I’ve been talking to a guy on OKCupid for three weeks now. The conversation moves in short, two-text-bubble bursts, the first in direct response to the previous (‘Just a lazy Sunday here too’), the second a light segue (‘Watch any good movies?’).
Usually a day goes by between responses. He seems nice. We’re in discussions about meeting up soon. However, neither of us wanted to suggest last week because it was Valentine’s Day. And then both of us have plans the rest of February. So the goal is March. Let’s aim for March!
Maybe we’ll meet – step one. Step two, we’ll have a good time, and step three, we’ll meet again.
That’s how it goes, sometimes.
Graduating from from first to second date
Often step one never happens and our dating app mating dance was for naught. And of course, the likey-like must be mutual: either of us can tap out any time, no foul.
But sometimes there’s a ‘second date,’ a phrase that has taken on ‘Your biopsy results are in’ levels of meaning now that I’m in my mid-30s.
There have been a lot of second dates, a few thirds and fourths. Not many fifths. And for three years and counting, nobody has hit double digits. One of us taps out. No foul.
This could be how it goes, from here on out. And yes, by out I mean death.
I’m sorry to be dramatic, but let’s do this: I might ‘die alone’.
That cliché that has become our quick go-to for the worst fate, tied with ‘die in a fire.’ (Not mutually exclusive, by the way. Gone with the Wind actress Butterfly McQueen never married, and died in a kerosene fire in her Georgia cottage in 1995.)
For a long time, I lived as though romantic love was a moral law. I believed my friends who p’shawed my worries: ‘Please shut-up. You’ll meet someone. Everyone meets someone!’
It’s easy to live like this. Do the work, wait for the result, like baking a cake. The whole world demands we live like this! The logic chain goes:
1) You need love to be happy.
2) Good people should be happy.
3) You are a good person.
4) You will find love.
I internalized those axioms, and I don’t think I’m an idiot or particularly gullible (but willing to hear arguments otherwise).
We used to do this about the American Dream, too, but people got hip to the bullshit. ‘Work hard, play by the rules, and it pays off’ – nobody says this anymore. Only when it comes to romance do we abide by this weird notion that, ‘for every lock, there is a key,’ or whatever disgusting cliché haunts your dreams.
We recognize that we’re one missed student loan payment from the gutter, but just be yourself and someone special will climb right down into that gutter with you, you’ll see!
It’s wonderful to be hopeful, even naïvely deluded. And it’s the worst to be bitter. I’ll go back to drinking myself to death before resentment becomes my defining personality feature. But in concrete ways I was fucking myself over for a future that may not exist.
Maybe a lot of us are, even if we are also living, breathing, Tindering, monuments to good intentions.
Am I just unlovable? I at least need to consider the thesis. That said, it’s not very intellectually stimulating to wonder if I’ll die alone because my breath is bad or something. As to larger societal reasons for gay loneliness, others have written about this in breathtakingly insightful ways.
‘Dating: that hell of mundane rejection’
It’s easy to get caught up in what-ifs: what if I had visible abs; what if I lived in a smaller city. The point is that I’m, you know, fine. Few of us are unlovable. (Donald Trump is unlovable.) And I’m willing.
In a perfect world, that would be enough.
There are lots of consequences of living like a Heaven’s Gate member, but waiting for a wedding instead of aliens. For one, the waiting isn’t passive. I am on Tinder. I’m even on weird shit like Hinge and Chappy.
I see credit card charges every month for all the swiping and starring I do. I’m dating: that hell of mundane rejection. Like most of us, I could tell you stories of traumatically bad dates – ugh, the guy who rolled his eyes and said, ‘Well, this should be interesting’ when I told him I don’t drink alcohol.
Those are the micro-consequences. The macro ones are worse. I was putting off living: I’ll take that trip with my awesome future boyfriend. Once I’m in a serious relationship, I’m going to have to switch apartments. Someday my husband, who will definitely exist, and I are going to have to discuss kids!
Not putting off the future in the hope of finding love
Now I’m trying to just live. I took a two-month tour of Europe recently, alone. It was wonderful, and worth all the well-meaning but condescending remarks about how brave I was to go by myself. (It’s Italy, not a police interrogation.)
I started a business, something I could only do because I have no financial obligations to others. Trying to lean in to that lone wolf lifestyle I didn’t choose, and so far, so good.
Understand, I’m not saying I’m better off alone, Alice Deejay, 1997. I see, in the lives of friends, how powerful love can be.
If I do die alone, it’ll be fair to say, Poor John, he never found that special someone. I’m not going to sit here and argue that my mornings eating pastries in Paris were somehow more fulfilling than waking up in the arms of someone who loves me and who I love in return.
I’m missing out – definitely.
Look, when I had to stop drinking, I grieved the loss of alcohol in my life. My father, also in recovery, told me that people who lose an arm probably grieve that loss too, but they deal with it. All the sadness in the world won’t regrow that arm. No booze, no boyfriend, no arm … you adapt.
Ultimately, don’t we all die alone?
None of us are entitled to love. What we can do is move forward secure in that uncertainty, without expectations, demands, or entitlements. Let our married friends pity us, let our mothers wonder what we’re ‘doing wrong’ – that’s on them.
Butterfly McQueen was a trailblazing Hollywood pioneer and an outspoken atheist honored by prominent free-thought societies. Did she die alone? Sure. But in the end, don’t we all?
Follow John on Twitter at @JohnTeufelNYC.