Part One–My Feelings About Dating Sites and Apps Mirrors Sean Penn’s Sentiments for the Paparazzi
After my divorce nearly eight years ago, my married friends encouraged me to try online dating and dating apps. I’m sure that the theory of dating sounded mysterious and exotic to people who had been in the same relationships for decades and yearned for a little jolt of excitement in the belly, or a surprise stolen kiss, or at least the sight of a new, different, and possibly clean pair of underwear. My single friends never once suggested signing up for these services because they knew the realities all too well—showing up for a date to find that the six-pack stud in the profile picture was a paunchy 20 years older, or still-married and looking for a little something on the side, or perpetually drunk. Back in 2011, newly-divorced me absolutely, positively could not fathom the technologically-enhanced dating scene. I had just turned 51 and had been married for 28 years after three years of dating, um, well, let’s refer to my former husband as Zippy for his past propensity to get around. I thought that I knew everything about Zippy until I came to find out—during his first stint in rehab—that he was a serial philanderer who practically had his own harem of adoring and mostly young women who were almost as messed up as he was. Zippy also developed a secret prescription pill habit on top of his well-known and enthusiastic journey through functioning and non-functioning alcoholism. If I was hoodwinked by someone who had promised to love and cherish me all those years before, how could I ever trust a person I’d never met and with whom I was algorithmically paired, guys who had willfully created usernames like “gr8toucher,” “hardtime,” and “iwontmurderyou”?
Yes, these were real usernames.
So instead of meeting up with “chiweenerdad,” my first post-divorce relationship was with a guy I’d known for 20 years. “Good choice, he’s a safe landing place,” my counselor told me. And he was that, plus kind and funny, but also unemployed for most of our relationship as well as depressed and eventually my life felt like it was stuck in good-intentioned quicksand. A year later I started seeing a friend of a friend who happened to be an alcoholic. I know, I know, I should have known better. But it was hard not to fall in love with the fantastic parts of that man, and there were many—his intelligence, his humor, and his relentless capacity for hiking. But he also possessed dark, not-so-fantastic accessories as well—an addiction that affected Eventually-Not-Tastic’s health, an addiction that affected his moods, an addiction that affected his ability to communicate except for that one particular Sunday afternoon when he expressed quite clearly to me that he was dumping me cold because his kids were going to college in the next few years and blah blah blah. He didn’t want to be blah blah blah blah blah. He wasn’t exactly sure where he would end up and what he would blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.
I was blindsided and devastated and didn’t exactly hear all the details of his blah blah blah reasons because I was also:
- Suffering from a case of E. coli that had made about 8 pounds of me disappear
- Experiencing the brand new world of empty nesting after sending my youngest child out of state to college a month earlier
- Navigating the world of making a homeowner’s insurance claim after my upstairs neighbor’s washer overflowed while he was out, flooding my bedroom in my new condo while I was prepping for a colonoscopy
- Orienting myself to a completely new career path at a nonprofit where I had worked for a number of years after quitting my far-better-suited position because of my first ever experience with a bad, terrible, horrible boss
- Also, my sister-in-law died unexpectedly at the age of 54, just five days after the breakup
During that time I kept thinking that a life referee was going to show up and finally call a foul for piling on. This, of course, never happened.
Enter Zippy, now cleaned up, living with a woman he met on match.com, and in a much better place in his life after almost 10 years of seriously Attila-the-Hunning himself and the rest of us through his one-man campaign of personal carnage and abject destruction, which made him a lot easier to get along with. Even though he’d been an entirely unideal spouse, I’d never been comfortable lugging around a figurative dolly stacked with large and heavy suitcases of chronic bitterness, anger, and vengeance toward him. I’ve experienced short-term journeys with all three but I didn’t want those feelings to be my life’s ultimate emotional destination nor did I want to cart those leaden bags to future family graduations, weddings, and other gatherings. Our two sons did not need a mother sunk deep into her own personal La Brea Tar Pits, circa 2009. Forgiveness is a choice so I’d been working over the years to let go of the mess that had been our marriage and interact with Zippy simply as the very human dad of our wonderfully wise and surprisingly well-adjusted kids. And his sister’s premature death had definitely put our issues into a clear perspective. Whatever we’d been through was minuscule compared to suddenly no longer existing on this Earth.
A few days after being dumped by Eventually-Not-Tastic in 2016, Zippy took me out for lunch at a hipster restaurant. I looked around and the entire joint seemed to be populated with happy and exceptionally attractive couples. Relationships now baffled me. How had these people met each other? How did they stay together? And what did they have that I didn’t have, aside from youth, fashion sense, high cheekbones, and a better inner spousal detector? Across the table sat the person with whom I’d spent the majority of my adult life. He told me, “You gotta get back on that horse.”
“Just to review: I haven’t fallen off a horse but my entire life has fallen apart,” I told him.
And that’s when he suddenly uttered two words that he’d never said before. Well, not without coercion from marriage counselors, substance abuse counselors, and various members of the 12-step groups that he’d once joined and soon abandoned: “I’m sorry,” he said.
“What?” I asked. Because when he’d apologized before, he hadn’t meant it. He’d look down at the floor and mumble. Or he’d raise his hands in exasperation and yell. Or he wouldn’t say anything at all. But this time he looked me square in the eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said again.
“What are you sorry for? We’ve been divorced for five years. I got myself into all of this through making more bad choices, the same bad choices as before only with different people. It’s like I haven’t learned anything from all the years we went through counseling,” I said. “I wish counseling came with a money-back guarantee.”
“If I hadn’t screwed this whole thing up, you wouldn’t be in this position in the first place,” he said. He had a point. But it made me wonder, after two decades of on-and-off marriage counseling, when the hell did he start making connections between his cause and my effect?
“I can’t argue with your reasoning,” I told him, poking at my artisan kale salad with artisan honey goat cheese and topped with artisan fennel pollen vinaigrette, whatever the artisan that was.
“So what you’re going to do now,” he said, “is make an appointment at a blow dry bar to get your hair and makeup done. Afterward I’ll come over and take pictures and sign you up for dating sites.”
“Oh wait, now I actually do have several arguments,” I told him. “First, I never fix my hair and second, I don’t wear makeup so that would be like false advertising if I did have a profile on an online site, which I don’t and I won’t.”
“First and second,” he said, “you have to get noticed. Third, how are you going to meet anyone otherwise?”
I thought about my main friend group, which was split evenly between married people who didn’t know any single men and single girlfriends who didn’t know any single men. I worked at a health center with 20 women who didn’t know any single men either, and two men who happened to be gay who also didn’t know any single men, straight or gay. I’m a runner and my social life consisted of going to trail and track group events. Yes, there were single men in these groups but they were generally 20 to 30 years younger than me. I wasn’t interested in going out with someone who was not even born when I got my driver’s license or who was thick into wearing Garanimals by the time I married. Single men in their 50s seemed to have up and disappeared en masse. Their photos should be on the sides of milk cartons, like the “Have You Seen Me?” missing children campaign in the ‘80s.
“God,” I told Zippy, “I hate how you make sense these days.”
Next time: Part Two–A Brief History of Dating in General and Mine in Particular, Which Will Not Take Long, I Promise