You’d think that I’d be used to it by now, for I’ve been ghosted again and again, first by Marc after a spontaneous road trip to Montreal; then by Alex after what I thought was a fruitful 12th date; then by Chris after I had nursed him through an LSD trip; then by Ben after he had introduced me to his 10-year-old son. Perhaps I take these vanishings especially to heart, recalling to me as they do the unsolved mystery of my ex-husband’s disappearance. But I would think that anyone who finds herself confronted by such baffling cowardice must suffer from them. (And I should acknowledge, too, that I have also behaved badly at times, failing to write someone back once real life takes hold or sending squirmy messages in lieu of a clean break.)
But for all this, what I’ve gained from online dating far exceeds what I have lost. That spectral ex-spouse of mine used to complain of what he called our “heteronormative” lifestyle, a term that made me roll my eyes though I knew just what he meant: Our lives had lost their capacity to surprise. I remember lying in bed and reading the memoirs of the French writer Blaise Cendrars; I couldn’t stop marveling at the boundlessness of that man’s existence, one that made him a film director, a beekeeper, a watchmaker and connected him to gangsters and whores.
How narrow was my own existence, I thought then, and how it continued to narrow by the day. But to go on dates with 86 different men is to gain as many windows on the world; it is to see one’s vast city and one’s vast self, if only for a few hours, through the eyes of a stranger one would never otherwise have met.
Take, for instance, Date No. 10, which found me at a Rhode Island pub on a February evening so brutally cold the authorities had advised us all to stay indoors. James was a boat builder, blonde and slight. We drank the espresso martinis he had ordered and argued about welfare; we talked of fathers. Later we decamped to his apartment, a flimsy, spartan place that nevertheless held the most exquisite furniture, tables he had inlaid with ash and birch and varnished till they gleamed. The heat failed in the middle of the night, and we clung to each other for warmth as his dog, Bruce, a German Shepherd, curled and recurled at our feet. As it grew light, he asked me how I took my coffee and I said that I drank tea; he returned some time later with a Styrofoam cup from Dunkin’ Donuts and a dozen red roses he had bought at the gas station. It was, he told me, Valentine’s Day.
Multiply that evening’s curiosities by 86, and you’ll begin to grasp the potential of these soul-crushing apps. Thanks to Hinge and Bumble, I have dated German poets and Indian bankers, Australian contractors and Brazilian waiters. I’ve met United Nations diplomats and my favorite movie star’s ex-husband. I have spent a summer dog-sitting in Los Angeles and flown to Jamaica for a third date; licked cocaine off car keys and undressed at midnight in a Barcelona square. I’ve had my air- conditioner stolen, inherited an Eames chair, expanded my music library a hundredfold, and made a dear friend, who, now that our fledging romance has failed, will be with me for life. I have learned about spearfishing and Oceanic art, about life in the merchant marines and urbanism in late antiquity. I have learned how to sext, how to plant tomatoes, how to drink mate, beat box, and navigate the bars of Bushwick. I could introduce you to men who believe in God and men who live in their cars; men who have slept with their sisters and others who have followed the Dead.
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