My first dalliance with internet dating took place in Cincinnati – it was a spur of the moment thing, incited by a recent break-up and completely reasonable realization that I was going to die in a empty room, surrounded by half-eaten nachos and ferret corpses. We met at a coffee shop, shared a sandwich and a few laughs, and parted ways after a brief hug. She was perfectly pleasant, just not my type. You know, the type that laughs like they’re having an asthma attack and has a dead tooth. That type. Still, it was a cordial affair – no murders took place – and it certainly didn’t turn me off to the idea of future online adventures.
To me this was a sign of growing maturity. My social anxiety has always been a meddlesome thing. It’s by no means crippling; it’s more like that smoking habit you just can’t break, a nuisance that prevents you from a healthy lifestyle. You know it’ll hurt in the long run, but it’s oh-so-easy to let it continue. Sure, I could go out and enjoy the world, but maybe I’ll just stay in and watch Sportscenter for five hours. What could I possibly miss? Oh, I don’t know, maybe meeting the love of your life? No big deal.
This lingering “What if?” feeling never really went away, because I routinely refused to do anything about it. But now, after this one afternoon with a stranger, I had discovered a possible way to become visible to the world, albeit through the internet world, which still counts for those keeping a figurative scorecard in the game of life.
It wasn’t until I moved to New York City that I made a concerted effort to meet people online. It made sense, given that I was relatively friendless and a little (extremely) intimated by the millions of people meandering about within the five boroughs. A friend recommended a site (a free one, the most important kind) where he had found varied success in meeting like-minded folks. After signing up I quickly discovered that the stigma against online dating doesn’t really exist in NYC. You know the stereotype – that only the hopelessly unappealing and horribly disfigured (read: fan fiction authors) open dating profiles. Now, granted, I’ve written my share of Paul Blart novellas (Paul Blart: Supercuts Stylist is a personal favorite. Will he save the day from the dastardly aftershave thief? Such suspense!), but I’d like to think I’m modestly appealing – a solid 6.25/10. I’m no Thomas Selleck, but that’s setting the bar unrealistically high.
But there’s no need to worry about appearing like a monstrosity in New York – it’s a different breed, a place filled with nomadic people searching for other itinerants that love to wax poetically about how wonderful the city can be. Everyone needs everyone, and it doesn’t matter how you come across each other. Plus, there are so many weirdos wearing bandanas as underwear on the subway that you’ll look downright Quigley Down Under-like in comparison. This calmed down the nerd within me, no longer in fear of being exposed (as a rabid Selleck fan? Also true.).
I didn’t contact anybody at first – I mostly just looked around, i.e., window shopped for humans, to place it in a more John Wayne Gacy, Jr.-ish light. I needed to understand the process before I jumped in completely, screaming, “Hey, you, let’s get together and talk about our album collections and possibly touch mouths!” Immediately it became clear that most people are looking for the same things: they like to have a good time; they really hate it when people confuse your/you’re and their/there/they’re; and they’re really into witty conversation. Who knew, right? This whole time I thought people lusted after illiterate dullards. I’ve been going about it all wrong.
I received a few messages here and there, but nothing from somebody that made me immediately think, “This gal is not only super cute, but she appears to be a real person and not a Russian prostitute.” It wasn’t until a picture of a pale young women covered in platinum blond bangs popped up to say “Hey” that I felt like taking a step forward. Nothing in her profile seemed off-putting, no warning signs went off. She was like me – a recent Southern transplant looking for someone to join her on big city explorations. I responded with some simple questions and bad jokes, as I am wont to do, and expected to hear back in a few days. Then a window opened up on my computer screen. It was the site’s chat program, something I normally disabled due to its ability to make me go, “OH GOD NO GO AWAY GO AWAY,” but this time I had forgotten to click “sign off.” It had been only a few minutes since I sent the message, so this girl was really gung-ho about becoming my friend. This should have been clue number one that something wasn’t quite right.
After calming my heartbeat down to Terror Alert Level Yellow, I decided to respond. Nothing out of the ordinary – it was friendly chatter about the city, the awkwardness of the online world, etc. Eventually she cut right to the chase, “We both live in Astoria, would you like to have a drink?” This was on a weeknight around 9pm, AKA, clue number two. But I was in the city and actively looking for adventures, so it didn’t occur to me that a last second blind date on a Tuesday night wasn’t something sensible people do. I was overcoming my irrational fears by behaving irrationally. Made total sense at the time.
I agreed that it was a grand idea, but had to admit that my knowledge of decent nightspots was still non-existent. She immediately came back with, “I have a bottle of wine at my apartment – do you want to just to come here?”
Clue. Number. Three.
But when presented with any sort of opportunity to not exist in a public place, my mind goes, “Yes, please, and thank you.” Not only was I avoiding flop sweat in a crowded bar, but the wine was already accounted for. Dry palms and a full wallet? Yes and yes. Thankfully, she didn’t care that I was so blatantly lazy and cheap. That should be a good sign for me, yes? I was so over-the-moon about my luck that I didn’t fully understand the next question:
“Are you green-friendly?”
Do I care about the environment? Do I recycle? Is my carbon footprint under control? I mean, I suppose so. I don’t own a car and my apartment building has mandatory recycling. This 21st century progressive woman was just making sure I wasn’t an Earth destroyer. No big deal, other than clue #4 open-hand slapping me in the face.
With my own personal brand of naivety, I had believed this would be a genuine “first date,” only at a more private location. We’d exchange pleasantries, order in a dinner of some kind, share a drink and (hopefully) decent conversation, and I’d be on my way at a gentlemanly hour. This is something I’ve come to realize about New York: the upper case, by-the-book “First Date” doesn’t live in Pleasantville anymore. No one wants to share a phosphate and a licorice whip, Lady and the Tramp-style. They want to get to business – not, like “I’m going to rub my body against yours,” but a more to-the-point, “let’s not do anything fucking boring, you fucking boring fuck.” My Tobey Maguire-looking ass was going about it all wrong.
I showed up at the address, bottle of Riesling in-hand (I had a sudden guilty feeling about not contributing), and called to be let into the building. No answer. I dialed again. Nothing. Was I being pre-rejected? Did she suddenly realize that this was an insane thing for a woman to do? Part of me was relieved. I’m all over the easy way out when things get strange, so I turned 180° and prepped for a solo night of way-too-sweet wine drinking.
In a case of not-s0-perfect timing, my phone rang at the exact moment I entered my apartment, post 20-minute walk.
“Where are you?” she said in a slightly indignant tone.
“I was at your building, but you didn’t answer my call.”
“WHAT? So are you coming back?”
She sounded a little shaky, like she was moments away from tears.
“I mean, I can, but do you really want me to come?”
I was hesitant not because she sounded unstable, but because I’m lazy and was not about to walk another mile for no reason.
“Yes! I’ll wait for you downstairs,” she exclaimed, like it was Christmas morning.
I took this in a complimentary way. She really wanted to meet me. My dating profile was obviously off-the-charts amazing. I was in demand. Worth the effort. Obviously.
A brisk trek later, there she was sitting on the stoop: a petite, nothing of a lady, with the skin tone of someone with a severe sun allergy (that’s a compliment, I think). She was cute, a crooked smile similar to mine rose to greet me. I was relieved, because she was a real person who was attractive, and not a Nigerian prince with a ponzi scheme. I could tell that she was relieved as well, but it was more of a, “finally, dickhead,” kind of solace.
She interacted with me like we were lifelong friends; no hesitations, no awkward hellos, just a, “Come in! Say hi to my cat! Let’s have a drink!” So, with that, we went inside, I gave the cat a rub, and opened up the bottle. Her apartment was a good size for a one-bedroom in Queens, so she had to have a decent job, or was a living Dickens protagonist with an unnamed benefactor paying her way. Even with its size it was a little cramped: tons of books, LPs and potted plants lined the floors. There were empty wine bottles across the coffee table, and, most importantly, the entire place smelled like B-Real’s recording studio. Was this lady also insane in the membrane? I was for sure out of my mind. “Are you green-friendly?” How did I not know what that meant? In my pitiful defense, it’s just not part of my culture. I had only smoked two times in my entire life, and even then I didn’t really enjoy myself. I was more curious than anything.
But now I had been invited to get drunk and high with a pretty stranger. There was no escape now – I had to save face and entertain this person. Not that I couldn’t have crept out while she was in the bathroom, but my stingy manners wouldn’t allow me to do so. It was nearly eleven o’clock, so dinner was an afterthought – we were immediately taking the ferry to Lose Our Inhibitions Island.
At first I stuck to strictly wine, as I wasn’t going to get high with a random person. Not for moral or safety reasons, but because I didn’t want to embarrass myself. The previous two times I dabbled? I feel asleep within 20 minutes after rubbing my body up against a couch. So, no thanks, beautiful, I’ll stick to the substance that just makes me smile a bunch.
Our chit-chat was relatively normal – what do you do, how long have you been here, what are your hopes and aspirations, blah blah de blah. Then the “truth” started to drip out. Genuine personalities took shape.
“I could have been a singer, you know. I’m, like, really good. Listen…”
She began to serenade me in between drags of a cigarette.
“Sweet like candy to my soul, sweet you rock, and sweet you roll. Lost for you, I’m so lost for you. You come crash into me…”
Internally, I’m screaming, “Is that the goddamned Dave Matthews Band?” Externally, I’m grinning ear-to-ear. I can’t believe how odd this night has suddenly become. I don’t want to leave. I just want to drink and get high. A Dave Matthews Band fan? I’m shallow enough to not care what this person thinks, based solely on her shitty taste. You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts.
The first bottle of wine was gone, the first joints were complete, and I was currently five seconds behind real life.
“Yeah, I was married for a little while,” she said, after no lead-in question.
A few beats passed. I said nothing.
“Just didn’t work out. He went crazy. He’s homeless now, living on the streets of Austin. Probably shouldn’t have gone off his meds.”
My eyelids were so heavy that I considered falling asleep instead of having to actually respond to that statement. Instead, I blurted out, “Yeah, probably a bad choice on his part.”
She inched closer to me. I was slouched at a nearly horizontal level on the sofa, catatonic for several minutes. Moving was not an easy task; my body was made of concrete. She was not to be dissuaded.
“If you’re into it, I have some pills we can take. I found a doctor who’s totally cool. He’ll give you anything you need.”
Even in a state of fierce inebriation, that was an eye-opener, a truly terrifying thing to hear.
“No, thanks. You can if you’d like, I’m in a good place at the moment,” I replied, hoping beyond hope that she wouldn’t actually indulge. The last thing I wanted to do was take a ride in an ambulance and have a conversation with a cop, obviously.
This was really happening, right? Was I spooning with a pill addict I met on the internet? The devil on my shoulder, who rarely gets a time to shine, screamed out, “This is really happening and I’ve got a boner!” I gave him a tiny high five, and proceeded to make out with this person on her cat hair-covered couch.
This lasted, at most, five minutes before I passed out. What she did after that, I haven’t the foggiest idea. She could have pranced me down Astoria Boulevard, Weekend at Bernie’s style, for all I know. My hope is she fell asleep, but someone of her experience probably just stayed up and stared at my body, whispering, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die, cause we’re tripping billies.”
Next thing I know, light is shining through the windows and I have a person on top of me. My head is made of pudding and the angel on my shoulder is shaking its head, saying, “A high-five? Really.” I looked away in shame, and just tried to go back asleep. But sleep wouldn’t come. I was too unnerved. I poked at her face. Nothing. I rolled her a little bit. Nothing. One full-blown shove later and I was free. She was dead weight. Being the considerate soul that I am, I checked to make sure she was breathing. Yup, still alive. Bullet? You’ve been dodged.
I collected my things and did my best to remove any trace that I was ever there. Maybe she would come to think that I was a mirage. She was probably prone to hallucinations, the odds were on my side. The walk home was truly humbling. Not that any passersby would know of my secret shame. It was twenty minutes of pure, unadulterated self-loathing.
“This is why you don’t meet people online! What if she had stuck you with a needle? You could have the bug, son!” I irrationally thought to myself.
I told nobody of this experience; just that I had been on a date and it had not gone well. A few days passed before she contacted me.
“Hey, we never finished what we started,” read her text. I didn’t respond. A few more were left unanswered before she sent, “I blew it, didn’t I?” This was mildly heartbreaking. I sent back nothing more than, “Yes.” And that was that.
It is my sincere wish that this woman eventually found somebody that wanted to get lifted with her on the reg. Someone that can fully appreciate a “cool doctor” and his/her usefulness. Mostly, I just hope that she isn’t dead. If you’re reading this, then you’re not dead. Good to know.
You would think, as a reasonable person, that this was the end of my online adventures in the city. Well, you would be wrong, as I am a romantic idiot, and no drug-addled disaster will sway me from that namesake. Several more dates were to come, because there was no chance they could go any worse than this first one. Or so I thought.
*check back in six months for the next story, as it took me several months to finish this one*