When I first wrote that I wanted to date women exclusively online, I had a very clear rationale for this drastic life choice. I would solicit conversation from strangers, get to know them via electronic means and then pick a ‘lucky’ gal to be my girlfriend. The catch is that we would never meet in the real world. We would continue our courtship through Skype, Gchat, Facetime, AIM, etc. Theoretically, a lack of physical contact would prevent the attachment that leads to disappointment. I wanted to be in love, but not be hurt. I thought this would be a path to sharing myself with another human being without being abandoned, ignored, lied to, manipulated or coerced.
What I did not expect was that I would disappoint someone else.
A girl named Anna that I had been talking to via e-mail innocently asked for my phone number. I obliged her and we began exchanging texts. The communication would range from the general ‘how are you?’ to more specific questions like ‘what are you doing tonight?’ I would answer tersely, but also strategically drop in flirtations. I’ve been alive long enough to know how to keep someone’s attention while mine is diverted elsewhere.
Rapidly, it became clear to both of us that I was not fully engaged in the conversation. It was not something we addressed, yet it was certainly a palpable fact that colored the rest of our interactions. I mentioned my text conversations with Anna on my blog and added that she “didn’t seem like she had a lot to say.” I didn’t have a lot to say either, but I suppose I was either unwilling or unable to admit my culpability in this romantic non-starter.
I received one last text message from Anna that same day:
It’s not that I didn’t have a lot to say, its just that upon initially reading ur article..I thought u were looking for something real (although in a very unreal form) & I was genuinely interested. After realizing this to u was just a battle to see which female would come up on top as the winner, I lost all interest in trying to get to know u…seeing as though it just seemed to be a way to make urself feel better about urself or something. After that, i had nothing more to say. In case u were wondering! Good luck with ur online dating competition though :) interesting reads for sure.
Parsing over Anna’s text made me realize I had done something unconscionable. I had no recourse but to unpack the implicit truth of this ‘experiment.’ I invited intimacy from strangers. I asked them to open up and be vulnerable, regardless of the fact that we were never going to share the same room, let alone the same city. By not being emotionally present on top of not being physically present, I abused their trust in the same way countless women have in my real life.
I had to question my motive for this entire endeavor. It’s very possible that she was correct in saying that I did this to make myself feel better. Dating online could have been a subconscious attempt to smite the ever-present gremlin in my frontal lobe that reminds me I was abandoned at the side of the highway by someone I loved. She didn’t even stop to wave goodbye while I kicked dirt in my own face.
The truth I now hold is that we are all contestants on the same horrible, late 70s dating game show. The carpet is lime green, our outfits don’t quit fit right and literally everyone is sweating. We ignore the disturbing, grotesque circumstances in order to focus on trying to win the game for ourselves. Relationships don’t start out as altruistic activities. We are not doing each other favors by going on dates, holding hands or sitting through interminable phone conversations about the boss who doesn’t respect us at work. It’s a self-interested need for affection and attention. As the years go by, love finally mutates into a magnanimous gesture out of necessity. We grow old and saggy. We can’t perform in bed the way we used to. Some of us even get to the point where we need assistance to use the bathroom. Worst of all, each and every one of us dies, and there is a decent chance that one of the participants in the relationship will be forced to watch their loved one cease to exist. Love is really about casting aside dreams of personal glory and accepting our mutual mortality. It’s about being at peace with yourself and giving a piece of yourself.
Getting to that emotional headspace takes decades of hand-wringing and frustration. There is no cheat, no way to cut straight to the part where love is selfless. I tried to circumvent the rules of the game by doing my dating on the internet, but I failed. All of the same shortcomings I have in reality followed me to the online space. I am me wherever I go, even when I’m trying to hide.
The problem is not with where or how I date. The problem is with me when I don’t keep up my end of the social contract. Whether it’s in a bar, a movie theater or a Gchat window, it is our imperative to be forthright, empathetic and kind with each other. Remembering that is the only hope that I have left.
I did end up choosing someone to be my ‘online girlfriend.’ I gave her the pseudonym, ‘Tessa.’ The real Tessa is a woman I’ve known for 14 years. I would go to her house every Wednesday after school. Each day, I’d have to fight my urge to totally embarrass myself and reveal that I was in love with her. Love doesn’t really mean much when you’re 13, so I probably wouldn’t have had much to say if I did. We reconnected in 2008, fell hard for each other and decided to move in together. A week before I was to relocate, she called me and coldly ended our relationship. She decided she wasn’t ‘ready’ to settle down.
I always assumed that reasoning was code for something else. Maybe the real Tessa would agree with this e-mail I got from online ‘Tessa.’
I’m really glad that you’ve felt that you are able to talk to me, but to be honest, I feel like that’s because I’ve asked you a lot of questions – and with the exception of my prompting, you haven’t really asked me any at all. I’ve done my share of real life relationships where I feel like I am more interested/making more of an effort, and it blows, so that’s definitely not going to work for me online.
The wonderful thing about relationships is that there are millions of people in the world, so we can always start over. Maybe this is my chance to get it right.
To read more on all the ‘candidates,’ click on the update links: