Jared Witt | October 17, 2019
Part II: The way it is now
My work day began in exhaustion and now ends in exhaustion.
This type of fatigue has nothing in common with that satisfying soreness, which follows a productive day of yard work, nor is it the full and confident feeling an artist or a cobbler used to feel when they knew they’d spent the day creating something of genuine worth. It’s a dry eyed, caffeine wired, but not totally alert sort of feeling. My brain feels spent but not accomplished. I remember all the sound and fury of a day’s worth of emails and text alerts, but what they signify, currently escapes me.
My poor dog, Lula, greets me at the door. She is doing the pee dance like a kid in a little league game. We make our nightly pilgrimage to the apartment complex mailbox, which somehow manages to be an equidistant mile from every unit.
A cute girl in Yoga pants has just done the same with her yippie Shih Tzu. We exchange polite apologies while our dogs try to recreate the plot line of Bloodsport. “You're supposed to be helping me with that!" I scold Lu as we mosey on.
I drag her up the three flights of stairs back to my apartment. She would stay outside all day if she could.
At some point earlier that day, I realized I’d forgotten to eat lunch and couldn’t wait any longer for dinner, so I compromised with an over-caloric Chipotle burrito. I can’t justify a full dinner after all that but I don’t want to wake up hungry either. I compromise with a bowl of ice cream.
I collapse on the couch and start half-heartedly scanning the Netflix menu. For a moment, I have ambitions of finding a documentary, but they all look way too challenging for this hour, so I settle for one of those B-list comedians whom they’re always forcing on us. My brain's learned need for near constant stimulation proves too insatiable for the comedian’s little self-indulgent TV intro. My thoughts wonder back to the girl with the Shih Tzu.
I pull out my phone. It’s pretty meta, the fact that these dating apps have all started fessing up to how unpleasant the modern experience of finding love can be, even in their taglines. “Hinge: Designed to Be Deleted.” The sentiment is as clever as it is deceitful. “Exhausting” is a word that comes up frequently in conversations with their clientele. To their credit, they have gotten very clever at mitigating the free for all which I have to imagine was the early days of online matchmaking, at least insofar as you can force people to deal with each other’s humanity in six photos and a 30 word bio before swiping. I’m on Bumble. It requires the female to make the first move after you match, which has obvious value.
Swiping through profiles and sending a couple messages shares no resemblance with being “on the prowl” as I picture our parents being when they would roll up to a singles bar. There is something communistically rote and pragmatic about the whole endeavor.
It was exciting at first, to be fair—the unlimited possibilities in a very low stakes environment. On a dating app, a woman doesn’t turn you down. They just go silent. “Ghosting,” it’s called. It’s ok. I do it too. There’s always another profile in the pipeline. So you never really can gauge a person's genuine interest from what they say. There are some very imperfect measures of someone's interest: the number of words they say, any cue that they read your profile, the response time. But these are all skewed toward people who appear to have a lot less going on in their lives, a very unattractive quality. So, of course, we all engage in an uneasy standoff, not wanting to appear too eager.
In his book, Modern Romance, comedian Aziz Ansari describes how these factors reduce a lot of straight men, especially, to reduce it to a numbers game—“hey” is the most common opener. That’s not me. Initially, I would try to be clever, venturing a comment or a question on any detail in a profile that lent itself to something more substantial than “do you get to travel much?” But frankly, most profiles don’t give you a lot to work with in the creativity spectrum. The straight women I talk to all too frequently complain of gym selfies and shirtless fishing pics. For my part, I’m not sure when the law was passed that saying something about “tacos and tequila” was mandated, but here we are. It quickly becomes taxing, trying to always say something a bit unexpected, while delicately treading that line between original and weird.
There’s no urgency in it. I’m actually quite content having my own apartment with my own stuff and my own freedom. I just can’t see myself being content with that for the next 60 years. So like everyone else in my generation, you have to put in the work. And that's what it is. Another chore. About five or eight minutes a day is my limit. I have no doubt that the women on the other side of the LCD screen are going about it with the same disposition.
The person I’m talking to might be wonderful. She probably is. But so condensed is her personality on a 3” X 5” screen and so easy-come-easy-go are the conversations, that the weight of each one can’t help but be cheapened to almost nothing. One must lower one’s bar for what constitutes a "connection" when exchanging six or eight messages over a couple days is an expression of genuine intrigue. Stumbling upon a shared interest beyond watching “The Office” (which is literally everyone, so why does everyone say it?) is a full-fledged bonding experience.
Narrowing in on a match of mutual interest eventually feels more like an inevitability than a decision.
I know very little about this person. But she is cute. Seems clever enough. Good education. Nothing about tacos and tequila. No “MAGA” in the “About Me” section. And her listed profession isn’t “influencer.” Sure lets meetup sometime. Something quick and inexpensive like coffee or happy hour, in case either of us needs an exit strategy.
She shows up on time like an adult. Lots of points right off the bat for that. She is as wonderful in three dimensions as she seems in two. If anything, she is more attractive in person. Good sense of humor but capable of seriousness. Well-read but not pedantic. Impressive career but doesn’t want to be a workaholic. Similar life goals.
But it’s just that…something. Something is missing. We’re not sure what it is, but we both sense it. No one’s fault. You can’t gauge chemistry through a phone. We wrap up a pleasant conversation, neither of us wanting to appear in a rush to go. We exchange an awkward hug in the parking lot and part ways. A pleasant conversation with a single-serving acquaintance never hurt anyone. But I’m regretting giving up one of my few free evenings for this, when I could’ve spent the time maintaining more enduring friendships or getting Lu out of the house to go to the dog park.
It’s not really the dating app’s fault. The app only reflects back to us what we already value as a culture: efficiency, maximum choice, and potential reward at minimal risk. I read somewhere that an astounding number of people my age and younger report never meeting a potential romantic partner offline anymore. Many straight women say that they would even be creeped out if some tried to initiate a conversation in person.
I get home, take off my too-tight date clothes, and throw on some basketball shorts. Lu and I do our nightly routine.
Maybe the people manufacturing these apps really are pulling for me. Maybe these things really were “designed to be deleted.” But it feels more like a trap.
I don’t see the girl with the Shih Tzu tonight, but what of it? I feel like both of us will have long forgotten by now how to initiate a conversation without a digital medium.
As a frequent wedding officiant, I can attest that virtually all of the couples I’ve married in the last two years met online. I guess you could see that as data which speaks really well of online dating. Say what you want, it's getting results.
Or maybe it just means that the girl with the Shih Tzu would be creeped out by any attempt at a face to face introduction, so the fact that every couple finds each other online has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Oh well. Hopefully, she’s on Bumble. I wonder what’s on Netflix.
Cheers and Peace,
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to keep up with regular blog posts like this one and updates from Castle Church Brewing Community in Orlando, Florida.
How Castle Church is stirring up a new spirit in the church from a brewery in Orlando, FL.