Reclaiming My Life From the Virtual Cloud

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I came out of the closet when I was 29, and within months, I met someone and fell in love. Eight years later that relationship was over. Suddenly I was a 37-year-old, single gay man in New York City with very little dating experience under my belt. The last time I had been single, there were no websites to get matched on, no dating apps to swipe right or left and find someone. You simply walked around the city and hoped to magically bump into your future partner.

Meeting someone online for a date seemed alien, awkward and akin to spouse selection from a catalog. However, I lived an hour subway ride away from any gay bar or fun neighborhood. So logistically it made sense to investigate online dating.

It turned out, I loved it! Or at least I loved the social aspect of it. I didn't go on many actual dates, but since I lived so far uptown, the chatting, flirting, and talking to my new online pals was the most social interaction I had had in a long time. Going online became the highlight of each day. I would count down the hours until 7pm, when I could end work and sign in to my social media and apps.

Let's back up for a second. I haven't mentioned why I moved to New York City years ago: I moved here to be a musician. And for a while in my early 20s, I was in a lot of bands, played out a lot, and it was good. Then I fell in love, became part of a couple, and was happily a homebody. During those eight years of couplehood, I let my drive for music slide, opting instead for a well-paying day job rather than focusing on my dream.

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With my first big relationship over, I was now single and online -- spending upwards of five hours a night on social media, dating websites, apps, chatting, tweeting, and posting. I was having a ball. Except, I was doing all of this alone in my apartment. I wasn't making actual physical friends I could go out on the town with -- just virtual ones I could instant message. Those five hours a night, alone on the computer and phone, were just disappearing into a big virtual cloud.

I was falling asleep with the phone on my nightstand, waking up each morning with the equivalent of an online hangover. I realized I wanted more -- and could do more -- with all that time. I began to curtail my online activities. Instead of chatting and tweeting, I went to my piano to write, rehearse and rediscover forgotten dreams. It became my new nightly routine. Within a few months, I sounded better than ever: my voice was stronger and my playing was top notch. I channeled this new creative momentum into writing new material (mostly based on the relationship that had ended.) Soon I had an album's worth of songs.

It was as if a switch had been flipped: the 5 hours of TV, Facebooking and dating apps that used to occupy my time was now used to better my skills and make art. I was thrilled with what was transpiring. I was no longer content to sit idly by and let life pass me by. I didn't want to just read posts and tweets about life -- I wanted to actively live it. I started performing again in the city and kept rehearsing and writing. I released an album. I went on tour. In the middle of all this I met a man -- at a bar -- an actual physical person in a physical place. We've been together ever since.

I believe you can make genuine connections through online dating and social media. But you have to be honest with yourself about whether those connections are really happening or whether you are just distracting yourself from loneliness or, worse, avoiding pursuing a passion. If there's something out there that you have truly always wanted to do, find those small pockets of free time and break your normal routine. Reclaim some of the time that you've been spending online or watching television or otherwise frittering away the day and spend that energy on making your life change. We all have the ability to be anything we want.

I chose to give up my "free" time, but what I got in return is immeasurable. I found a new life -- one I had always thought out of reach. I let go of my virtual reality and made an abandoned dream tangible. And I haven't slowed down. I recently released my second abum Bicycling in Quicksand and with it I opted to expand my creative reach by taking the album's photos, designing the cover and even filming and directing my latest video, "Taffy." I have found a new diligence and dedication -- all by walking away from the computer and putting down the phone.

See and hear more from Derek at www.derekbishop.net