It took me a while to feel like I could take her toothbrush down from the counter. I just needed to believe that someone was by my side. The thought of walking into my bathroom and seeing one lone toothbrush made me feel empty. I wasn’t accustomed to being alone. Walking into my lonely apartment night after night and hanging my jacket on one empty bar-stool filled me with incomparable feelings of loneliness. I used to stand in the center of my living room looking at two empty chairs, wishing there was another jacket hanging next to mine.
Quelling these feelings of loneliness was no easy task, and despite my desperate attempts to ease the pain, nothing I did or tried could truly take those feelings away. In this fragmented day and age of dating, I was looking for love in a world where love, as I knew it, seemed to no longer exist.
I met my ex-fiance six years ago in an oyster bar just off of the Embarcadero. I wasn’t going to go. I had decided last minute that I was going to try to make it – just in case. I remember standing there by the water with my headphones on, trying to pretend I wasn’t preoccupied with the thought that I was to look for “a tall redhead, you can’t miss me.” As I busied myself with looking busy, I quickly glanced over my shoulder and noticed her walking towards me. Feigning nonchalance, I introduced myself as I noticed the glint of her hair in the warm summer light.We’d never met before, and had only previously exchanged a few sparse emails, one of which was to set up this meeting. I had written a hopelessly romantic ad that had included a quote from Sex and the City – something that mentioned butterflies. I had mentioned that I liked road trips, laughter, and stargazing. She was one of perhaps 20 or so people who had responded to my ad, which did not include a picture. You see, online dating, as it were, or the lack of online dating meant that all you really had was your words and your intentions. There’s something kind of innocent and charming about that. Akin to a newspaper ad, you’d receive responses from women who were interested in what you had to say – and from there, you’d send your photograph and determine if the two of you were interested enough to take things a step further. There was a certain mystique and element of chance to it all, which I’ve always found to be one of my favorite things about love.
Chance. A roll of the dice. Does everything in life really happen for a reason? With that element of chance, it seems like the answer could be yes. Tom Hanks once said in Forrest Gump – “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” When in love you get that box of chocolates, you open it and somehow you find the one you’ve been searching for – there’s no better feeling. You feel like the stars have finally aligned, and it feels like magic.
We talked over oysters and wine, and then moved to a wine bar at the end of the Embarcadero. I talked about writing, and she talked about travel. After hours of sparkling conversation, we decided to call it a day. A few days later, she invited me to dinner. There was no pressure, and there wasn’t anyone else. Getting to know my ex was my favorite activity. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. Without the distraction of others, I was able to focus on her, and I felt myself falling for her slowly and easily. I remember standing with her at a BART station and glancing at her out of the corner of my eye when she thought I wasn’t looking. The only thought I remember having at that very moment was, “God, she’s beautiful.”
This was 6 years ago, when we first met. 6 years later, I find myself being thrown back into the dating world, and I am completely at a loss for words. At the risk of sounding dated, the romance is gone. The chance. The mystery. All this has been replaced by immediacy, an overabundance of options, a lack of focus, fragmentation, and insincerity. With dating sites like Tindr using phrases such as “Play again” to encourage users to look for more matches, love has become nothing more than a game of “swipe left” or “swipe right.” With the rapid gain in popularity of dating sites like these, finding romance has become a game of “spray and pray,” or “the one who gets the most wins.” Instead of the focus on a prospective romantic partner’s attributes, the focus has been shifted and the entire experience has become a numbers game. How many matches will I get today? How many matches have “liked” me? How many views did I receive? How many dates can I go on this month? This week? How many people can I meet before I decide to finally go with just one? Do I need to go with just one?
With this overabundance of options and this lack of sincerity comes this day and age of what we call casual dating. In some cases, members of these dating sites aren’t even looking for romance. Users match one another daily, and decide to send a flurry of text messages back and forth to strangers without ever having the intention of meeting. The motivation, you might ask? One can only guess. Attention? Boredom? The desire for sex? Loneliness? With the incongruity of intention, all prospective daters are lined up with rows and rows of faces – none of whom have clear intentions. Those who are serious lose hope and eventually withdraw or simply join the crowd in the lack of “seriousness.”
Where have real relationships gone? What happened to calling the girls you’re dating? What happened to seeing each other in person – seeing her smile, feeling her gaze, and listening the rhythms of her speech? A few words emanate from the glare of my iPhone screen. Who is she, anyway?
What happened to real romance? What happened to dancing the night away? What happened to getting dressed up and being picked up at 8? What happened to flowers? What happened to butterflies?
It’s hard to keep track of where your heart is at these days. When you lose one, you move on to another. Hundreds of faces pop up on my screen daily. They’re real people, and I see their smiles. I wonder who they are behind those smiles. I feel sad that they’ve simply become postcards with which I make split-second decisions. Swipe swipe left. Swipe swipe right. Play again.
What happened to meeting in a coffeeshop? What are you reading? A charming stranger smiles back at you from behind the same book you have in your hands. I just want to feel the warmth again. I just want to hear the rain falling outside this coffeeshop as we read together, side by side, knowing we don’t have to do this again. We don’t have to give up on romance.