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Notes on online dating

Updated: Mar 1, 2021

Middle aged woman, mother of two young children (one with special needs), divorced, accomplished professional and serious procrastinator, wannabe hippie with an Amazon Prime account, composter, volunteer, activist, runner, avid reader and movie watcher, lover of: nature, camping, travel, regenerative farming and organic gardening, some science fiction, good food and wine, frisbee golf and spicy Cheetos, still figuring out how not to place unrealistic expectations on others including herself... seeking living breathing man who has a solid appreciation for old dirty rap, classical, folk, global, hip hop, blues, soul, electronica, and rock music, can discuss the quantum Universe, soil health, art, and the benefits of Crossfit in the same breath, versed in some hippie but still grounded in reality, has some spiritual awareness, financial stability without being full-on capitalist, is kind but funny, likes sports (Go Broncos!), craft beer, and poetry, and has enough awareness of emotional baggage to have a plan for how not to project it onto others (mastery not required); hair and abs optional, can't have allergies to dogs or rabbits, must be cool with kids and chaos; alcoholism, drug addiction, and an emotional depth of a hot dog are a hard no.

And I wonder why I am single?

About two years after my divorce, in the depth of my loneliness, I thought seriously about online dating. Being out of the dating game for more than a decade, I was amazed to find so many sites to choose from- how interesting that we had officially found a way to commoditize connection in the span of ten years. I briefly looked at what it took to build an online profile and was turned off by having to explain myself in 100 words or less. It felt dishonest to boil myself down into these manageable bite-size pieces without really giving a “buyer beware” (Jesus, did I just write that?) warning. As a complex person with competing interests and values, I felt corralled into categories to find the perfect match. Of course, I love hiking and camping, but I hadn't done it in years and was also considering my next vacation post-pandemic at an all-inclusive resort that sold cheap crap at an overpriced hotel shop. I love wild foraging but also have been known to feed my family Top Ramen on occasion. Was I inauthentic if I checked one interest box but not the other or described myself as one way neglecting the other aspects of me as well? That, and I couldn’t seem to find a photo of me that said both “I am sexually attractive” and “but not only sexually attractive, you dog.”

For a time, I even considered building my own dating app and calling it Baggage, where would-be seekers of love and connection populated their profiles with their emotional baggage:

Woman, 45, breast cancer survivor, attempting to fill the void left by dead parents, resents most men due to abandonment and trust issues, has no nipples.

Man, 38, outwardly successful, inwardly a mess, major issues with confidence, intimacy, and commitment due to cheating past partners, likes sex- maybe too much, has been self-medicating since the age of 15, is missing a pinkie toe.

For an added $3.99 a month, you could pay for the “sexual preference” option where one could check off boxes of various pleasurable interests in a yes, no, maybe kind of way. This addition would not help app users be clear and honest about consent and boundaries, but could also save some soul from being three months deep in with a CPA only to find out he was a furry (side note- I fully support and respect furries, I just used it as an example of a slightly more taboo interest). This would also be the revenue-generating source of the app because let's be honest, sex sells.

The app's profile picture would offer two slots, a “good photo” where app users could show their best selves and a “real photo” that required that it had to be taken the minute you woke up in the morning, drool stains and all. The beauty of it was, you could swipe left or right not based upon how someone looked but by how much of their baggage you were willing to take on-- a slight alcohol addiction in my mid-twenties… sign me up. Now, with kids, a job, and a house payment- not a chance.

After doing some light research on the app-building process, realizing that it takes both time and capital (two things I have in short supply), I let it and my online dating profile go and resolved that I would be ok alone. For. Ev. Ver.

In the mid-1990s, The Gottman Institute conducted a long-term study researching what made for master and disaster relationships. Those in master relationships reported still being happy and fulfilled in the relationship after six years, and the disasters either broke up or reported being chronically unhappy in their partnership. By the end of the study, researchers could predict with 94% certainty what relationship would and wouldn't end in break up or divorce. They followed couples from all different backgrounds- ones that had been together for years, queer couples, ones from different races and different political parties, ones with and without kids- the list goes on. Interestingly enough, one of the key indicators that determined a “healthy” long-lasting relationship was not financial health, similar interests, or even lack of stress; it was whether or not, when given a choice, one partner chose to take a "bid"-or a line of connection that the other partner threw out. Example: a woman is an avid bird lover, and her partner doesn’t care about birds but still takes interest when she comments on some yellow-breasted purple butted beak (sorry to all the ornithophiles out there) outside the kitchen window, not because he gives a shit about birds but because he gives a shit about her. In this symbiotic "sharing of shits," the exchanging of bids creates a sense of mutual support that even has calming physiological effects on both partners. When it's all said and done, it boils down to the following: paying attention.

After doing some in-depth research of my own, with myself as the primary subject (fascinating case), what I’ve realized is that the drive to really “be” with someone is less about finding a perfect match or agreeing to carry someone else's baggage and more about our innate search to connect and be understood. And yes, while some people’s baggage and their inability to recon with it can lead to some seriously unhealthy partnerships, I think having a healthy relationship is really more about the simple act of turning towards someone and noticing, experiencing, and contemplating this world with them- not to save them from their loneliness but to care enough to bear witness to it. I think it’s more about having the willingness to be genuinely curious about someone and all the contradictions they are in addition to the commitment to learning more. Choosing to always learn more with compassion and kindness.

The Gottman Study is a reflection on more than just romantic love. I think it hints at connection of all kinds. A friend recently remembered that I loved spicy Cheetos and got me a bag. As I licked all the toxic dye-filled cheesy goodness from my fingers, I thought to myself that it was one of the nicest gifts someone could have gotten for me.

I haven't had the courage to develop an online dating profile yet. In addition to the obvious challenges of finding love in the time of Corona, I want to sit with my loneliness a bit longer to be able to understand what's under it. I also want to rediscover the intricacies of myself enough to be able to share them. For now, I try my best to take bids that all people I encounter throw out. Besides learning more about them, I also feel a connection take root, which, interestingly enough, also seems to ground me more. I still forget, or get busy, or can't be bothered, but the magic that happens when I make a meaningful effort is both profound and fulfilling.

When and if I do come around to developing an online dating profile, I think I can sum it up in one simple sentence: Complex woman, seeking complex man interested in learning more.


Listening- "No Scrubs," TLC, Fanmail, 1999

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