The 4 stages of online dating

I’ve been using online dating since before swiping existed. Before signing up for Tinder, I remember making an OK Cupid profile on a laptop that was as heavy as a brick and filling out an exhaustive list of questions until I could start browsing through people who were a “potential match.” There was no short and sweet witty banter. We wrote each other like we were middle school penpals–long paragraphs about our lives, hobbies, and interests. I received a playlist from a guy I never met. 

After 2 weeks of chatting with someone, I asked him if we could meet. “I feel like I don’t know you yet,” he said.

I thought that’s how it was. I imagined every match as a long courtship before finally meeting a month or two later, already engaged in a strange emotional gray area from talking day and night.

When we finally did meet, I had that initial moment of dissonance where I had to match this living person in front of me with the frozen images of the same 6 selfies I had stared at for weeks. Then he smiled, which I recognized from picture #2. He was heartbreakingly handsome in a subdued way. Shorter than I had expected, but stronger as well. 

We sat side by side at an empty hotel bar off the Garden State Parkway, a halfway point for us. We smiled, laughed, stammered, kept our bodies turned towards each other but were both too shy to reach across and break the barrier between us. 

“I like online dating because when you meet someone, it already feels like you’ve gotten the first date over with,” he said. “This feels like date two.” 

At the end of the date, he gave me a quick hug at my car. I received a text once I got home: I had a great time and you are absolutely gorgeous. Let’s meet again.

And so I entered the first stage of online dating: hopefulness. The boy and I continued talking every day, I received other messages in my OK Cupid inbox that I increasingly ignored, and I drove out to meet him for three more dates. 

He lived with his parents 45 minutes away while I had a large 2-bedroom apartment with one roommate, so in retrospect, I don’t know why I was always driving out to him. I do know that I was so eager to see him that I’d hop on the parkway and go without a second thought.

“It might be nice for you to come visit one day,” I said after date 4 at his house. “You could stay over if you want–I could cook us breakfast.” He wholeheartedly agreed and we settled for Friday.

On Friday afternoon, I texted him: Are we still on for tonight? Hours passed without a word.

I went on Instagram and the first thing I saw were two new posts from him. In one of them, he stood shirtless and flexing in front of his mirror. He captioned it, “New beard.” 

As the day turned into night, he continued to respond to comments on his post. He also continued to ignore my text.

This introduced me to the second stage of online dating: uncertainty.

I couldn’t focus at work. My stomach twisted into knots. I’d stare at my phone, willing it to ring–then put it away in my purse where I couldn’t see it. Then I’d take it out again and see if I had missed a call.

And because it was my first time with online dating, I didn’t know to temper my expectations. My hopes for this boy had been to the moon. I had seen us on a path that just had to be leading to a committed relationship. I was sure there had been no other option. Why else would he text me all day? Why would he let me meet his parents and take me on a double date with his best friend? Why would he hold my hand at the movies?

My hit the third stage of online dating before I went to bed: pain and disappointment.

I’m embarrassed to say this, but I cried myself to sleep over this guy. I was 25 and had never been ghosted before. I had only dated people I knew from real life who never had anywhere to hide. We had to talk it out when things went south. His silence seemed like a unique and personal offense.

I woke up the next day to a text from him: “Hey wasn’t on my phone much yesterday.”

And so I reached the final stage: bitterness.

We ended in a slow, drawn out manner that was enjoyable for neither party. I took 12 hours to respond to him. He never admitted fault, I never admitted to stalking his Instagram. We never met again. 

I found myself staring at my OK Cupid profile once again. A month had passed and I was back at the same place where I had started.

I couldn’t imagine another drawn-out courtship only to be left feeling worse than before. I deactivated my account. 

I remember letting out a sigh of relief and closing my heavy laptop with an audible click. I turned back to look out the window, which was cracked open to let in a breeze. The warm glow of the sun was casting oranges and reds across my walls, which were pinned with maps and pictures of friends, some of whom would slowly disappear over the next few years. But in that moment I was still young; I still had dozens of people I could call on a weeknight in July. The sounds of the crickets were interrupted by the thrumming bass of a passing car. I smiled and grabbed my keys.

Once the air grew colder and the leaves began to change, I reactivated my account, feeling hopeful again.

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