by Amy Dennis
I opened the bathroom door and came out to find Mark* waiting at the foot of my bed wearing only his underwear. A few minutes ago, we were acquaintances with potential; now, here stood six feet eight inches of doughy furniture salesman in my girly bedroom, defiling my fortress of solitude with his black boxer briefs. Somehow, our relationship must have progressed pretty rapidly while I was on the toilet. Unsure of exactly what to say, I took a beat and peered at him closely.
In the lamp light, I watched his entire frame sway back and forth. His eyes blinked slowly, and his slack mouth gaped a little. He was plastered. I’d known that, of course. It’s why I told him to sleep at my house. “There’s plenty of room,” I had said. “You shouldn’t drive,” I had said. I’m pretty sure those were my words, but it must have sounded to Mark something like, “Hey, baby, I’m gonna slip into something more comfortable while you get ready to rock and roll! I can’t wait to see you in those sexy, stretched out, cotton underpants you’ve probably been wearing for the last three days.”
I wasn’t the only one responsible for this late night misunderstanding. Neither was Mark the Drunk Furniture Guy. The burden of fault mostly fell on a handy little dot com that promised more marriages than any other dating site. Having found myself middle aged and single again after twelve years of matrimony, I soon realized that I don’t meet new people often. If I didn’t want to die lonely and miserable and pitiable, eating cat food straight out of the can and talking to squirrels, then I needed a little help.
At first, online dating sounded exciting. I could reinvent myself, erase past hurts, and show my best side. I posted filtered photos that made me look fit and fun and fly, skipping over any shots that might suggest a muffin top or the slightest wrinkle. I liked this version of me. I’d totally date me if I didn’t know me better.
Soon, I found out that elderly men from across the globe felt exactly the same way. Compliments, propositions, and vulgar suggestions filled my inbox. Then every once in a while, I even ran across a familiar face. Oh look, there’s my son’s soccer coach. I read his profile and found out that he actually loathes children. Interesting. Ooh: an ex-boyfriend’s profile! He looks dorky. I have to block him, of course. Hey, there’s a guy friend from high school. He’s on the hunt for his third wife.
Drunk Mark was the first man I met online. Our awkward evening had rolled around after five or six fairly normal dates. The trick to wrangling a 7-foot-tall guy into a bed you don’t want to share: just give up. I told him to lie down and get comfortable. By the time I walked around the house switching off lights and hiding valuables, he’d agreeably passed out between my sheets. I grabbed my purse and computer and got cozy in another bedroom: the one with the lock on the door. The next morning, we went to Starbucks because I needed a jolt of caffeine and he needed a cup of wake up-and-smell-the-loneliness. I’m not the kind of woman who’d break it off with a guy just for getting tipsy and stripping down to his skivvies (although maybe I should be), but Mark made it a habit to eat and drink and burn through his credit cards like a younger, taller Hugh Hefner. I’m not such the wild type, so my search went on.
Along came Brad. Brad was adorable in his picture, but of course that was sixty pounds ago. It didn’t help that he dozed off during the movie. I watched him sleep as stale popcorn tumbled down from his lips while Vince Vaughn paraded around on the screen. I considered sneaking out but felt guilty abandoning this man that I’d just met. The world of online dating is a microcosm that is, in many cases, devoid of the scruples of the face-to-face world. The people on the computer screen are 2D bits and bytes. They don’t seem like actual humans, so even after meeting face-to-face, online daters may not expect their actions to have real consequences. By remaining there next to Brad the Dribbler, I was allowing actual scruples to spill over into a world where most people expect nothing but fantasy. But there I sat: slurping the bottom of my Coke and stealing sideways glances at the reality of single parenthood. He finally woke, asking, “So, should we get dinner?”
Next came Tommy, the high-voiced, barely-taller-than-me-in-boots insurance adjuster. He had two dainty little dogs that ran around his house and peed wherever they wanted because they knew Tommy would only offer a squeaky little Southern fuss of, “Phoebe girl! Nooo, nooo!” and then he’d let Phoebe girl go about her business without actually interrupting her. The evening that I stepped barefoot into a puddle of Phoebe girl’s pee was the evening I knew that Squeaky Tommy would never be my Prince Charming.
Then there was Parker. Oh, now, Parker was sexy. 6’4”, built, shaggy hair, one slightly crooked tooth that lent a rugged look. Parker was hot. Parker was also dumb as a stump. He thought that Omaha was in Africa. Poor Parker’s vocabulary consisted mostly of the words fuck, fuckin’, and fucker. He was, I allow, deft enough to rearrange those words in many different combinations in his search for verbal meaning. Parker had a wide circle of friends, many of whom I met, and all of whom he greeted with, “Hey, fucker!” He once asked me where all my fuckin’ friends were. When I introduced him to a couple of them, he promptly told them a filthy joke. We just weren’t close enough for dirty jokes yet, and he found that out the hard way, the poor fucker.
Now Kenneth had potential. Kenneth was educated, driven, successful, and attractive. I thought surely this relationship would work out. But, as I learned, it takes a while to scratch the surface of someone’s real inner workings. At forty-two, Kenneth was still unmarried and had no kids. In fact, Kenneth was still a virgin. For over four decades, Kenneth’s world had revolved around… Kenneth. It seems he’d come to expect the same from the women in his life, which explains why the only one who’d stuck around so far was his giant black dog. Kenneth was also a crier. Crybaby Kenny liked to rub my scalp when we made out, almost to the point of drawing blood. Kenny was shocked when I asked him to stop clawing at my noggin, so then we were back to the crying again.
Of course, there were others. Sometimes we met for one date and conceded our mutual disinterest. A few seemed like a good find but then never called me again. It’s likely that I’ve become a laughable paragraph in their own colorful histories of online dating experiences. I’m okay with that, though. For now, I’ve gone off the grid completely and resorted to searching for my match in grocery stores, coffee shops, and the occasional back alley trash bin. I may just throw in the towel completely and head across the ocean.
*Names have been changed. Mostly.
One day soon, Amy Dennis will finish her Masters degree at Texas Christian University. Her research interests include survival literature, American roots music, and the relationship between oral culture and print based learning. She teaches Developmental English at Eastfield College in Mesquite, TX, and she’s the faculty liaison for the Writing Center there. Amy is also the curator of Eastfield’s faculty and staff literary blog, thirtyseventhirtyseven.com, the mother of two fine young men, and the Bananagrams champion of her household. She’s holding off on getting a cat.