For most of 2014, I’ve lived in self-imposed romantic exile. What began as a logical recovery period from an early December 2013 breakup, became a determination to reroute the dark serial monogamy patterns that left me lurching from one co-dependent mistake to the next.
Once I grew comfortable saying “No, thank you” or “Not now,” I was mortified to discover that while the decline ratio was up, my natural tendencies hadn’t changed a whit. Left to my own devices I was still drawn to the alcoholic, the emotional cripple or the one who could never understand or appreciate me. Without fail. Apparently some psychologically diseased part of me still loved to be hated, but I made the choice to stop indulging it.
As the year progressed, I recognized that my own company, or the community of friends and family, was infinitely preferable to awkward small talk with another strange man who would surely lead to some form of ruin (based on a near perfectly disastrous 35-year record). As the painfully funny comic, writer and actor Louis C.K. once observed: “How do women still go out with guys, when you consider that there is no greater threat to women than men? We’re the number one threat to women! Globally and historically, we’re the number one cause of injury and mayhem to women.”
It’s not that I’ve been a nun. There was a short fling with an informed Libertarian who inflamed my passions with a staunch belief in marriage equality. There was a brief interlude with a co-worker’s brother. But mostly, there was just me and the merry band of misfits I call my nearest and dearest. For the first time ever, that was enough.
In November, a relatively new friend of mine in her mid-20s asked me to give online dating one final shot. I had barely processed the offer, “Let me set you up with a Tinder profile,” before I found myself numbly agreeing. After all, 2014 has been the unofficial “Year of Yes.” What’s new and scary must be sampled, especially if it means cutting another tie with a repetitively agonizing past.
But Tinder? The notorious hookup app that bills itself as “How people meet. It’s like real life, but better.” Doesn’t that just sound like bullshit? Aisha did her best to reassure me. She vouched that the extra level of vetting provided by the application’s mutual “swipe” requirements would distill a better brand of suitor. In hindsight, I think the sweet girl was so invested in seeing me coupled, she would have said anything. She has a future in marketing – and a long tenure ahead as another one of my partners-in-crime.
I lasted 24 hours on Tinder, halfheartedly ignoring the New York Times and my treasured books to “play” the game. As I’m 36 years old, I didn’t need to be told to avoid the profiles featuring shirtless douchebags, inspirational quotes from Don Draper and other obvious rif-raff. Yet those offensive maneuvers were not nearly enough. My inbox became crammed with ingenious conversation starters such as:
“You’re hot. You don’t have kids, do you?”
“Oh I see. You’re into hot chocolate.”
The following morning, my Tinder experiment concluded, as did any lingering idea of meeting someone this calendar year. I was hardly pining for it, busy with holiday plans, work, theater, weight loss and the unfailingly satisfying time spent with loved ones. I preferred evenings in front of the Christmas tree with a glass of champagne and Frank Sinatra carols to the chase. I was done. See you in 2015 dating world – maybe.
It’s strange how important, game changing people can walk into our lives when least expected, or even desired. I was in the middle of a loud happy hour conversation (as though I’m capable of any other kind) with my colleague Duane when I felt the tap on my shoulder in a crowded bar. I wheeled around and found myself staring into the earnest, nervous face of an adorable young man with a soft looking beard. Wearily skeptical and more than a little intoxicated, I accepted Kurt’s offer to buy me a drink, figuring I could check momentary courtship from a recent college grad off my bucket list.
Instead the last few weeks have been one surprise after another. But this time, the amazements are pleasant and welcome: a synthesis between words and actions, physical chemistry and a growing mutual disregard for the generation that separates us in age. There is nothing recognizable about the unself-conscious honesty that has recently permeated my world, and as Martha Stewart famously said, “That’s a good thing.”
Maybe I was a bit hasty concluding there’s no one kind and interesting for me. Perhaps I haven’t let all the good ones slip my notice through a firm, lifelong commitment to self-defeat. Kurt recently gifted me with a book, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. It’s the memoir of a woman who survived a complicated and tough childhood. The inscription on the inside of the jacket read:
I know this is a little different than your normal literature, but the book reminded me of you. Let it be an inspiration to writing your own story.”
I’d come to believe that the romantic section of my autobiography had been figuratively copy edited and typeset. But maybe it’s just getting started, because I’ve finally fixed my compass so it points toward promise and away from learned helplessness. I think I’ll hold onto that resignation a little while longer.