Earlier this year I took the plunge and, after a long dating hiatus, signed up for OkCupid. I started out somewhat optimistic, but after a few disappointing online exchanges, I soon became discouraged and barely logged onto the site anymore after that.
Some people sign up for online dating and within a week, they have five dates lined up.
"Online dating is a great way to just get a lot of dates really fast!" these annoying people say.
This was not my experience at all. As much as I wanted to be in a relationship, I just couldn't stick with the drudgery of taking actions on the site long enough to get over the hump of ho-hum messages and misleading IMs and schedule an actual date IRL.
Getting any traction whatsoever on OkCupid seemed depressingly insurmountable. But then, last month I decided to give it another try by starting with one small step, and gave myself the tiny, manageable goal of just writing to three guys.
I normally skip over the section about people's favorite books and movies because it tends to be long, boring and pretentious, but on one guy's profile, I happened to notice that he listed If the Buddha Dated by Charlotte Kasl, PhD as one of his favorite books.
Coincidentally, I was re-reading that book for the third time, and it's all about bringing a spiritual perspective -- with the accompanying mindfulness, kindness, honesty and directness -- to dating. He also listed two other yogic/Buddhist/meditation books, both of which I'd read.
"Our bookshelves have a lot in common," I wrote to him. "I'm currently (re-)reading one of the books on your list of favorites, and own two others -- can you guess which ones?"
This was the cutest and possibly best online message I'd ever sent.
He wrote back right away with a clever email trying to deduce which books I'd read, and a thoughtful, funny response to something in my profile about yoga.
We emailed back and forth for a few days during which time he always responded immediately, and when I once took two days to get back to him he wrote, "Haven't heard back from you -- are you stuck in an advanced yoga pose? Shall I send help?"
I liked that he was showing interest in hearing from me while keeping it light and playful, and we soon scheduled a date. After four and a half months on the site, I'd finally reached escape velocity and was actually going on my first OkCupid date!
Meeting for coffee at a neighborhood place nearby, it was a great first date. I was calm and grounded, and didn't launch into my usual routine of trying to impress him by putting on a show about how amazing and charming and fun I am.
Our conversation flowed easily and we talked about yoga, spirituality and work, going past surface-level small talk but without any oversharing. He brought up If the Buddha Dated and how he appreciated the author's concept of "crawling in love" -- getting to know each other slowly and deepening the connection over time -- as opposed to falling in love quickly, a passage I'd recently (re-)read and appreciated, too.
Besides having a good conversation, I felt just the right amount of attracted to him -- more than I thought I would be based on his pictures, but not that crazy-all-consuming-fireworks-exploding attraction that has historically made me lose myself to obsession and fantasy about the person.
"Well, I should get going soon," I said after about an hour and a half, crumpling up my napkin and stuffing it into my coffee cup.
"Me, too," he said.
"I had a nice time," I said.
"Me, too," he responded.
"I should stop talking and let you go first!" I said, smiling.
Saying goodbye on the street outside the coffee shop, he hugged me and told me he'd like to go out again.
"That would be great," I said.
That night he emailed me to say he really enjoyed meeting me and asked if I'd like to go out again when he got back from his trip the following week, and I said yes.
When I hadn't heard from him after a week, I started to get annoyed.
"This is my least favorite quality in man!" I complained to a friend.
Inconsistent, erratic behavior -- acting really interested and taking a lot of initiative and then disappearing, or being super on the ball with emailing and then not writing at all -- were all things that I'd experienced a lot of in my dating past and that were extremely painful to me. Last year, I made a list of qualities I wanted in someone I dated and another list of deal breakers I wouldn't tolerate, and all of the above were on the top of my deal breakers list.
Whereas in the past I would have been freaking out that I hadn't heard from him and taking it personally, I felt surprisingly, coolly detached. After all, I didn't actually know this person yet, and from what I was learning, he was not someone I wanted to be involved with. But I was also pissed.
That Sunday afternoon, as I was walking to meet a friend, I saw him walking towards me, which was strange because even though we lived in the same neighborhood, I'd never seen him before our date.
Safely behind my sunglasses, I had a brief internal debate about if I should pretend I didn't see him and keep walking or stop and say hi, and my mature adult inner self won.
"Hey," I said, pushing my sunglasses on top of my head, my heart pounding.
"It's so weird that people can recognize each other even with sunglasses on," he said, adjusting his sunglasses.
"Hmmmm..." I said.
"I'm just heading to the park to meet a friend and a friend of a friend and his girlfriend," he said, swinging a picnic basket.
"Sounds fun!" I chirped. "How was your trip?"
"Good, just got back on Friday and I'm heading out again this Friday!"
OK, I get it! I thought, deciphering his not-so-subtle subtext. You're sooo busy and unavailable!
"That's great!" I said, nodding and waiting for him to say something.
I was expecting some sort of apology about why he hadn't been in touch like, "Sorry I haven't gotten back to you yet, last week was really busy." Or an acknowledgement that he'd asked me out and hadn't followed up, like, "I'd still like to get together, I'll email you this week to set something up." Or even an explanation about why he didn't want to go out anymore like, "This is so awkward but I just got back together with my ex/met my soul mate on my trip last week so I'm not available for dating anymore." Charlotte Kasl, PhD and the Buddha would have wanted it that way.
But as I shifted from foot to foot, he didn't say anything.
"Well, nice to see you! Have fun on your... outing!" I said, glancing at his picnic basket and twirling my finger in the air in a spastic hand gesture before turning and walking away.
Why couldn't I have been at least a little chilly?! I thought, berating myself for being so friendly despite not feeling that way at all towards him. But I tried to quiet my critical inner voice and be gentle, reminding myself that my compulsive cheerfulness is a self-protective defense mechanism, and also, thoroughly out of my control.
With my first OkCupid date under my belt, I'm disappointed that what seemed like a great first date didn't even lead to a second, and angry and resentful that this guy so misrepresented himself and his intentions. And I think that he should have to remove his mention of If the Buddha Dated from his profile for so blatantly disregarding its tenets of kindness and honest and direct communication in dating.
But, having done a lot of work on myself, what's different from how I used to date pre-hiatus is that although I'm irritated, I'm not upset.
Sure, it was only one date and I didn't really know him, but a few years ago that wouldn't have stopped me from becoming inconsolable if he wasn't in touch. This time around, though, I'm not making his actions, or lack thereof, mean anything about me, or letting those old story lines take over about being rejected and unlovable. I see (with un-Buddha-like judgment of this guy, which is a big improvement from self-loathing) that this is all about him, and that for whatever reason, he's not able to show up honestly and directly.
This doesn't exactly inspire my faith in mankind or make me eager to "get back out there again" and try for another date with another guy. But it didn't throw me down a rabbit hole of depression, hopelessness and despair, either.
What I learned from this date is that my self-esteem no longer has to depend on a guy asking me out or not, I can clearly identify qualities I don't like and detect unavailability in a man and best of all, this makes me not interested in him instead of more interested. Despite this guy's inconsistent behavior, I can still feel good that I showed up, was kind, and acted in integrity -- with the exception of a brief burst of self-protective excessive cheerfulness.
I think Charlotte Kasl and the Buddha would be proud.