I’ve never been good at sexy talk. First of all, the phrase is awful: "sexy talk." It’s like "dental dam": words that make me hope my vagina freezes over till I’m 80. Nor can I see myself rocking someone’s world with our modern-day equivalent, the online-dating sext. Something gets lost in that exchange, or maybe it was never there to begin with. Like conjuring up Kelly Le Brock in "Weird Science" with a few commands on your 1983 desktop computer, today you can wish something — or someone — into being with a few swipes and taps. I’m not opposed to anonymity, but I want to know that's not an ex-con with a diaper genie fetish on the other end of the line, texting me from his mom’s basement.
I’ve been burned before.
Two years ago, I received a message on OK Cupid from a gorgeous portfolio manager in his 30s named Simon. His message was short and to the point: “You are stunning. I would let you do unspeakable things on my face. I’m sorry fo...
Usually I’d do what everyone else does with a message like that — forward it to my friends, have a laugh, then delete it forever. Isn’t it funny, though, that sometimes the only difference between a sleazy proposition and an appealing offer is how attractive the sender is?
In his photos, Simon looked nothing like the boorish undergrad finance majors I met in college, the Gordon Gekko preemies of the universe pushing their business cards at each other in the hallway. He was more like the movie star version of a businessman — like Jamie Dornan’s character in "Fifty Shades of Grey," dressed in a tailored suit, with a chiseled body he worked on whenever he wasn’t out conquering the world or gnawing on a raw steak. In his main profile photo, Simon, wearing a dark suit and tie, stared sullenly into the camera. I marveled at his ability to look so alluring and aloof, both hot and so cold at the same time. His other photos showed his casual side — laughing in a baseball hat, looking up from the couch with his dog, bowling with his sisters.
I was skeptical of Simon, but intrigued. I texted him back. “This can’t be your real photo because that would make you stupidly good looking.”
“The same could be said about you,” he replied.
Just like that, all was forgotten. My ego owns me.
A week later, "Fifty Shades of Grey" came out. Lured by all the negative reviews, my friends and I decided to go see it as a joke, hoping for some "Showgirls"-style clunky greatness. It was another night drinking through a ridiculous movie with friends: What bad writing! A total insult to BDSM! When did stalkers become sexy? Is that a play room or a crappy Victoria’s Secret?
We agreed with all of this, all of it, yes, yes, still do, still do. We laughed when she seemed to convulse in orgasm even though he was still hovering a foot above her vagina. But as the movie went on, as he took off his shirt, and put his shirt back on, and scowled stiffly, and stiffly scowled, and crawled on all fours across the bed, and gnawed on her toast after crawling across the bed, how he wore those jeans that always seemed to be falling off, if not held up by the shelf of his perfect . . . well, he wasn’t so awful-looking, was he? That intense look he gives her in his office — so hot and yet so cold, so cold and yet so very hot . . . you know, it reminded me a little of . . .
That night I messaged Simon.
He had just gotten back from entertaining clients. I asked about his evening: What was he drinking that night? Oh, I like whiskey, too. What kind of whiskey does he like best? Does he like —
“What cut of panty?” he wrote back.
Cut? When did he become a tailor? I looked down at what I had on. A free t-shirt from a tech startup, promoting open source integration. “MULE,” it said across the front. Tentatively pulling down the waistband of my pajama shorts, I took a peek. Black-and-white polka-dotted cotton briefs from Charter Club. I got them last summer when I ran out of clean underwear.
“My underwear is black,” I typed back.
“Trimmed or no hair?” he asked.
Lord. I let him know I was a full-grown fucking woman.
This wasn’t going well. Where was all that sexual heat? In movies and on TV, and even in those occasional stories that wind their way over to you in the real world, there were loads of people having loads of sexy encounters, made all the sexier by their impulsiveness and anonymity. I imagine it helps to meet in person first, just to make sure your partner's not a psycho or a Republican. But wasn’t anonymity supposed to have its own appeal, too? I didn’t really know. My lack of experience in this area was appalling.
“Why don’t we talk on the phone?” I suggested. “Here’s my number.”
He called me. His voice was deep and soft at the same time — rather pleasant, actually. After we exchanged a few awkward hellos, he launched into a sexual fantasy involving him and me. I couldn’t tell if it was the same fantasy as the one before or different — the longer he spoke, the more whispery and hard to hear his voice became. I tried to get into it, but he confused me. Wait, I thought, am I behind you? In front of you? Am I flipped around? Did I miss a pivot somewhere? But your hands are in front? Wait, am I upside down? Huh? Where? Where?! WHERE?
“So?” he finally asked. “What do you think?”
I was silent.
“I’m so sorry, man.” I said. “I just . . . haha, I just can’t do this. It’s just . . . so sorry, dude.”
“Uh, that’s okay,” he said. He sighed. “I guess I’ll just hang up and jerk off now.”
In a few days, he disappeared from the site entirely.
As the days wore on, I started to wonder what happened to him. In this case, absence didn’t make the heart grow fonder, but it did make the mind a hell of a lot more curious. Did he meet someone? Was he just passing through town? Was he secretly married and cheating on his wife in one of those not-really-open relationships? I googled his screen name and came up with his profile — same job, same photos — but this time he was on Match.com, and it said he was from Philadelphia, not from the area near Seattle he previously claimed.
I told my friend Tricia about this curious location switch.
“He might have been a catfish,” she said.
“Oh my god,” she said. “You don’t know?” She sent me a link to Urban Dictionary, which I read with increasing dread:
A catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they're not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.
I felt like I was holding onto a dream that was slipping away: the hot portfolio manager who worked hard, played hard and just wanted a short chick to sit on his face.
“You have his number,” Tricia said. “In your past history. Send it to me.”
Tricia, a longtime reporter with a private detective license, had switched into investigative mode.
“This is it,” I said. “It's a 604 number. You know, I think he lives on the East Coast. Maybe he was just in Medina for a business trip?”
“What was his name?” she asked.
“Simon. You know, it seems like from his Philly Match profile he's looking for more of a relationship, so I assume he really lives there,” I said.
“Yeah,” Tricia said. “Not him.”
Tricia’s phone-number search turned up a 54-year-old guy with white hair in New Jersey. There were photos of smiling kids and an age-appropriate wife on his Facebook page. He had been married since 1985.
“Dude, that can’t be him,” I said. “He didn’t sound that old. Maybe he has a son? A 15-year-old son?”
Why a 15-year-old pretending to be a Medina portfolio manager sounded better to me than a 54-year-old Jersey dad, I have no idea.
“Also,” I added, “his phone number is the third listed. Maybe it’s an old phone number that my guy used to have.”
“Maybe,” Tricia said. “Did he try to meet you right away?”
“Yeah, but it didn’t work out.”
“Hmm. Do a reverse google image search,” Tricia said, like we were in some bad episode of "To Catch a Predator." “I have figured this shit out before.”
When I put the image into the link she gave me, the same photos I had been looking at of Simon instantly popped up again — those and many, many more. They all came from the same place: a Flickr account owned by a male model.
While Simon was certainly good looking enough to model, I had been thrown off because the photos he posted online weren’t editorial-level. He had used candid photos the model had clearly taken with his iPhone — selfies and the like. It was an extra level of deception you almost had to admire.
Smart girls don’t get fooled, or so I used to think, nor do they contact rando “Simons” after seeing a bad movie. Did online dating make me dumber — or was it watching "Fifty Shades of Grey?"
I should have known better with Simon. I had gone to college with the real versions of portfolio managers, and the reality was nowhere near as hot or as charming. But as much as I disliked some of the arrogant, sexist guys from school who would never deign to consider me their equal, I had to admit that as an outsider, their world held some allure. They were the kind of guys who aggravated you so much that you couldn’t stop staring at them, envisioning a hate fuck extraordinaire.
But did I even want anything approaching reality? This hot businessman fantasy was kind of like a sexy nurse dream, minus the free enema. Did Christian Grey actually do any work in that building? Did they say what kind of businessman he is? Does it even matter? He could have been building a pencil fort in there all day for all I cared.
I think I was doing what a lot of us do with online dating. I still wanted to believe it could conjure up a Kelly Le Brock.
In the days after, I concerned myself with what we all think about after sending ill-advised crap over the Internet: Will my mother find this? What about my coworkers? What about the next guy I date? What about if I run for president of the United States, what then? Have my messages been uploaded to a secret network enjoyed by the kindly perverts of New Jersey?
Thank god Simon and I never exchanged photos.
I was ready to move on from the entire experience, but someone else was not. I forgot I had given Tricia the catfish’s phone number, and she was not prepared to let him off so easy.
“Can’t keep up with all the girls you’re texting, huh?” she texted him one night.
“Who is this?” he wrote back.
“So. Using pictures of male models on your profile, huh?” She forwarded him the link to the model’s Flickr account.
“Who is this?”
“Don’t ya hate feeling like you’re being toyed with? Jersey? Really?”
“Sorry,” he texted. “Wrong number I think.”
But the number was definitely right. Everything else was an illusion.
"Fifty Shades Darker," the next installment of the movie adaptations of E. L. James’ book series, was out in time for Valentine’s Day. My friends and I have plans to meet up for round two. I have promised myself to stay off dating sites after, if only to avoid encounters with Simon’s potential big brother, Reynold. Reynold’s into venture capitalism, lives on Mercer Island, and likes to fondle Hermés ties. This week, at least.