The twenty-something dating world is a weird animal – in New York, at least. Rewind a couple years, when you were in college: Back then it was easy to find out who was available, who was a douche, and who was worth the fight. Usually it just took a text message. Remember crushing on that tall guy in your Philosophy class? “What’s the deal with hot tall guy?” you SMS your friend. She quickly reminds you that he was the dude that pissed all over your freshman year hall. Then uprooted a six-foot plant and put it in your roommate’s closet. He’s a no go. And remember first seeing Plaid T-Shirt in the corner of the Dining Hall? You quickly got the scoop on him too: Single – and, no crazy ex. So you cross the cafeteria clusterfuck known as Tortellini Tuesday Rush Hour and ask if there’s room at his small table. “Yes, of course,” he says, before you both realize your mutual love for alliterative daily dinner specials.
But then you graduate and leave the college bubble, and head to New York with all sorts of big ideas and big dreams. You get situated; figure out your work stuff. Also: How to deal with Time Warner’s automated billing service and how to discreetly cry on the subway. Then there’s meeting new people. Which is a different experience, and pretty challenging. Because just months into the move, you’ll be forced to reconcile the fact that you won’t meet your future boyfriend at a bar downtown. It’s too loud; he’s too drunk, and an extremely uncoordinated dancer from Long Island. Plus, you know nothing about this guy – you met over an “Oh my god, I love this song, too!” and that’s as deep as the dialogue will go. You won’t meet him in the workplace, either. Unless you can deal with morning after conversations by the printer, or forced small talk about the shitty coffee machine. You also realize there are a fair amount of guys in your age bracket who treat the “real world” like a fraternity. Kappa Alpha Wall Street happy hour, bro! (High five.)
(At one point early on, you bring up this New-to-New York dating anxiety to your mom. “Oh come on!” she says. “You’re in your twenties and in New York. It’s the place to meet the most interesting people!” But where? And before you know it, she pulls out “contacts.” Like that childhood neighbor’s son in finance.)
All of these futile dating scenarios drive cathartic conversations between you and your single friends over long dinners that involve lots of wine, high-pitched yelling, and dramatic hand gestures. Of course, these conversations just end in awful hangovers. Because for a city that’s so overwhelmingly packed with bodies – where you rub thighs with strangers on the train, where there are people always out socializing, and looking good – there’s still a sense of a romantic disconnect. The fact that many call New York a “lonely” place is a counterintuitive, but sort of harsh reality. Which is why there are some of us twenty-somethings who explore other avenues in order to, in a way, face and conquer this reality.
For me, the idea of joining an online dating site seemed strange, slightly awkward, and embarrassing. But after a close friend convinced me to try it out, I figured “Why not?” Thus prompting my first Small World Experience in this overpopulated but intimately interconnected city.
I was a huge novice to this thing called “online dating” (because it is totally an alien concept in the year 2011). In retrospect, I probably could’ve picked more attractive and sexy default photos, but what my prospective cyber lovers got instead were pictures of me drunkenly smiling in a blazer, hanging with a little boy in a poncho, and posing by myself in a plaid shirt and hat – aka mountain woman garb. I also could’ve filled out my profile with relevant information. I had a boring “Hey there!” in the “About Me” section and listed semi-snobby indie selections in my “Favorite Music/Film/Book” sections. But what I really had a problem with was the fundamental backbone of online dating itself: Correspondence.
At the beginning I ignored a good amount of messages from interested parties. Take “ButABitchAintOne,”(28, the Bronx): “Wuzzup sexy thing. U want sum chocolate?” Or “BatsFlyFunny,” (29, Manhattan): “You remind me of a blonde Jackie Chan. Get at me.” Or NOT_A_Rapist (26, Cohoes)… Where the fuck is Cohoes, New York?
After I got my bearings, I discovered what I liked to call “cyber footsy” (where you can see when people are “checking you out” and vice versa), and built up the stamina to message two different prospects. We’ll call them “Alan” and “Stan.” I had a lot in common with Alan and Stan: Alan was a big fan of music and his preppy friends called him a hipster for unwarranted reasons, while Stan was a philosophy major turned tech writer with a great sense of humor. Both were good-looking, interesting, funny, etc, and the dialogue moved along nicely. So, I planned on meeting both of them in person – until I had to cancel on Alan last minute and Stan went radio silent.
Soon enough, I rescheduled with Alan. Then one night I got really drunk and figured it’d be a good idea to message Stan, too. Why not, right? The Internet was on my side.
“Hey, are we going to get that drink?” I said, trying to sound nonchalant, before faceplanting into my pillow to pass out. The next morning, I woke up to a response from Stan, circa 1:27 a.m.: “You almost went on a date with my roommate.”
Cosmic jokes are surreal, and perhaps momentous, human experiences. But they’re even more surreal when they happen on the Internet: There is just that huge space of separation that only heightens the mystery and bewilderment of it all. Yet, instead of calculating the chances of messaging two guys that are roommates amidst a pool of 500,000 active users, I responded with something like: “HAHAHA! That’s awkward!” (Caps lock intended to show that I didn’t care but just found it really comical.) Meanwhile my face was melting.
I was an official OKCupid slut: New York edition.
Realizing things had gotten too weird to back out, I went on the date with Alan. We had a fun time, talking about local music, our jobs, and partying. He also enjoyed teasing me about the whole roommate situation. “So my roommate…” he’d say at the beginning of a sentence, followed by “Wait, you know my roommate, right?” I would just laugh and say something like “Oh yeah! Small world!” (Followed by forced laughter then nervously looking down at something really interesting on the floor). We went out again to probably the only decent bar in Murray Hill and talked about post-college life and being in New York; post date, we texted and such.
About a week or so later, I was hanging out by Alan’s apartment and we decided to meet up. Minor detail: He brought his roommate Stan along. It was a peculiar afternoon; I met Stan and tried to crack some jokes that were just not funny. And then we went with Stan to pick up his laundry.
That night I took the next natural step in our generation’s progression of things and Facebook friended Stan. Which led to Facebook messages – stuff like how we thought The Social Network wasn’t overrated and about life in New York media, which we were both a part of – which led to G-chat, which led to text messages. Alan didn’t know anything about this, but hidden behind all these sorts of cyber-created screens – where there was no face-to-face interaction, just calculated, witty banter and flirty emoticons – Stan and I felt safer about doing something that wasn’t necessarily right.
Alan ended up finding out – he read a text message that I had sent Stan one Friday night. And, of course, he wasn’t happy about it. But the two roommates worked it out, and I began seeing Stan. Looking back now, what seemed like a situation of Two People Meeting Online followed by Dating In Real Life was not separate entities but oddly interrelated. Stan and I G-chatted all the time; we texted; we sexted; we talked on the phone. But for two people that were really into each other – and that lived in this geographically small city – we didn’t hang that much. Even when we G-chatted each other “I miss you” (followed by sad faces) at work, we didn’t meet after work. Our SoHo offices were less than a mile in walking distance.
It was a passionate cyber-meeting turned cyber-fueled fling that couldn’t sustain itself. What was missing was the human part of it. When Stan stopped talking to me out of nowhere, he later apologized over G-chat for his behavior. When more time passed, and it was okay for us to be friends, we tweeted at each other, and exchanged casual text messages. Then he started texting me on Saturdays at 9:30 am: “Will you come spoon me?” And to be honest, I don’t know what he would have done if I took a train to his place, knocked on his door, and spooned him.
Some time later, I saw a video of Stan pop up on my Facebook newsfeed. He had done a TV show guest spot to discuss online dating, which I found fittingly appropriate to watch. When OKCupid came up, he described it as the “Amazon.com of hooking up.”
You really don’t know what ultimately drives people to join dating sites and the kinds of people you’re going to meet.
In a city of almost 20 million, there shouldn’t be a necessity to hide out behind Photoshopped images and deliberated Profile descriptions of ourselves to meet someone we could potentially spoon with. But in a city of almost 20 million that keeps on shrinking – to the point where six degrees separation becomes obsolete – it makes sense. And maybe that’s why we abandon these streets of people to gaze at bright screens of images and words that might lead to potential romance.
When you really think about it though, there is something inherently sexy – and immediate, and thrilling – about sharing space with an attractive stranger on the 1,2,3. Much more than say a “poke” from “CaveManLikeyInternet”(29, Astoria) that you can’t actually feel, and whom you never hope to meet in person.
Vann Alexandra still has an OKCupid account, mostly because she doesn’t know how to deactivate it. But when she gets a 5-out-of-5 star rating from guys like “MisterApples” (19, Yonkers) it definitely makes her day.