I’ve never wanted marriage, nor I do I want a life partner. And the responsibility of fatherhood would totally overwhelm me. I would rather be on my own. I understand that others may find my solitary lifestyle scary and daunting, but I’m equally puzzled by people who need to be with somebody else, even if it’s for the worse. Perhaps it’s my Asperger’s personality?
Yet despite my embrace of a loner’s lifestyle (I’m not lonely, because I keep myself very busy and stay very active), I’m not asexual. Needless to say, it’s been a struggle to balance not wanting a romantic partner but wanting sexual contact. (And to the skeptics, I can see you rolling your eyes. But really, I’m the male version of Emily Dickinson.)
Despite my aloofness, I have from time to time attracted the attention of women. And oddly, there is a personality type I tend to attract. The women I attract tend to work in some type of healing profession: nurse, yoga instructor, social worker. They tend to be really good at reading people, and by extension, me. (I understand that I can appear aloof and possibly angry looking, but I can’t help it.)
My Poor Coworker
I have a coworker, a young man in his 20s who’s desperate for a girlfriend. To meet women, he relies (I think) on dating websites, yet he says it doesn’t really work for him. Listening to him wallow in self pity, I wondered how I would do on a dating website, despite my complete apathy towards connecting with people in any deep romantic sense.
I’ve never thought that dating websites worked. You can look at people’s pictures–their selected best–and read about their easy-going personality and how they like to travel (who doesn’t?) But until you meet somebody in person and see how they move and listen to how they talk, you don’t know if you’re attracted to them. But I get the appeal. On a dating website, everybody’s looking, so it makes the first approach easier.
Yet the anonymity of the world wide web enables people to be their cruelest. Social media and news sites are full of trolls hellbent on angering people, and people who don’t have the guts to be cruel face to face certainly do a good job of it from the safety of a computer. And the online dating seems to be no different. Women complain about being overwhelmed with endless messages that consist of “Hey.” And that doesn’t include the dreaded dick pic. (I’ve never seen a dick pic, but I’m curious to see one. I don’t have a fascination with seeing penises that aren’t mine; I just want to know what is going on in these men’s minds.) And men complain about sending out countless emails to women that go largely ignored.
Does online dating work? Is it brutal? Is it a numbers game? There was only one way to find out, and that was to dive in. But before I went in head first, I decided to make some ground rules. Knowing that I’m a loner and unlikely to ever contemplate marriage or children, I decided to not lead on anybody: no false hopes, no romanticizing myself, no promising the moon.
Women complain about being overwhelmed with endless messages that consist of “Hey.” … And men complain about sending out countless emails to women that go largely ignored.
I would put into my profile that I prefer to be on my own and that I’m not looking to change it. I would never contact women who were looking for “the one”; rather, I would only communicate with women claiming to look for casual relationships. And I would, for the large part, wait and see if any women would respond.
I Am Skeptical
So I decided to set up an account with a photo that I use for my LinkedIn and Facebook accounts. And thanks to my good writing skills, I would create a compelling profile, complete with my interests and dislikes. My first dating site was OK Cupid, followed later by Tinder, which is apparently the heterosexual equivalent of Grindr. (I doubted that I would get women offering their bodies to me, but hey, let’s see what happens.)
I’m proud of my OK Cupid website. My profile was (admittedly) long written, listing my hobbies and favourite songs. but then again, what can I say, I’m a writer, so I write a lot. But of utmost importance, I would make it very clear in my profile that I’m not looking to change my loner status. “I prefer to live on my own,” I wrote. “I’ll probably never marry or have kids, so if those things are important to you, I’m probably not your match.” I went even further, adding that I get around the city by bike because “I love the solitude and freedom.” To make myself seem even pickier, I filled out a large amount of criteria under the “You Should Contact Me If” category. I included, among other things, “You lead a healthy lifestyle and are in good shape,” and you shouldn’t contact me if “you’re overweight and/or eat badly” or if “you’re looking for a dad for your kids.” All of these criteria are things that would be important to me if I was seriously looking, but they are things that people rarely openly enunciate. And if you said these things to a person face to face, you’d be considered rude. But I wanted to see if I could push boundaries. I wanted to see if I could actually attract somebody with my brutal honesty.
I gave myself limitations: I would rarely initiate contact. Apart from looking to see what people were looking for, I wouldn’t bother looking at too many profiles. And I wouldn’t invest too much time, so if I actually had an interest in the person, I would suggest meeting instead of exchanging endless texts. The following three encounters are of women who contacted me. All their names have been changed.
Melissa was an emergency nurse working the graveyard shift at a Toronto hospital. She was six years younger than I, was selling her Queen’s Quay condo and biked everywhere. She had a cute black Lab mix. And judging by her photos, she seemed physically attractive. We exchanged a few messages back and forth, and luckily, she shared my sardonic sense of humour (we had a rapid exchange of emails about how we were good we were as white people because we stole the land from Native peoples as a revenge for syphilis). And like me, Melissa said that she wasn’t interested in marrying or having kids. To my surprise, Melissa actually was the one to suggest that we should meet. She picked Trinity Bellwood Park, where we would split a bottle of pinot grigio. So we agreed to meet at six on a Sunday, after I finished work.
We started with an endless banter about our work situations (I was shocked that she was on a rotating shift of working midnights followed by two weeks of day shifts. It must be so hard on the body!) After an hour of talk, as the sun was going down, she got to her point. “So,” she blurted. Tell me about your dating style.”
Melissa, it seems, was fascinated by my lack of desire to marry, live with anybody, or commit. I tried to articulate that I wasn’t a lonely person and preferred my own company. “You’re a solo poly,” she blurted, as if she were attempting to help me find an identity for myself. I hadn’t heard of the term before, so I needed her to break down the definition.
“A solo is somebody who values independence and isn’t looking to settle down in a marriage where they share things like bank accounts and a mortgage.” Based on her definition, the solo part certainly fit me.
“You’re a solo poly,” she blurted, as if she were attempting to help me find and identity for myself.
Melissa, who was heteroflexible and partly fascinated in meeting a male counterpart, was firmly set in her identity as a solo poly, spoke how she had broken up with a couple, as the wife had developed jealousy issues. And this caused me to doubt that I could rightfully call myself poly. I don’t even desire to romantically love one person, let alone multiple people, so can I really call myself poly? I kept my doubts to myself.
As we wrapped up and walked east on Queen Street, Melissa said, “I’m going to a poly get together at a friend’s place next weekend. Being poly can be quite incestuous, so they’d be glad to meet more people.” I told her that I would think about it, but more importantly, I realized that she put the offer out there because she wasn’t interested in pursuing anything with me. We exchanged a few more texts but never met again.
Online photos can be hard to gauge a person’s physical attractiveness. I say this about Joan, whom I didn’t realize I could never be into until after I met her in the flesh. And I feel bad about saying it, because Joan was a person who had had a hard life, yet she had obviously placed so much interest in me.
Joan was a social worker who lived in Parkdale. She had posted a couple of photos of herself drinking beer. I don’t remember her profile that well, but I do remember the initial text she sent me. She had obviously thoroughly and enthusiastically read my profile. “I love how you wrote ‘My cat will come before you!'” her text said. She started telling me that she found me cute and thought that we should meet to see if we click. It seemed like an odd thing to write on an initial text, but then again, perhaps we’re living in a new world in which women are more willing to be bold and make the first move with strangers. But then again, she could be completely Pollyanna. I wasn’t able to tell. But I was curious. I wanted to meet her. Was she real? She suggested meeting at a pub on Queen Street West.
I went there by bike, and as I was locking my bike up on the other side of the street, I saw her sitting on the patio with a drink. She saw me locking my bike and began staring at me with an intense stare. What was with the intensity? Was she having second thoughts and trying to figure out how to weasel out?
I walked into the pub, a bit of a dive, and out into the patio. As I approached the table, she stood up, and I noticed she was grotesquely overweight. I immediately knew that things would never develop with her.
She blurted out with a blunt honesty that she was on medication because she heard voices in her head. She was fine as long as she was on her drugs, but if she stopped, the voices would come back. She was slowly getting back on her feet, working part time as a social worker, helping other psychiatric patients find work and places to live. I felt an admiration for her. I knew she was doomed to a hard life, but she was obviously a fighter and attempting to make an identity as a mental health activist.
Perhaps we’re living in a new world in which women are more willing to make the first move, but then again, perhaps we’re living in a new world in which women are more willing to be bold and make the first move with strangers. But then again, she could be completely Pollyanna.
Filled with sympathy, I walked with Joan to her apartment, an older building at King and Jameson; her fellow tenants, who were standing outside, looked rough. I excused myself and spent the afternoon at the gym. I received a text from her later saying she didn’t want to invite me up because she had a shingles outbreak. The poor woman! I told her I was flattered but that I would be interested in being only friends. I heard from her once more a few months later. She was still working hard as a social worker.
Jennifer was accomplished and hard working. A lawyer, she was contemplating working on her own again. She was idealistic, politically active in her 20s, but was frustrated that as a younger woman, she had been over-stepped by older white men with name recognition.
She seemed confident in her text to me. “I don’t have a problem making the first move.” She was responding to a line in my online profile in which I had pondered why women were so shy to make the first move. She had confidently engaged me in some banter, saying that like me, she shared a commitment to fitness. We exchanged some quick, detailed messages and when I mentioned that I was going to an outdoor dance show, she agreed to meet me there.
The dance show was an offbeat place to meet, but I had a sense that Jennifer would be attracted to something offbeat. The show’s cast consisted of amateur dancers who performed dances on their front lawns and porches; they were choreographed and coached by professional dance artists.
Yet I got the sense from the that Jennifer was heartbroken and on the rebound. She was happily married to her husband, with whom she had two kids. But she was depressed from her recent breakup with her girlfriend, to whom she seemed emotionally close to and spent a lot of time with. And her parents and siblings, obtusely professional and openminded people, were constantly judging and commenting on Jennifer’s sexual fluidity and polyarmorous dating style. She seemed genuinely interested in me she asked me lots of questions yet she seemed to want to come back to her trials and tribulations. In return, I offered a listening ear and reacted to her comments, but I had little to offer. Because I’ve never invested myself in romantic pursuits, I’ve never had similar hurtful breakups, and I’ve never felt judged by my family for my identity.
Yet eerily, I connected most successfully with Jennifer of many of the woman that I met.
She had confidently engaged me in some banter, saying that like me, she shared a commitment to fitness.
We subsequently met a couple of times more, including a going to a 3D animated movie (I would never have given it the time to see it if she hadn’t suggested seeing it), and Jennifer seemed genuinely interested, despite her allergy to cats and disinterest in pets in general.
I don’t know if things could have gone further with her. It probably would have required me to open up and confide in a way that she was clearly willing and confident to do, but I wasn’t really willing to do at the time. Had I been a little more honest, who knows, something may have happened.
As I reflect on what I’ve just written, I’ve come to the realization I’m happiest when alone, and that for me, romance is an tolling effort that I’m not willing to exert. I have a memory of being a kid in the ’80s and watching one of those weeknight soaps (perhaps it was thirtysomething). The characters, in my teenage mind, were spending a vast amount of time whining about not finding love and “the one.” I looked at my mother and said, “Is that all adults do is worry about love?” My mother let out a whimper and laughed, and I think she felt a little sad for me, yet I realize that it’s a sentiment that I still have. And my attempts at having that part of the human condition in my life, whether it is stuff I was doing in high school or university or this midlife internet exploration, have never implanted in me a desire to seek that kind of companionship. Maybe I’m missing out on something. Maybe I’ll die a little less for the better. But I know what I need out of life. And it’s not romance. I’m happiest alone.