Dateless-Man versus College: OkCupid’s Arrow

It’s time for another adventure from the deathly hallows of my attempt at a love life, only this time it’s not as far back as some of the others. Internet dating was still new(ish), I was still in college, and social media was still in its’ infancy. It’s also the story of the second date I’d ever go on.

Chronologically, this takes place roughly 2-3 years after the events of my previous adventure, “The Lady, the Jock, and the Stoner“. I had finally completed my Associate’s Degree and it was time to go to a four year college (or university) for another few years to complete my four year Bachelor’s Degree. The school I chose was said to have an excellent social work program (which was my major), even though at the time it wasn’t fully accredited. It was located much farther from home; what had been a 45 minute daily commute was now doubled to 90 minutes each way (at best). It was located in a bit more affluent area; many of the students were upper middle class, and having a car was expected for about 2/3rds of the campus. The campus itself was lush and green, and at least twice the size of the community college from whence I’d came. So large, that on one of my first trips to the school to begin my application process, I asked a groundskeeper for directions to a particular building and he countered with, “Are you walking or driving?” From the front gate to the very end of the campus was at least a mile’s walk, and that was if you knew your way and cut across some grassy hills for shortcuts. There was even a “loop bus” for students to ride.

By this stage I was in my 20’s, and still very much in an awkward place. My depression about my lack of a love life was still at a fever pitch, although by now it was beginning to lesson as I grew more accustomed to my lot. My responsibilities at home were rising, as tending to my grandmother took more effort from my mom and I with each passing year, and I was working part times on weekends. By now, the Internet was part of my daily routine and it was where I’d spend most hours on campus when not in class or working on a project for it (or home, or commuting, or out with friends who I still saw weekly or semi-weekly). By this point, my virginity was becoming something which placed me more at odds with typical college men as I was nearing the high end of the bell curve for it. It remained a piece of life I could never connect to in conversations, having never had any sort of romantic relationship. Yet while I imagined myself as a cynical, bitter, and angst ridden person, in truth I was still far more hopeful for the future than I would become later. It’s almost cute to look back on it. A part of me still genuinely believed that if I just pursued my interests, lived life, hung out in the right places, chemistry would take care of itself. I genuinely believed it was inevitable, even if by this stage I often lamented how much easier it seemed to be for friends or associates and I was beginning to get a true sense of how fruitless my attempts at it would be.

Much like with the smaller community college, there seemed to be little of a social enclave which existed at this college. No dorms, no fraternities or sororities and even fewer on campus clubs or activities. The cafeteria was even smaller, despite the huge size of the campus. There was a small video arcade on campus, but it only had a handful of gaming machines and was, on the most part, desolate. My friends were slowly but surely crafting more complicated lives with longer work schedules and their own romantic relationships, as well as weekly bar and club crawls which I usually wanted little part of. It was like an obsession for them, planning when they could gather and get drunk again. Was there so little to life than that, thought the guy who liked comic books and anime.

At any rate, this was in the early 2000’s; AIM was still in, MySpace was a fad but it was still new and I didn’t have a page up. I did post at message boards and even OkCupid was beginning to evolve from a place which let you take whacky tests to a place which offered a free online dating service (albeit with bells and whistles you can pay for). As I was transitioning between schools I seemed to be looking for places online to vent my frustrations or garner attention, both in comic book geek circles like Superherohype or other forums like About.com. I forget quite what possessed me to set up a profile at OkCupid in the first place; it could have been too much free time one day, or a suggestion from a pal online. Unfortunately, not only did I not have the best picture of myself to attach, but I was probably in a very depressed and fatalistic mood. I try to be honest at most times when I can, even if sometimes it isn’t to my best interests. As I have explained in previous posts, I genuinely dislike the idea of misleading any prospective women about who and what I am. I almost envision myself as a walking disclaimer (“Warning: Loser is Closer than He Appears”) and felt that it was best to be as open as possible so that any lady who did choose to contact me did so knowing what she was getting into. And by “open”, I pretty much meant, “warn her of how much of a loser I am from the get go so she’s not surprised”. So for my first profile for OkCupid, I more or less wrote this long, angst ridden diatribe which all but laid out every fault I felt any prospective date should know about me. Proof? Under the “what is the most private thing you’re willing to admit?” question of the profile set up screen, I openly admitted to being a virgin. Anyone who thinks the “Self Awareness Paradox” was bleak shouldn’t ever see that initial OkCupid profile; the “paradox” was a joyful ballad in comparison.

(For the record, while I don’t check on OkCupid more often than once or twice a month at best these days, in the years since this adventure I added some slightly more flattering pictures and edited the profile to include more humor and not be quite as bleak. And I no longer admit the V-Card right off. Although that is in part to there being more shame about it once you’re no longer in your early 20’s.)

To nobody’s surprise, I never got any bites on that OkCupid profile and any “winks” or attempts to contact women through it met with being ignored for those first few months, so my interest waned. A semester or two came and went. Then, suddenly, I was notified that someone had contacted me through it. By this point I’d all but forgotten I’d even had an OkCupid account, but I investigated anyway once I got that fateful email.

Since online handles make aliases easier to come up with, I’ll dub her “Star”. She was about two years younger than me and lived within a few miles of me. She was very direct and amusing in her OkCupid communications; she said she liked my profile for its’ bluntness and angst ridden nature. She offered an AIM screen name and an invitation to chat right off. I responded in the usual manner with which I tended to respond to similar situations: I was cautious because I suspected it was an online joke/scam/spam while also in disbelief that any woman could see anything in me. I insisted that I’d calmed down a little bit since I wrote the profile and I didn’t check on OkCupid that often (which was true). We talked about a current heat wave and a lack of good pizza joints in her area via OkCupid private messages for a week before I finally gave her my AIM name so we could chat in real time. I admitted to being shy and uptight, and probably indirectly that I was a bit desperate; for her part, Star continued to be upbeat and even flirty. At the time I remembered being very nervous just reading her messages, perhaps with memories still fresh of the “She Likes You Games” I experienced when I was younger. Looking back, Star probably could not have been more direct that she had genuine interest despite how difficult I seemed to be making it (admitting to being “pervy” at one point and calling me “cutie” at another), and I probably could have played it off cooler than I did. Had I known how to flirt back I probably could have and not been out of line. At best I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, as it were. Still, despite my own hesitation and doubts (and bumbling), we still made contact on AIM, and quickly set up plans for a real date in the city.

It was my second date (the first being in high school) but I can’t say much if anything I’d learned since then. The plan was to meet in a very public area (since this was the Internet, where anyone could be an axe killer after all) before heading for a nearby bar with a gator motif which also served pizza that Star knew about. Yes, I let her take the lead in the date’s location. It was a more active date than a movie, and it involved a lot more walking and talking. Although I knew what Star looked like from her OkCupid profile, naturally seeing someone in real life is quite different. She was very much my type, with a body type I suppose could be called “full figured”, with a flair for oddly colored mascara with sparkles, and wearing blue. During the date we talked about our majors, and she mentioned things she’d done in the area and back in her general neighborhood. She was interested in photography, and had even done some nude ones with a “friend” in the past – a tidbit she offered of her own volition. At this point in my life I was more hesitant to admit to liking comics and anime as much as I did. It sounds strange now, but such things weren’t nearly as mainstream a decade or so back as they are now. We had a few beers together but neither one of us got buzzed in anyway. There was a lot of small talk and I did what I usually do; keep the quips and banter coming. I didn’t flirt, mostly because I didn’t know how, but I don’t recall her doing much of it once we met, either. The gator bar was small and compact enough that we had to sit very close to each other, but after that there was no “touching” or any sort of body language, at least none blunt enough for me to notice.

After a few hours things ended well enough. I walked her to the train station for her to catch her train back home; she didn’t want me walking her home (I forget the exact reason), but I respected her wishes. There was no kiss, just a friendly hug, a pat on the back, and a statement to “do it again sometime”. Naturally, after my first date ended with similar words, I took it with a grain of salt. Still, I was not and am not one of those guys who follows some sort of “rule book” regarding how many days after a date to call, text, email, IM, or otherwise contact a woman. Believe it or not, some men adhere to a “2-3 day rule” to “leave them guessing” as a strategy. I don’t play those games; I always contact the very next day, if not later that evening/morning if possible (if anything, to make sure they got home okay). Star replied to that initial “ping back”, but no second date was ever planned, and she stopped replying to me almost immediately. This time, I didn’t need two weeks to figure things out from when I was a teenager. There was no anger or resentment; I’d had a fun time, and while I was disappointed in not getting a second date, I didn’t regret the first at all. I never do. I always feel more human when I am a date, like I belong in the world after all.

There’re no jocks or stoners or shocking twists to this one. There just was no spark or chemistry for her. Given how many men can respond with stalking, lewd comments, or even violence when firmly rejected, I understand why women will sometimes go with the “soft rejection” tactic; as stated above, nobody knows who are axe killers out there. I imagine I came off as a bit stiff and awkward, and she could have read my initial hesitation as disinterest rather than nerves. Despite initially liking me for my bluntness and angst ridden nature, maybe I wasn’t blunt or angsty enough for her in real life. While I did enjoy having a date, by this time my friends and associates were already on their second or third long term relationship which were always full of intercourse; here I was stuck with grade school dating techniques.

It was, to date, the first and only date I ever got online. In later years I tried another online dating site, Geek2Geek, but the only communications I got was with a woman trying to butter me up for a wire fraud scheme. I also tried Match.com during a brief period when they offered a free membership, but I apparently was, to paraphrase, “within a percentage of people we are unable to match”, which I interpreted as, “you are too bland for us”. I still have an OkCupid account, but I barely touch it, or utilize it. Unlike in college, I am more self aware of how little I offer a perspective date, and usually find it better not to waste anyone’s time. I can never figure out the right thing to say in an intro, and even if I did, I assume I’d botch it somehow. That said, Star was quite a fun person who was probably a lost cause with someone like me, and I hope she found the kinky guy she wanted out there somewhere.

Believe it or not, this was not be my last date! Or even my last college adventure! However, we are closer to the end of my recollections than we were in the summer. That does present a dilemma as to the content of this blog once I finish them all, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. I will say, that getting some of these experiences out in text is helping me sort them out, get them out of my head, and order them chronologically. I honestly can’t say whether it is helping in my goal to fully exorcise all romantic and emotional desire from my psyche so I can finally be free of all this frustrating weight and burden of loneliness, or whether it is merely poking a stick at some smouldering embers. At this point I realize that any sort of normal romantic and sexual life is not meant to be. I’ve missed too many “milestones” in high school, college, and late 20’s professional life to catch up now. By now I should be settling into a long term commitment, not trying to get to where the average American was at age 14. But, I’ve spent a lot of years grousing and tearing myself to emotional ribbons over it. Age thirty was the final milestone, a good place to consider this segment of my life over and done. These adventures, at least, prove to myself at least that what chances I had were few and far between, and I did as best with them as I could have given the circumstances. So far, that’s enough.

My next college adventure is actually another doozy, but not for the same reason as “the lady, the jock, and the stoner” was. As a bit of a preview, the dilemma would be more a matter of timing and priorities more than any direct competition (even if there was some of that, too). Hopefully that will be a compelling recollection as well!

The Self Awareness Paradox

This weekend is Valentine’s Day, or as I call it, “National Sucks If You’re Single Day”. I don’t have any positive experiences or memories from this holiday from the past and I don’t expect to have any in the future, either. No end of articles have been written about how this “holiday” was invented by greeting card companies and so on, and I don’t dispute it. This is America; nearly anything and everything we do is about buying or selling something in the end. When I was in grade school, Valentine’s Day was slightly more fascinating because as it was a Catholic school, it involved an obligatory lesson about St. Valentine and without hormones to worry about in the early grades it was more innocent. You handed out cheaply produced and bought Valentine’s Day index cards and handed them out like Halloween candy (sometimes with Valentine’s candy, because kids are all about candy). It was only as everyone got older (3rd grade or so) when any of us kids really started getting the meaning behind such stuff. The older you get, the worse it is. Roses and candy boxes would be strewn all over in the days leading up to it throughout junior high, high school, and college. If you’re single, it’s the physical manifestation of every dark thought you may be thinking about yourself. If you tell yourself that it’s all in your head, that everyone else out there really isn’t in a relationship but you, it’s the day where at least for a little while, you see that you’re not crazy and it really is true.

But I didn’t want this to simply be an article where I complain about Valentine’s Day. Instead in leading up to my next flashback to my adventures in dating I wanted to touch on something else. Much as with the “Everyone is Doing Better than You Party”, it ties into the notion of online dating and why I don’t bother with it much anymore. Because I am more of an introvert than an extrovert, I keep a lot of my angst and repressed feelings inside of me, and while I do have some bitterness or resentment for life in general, I tend to blame a lot of my failings on where they belong – myself. In theory, that should be a positive thing in that I became aware of my own faults. I don’t wallow in ignorance or oversell myself like many do. But that creates a problem all of its’ own which I call the Self Awareness Paradox. When you already know all of your faults, reactions, as well as how others have always reacted to you, it becomes easy to calculate ahead of time how many encounters are going to go. And it becomes easy to get into a rut.

There are few states of being out there which are completely flawless. Every technique and philosophy has its’ own strengths and weaknesses; that is why there are so many to choose from. Many people are either ignorant about their true selves or are in some state of active or passive denial of it. Both ways of life come with their share of problems, but one of the key advantages is that those who are stuck with them can trudge on a bit easier towards goals because they don’t see the obstacles in their way. It can be like blinders on a horse. Self awareness has its’ own share of strengths and weaknesses. By having some understanding of myself, I can better avoid some mistakes or poor courses of action in my life. But the disadvantage is that it becomes harder to psych yourself into new territory because you know yourself too well. Those wallowing in ignorance or denial are able to lie to themselves successfully every day; those who are not, can not. There are times when lying to yourself is dangerous, and times when it isn’t.

Dating, online or not, seems to involve some level of deception. Unfortunately, not being able to deceive yourself limits your ability to deceive others, and it becomes harder to get involved in new attempts when there is nothing different from past ones. I thought long and hard to come up with a proper metaphor of what I represent in the world of dating, and I think I have come up with one: cake. Everyone likes cake – even the mythical hound of the underworld, Cerberus. Some people are everything; the plate, the cake, the icing, and the candles. Some may be a pretty plate with nothing on it, while others may be a fine cake but with nothing to spiff it up. I’m the icing. I have plenty of good qualities that, were I to have some of the core things which people come for, would enhance what I offer. Unfortunately, I don’t have that core. I’m nothing but the frosting and the sprinkles. And while there are people willing to eat just the icing of a cake, it’s usually not for long.

I’ve said in a few posts how I am “stuck as myself”. By that I mean that it doesn’t matter the setting, or the time, or the format, or the place where I am. I am always the same. In the end I know what I do and don’t offer to a perspective partner. I am not tall, or handsome; those alone are major hurdles. But were I even to ignore or overcome those, I don’t have many other things needed for any relationship to work. I don’t have my own place, or a car, or much money to spend on anything. These are major hurdles in New York. Beyond that, I don’t have any positive relationship experience, no sexual experience, and a laundry list of esteem and emotional shortcomings. Above all, I am a boring, repetitive person; I work, I go online, I sleep, I repeat, barring some brief interludes. Now, I possess many positive qualities, but they are not qualities which alone can overcome the lack of a core. I have a sense of humor, I have reasonable intelligence, and I write well enough. I am perfectly entertaining in low pressure small talk for brief intervals. However, those qualities cannot overcome the lack of a core. I am the man for no seasons, the black hole through which romantic and sexual desire can neither enter nor escape. And my greatest fault of all is that I am totally aware of this. It is not a fault I can successfully hide from anyone, not even myself, not even when I want to.

One could argue that something I fear more than being alone is genuinely disappointing someone I have feelings for, whether long or short term. Part of the initial introduction phase of dating, especially online dating, is offering a pretty picture of yourself metaphorically. Your “best foot forward”. Be it an performance at a bar or a well crafted profile online, it’s about selling yourself. The self awareness paradox makes this difficult because in the end, I know I don’t have much to sell in this circumstance. I know I can’t offer any prospective lover the same or more than any other man in any given setting we’re in. And I would hate to lie about doing so, only to have to watch the crushing realization form on someone’s face, to watch them realize they’ve drawn the joker card in a game where it’s far from wild. Even were I to try to do so, I am a poor liar and actor. There is no positive way to tell someone, “I really like you and would enjoy every moment you allow me to spend with you, but you’d be better off with literally anyone else. Even the bloke who sleeps in the park. He’s at least probably a military veteran.”

Knowing this, why bother with an online dating profile? Even if I could figure out some perfectly worded introduction to garner someone’s attention in their inbox (which for women is usually flooded with many misspelled and lewd comments or solicitations for sex), in the end I know all it’s going to do is end in disappointment for her. There’s nothing in it for her, nothing she gets out of it with me that she can’t get with someone else who does have that core, or at least is savvier at hiding that lack than I. Why bother trying to figure out if someone at a bar is single or trying to figure out a way to pry her from her friends when I know I’m a plant which offers no flower? I know every single way I am going to fail to live up to any reasonable expectations in a relationship with anyone, before it has even begun. Perhaps this is why so many people rely on alcohol or other substances to mask their doubts. but such drugs also rob people of their ability to consent, or reason. At this point, few things would spark my suspicion more than a woman who professed interest in me. I’d fear she was seeing something in me that wasn’t there, at best, or that she was under the influence of some powerful stuff. Thankfully, that has never happened yet, and I doubt it ever will. And that’s in the end a good thing, for everyone.

The ability to know thyself is a double edged sword, and one that can cut just as deeply as any other.

Another year of ignoring the chocolate hearts and plastic roses other people throw at each other. At least the day after, all the candy is usually 25% off or more!