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4 Things I've Learned About Online Dating as the 'Most Popular Girl in New York'

Lauren Urasek was featured in the 2014 New York Magazine piece, "Meet the 4 Most Desired People in New York (According to OKCupid)." This post is an excerpt from her new book, Popular: The Ups and Downs of Online Dating from the Most Popular Girl in New York City.

Someone can seem absolutely perfect in their photos and texts, but you can end up having absolutely zero chemistry in person.

Last summer, I decided to meet up with a guy I came across on Happn. I can't say I wasn't skeptical -- by then I'd had my fair share of disappointing dates -- but his pictures were fine, meaning there was a close-up of his face, there were no group shots of guys holding Bud Lights, and there was a lack of laughable snaps where he donned sunglasses while standing in front of a national landmark grinning like some kind of mythic conqueror. (My friend Jeremy almost started a Tumblr that would solely contain Internet-dating photos of people at Machu Picchu, because this trend is actually getting quite comical and out of hand.)

Anyway, my date, Josh, looked good, and after chatting with him via text, he seemed intelligent to boot. We planned a date on a beautiful day in Brooklyn's Prospect Park (worlds better than Central Park, but of course). He told me he would pick up food, drinks, even a picnic blanket. I was pleasantly taken aback that he was going out of his way to do all that for someone he really didn't know at all -- it was 2014, not 1957. I started to actually get excited for this date, and me getting excited for a date is as rare as a cat giving a flying f*ck when you command it to get off your countertop (or do anything else, for that matter).

Then I saw him walking toward me in the park. The second he opened his mouth, I knew it wasn't gonna work. It wasn't his voice or what he said, exactly. It was just... you might not always instantly know whether the spark is there right away, but you do know if the spark is, like, the absolute literal opposite of there right away.

As we perched on his blanket and did the ostensibly cute alfresco thing, he talked about himself constantly while heaving Brie into his face. His gut overflowing out of his shirt only added to the hotness of this, and he didn't bother to pull it down even once. After more cheese shoveling and more bragging about how much exotic world travel he'd done that year, he glanced down at his phone and noted, "I actually need to get going soon."

I quickly agreed that I had "so much to do," and that vaguely awkward silent understanding that we both totally weren't into each other passed between us. Naturally, we never spoke (er, texted) again, which was A-OK by me.

People can pull a 180 personality flip when you least expect it.

One of the strangest online dating experiences I've ever had went down a couple weeks before my birthday last summer. As you've most certainly learned by now, I've gone on a ton of unsuccessful first dates, and thus I rarely remember their names (about 80 percent of them are called Mike or Chris anyway). For the sake of the story, let's call this winner Steven.

Steven and I were getting along almost too well for the first couple hours of our date at an East Village bar. He was covered in tattoos and looked very put together. It felt really natural, like
we had been seeing each other for longer than um, less than one date. After a while we moved to another bar, and he asked if it was OK if his cousin joined us. I was dubious. It seemed a little bizarre to let another dude tag along on your date, but he said he was only asking because his cousin was new to the city and had time to kill. Said "cousin" showed up and was a skeezy-looking, skinny European dandy wearing a sheer pink button-up and pleated black dress pants. That's when shit started to get real weird.

Drinks were flowing, and soon Steven's personality started to change. While it may have been kind of amusing -- even slightly flattering -- the first time he'd said it, he started referring to me as his fiancée to his cousin and to strangers around us. He started obsessing over everything I did and complimenting me every other sentence. It was the first time I'd seen a dude get extremely vulnerable on a first date and tell me about how badly he wanted to find the love of his life to settle down and have kids with. It was desperate, unappealing, and crystal clear that he was trying to force a relationship down any female's throat without even bothering to get to know her. He stepped away from the table to go to the bathroom and actually texted me from there.

I know, I know. Obvious psychopath. But don't judge me for sticking around -- I was semi-drunk and therefore willing to tolerate much more than I would have sober. Plus, I knew this experience would turn into a great story. (I was right, right?)

The three of us hopped in a cab and Steven launched into a heated argument with the driver about an obscure country in Asia. I jumped in and broke up the argument as Steven's creep cousin just sat there dumbly in his see-through shirt. The whole point of leaving the last bar was to find something to eat, and they decided, as we were in the cab, that Benihana would be PERFECT. Each new turn of events just became more ridiculous than the last, so I felt like I had to tag along to this classy establishment where food was thrown casually at your face.

Steven started telling everyone at our communal, tourist-stuffed Benihana table that we were engaged, which I pretty much laughed off without confirming or denying. He bought the whole table mai tais and several bottles of sake. I don't know exactly why mai tais were one of Benihana's "signature cocktails" since they obvs have no Japanese connection whatsoever, but maybe I shouldn't expect authenticity from a cheesy, generic chain restaurant.

With a full mouth of delicious fried rice, we'd almost made it through dinner when Steven turned to me and sternly said, "This isn't going to work."

"Ummm, what are you talking about?" I asked.

He continued to mumble, seeming to have a legit conversation with the split personalities battling it out in his head. He then accused me of "sabotaging our love," saying I wasn't paying
attention to him, that it seemed like I actually wanted to date the tourist girl I'd been politely chatting with.

NO WORDS.

Then Steven abruptly called the waitress over and asked for the bill, demanding that I pay half of it. I laughed; I would never have agreed to hit up an overpriced chain near Times Square if I knew I'd be paying, and it certainly hadn't been my decision to pass out free drinks to old Swedish ladies.

With food still on our plates and the tourists just as confused as I was, Steven stood and theatrically walked out after paying a portion of the check. His cousin followed. I sat there for a good five minutes finishing my food, because duh.

When I got to the bottom of the stairs on my way out, I found Steven waiting. The look on his face was that of a guilty dude who had cheated on his wife. He lunged toward me. "I'm so sorry," he pleaded. "I just really want this -- us -- to be perfect, so we can spend the rest of our lives together."

My expression could easily have been described as that emoji with its eyes bugged out. I high-tailed it out of that restaurant as fast as I could and headed for the train. Steven followed me for two blocks, begging for forgiveness. Once he'd finally stopped following me, he yelled down the street, "ARE YOU SURE THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT?!" Um, dude -- I had never been so sure about anything in my life.

People will sacrifice hours of their lives, bored out of their minds on bad dates, in an attempt not to offend someone.

I can't tell you how many times I've gone out with someone and knew, within the first 30 seconds, that it just wasn't going to click. That doesn't mean I left, however. Nope, I almost always stick around for an hour or two because leaving feels uncouth and, well, mean. What am I supposed to say? "Hey, so ummmm, I know I actually know nothing about you, but your voice/shoes/breath/teeth just aren't working for me."

Still, though, when I finally do say goodbye, I make a point of being honest about how I feel, because I'd rather someone just tell me they don't think it'll work out than give me BS hope for a second date. Of course that's happened to me plenty of times. ("I'll text you," they mutter, as their eyes say something else). Who the f*ck knows, maybe I wasn't as skinny or ladylike as they expected? Anyway, as Dita Von Teese says, "You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there's still going to be someone who hates peaches."

Herein lies one of the biggest problems with meeting people online: The only information you have about them is the messages they write and the photos they provide. It's an ideal example of how someone can be perfect on paper (or onscreen), but be utterly incompatible with you face-to-face. It's impossible not to put a lot of pressure on those first 30 seconds of
meeting. If the very first moments are disappointing, you're in for at least an hour of forced conversation, and if you leave before that hour, you're considered an asshole. You can't win.

You never know who you'll meet.

I follow lots of scientists on social media. I like keeping up with whatever the cool new discovery is, and I obsessively devour obscure facts about the universe. I'd freak out more if I had the chance to meet Carl Sagan over Justin Timberlake any day.

One night I was scrolling through Twitter when Bill Nye the Science Guy retweeted a photo of himself with Jay-Z. I started following Brandon, the guy who'd posted the original photo of the dynamic duo, and over the next few weeks, I tweeted back and forth with him here and there. Eventually, he asked if I wanted to grab a drink sometime.

We went on a couple of dates and actually got along pretty well. On our third outing, after an amazing dinner, he asked if I was up for heading to a bar. "I have a surprise for you," he said.

When we got to the spot, as Brandon was speaking to the hostess, Bill Nye-the-mother-f*cking-Science-Guy walked in and made eye contact with me. I was internally trying not to completely lose my shit, but somehow managed to introduce myself and shake his hand. Brandon was actually a good friend of Bill's, and that was my surprise.

I would have never anticipated that following some random on Twitter would lead to me shooting the shit while drinking whiskey with one of my heroes for a couple hours on a Tuesday. And though Brandon and I didn't pan out -- we weren't looking for the same thing -- I am forever indebted to him for facilitating a hangout with someone I respect so much, and it's not lost on me that I never would have experienced it if it weren't for the weird, occasional wonder of meeting dudes on the Internet.

2015-10-05-1444051944-1205752-popular.jpgReprinted with permission from POPULAR © 2015 by Lauren Urasek, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

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