The Wider Net

“I like online dating because it can at least give you an indication that someone is interested,” I told my friend.

“Interested, sure,” he replied, “but interesting….?” He let the sentence trail off into a question and I had to laugh. It was a good point.

The truth is I have mixed feelings about online dating. You see a picture, you read a profile, you like a smile, and maybe they like yours too. There’s no real ambiguity about the fact that you’re sizing each other up. There are steps to the dance and rules to follow. I take some mild comfort in the ritual of it; as if by going online and going out for a drink it means that I’m back in the dating game. It’s a game I can’t say I’m particularly good at playing, although I’ve got a near perfect record of guessing at whether I’ll get a follow up message after the first date.

It’s not for lack of meeting people. I find myself meeting new people all the time. However it’s the same dance that has been around for more generations than online dating. The guessing, wondering, hedging bets, leaning in to a person’s smell that makes your stomach flutter, lingering on a hug for longer than necessary, and plucking at daisies chanting “he loves me, he loves me not.” I’m even worse at this part of the game.

With so many people out there in the world, we’re all these moving possibilities with an untold trajectory. Circumstance, chance, and maybe even the angle of the sun in the sky could cause us to change course. And then there’s the likelihood that anyone could change their mind at any moment, including me.

So with me, when that real-life crush occurs I spend time wondering if I’m wasting my time and energy plucking at daisies. As I’ve gotten older, I have reduced (not eliminated) my fear about speaking my mind if only to save me months of agonizing. Because once I’ve set my hook and cast my line, I can’t see any other fish but that one. And truth be told, if I have to cut the line I still can’t help but stare longingly out to sea thinking about the one that got away. I suppose that’s all part of standing soft and strong.

Online dating feels like a tool to keep me from getting too attached by casting a single line. It’s all about casting the wider net and if a beautiful bluefin swims right up to my boat I wouldn’t complain. The only problem with the wide net is some of the sea trash winds up on the boat as well.

I suppose that’s how I found myself on one particular date that was thirty minutes late and in a different location because he didn’t look up the location until he was supposed to be there. That probably should have been my first sign. However, I had also been trying to exercise giving the benefit of the doubt.

There was a smattering of small talk once he had finally gotten off the phone, and then he started in on me almost like a drill sergeant. “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

I found myself thinking about the huge changes that had happened in my life in the last year and I was having trouble even fathoming what the culmination of five years of change would equate to. “I’m going to be playing music,” I told him.

He started pressing me for more specific goals. It seemed like he wanted numbers in front of my goals, rather than generalizations. I wanted to be happy, playing music, writing, and still supporting myself, my dogs, and living comfortably in my own place. “Well it’s easy to miss a target you don’t set.”

I found myself floundering. What was he saying to me exactly? That I wasn’t successful enough for him? He asked me if I had something to write with and when I told him no, he wanted me to start recording him. He was something of a life coach by trade and had decided that I was someone that needed coaching.

He started telling me about the law of attraction and how once I started visualizing what I wanted it would start coming to me. “People will start seeing a light in you, become more attracted to you, and you’ll even start losing weight.” I wondered then if I was too fat for him and if he had decided to use dating sites as a way to recruit women to his cause.

I wanted to stop him then and there and say, “Hello, I know we’ve just met but do you want to ask me about what I’ve been doing for the last year?” I thought about the happiness meter I had been slowly building up, the pounds that I had been shedding just because I was living more happily, and the network of people that were telling me I looked like I was glowing at times. I didn’t need him or his product and at the same time I realized I didn’t really need to prove that to him either. I just smiled and nodded until he was done, thanked him for the coffee, and left.

All in the name of a wider net, I told myself driving home. It still shook me. I wondered what strangers saw when they looked at me. They had no idea of the obstacles I had eradicated or hurdles I had jumped. The strength, the pain, the growth, the wisdom, and the emotional agony that were etched across my being through experiences were all but invisible. In some ways, I was only the person standing in that moment in time. I realized that if all I had were those moments wouldn’t it be better to surround myself by people who bothered themselves to see the invisible, or at least respect it? Was that possible to achieve with online dating?

I still don’t know the answer to that, but I can tell you that as I continue to cast my net I’ll be quicker about sending the debris to recycling…  and set my sights on the interested and interesting catches that may be swimming right under the boat.

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