My Second Online Dating Experience

A little over a year ago, I decided I was ready to try the swipeathon dating apps to see what all the fuss was about.  A couple of days later, I matched with a very pretty woman whose profile simply said “Reverend.”  It turned out that she, like me, was a former minister, and that we had several friends in common from seminary and ministry circles.  After a few minutes of really fun banter, we decided to meet the next evening.

When she walked into the coffee shop the next evening and spoke my name, I felt a warm glow descend over me like a comfortable blanket, and the look in her eyes felt like home.  We talked until closing time, sharing story after story of our respective journeys and opening up to each other about our struggles and challenges.  We laid our cards on the table, from our respective divorces to our various mental and emotional health challenges.  It felt safe. It felt natural. It felt real.  After closing, we walked across the street to a bar to get something to eat, and we continued to talk until the place closed.  We agreed to see each other again, and the next day enjoyed lunch together when she happened to be downtown.  A third very fun date took place a few days later, and then spent a mutually agreed upon week apart, since she had a friend who was going to be visiting from out of town.

Over the course of that next week, a few things happened that I hadn’t anticipated.  Some of my insecurity from previous relationships seeped in, and I started to wonder if she had forgotten about me.  When we exchanged text messages, they were typically short, and she once said “thanks so much, friend” to me.  While I was certainly rushing to assume anything beyond an affectionate friendship after three dates, I could tell she was pushing me away.

And then my mom died.

I let the woman in question know about what had happened, and received back a short message telling me that she would be willing to meet with me to talk the following week, but that I needed, in the meantime, to take care of myself and my family.  I was, naturally, preoccupied for the following week, but found her brevity and lack of engagement confusing.

When we finally met, she informed me that she had actually had no business being on dating sites given the state of her life at that time.  She admitted that she had been seeing someone who had disappointed her, and that she hadn’t expected to meet anyone with any depth of character or with whom she could make any actual connection.  “What we had was real,” she said, “but I’m just not in a place where I can really experience that, and I don’t see it happening any time soon.”  She offered to be friends, but I gave her a self-righteous and cocky speech about how I had no interest in being friends, that she was making a mistake, that she would miss me, and that she would simply have to wonder what we could have had.  I kissed her goodbye, and walked away.

While this felt like the most triumphant version of the way a breakup movie should end, it wasn’t.  We went our separate ways, experiencing whatever triumphs and defeats our respective lives held.  A number of months later, when I was working through a few things in my own journey, I sent her a message apologizing for the way we parted ways, and told her I hoped she was doing okay.  She politely thanked me and wished me well.

It used to be that when people parted ways, they parted for good.  In the days before social media, we said our goodbyes and resolved ourselves to permanently wonder about the other person.  There was no way to check on anyone once you’d walked away from each other.  For all we’ve gained with the changes in technology and time, and despite the obvious advantages of being able to maintain friendship over miles and space, we have also undeniably lost a few important skills, such as how to say goodbye with grace and dignity, and how to move forward with life once someone has left it.  No moment seems final anymore, and perhaps that’s why it’s so much harder to accept when a moment really is final.  At some point, you will say goodbye to someone, and that really will be the last time.  The hardest thing to accept, sometimes, is that there also might never be a way to fix, heal, or improve what happened.  Sometimes we heal and help each other heal.  Sometimes we wait to see if time can heal what effort can’t.  And sometimes we must make our way wounded, hopefully not harming anyone else in the future.

I wish I had handled things better when I had the opportunity to.  While we had some differences that might have become problematic or at least challenging later, the connection we shared, even for a short time, reminded me of the best ways that people can be together, and gave me a hopeful glimpse into the kind of life, relationship, and intimacy that I long to have again someday.  I don’t ever expect to see her again in person, but I hope that despite everything that happened in that short vignette, we can both be better versions of ourselves as we live the lives we each have.

My First Online Dating Experience

About a year after my second marriage ended, I signed up for a certain online dating/relationship website that promised a more harmonious experience than those that deliver matches or sparks.  As with so many of my life experiences, it seemed like a good idea at the time.  I was only having a few drinks every night, so I told myself, and I was handling things more or less better than I had during the swan song of my marriage, so why not?  I was starting to get to a more emotionally (not to mention financially) stable place than I’d been before, and I’d heard how much of a “jungle” it was “out there,” but I figured I could handle it after all I’d been through.  Well meaning friends and family recommended that I “get back out there” and “get back on the horse” (which is an awful metaphor, by the way), so I figured I was probably doing the right thing.  At a minimum, I’d at least be able to have dinner with someone on a regular basis instead of eating alone.  Hard to see a downside, right?

Buckle up.  This might get weird.

The first person who responded to me seemed like a nice lady.  She lived about four hours away in northwestern Minnesota, and on paper we seemed to have a lot in common.  She’d grown up in the same Christian denomination, had gone to a university that I was familiar with, and had been divorced twice, just like I had.  We sent each other a few messages back and forth, and seemed to be on the same page with some of the compatibility issues of life.  I did find it a little odd when she asked me the first day “are you ready to find the love of your life?” Given that I’d just explained everything I’d been through in my previous marriages, it didn’t seem completely out of place, in an “are you over your ex?” sense.  But it also felt a bit forced, since we hadn’t even met in person yet.  She asked if we could exchange numbers in order to exchange photos, since we were both on the free version of the site, and I agreed.  We both found the other person attractive, and agreed to a phone call later in the week.  The phone call went well, and I thought we were both very honest with each other.  We’re in our forties at this point, life hasn’t always gone according to plan, but hey, we’re handling our respective baggage as well as we can.

A few days later, it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to do some background checking, mainly because I have kids, but also for self protection.  She’d told me she’d been married twice, but what she had failed to tell me was that she’d also been married two additional times.  In fact, I also discovered that she was still married to husband number four – and, as it turned out, living with him.

Given that we’d not actually met in person, I didn’t want to make a huge deal about this.  I told her what I’d discovered, asked her about it as non-judgmentally as possible, and asked for an explanation.  She told me that all of her previous husbands had been abusive, and that she had filed for divorce with the current one but had no place to live, so was just waiting for it to be finalized.  I encouraged her to figure out what she was doing before looking for a relationship, and told her I wouldn’t be expecting to hear from her again until she had.  She got angry at this point and told me that she had decided to stay with her husband anyway, because even though he mistreated her, she at least knew what to expect from him.  I told her I thought that was kind of dumb, but that she could decide how to live her life.

I try to maintain an open mind about how people handle themselves and how the “rules” of relationships are more like “guidelines.”  For example, people who start relationships on the rebound may have the deck stacked against them, but it doesn’t mean things won’t work out.  On the other hand, waiting a fair amount of time between a relationship ending and a new one beginning, while advisable, doesn’t guarantee success.  I hoped that she would pursue some growth for herself and maybe eventually find the kind of relationship she was looking for.

I was surprised to hear from her again about six months later, when she sent me a picture of her divorce decree and asked if we could have coffee sometime.  I told her I wasn’t really interested, and she said she understood, but I don’t think she did.  I told her about how I had hit rock bottom, how I’d found recovery and with it my self, and I apologized for the way I had handled our brief period of communication (calling it a “relationship” seems a bit overblown).  She accepted my apology, and caught me up on her life briefly.  For the next year, I got the occasional text message from her, and I tried to respond with kindness as one would to a person who wasn’t handling life very well, but the conversation always eventually escalated to some form of plea to give her a chance to prove to me that we should have a relationship.

This culminated a few weeks ago with a Facebook friend request, which I accepted.  I breathed a little easier when I saw that she was in a relationship, and sent her a quick message to congratulate her on this.  I mean, all any of us want is just to love and be loved, right?  Not long after, she called and asked if I could give her some advice on the relationship.  She’d gotten involved with him as a sort of “consolation prize” due to loneliness, she said, and even though he was nice and bought her things, she wasn’t happy.  She wanted to get out of the relationship, but she was going along with it because nobody else was interested.  “I mean, I wish you wanted me, but since you don’t, I’m going to move in with him.”

Ummm…what?

The very existence of that conversation, in my view, was enough evidence that this was a very bad idea, and I told her that, but she said she knew what she was doing, so I wished her well. A few hours later she sent a long text message that (essentially) said she would no longer be contacting me, and I decided (finally) to make that easier for her by blocking her.

I know, I know, that seems like it should have been the very first step, right?  Lesson learned a bit late, but as my therapist once remarked, I have a history of “an overactive sense of personal responsibility.”  This bizarre experience reminded me that I’m not responsible for anyone else’s happiness or decisions, that I am far better off without someone who attempts to manipulate me in any way, and that I can let someone pursue their objectives (in her case, to not be alone at any cost) while also protecting myself.