The Silver Lining – Online Dating on the Road
Once upon a time, in a galaxy not so far away, I came across a guy on Bumble who immediately proclaimed in his bio that faith was the number quality that he was looking for in a woman. Okay. He then proceeded to say how much he loved positivity and hated photo filters: “Real is beautiful.” You got it, bud. I second the filter hate train. I mean, I’ll send you a dumbass video of me with cheeseburgers circling around my head, but a hard no on the cat ears for public visibility. In true Stephanie fashion, I led with: “Should I start sending all my Snapchat filter selfies now or later?” (don’t worry, the answer is yes, I do amuse myself). Here’s the part where you sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. His response: “Funny, Funny. I wonder what a vagina looks like filtered? Huh [insert light bulb emoji]. I have an idea. Test it out for us. Send me one both ways. I’ll let you know [insert smiley face emoji].”
What. The. Actual. Fuck.
Yep, this actually happened. Seriously. I responded and questioned why, on any planet in any point in time, he believed this response would be an acceptable way to speak to a woman. Ever. I recall using words like “disgusting” and “degrading” (I’m sure the screenshot is somewhere deep in the abyss of my iPhotos if you need evidence). His response? He was joking. Right. Super funny, dude. Real funny. Report. Block. Terminate. Bye.
If you’re single, you’re not surprised by this story. If you’re in a relationship, I hope to God you are completely astounded. And, while I often think dating apps are the absolute devil, it is also the current means to an end. Are you even a real single person if you are not on a dating app? Not even kidding. Okay, slight over exaggeration, but truly, never in our wildest teen years did us 30-something-year-olds imagine using our phones to score a significant other (AIM, sure, but not our phones).
So, I exist in my current reality. Fact: I’m single. Fact: I’m transient. Fact: I’d like to be in a relationship. Fact: I don’t care whether or not that relationship exists in a transient or stationary state. So, yes, if our vibe is high and you want to hop in the Airstream and explore every end of the earth, great. If you work in a job you love in a city that you call home, ask me to stay. Let’s ride the wave. Together. Because, seriously, doing life with someone who really gets you better than anyone else ever could is the real damn deal.
Back to dating. I don’t think anyone actually dates anymore. I am actually convinced that it’s not really a thing these days. There’s like pre-dating in which you entertain the idea of actually dating. And then there is friend-zoning or jumping deep into the abyss of quasi-matrimony. I speak with experience from the former, not the latter. And, mark my words, “friends with benefits” is so hot right now. I actually went toe-to-toe with two guy friends at a bar last weekend in a pursuit to convince them that the typical Millennial male is more often than not seeking a friend with whom he can simply have sex than an actual committed relationship (let’s just say they didn’t disagree). Because, I actually do believe that most men do not want to sleep around with handfuls of random girls. They seem to be perplexed by their own paradoxical existence of not wanting anything serious (i.e. being forced to attend your grandma’s 80th birthday with you) while simultaneously wanting to have sex as much as humanly possible.
Let me present to you exhibit A.
I moved to Denver in my Airstream last spring. I met a guy on Bumble who happened to be on the way to a bachelor party for the weekend. I assumed we would engage in an hour-long text conversation that would end with him asking me to send nudes or with him sending me a completely unsolicited dick pic (because, yes, as you can assume from the above scenario, guys really do that). I’d tell him to (a) Google a nude, any nude (most certainly not mine), if that’s what he wanted, or (b) I’d cuss him out for exposing himself like a disturbed and arrogant asshole, and I’d add another tally to my list of douchebags found in the wild.
Welp, surprisingly, he proved me wrong. Beyond that, he actually seemed interested in who I was as a human being, and he proceeded to text me non-stop over the course of the weekend. While at a bachelor party (I feel that this detail needs repeating).
So, he returns home three days later and we commit to actually meeting face to face (like, whoa). And, for lack of a better word, it’s flawless. We’re super funny together (priority one), conversation is natural, and chemistry is fire. We hang out for a few weeks, which inevitably leads to sex. Immediately, he drops the bomb: let’s be friends. Let’s. Be. Friends? Oh wait, I’m sorry, correction, let’s be BEST friends. Perfect. Great. Because, I’m really lacking in the best friend department (insert massive eye roll here).
At this point, I assume it will die out. I assume that he used the nice guy “let’s be friends” card in an attempt to save my feelings and he will vanish as quickly as he had appeared. But, no. He quite literally continues to pursue my friendship. For a month he asks me to do nearly everything with him. He also proceeds to pay for everything: climbing, concerts, movies. Let’s note here that he also proceeds to take my clothes off on a semi-regular basis (despite his constant commentary on us needing rules to prevent such happenings). Final bomb: after a Luke Bryan concert, while sitting on a bench enveloped by a Colorado night sky, he tells me that he loves my soul. I’m sorry, what? Like, we are dating, bro. We. Are. DATING. I don’t care what you title me, but let’s call this thing by its Urban Dictionary definition. He follows up this statement with the fact that I simply deserve better. One, I think I am being dumped for the first time without ever actually having been in an established relationship. Two, fuck off. No one gets to tell me what I deserve. I decide that. So, no, I don’t deserve better. You simply deserve less based on your own evaluation of whatever this thing is that we’re doing. Say that, please. Own that.
So, spring came. And, spring went.
Summer roared in like a lion, and I committed myself to rock faces and mountain peaks, two things that I find to be (surprisingly) much more predictable than men. I also dove even deeper into my work (don’t worry, the digital dating gods still delivered amidst my commitment to my professional projects).
Enter exhibit B.
As a freelance creative director and brand strategist, I work remotely for all of my clients. Idaho. California. Kentucky. Texas. I sometimes wonder if I have a subconscious goal to knock off all 50 states. With all that being said, I met a guy in another state who pursued me completely on his own accord. My vision had always been to travel with my Airstream, but I was never 100% certain on dates. This guy gets my number, he uses round-about questions to engage me in some witty banter, and low and behold he says, “Move down here and I’ll fix all your dating problems.” Wow. Bold statement. I like it. So, after a couple months in this state of flirting euphoria, I commit (amongst a sea of many factors, but I’m intrigued by what’s happening here). He calls me pet names and we have running jokes, and if you know me, these are the keys to my heart. So, I’m smitten kitten. Without any expectation of what will actually become of it. If anything.
The point here is that I show up. I have the luxury of saying yes and then doing something about it. I want to be next to him, so I choose that. Because his voice brings this uncanny smile to my face, and when his name appears on my iPhone notifications, there is a simultaneous level of excitement and comfort. He is fireworks, and he is coming home. And the beauty lies not only in the feeling, but also in the reciprocation of the feeling. Because, there is zero bone in my body that has interpreted anything that he’s told me as being untrue.
Until I’m there. Until I’m standing in front of him begging for every inch of contact. And, that alone becomes the culmination of months of aggressive flirting. Me. Begging (like, seriously, just kiss me before I scream). Because he likes me, but he doesn’t know. I’m sorry, what? Yes, he likes me, but he doesn’t know. Because, self-admittedly, he is a tease. And, he likes it, even though he’s not proud of it (his words, not mine). Perfect. Great. Because, my character flaw is not consuming enough water daily. The effect of this flaw on other people: zero.
At this point, I need to clarify two things. One, I respect people who have an awareness about what they do not know. There is nothing wrong with not knowing. I would take harsh honesty over a sugar-coated lie ten times out of ten. My frustration or disappointment or bewilderment exists in the actions that suggest otherwise. I get it, the pursuit is fun, but if you are not ready to take the elk out of the woods after the hunt, then why are you going hunting in the first place? Terrible metaphor, by the way, but rolling with it. Two, I do not believe in forcing anything in life. I spent far too many years making things happen in the pursuit of checking off items from some proverbial checklist (which is entirely bullshit, by the way). So, for someone not to choose me does not devastate my being. Yes, I have feelings. Lots of them. Too many of them, probably (hello, Leo over here). But, in a world where we get to choose everything (for argument’s sake), I’m not into forcing anyone into a choice that involves me.
What I have observed in this last eighteen months of singledom is that no one wants to commit. To anything. There is no need to commit to anything. Most guys are on dating apps to have sex. Okay, rephrase, most guys are on dating apps posing like they want something substantial in order to get sex. I actually have the most respect for bios that read, “If I’m being honest, just looking to hook up.” Bravo. Kudos to you, dude. Because, I have had my own seasons of wanting more and wanting less. And, there is nothing wrong with either choice. There is nothing wrong with existing in either space. It’s the lack of honesty that burns me to my core. Stop flirting with me if it’s not going anywhere. Stop wasting my time. I don’t need more friends off of Bumble, or sliding into my DMs, or through obscure means of getting my phone number. Truly. I’ve reached my lifetime quota after 34 years.
In tandem, what I have observed in the last eighteen months about myself is that I am, most certainly, a lover and believer of words. And, that is the crux. That online dating, or simply just dating, is this whole show of words. That are so easily believed. And it’s just all shit. If I had a dollar for every guy who suggested running away with me in my Airstream, I would have been able to pay straight cash for my new F-150 a few weeks ago. Seriously. There’s one in LA, and a couple in New Jersey, a handful in Texas, and so many in Colorado that I’ve actually stopped counting. Because the minute I say, “Okay, I’m calling you on this statement,” my experience indicates that they can’t live up to it.
Great, tell me all about your fantasies, homeboy, only to ghost two days later (or, better yet, I find out about your undying love for your current girlfriend on your second to last Instagram post from five days ago). Newsflash, smoother operator, this is my actual life over here. Hope you enjoyed your glimpse.
So, yes, I’m attempting to not grow cynical. I’m also attempting to unpack two very real personal questions. One, if a game must be played in order to win the affection of another, and that game requires me to act outside of my normal state, then am I even winning if I do “win?” For example, guy articulates that he doesn’t know if he wants anything. Then, the same guy asks for me to bring him food because he’s stuck at work. I show love through service, so naturally, my being is dying to deliver said food. But, guy advice (based on my current inner circle) is usually, don’t bring him the food: “He’s using you. If he can’t say that he wants you, but is willing to get favors from you, show him that you don’t have time to do him favors without him giving you a respectable level of commitment.” And, this is fair. This actually makes sense. But, still, I deliver the food (yep, that’s me) because, yep, that IS me. And, I don’t want to be anything but myself. Ever.
Two, what is my responsibility to give people space to be honest and themselves but also to guard my own heart in that process? I believe in ease. I believe that there are certain things in life that mysteriously and beautifully fall into place. I’d like to believe that a romantic relationship would unfold in a similar fashion. But, if this guy says he doesn’t know and then proceeds to engage with me in a fashion that suggests otherwise, should I believe his actions or his words? And, the fact that I’m asking that question is my answer, right? If the right person were standing in front of me, I’m confident I wouldn’t have to be choosing between his actions and his words in the first place because there would be an alignment in both areas that carries the level of integrity that I demand for in my own self. Yet, here I am, FaceTiming my best male friend at 7:32pm on a Wednesday night to ask how to respond to the 47th text message from a guy who just doesn’t know what it is that he wants from me, making me perplexed on how to proceed with my own verbiage and actions.
At this point, let’s add the nomadic element to the mix. And, I am quite confident that therein lies a bigger piece to this commitment-phobic puzzle. Because, it is easy to fall into a routine with someone who resides within your city limits and has a similar schedule to your scripted life. It is an entirely different thing to choose a person who has the freedom to leave. To ask someone to stay requires a deeper level of commitment. It means that someone is choosing for me to do life alongside him, and it means that we are taking off into the sunset together or I am abandoning the road to call someone my home. Ultimately, that choice is my desire. Because, the more I embark on adventures alone, the narrower the gap becomes for me to experience those things for the first time with someone else.
And, I’m starting to question whether or not anything is actually beautiful without it being shared, without it being seen through two sets of eyes in the same moment, if anything is real without the conversation of that thing existing between two coherent bodies.
So, I continue to sit and manifest these desires in the belief that, one day, I’ll be done with the exhibits. That, one day, someone will choose me, and I will choose him back. Without force. Without fear. Without the twenty questions. Granted, maybe I’ve already missed out on Mr. Perfect somewhere in between. Because I didn’t like his shoes. Or his haircut was weird. Or, I swiped left because he failed to include a bio (c’mon, guys). Regardless, I know that wanting something requires attention to that thing. I know that wanting someone requires intentionality to his existence. So, I’m here. Showing up. Attempting to live outside of our digital dead zone. Attempting to keep doing the work to have that one thing that my heart yearns to explore. I can reason that if it were easy, then everyone would do it. Like, really do it. It’s not easy. Not everyone does it. Like, really does it. But, it will damn well be worth it.
Meanwhile, if you need help with your pickup lines, don’t hesitate to slide into my DMs. They’re currently still free for the taking.