UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION - 09/2004
CONFESSIONS OF A SERIAL DATER
I meet you on an online dating site.
You have a cute ad. Your picture is truly stunning. I make the first move, just as I would in a bar. Except that I could never approach you in a bar. I write to you, asking what a nice girl like you is doing on a site like this. You tell me that your friend, Rachel, recently married someone she met online so you thought you would give it a shot too. But after a couple of months you have already grown weary of the online scene – too many game-players, liars, freaks, and geeks you say. You tell me that you signed on for three months and when your three months are up, you are not going to renew. Back to the bar scene for you. You tell me that at least there you can see the guy who is lying to you.
Then you notice that my ad is new and ask if this is my first time on the online dating scene. I chuckle to myself while I type that it is not. Not by a long shot.
Our e-mails are short and witty, running back and forth. You tell me how much you love my dry, self-deprecating sense of humor. I tell you that I love that you love my dry, self-deprecating sense of humor. You tell me that you love that I love that you love my dry, self-deprecating sense of humor. Beyond witty. I’m enchanted. We agree to talk on the phone.
So, we talk on the phone. Your voice is high pitched and cute. You laugh easily. You tell me I am a “character,” certainly different than the rest. I tell you that you sound fifteen years younger than you are. You tell me you get that all the time. I joke about me being different than the rest while I curse myself for sounding like everyone else.
On the phone we talk about things we have already talked about via e-mail but we have both forgotten that we talked about until hearing the details again. Like your former fiancé…the guy with the tics. You thought they – the tics - were cute until he blamed them on you. You wonder how I could have forgotten since I thought it was so incredibly funny at the time. Of course, I did not forget. I had you confused with somebody else I was exchanging emails with.
We talk about my failed marriage amongst other past failures of mine, relationships and otherwise. I leave out certain pieces of the puzzle. Why scare you now? We talk about our bad online dating experiences. Of course, everyone who has dated online has bad online dating experiences. We also talk about how long we have been on the phone even though we aren’t “phone people”. I tell you that I have a good feeling about you. You tell me you have a good feeling about me. I do not tell you I have had that feeling before. I wonder if you are thinking the same. After our second conversation, we agree to meet for drinks.
I am at the bar where we agreed to meet. An Irish pub, since you said they were your favorite kind. I am early and nervous, wondering if you will think I am as cute in person as you said I look in my picture. I also wonder if you will look like your picture. Online pictures lie. I order a martini but do not touch it. I wait.
You arrive and I am heartened. You are every bit as pretty as your picture. You comment, after making sure I was joking, how well I walk considering I have two wooden legs. I almost forgot I used that one the last time we spoke. You tell me that you were scared to ask if I was joking in case I was not. I tell you the easiest way to tell when I am joking is to watch my lips - when they are moving, I am joking.
You tell me about your volunteer work at a hospital. I ask if you get to wear one of those adorable white nurses’ uniforms. You say no. I ask if I can pretend you do. You ask why I would want to do that. Never mind, I say. I notice you are much less sarcastic and far more gullible than I thought you were based upon our e-mail and phone conversations. Certainly less so than Linda was. Like pictures, online personalities can lie too. Or maybe I was the one who was lying.
Conversation flows easily. You touch my arm several times. A good sign, I think to myself. On the other hand, you may be a “touchy-feely” kind of person. It may not be a sign at all. Everyone is hitting on me and no one is hitting on me. In case you are sending a message, I make a point to touch your knee several times. I have to “make a point” to, since such gestures do not come naturally for me. We stay longer than we planned. Well, I stay longer than I planned. I have no idea how long you planned, but two drinks quickly turns into four. Appetizers are ordered and shared. I miss Scrubs at 9:30 - ER at 10:00 - Seinfeld at 11 and SportsCenter at 12:00 - but I do not care. I think you like me though I cannot really be sure.
You like me. When I call the next day, I ask you out for dinner on Saturday night and you quickly accept. You thank me for picking up the check last night. I thank you for making a halfhearted effort to pay. You laugh. You ask me if I noticed that you even went so far as to open your purse to fool me into thinking you had every intention of paying. I laugh. The phone beeps - my other line. I put you on hold.
My last girlfriend. She is drunk. She wants to talk. She tells me she still does not understand why I broke up with her. I know that telling her the truth does neither of us any good. I know this from experience with other ex-girlfriends. She will tell me I should get help. I will tell her I do not need help. We will go around in circles for as long as she likes, but still end where we began. I do not have the time or desire to test her resolve. I stick to previously mentioned excuses. I tell her I have nothing else to say and I am on the other line. She asks if I am talking to a woman, a new one I met on the Internet. She tells me that she saw my profile and picture on an online dating site. The same picture attached to the same profile on the same site where she and I met. I tell her that I cannot talk now. I have to go. I say I am sorry (and I am). It has been six days since we broke up.
Where was I, I ask. You tell me I was about to tell you about the four star restaurant that I am taking you to on Saturday. I chuckle.
On Saturday I take you to a four star restaurant. When you say you were just kidding, I tell you that if I do not spend it on you, my income will disappear on baseball cards, chocolate, and hookers. You tell me that I am insane, but in a good way. I smile but give no response. I get that a lot – insane, but in a good way. I wonder.
When you see the menu, you almost squeal in delight and ask if we can get appetizers too. Of course, I say, anything you want. Later, you look at the dessert menu and tell me you have never had port. Anything you want. I gladly pay the $300 bill as if it were $30. You thank me profusely and go on and on about how great the meal was in the cab ride to your place. I find your wide- eyed enthusiasm refreshing and charming. Different is not worse, I tell myself. I want to believe.
After a month of dating, you and I are no longer online. Your cheerfulness is infectious. I tell my friends about you. They tell me they are happy for me until I slip in my one concern. You lack any “edge.” As absurd as it is, I say, you are almost too nice. As soon as I say it, I realize how ridiculous I sound and attempt to rescind it. But it is too late for them. Tell us when you give her a ring, they say. I tell them this is different, that you are different, but they remain unconvinced. They know better. They have good reason.
You and I e-mail all day and speak most evenings when we do not see each other. When you and I do see each other, we spend the night at your apartment since it’s larger than mine is, and you would have too much “stuff” to bring. I also do not want to chance getting any embarrassing phone calls when you are staying with me.
During the next few months we make our relationship exclusive. We increase our number of dates per week from two to four. We spend some nights at home watching videotapes, each taking a turn at picking the movie. We have to take turns because our tastes are wildly divergent. Although we both like foreign movies, your picks feature subtitles and no giant lizards. You are expanding my horizons, something that would have never happened with Linda. This is good. I want to believe.
Somewhere during Month Four I tell you I love you.
We “joke” about where we would live if we got married. Although you began the conversation favoring Soho, after an hour you came around to my choice, The Upper West Side. You agree its proximity to Central Park scores major points when thinking of the rearing of our future children. We even “joke” about baby names, and agree on Jacob for a boy and Skylar for a girl. I say that a second son should be named Seven. You look at me as if I am insane (and not in a good way). I have to tell you that was part of a storyline on Seinfeld.
I still cannot believe you do not like Seinfeld. You tell me the characters are “mean.” Anytime a Seinfeld related reference is made by my friends or I – whether you are present or not - I can’t help but wonder again how you do not like the best show in the history of television. Viva la difference, we tell each other. I still find it unfathomable. And American Psycho too. You despise my favorite movie.
When you meet my mom, you are your usual bubbly and vivacious self. I cannot help but smile when you talk. How can anyone not love you? When I later ask about her thoughts on you, mom says that she likes you, but what matters more is how I feel about you. While seemingly innocent and innocuous, the comment instantly brings a flood of memories - memories that are never far from my consciousness to begin with - memories of other girls meeting my mom, girls who thought we had cleared another momentous step towards marriage. Girls who were always wrong.
Meeting my mom brings about discussion of meeting your parents. They live out of state. Christmas is four months away. You ask me to go home with you for Christmas. Your parents will love me, you tell me excitedly. I cannot say no to you, especially when you look at me that way. You want to buy airline tickets while they are cheap and I agree. But I do not buy tickets.
We go away for a weekend. You want to “see the sights”. I want to lounge by the pool. We compromise. I am happy sitting by the pool. I am unhappy seeing the sights. You are oblivious to my unhappiness. How would you know? I give you no sign.
Month Six brings restlessness. My restlessness. It begins slowly, imperceptibly. My workouts are fewer and further in between. I say it is because I have not taken a break from the gym in a while. My moods are erratic. I say I have been irritable due to work. By month end, a good night’s sleep is a memory. I pull away when you lie close to me in bed. I stay up late watching movies. Movies I watched with Linda. Movies you would hate. You handle me with kid gloves, unsure of how I will react to anything. I do not know why this is happening.
Then I know. My moodiness dissolves. My insomnia dissipates. I no longer pull away. We watch movies you want to see and I am happy. We attend concerts you want to go to and I am happy. We browse through museums you want to explore and I am happy. My improved disposition improves your frame of mind as well.
You are as happy as I have ever seen you. You assume my mood was just a phase, now over. Confidence has replaced your burgeoning insecurity. Your step regains its bounce. You laugh easily again. You grab my hand as we walk down the street. After a one-month hiatus, you bring up visiting your parents for Christmas again. That is when I break up with you.
When you tell me that you found a great price on airline tickets, I decide the time is as right as it is ever going to be. I tell you that we are too different to make a life together. I tell you that I love you but am not in love with you. You tell me through tears that you had no idea, that you knew there was something wrong a month or so ago, but you thought it was resolved. All I can tell you is that I am sorry (and I am).
You go from sad to angry fast, faster than a Porsche goes from zero to sixty. Shirts and sweaters of mine, as well as half-dead flowers I gave you, are thrown at me as I leave a half-hour later. Though it is not as bad as I thought it would be, I also know it is not over. If history is any indicator, there will be calls when it sinks in – either well thought out scripted calls usually at work, or rambling spur-of-the-moment calls late at night, emboldened by friends and usually alcohol.
I take the bus home, sad but relieved. I tell myself that after a few days, or weeks, you will get on with your life. You may be more cautious in relationships but that is not necessarily a bad thing. You will bounce back. You will be fine.
I get home and immediately call friends to tell them I finally did it. I am exhilarated as I tell them. They congratulate me and plans are made to get together and celebrate. I feel energized. I go to my gym.
I stay for fifteen minutes. Though excited, I lack focus. I return home and fall on my sofa.
I think of Linda; my mood sinks and my energy vanishes. I hate myself for still thinking of her after all these years - what is it now, eight? Jesus. The fact that I discovered that she got married a couple of years ago has not abated my longing at all. It does make me feel all the more stupid though.
She is a ghost, one who casts a shadow that only I can see - one that gets prettier and yet more malevolent by the year. The (much) better half of a relationship I have idealized to the point that it would be impossible to equal, never mind surpass.
The One That Got Away. And to think, I broke up with her. I shake my head and turn on my computer. The impossible search continues…
I meet you on an online dating site.
Harris Bloom lives and works in New York City. When he's not distracted by large shiny objects, Harris is working on a story collection with the working title True Tales Told By an Idiot. He swears he will have his website, harrisbloom.com, up soon. For now he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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