I dropped my phone onto the dining room table, as though physically scorched, after completing my dating app profile, uploading a photo I’d just taken that evening on the way out of the movie theatre, after seeing “Marcel the Shell in Shoes.” Joining a dating site had been inevitable, really; I can recognize my patterns after sixty plus years, and knew that the flirtation with the hardware site was just a step closer to admission that the only way people meet people in this lonely post-pandemic phase is through the internet.

Okay, I should qualify that – the only way widowed, aging, sober, emotionally skittish, overly cautious women with no recreational time over sixty meet people is by doing something crazy like joining a dating site and filling out an intrusive series of questions. Answer them frankly, the app tells you, but how honest are we about ourselves, anyway? And fresh out the door from spending 90 minutes with the most sincere stop-motion mollusk and his grandmother Connie, voiced by Isabella Rossellini, I was feeling a little smooshy around the edges. Marcel lowered my perimeter guard.

But then possible matches populated my phone screen. I realized I didn’t know the first thing about how to do this (instructions not included), and there was a real human being waiting for me to swipe left (discarding their profile forever in some horrifying human disposal), or more terrifyingly, swiping right to a) risk rejection, or b) invite potential contact. I shuddered, putting the phone down and went right for the potato chips.

I remember when it was easy to meet men, or I guess they were boys at that age. In the college facing years when we’d go in a boisterous sweaty post performance group to a bar, drinking cocktails more sophisticated than we actually were – White Russians, my favorite in the spring of senior year. Or downing beers in the pub, discussing esoteric concepts we’d heard in class that day, or talking about our dreams and plans for what we’d do after we graduated. We fell into bed with our friends with the easy cadence of puppies, little consequence other than reddening cheeks when it didn’t work out and we ran into them around campus. I guess the alcohol as social lubricant made dating and mating much easier.

We knew nothing about working for a living, making decisions about who to spend our lives with, first love, first fights, engagements, marriages, babies and settling down, let alone aging, long happy marriages, illness, watching your best friend die, or burying a spouse. The promise of a life well lived, such as it was, was really inconceivable in our twenties. It was easy enough to find someone to spend the night with, someone to wake up with, run with, talk about photography or philosophy with. They might be sitting next to you in that group of friends, elbow to elbow, matching you White Russian to White Russian, getting sillier and sexier by the hour. Ignorance was bliss, you could say.

Swiping left comes harder after you’ve been married for thirty-five years, done the laundry and cooked and laughed and trusted and worried about a teenage child together. Those human beings whose honest, hopeful faces sport the front of your smart phone are in fact, people like you, with lived histories, maybe hysterically funny people that by swiping left and discarding them into the dating bin you’ll never get to laugh together with. The idea that there might twenty of them that this dating app thinks you’re compatible with creates a sense of artificial bounty that reduces their value as individuals. The action of culling people by the way they look is scarier to me than what happens if you swipe right attracted by someone’s direct gaze from their carefully curated profile photo. That I can’t even comprehend at this point.

Truth be told, I joined the app almost equally to stimulate my writing as to find a partner. It’s a scary prospect. I imagined myself writing about first dates, disastrously ridiculous encounters, but when actually faced with the reality of other people looking for someone to replace their lost community, was a sobering thought. One which sent me right to the keyboard for some self-examination.

Not all of them are real. Real people, I mean. I reluctantly reached out to someone on the site who had pictures from European vacations, a sincere if a little thin sounding bio, and a nice smile in his profile picture. He emailed me, and after a busy day at work, I thought, what the heck. I’ll email back. Niceties – are you on facebook? Yes. Here’s my name. What’s yours? The facebook page was similarly thin, but hey, I’m admittedly a novice. Then I got the notification from the dating app.

“Fake profiles created by scammers are an unfortunate reality of the online dating world. As we believe in full transparency, we will always inform you about suspicious profiles. Our team is currently investigating a user that has been in contact with you – Name, Age, from Los Angeles….If you have made contact with Name don’t worry too much, provided you have not given them banking details or passwords.”

Oh darn, I just gave him my Pin code. Perfect again, just like the hinge website I’d investigated last week while getting my nerve up. Well, then, it follows that the 45 year old who told me “You are sexy as hell” was probably also a bot, or a scammer, however Oedipal. Rather than being flattered, I had thought about responding, “Does that line really work for you?” But I didn’t want to appear as unpracticed as I am. Now I’m leery of all of the men on the site. Thanks, Name, Age from Los Angeles.

Earlier this week, I listened to an amazing podcast on Hidden Brain: You 2.0: The Mind’s Eye. My fantasy would actually be to come across Shankar Vedantam on the dating app. He is amazing. But I digress. In this episode, which I encourage you to take a listen to, he spoke with…

“Psychologist Emily Balcetis at New York University is the author of “Clearer, Closer, Better: How Successful People See The World.” She studies the psychological dimensions of sight and says there are ways to exploit the brain’s visual system to boost motivation, achieve goals and gain perspective. By reimagining the frame around a problem, she says, we can literally see the world in a new way.”

From Hidden Brain: You 2.0 The Mind’s Eye

Late in the episode, Balcetis described a fascinating social experiment where she first surveyed a group of women about their hopes and dreams for their lives. Then they came to a pop-up shop, bringing along a mentor. There, she’d set up a boutique where they could shop, providing them with baskets, and on the shelves of this shop were canisters and bags that made visual the choices of what they wanted. “How many hours would you work a week?” And canisters labeled “under 5, 5-10, 10-20, 40, over 40.” Similarly, how would you like to live? Alone, married, etc. While they shopped, they discussed the choices with their companions, who were either a friend, or their mother, etc. Their baskets were not large enough to “have it all,” so compromises needed to be made. Ultimately they went to the checkout counter, where Balcetis was there with an Ipad loaded with answers from the survey they’d taken a few weeks before. She questioned them why what they were checking out with something different from the way they’d answered those questions. What she discovered was that these conversations the women had had throughout the store with their mentors were causing them to make more ambitious choices than they might have made alone, or than they had stated on the survey.

What I realized from listening was two things. First, I don’t really know what I’m shopping for. I think I need to set up a pop-up store in my living room before I continue with this foray. My canisters might say, “Romance,” “Theatre buddy,” “Pickle Ball teacher,” “Acrostic puzzle partner.” I’m honestly just not sure. Based on other shopping excursions without a list, I’ve ended up spending a lot more money than I wanted, and usually ended up returning things.

I have friends who love to shop and browse, and try things on. I’m more of a hunter gatherer type. “I need a long sleeved white blouse” and ultimately it’s either there or it isn’t. Something tells me that this endeavor is a lot less defined than that. And that a requirement of success in this would be to not worry about it, and to take it a step at a time, and to enjoy myself.

The second thing I realized was that I needed to talk about it with someone. The other night one of my colleagues and I fell into conversation at an event and she gave me a ride home where we talked about it. Thanks, friend, for being there to help me be more ambitious than I might otherwise have been.

Stay tuned. It’s a jungle out there, folks.

2 thoughts

  1. Dear, thanks! Sally and i got together when i as 63, she 68! but we had known each other through family planning for years and you were there for my courtship!!

    It could be risky business I would presume but there must be ways to make it safer! love dad

    Sent from my iPhone


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