What I learned from one year of online dating

I waited at the bar.

The streets were shiny with the patina of rain and motor oil that carried my hope with it to wherever that discarded rain went.

I'd never been to this place before. Yet there was this feeling of returning to a place I hated. The "not knowing" and starting from zero. I cut off the engine and let out a sigh. 

The sky was dark and still as winter and a cold drop of rain ran down the back of my neck as I slammed the car door shut. I didn't want to be late, even if I never wanted to show up in the first place. I was giving this a try with what part of my heart was available that night.

I found my place at the bar between couples and a few people disinterestedly glancing up at a TV screen with a tennis match on. It was cozy but loud. I figured the usual face-to-face interrogation that is online dating was better done shoulder to shoulder. I knew the vetting process well. Well enough that nothing really made me nervous anymore.

I'd lost a lot of hope the previous week from a relationship that shot up into the atmosphere and surprised me like a firework, only to fizzle out unexpectedly into the dark. And in that dark I sat, trying to hold my chin high when it felt more like a balancing act with an iron ball of disappointment.

Dating is performance art. 

I took the drink menu and stared right through it. Sadly, I was still stuck on the last fallout to give much thought to this new opportunity. Maybe it was doomed from the start? My screen lit up.

"I'm gonna be 10 minutes late or so. Got out of the office late."'

A knot started churning in my stomach. Not of nerves, but fear. My tolerance for rejection in that moment was paper thin. I was walking on thin ice to even show up, but now I could see the frozen lake cracking beneath me, as fragile as hope.

"But I'm here," I kept telling myself.  "Stick with it."

I ordered a drink and took to the tennis match, occasionally scanning the faces of the others around me to see if they noticed my transparent confidence.

No one seemed the wiser, so I checked the clock. 

20 minutes past. Radio Silence.

I texted my sister. "Date is 15 minutes late. Not off to a good start"

I returned to the tennis match, wondering why people watch these for fun. 

30 minutes past. The waitress was making sweeps of the bar clients and checked on me again. I promised her I was waiting for someone, but still no sign of him.

35 past. I looked down at my phone when he arrived, clearly disinterested in whatever the excuse would be. Profuse apologies. He was sending out emails for a pitch he was making to a few executives and lost track of time. I had no idea what that meant and stuck out my hand so he could shake it. He went for the hug. The rest was an awkward transition.

The conversation was good. The food was not. But we were at a bar, so what more to expect? He seemed sincerely apologetic for being late, but as we stepped outside and I looked into his eyes, I couldn't help but wonder if I should have left before he ever arrived, slipped the waitress some cash and disappeared.

We saw each other many more times in the coming months. But I noticed little things. He never added me to any social media networks, or asked in-depth about my family. I don't think he even knew my last name.

I felt like this obscure figure of a girl standing on the doorstep of his life looking in, wondering how he felt. I wasn't quite sure. 

We progressed along at about as fast a pace it was to spend the first 35 minutes of a date waiting to see whether anyone would show up. He was tense and uncertain. Hot and cold. Busy and excuses. Work. More work. More seeing each other when it worked, until I decided that it wasn't.

I woke up one morning and decisively, in my heart, knew I was done.

Not just with him, with all of it. Part of it had to do with my grandfathers death, and the things it had clarified for me in recent weeks. Only a few short weeks ago I was there in his living room, and of all possible things he wanted to talk about in his last few days of life, he asked about those dates I'd been on.

Here was a man, sitting at death's door, caring to remember this one distinct detail of my life. He had 19 grandkids. I would have excused it if he failed to even remember my name. But he always knew the details. Something that made me feel more humbled and human than any online date I'd ever been on. He had a gentle, generous heart.  I looked at him with a half-smile and turned my head slightly to the left, and said, "You know, gramps, it didn't go so well." 

He looked back, sensing the disappointment, and said "There's a lot of duds out there."

"You're right about that grandpa," I said with a laugh. 

Maybe it sounds strange, but my grandpa was my dream man, mostly because of the way he treated people. Never rushed. Never hurried. The back door always open for visitors. A wide smile and a voice that always startled the little ones among us when he piped up with a loud joke or was making a point to scare them with a good story.  Always grilling, or shelling seafood, or helping grandma in the kitchen with last minute meals she intended to make for visitors but never got around to completely finishing.

He knew that woman like the back of his hand and cared for her more than anything in the world. She could shift in her seat and he would ask what was wrong. Even on his death bed, his concern was only for her. I wanted that kind of love, and something in me knew I would never find it sitting in a bar with someone trading veiled motives for pieces of my heart.

I had all the answers I'd needed from online dating. All the closure I could wish for.

After my grandpa died, something of my will to continue with doing things half-heartedly just vanished. I've come to accept about myself that I am a person of strong resolve, which also makes me a person of extremes, for better or worse. I don't hold space for cognitive dissonance or grey areas well.

I am in or out. Invested or gone. I champion the black and white. The rest, I am afraid, are not things that occupy much of my mental energy.

Online dating is one of those things that require you to live in a lot of grey space.

How many dates do I go on per week? How many people is ok to talk to at the same time? When do I start asking the deeper questions about commitment? Is it ok to base this just on attraction? 

Things became clearer for me the day I stopped trying to wade through the fog. I gave up fighting for things I didn't even want, things that required striving or effort beyond what is fair to ask of my self or others.

That was online dating for me. A lot of forced investment for very minimal return. 

This is not to say it hasn't worked for others. I know plenty of happy couples who met online. For me, it's not something that I'm interested in experimenting with anymore. There are plenty of great men out there ready to invest in the right relationship. I know this, and haven't surrendered this fact to fiction. However, I can no longer consciously place myself in a situation that I know my heart is actively resisting. 

When I started Single Living With a Happy Heart, I promised to lead you in a direction of choosing what is good for your heart. Even for myself, I need grace to decide, through trial and error at times, what is proving wholesome or life-giving to my heart. Online dating, for me, is not one of those things.

So for that purpose, I will set it aside. I want to be happy with or without the fascination of having men in my life consider me as a dating prospect. 

I want to be wholehearted in living whimsical and for the moment, unattached. If that's what's in the cards for now, I accept that. I don't need bidders in a war for my heart, or someone swiping to confirm on a picture what I already know is true.

I am worth pursuing, and so are you.  I am worth someone's wholehearted thought and attention. And so are you. I am worth an honest answer and an open heart. My dear, so are you! You are worth it. And for the things that take the shine out of your day, the practices that are dragging you through the mud of indecision, or just pain half-heartedness, I say enough with that. Don't give your heart away in pieces when someone is meant to have it all.