guy to the next. I believed concealing my genuine feelings and insecurities gave me the upper hand in any relationship, so I was shocked by his emotional transparency. Maybe he hadn’t been dating in NYC long enough for a façade to form. But his openness allowed me to see how constricted my own views were, eyes trained only to shield the inside and see in terms of potential pain that should be avoided. I was appreciative of his sincerity and apparent ease in sharing this with me, rather than playing the usual calculating male counterpart.
I took a swig of my beer and accidentally spilled some down the side of my mug, wetting my hand. I automatically wiped my palm on his thigh instead of my own, saving my skirt from a stain.
“Did you just wipe your beer-hand on my shorts?” he asked, laughing.
“Yeah, that totally just happened, sorry!” I told him. If the third date never came, I would know why.
A couple hours later, I finished my IPA, he his gin and tonic, and we left the bar.
We were walking down the street as I started to run toward the orange-signaled crosswalk. “We can make it!” I said, and when he caught up to me, he grabbed my hand to intertwine his fingers with mine just as we rushed across the street, hand in hand.
“Like how I just held your hand like that?” he said.
When we reached the Franklin Ave. C train entrance, I stood on my toes to hug him. I noticed the way his glasses slightly magnified his right eye, the curve of his nose pointing upward, the gentle smile of his mouth, the dimple adorning his left cheek. This guy was cute. I liked him. It wasn’t his rippling muscles (or lack thereof) or his resemblance to a perfectly male-model-chiseled-face (because he didn’t have that either), it was his humanness and radiant self-awareness that affected me.
I leaned in to touch his lips to mine. Our lips perfectly soft and moist, fitting naturally together as if my upper lip were his and his bottom lip mine. In that moment, I realized how much I had missed an honest connection.
I had tried so hard to bury that longing in my years of meaningless hook-ups. I kept my mental list of 15 guys: sometimes only first names, or names of the bar or city where I met them, in absence of their actual names — because I never knew them. With all the guys I had briefly gone out with, this was the first time in a long time that someone had just held my hand. A plain gesture, but also the first seemingly intimate one that hadn’t been brought on by alcohol, intensified by drugs or finished with me naked, feeling nothing but the disconnected body laying next to mine.
In that simple moment, I realized I missed the feeling of an honest, intimate connection. Despite what my guarded self was avoiding, I just wanted what the Beatles had been singing about for so long — I just wanted to hold his hand.
The third date did come. He asked me out again and again and again, until it was no longer a question of if he would, but a steady knowing. Then came the morning when he texted me, “This is an in-person type of conversation to have.”
And there I was, sitting across from him, feeling the lump of despair lodged in my throat, sensing the end. We sat there, shuffling one theoretical card with the next, until finally he laid his tarot cards down before me: He didn’t see a future with me.
That night, I lay awake in bed, surprised at my powerlessness. Over the next year, my relationship with him turned into exclusive-friends-with-benefits and then into friendship-with-accidental-hookups while I chronically dated other people I met through online dating, until I realized I was neglecting the most important person of them all — me.
I decided to take a break from online dating. I needed to stop trying to distract myself. I realized what was most important was to experience all the inconvenient feelings of confusion, hurt, and disappointment — 16+ layers deep — rather than pushing my emotions aside with each swipe to the right, right, right, until I wasn’t right inside anymore — until I was swiping farther and farther away from myself.