Like marijuana and marching band, I decide to try online dating after my older brother does it. It’s my senior year of college and I’ve barely dated at all. Disenchanted with the male population at my school, I thought some extracurricular dating in the surrounding city might be a good way to gain experience. Like an unpaid internship.
“It’s pretty awful,” my brother Ben tells me. “You basically meet up with a stranger just to make sure you’re both terrible human beings. And then you go home.”
With this in mind, I start a profile, post a couple pictures, and answer a few questions. It’s refreshingly simple: here’s what I look like, here’s some stuff I like, here’s my geographical location. I especially love how I am “putting myself out there” without having to actually go out there. No nuanced eye contact, no serendipity, no having to brush your hair. On OkCupid, you just have to enter some data and you’re dating.
I receive a lot of messages in the first couple days. I reply to a few with dismissive, sarcastic — and in my own opinion, hilarious — remarks. I am secretly, cartoonishly enjoying being in the position to reject someone.
Almost as a rule, 95% of messages are dismissed as boring. Introductions like “hi, my name is Chad.” or usernames like “fit_dude” are red flags (in adherence with my strict No Bro Policy, est. 2008). Messages that read like job applications or internal monologues are mocked and then disqualified. Profile pictures featuring abs or camo, also automatic nos. (I’ve never had abs and therefore can’t imagine dating someone who does. It would be like dating someone with a tail.)
A few weeks go by and my cruel and rigorous selection process maintains a 0% acceptance rate. I’ve done nothing but mess around on the internet and I still haven’t met any cute boys. In other words: my online dating life is identical to my real dating life.
I can’t blame OkCupid because I’m not actually using the website correctly. It’s like if I joined twitter and begrudgingly tweeted things like “twitter is so stupid” and “@twitter I don’t get it.” So I swallow my pride and resolve to set out to do what I came to do: date.
I begin by searching for someone in my area who doesn’t immediately seem awful. After a week or so of browsing, one profile keeps drawing me back. I can’t immediately reject him because I can’t tell much about him. We’re a 92% match. He seems cute, tall, and innocuous. His profile categories all have one or two-sentence answers. In fact, it’s his vagueness that fascinates me. With so much blank space, I start to create all the interesting details myself. His stories, his laugh, his voice start to take shape in my mind. I write him a message, and we agree to meet for coffee a few days later.
When the day comes, I’m nervous. I call Ben and say neurotic things in quick, annoying succession. How am I supposed to recognize him? What if he looks nothing like his profile picture? What if he’s completely insufferable? Worse yet, what if he isn’t?
“Just go,” he says. “You can leave after fifteen minutes if it’s bad.”
I arrive at the café and quickly observe that this is a terrible place to meet for a blind date. It is extremely small and any awkwardness is guaranteed to be performed just a few feet in front of a barista who will laugh and tell everyone about it later. I get my coffee, sit down, and try to seem all casual, like, “I’m just sitting here, not waiting for anyone, just keeping an eye on the door in case it tries anything funny.”
But when he walks through the door and we take our places in front of the barista, I am too confused to feel awkward. This guy is clearly an impostor. First of all, he is 3-dimensional. The guy I saw online was definitely 2-dimensional. Besides that, he’s very clean-cut, soft-spoken, and polite. He’s tallish, but definitely not the 6’2’’ advertised. I consider ripping off his mask or elbowing him in the gut and running away (the barista would love that), but out of ladylike good manners I allow the now-ridiculous premise of our date to continue uninterrupted.
We agree to drive to a nearby park for a short hike. As we chat, I force myself to abandon my expectations and try to get to know this person. I ask him questions and joke around. It’s friendly and amiable, but still, he is so shy that I find myself guiding our conversations. Somehow he is exactly as limited as his stark OkCupid profile. But far less intriguing.
Although normally I might hesitate to enter a dark forest with a complete stranger, this guy is too timid to frighten me. In fact, if this date was a bad 1980s horror flick, I’d probably cast myself as the psychotic killer and/or sasquatch monster, and him as the unsuspecting victim. We hike around for a while and eventually reach a mossy slope overlooking a dense, gray Washington beach. Below, a geology class from the local community college is on a field trip. 20 or 30 students wander quietly around the beach as their professor intermittently yells facts about the Earth through a megaphone.
Things get quiet. “Do you like to draw?” I ask, remembering that my sketchbook is in my bag. Maybe an activity will help loosen him up.
“Not really,” he says.
He doesn’t elaborate or suggest another idea. He’s just quiet. And I’m suddenly very afraid: I don’t know this person at all, and he doesn’t know me. If a huge branch fell on my head and I was all bleeding and unconscious, he would have no idea who to call. Maybe he’d take me to the hospital. Or maybe he’d leave me in the woods to die.
“We should go,” I say.
It starts to rain as we reach the parking lot. We don’t talk much on the drive back — a Devendra Banhart song just meowls as my windshield wipers drag excruciatingly along the glass. We are two complete strangers in a wheely box filled with squeaking sounds.
I don’t turn down the music or try to make it more pleasant. I just want to return him to the netherworld of OkCupid whence he came. I want him to turn back into the chalk outline of his profile. I want to click out of the OkCupid window and return to my desktop. I want to go home and be myself again. When we get to his house, he asks for my number. I give it to him and drive away, and when he texts, I don’t text back.
Illustration by Hallie Bateman