Swipe Right

I am sitting in a dispensary in southeast Denver, waiting for my friend to join me so I can show her the CBD/THC products I’ve discovered to help me sleep better. I’m seated in the outside check in area, and the smell of weed wafts through the secured door, assaulting my senses. While I’m waiting, I’m on a dating app, swiping left on men who don’t seem interesting to me, swiping right on those who do. If you had suggested to me three years ago that this would be my life now, I could never have imagined it.

Medical and recreational marijuana have been legal in Colorado for some time now, so that part of this scene is really no big deal. But the dating app—well that most definitely is a big deal.

It’s not just about dating again – I’ve never really dated at all as an adult. I met my husband at a party in college at the age of 18, we hooked up (today’s parlance), and the rest is history. And up until I returned from my Camino walk in early May, I swore I had no interest whatsoever in ever dating.

And yet, still not fully understanding how I changed my mind about that, here I am. The first few weeks are slow going, seeming to confirm my worst fears: there just aren’t any men who would be interested in me. It’s demoralizing, but I am quick to tell friends that I’m really ambivalent about dating anyway, that it’s really fine if I don’t ever go on a single date. Secretly, I’m disappointed and just a little wounded. While I’m usually strong and confident, my ego takes a hit.

Then I have lunch with a friend (also single) and she’s quick to tell me I need to get on Tinder. Tinder? Really? Isn’t that the hookup app that kids use to get laid? Why in the world would I venture into that territory? She assures me that’s not the case these days. Yes, she admits, I’ll need to swipe left on plenty of creeps, but she’s having good luck on the app, dating several men this week alone.

I go home from lunch and pull out my phone. I already have my pictures and profile from the first dating app I joined, so I quickly use those to build a Tinder profile, then I sit back with a glass of water. Boom, within seconds the app is presenting me with a seemingly endless list of men who I could potentially match with. I pass on many at first, then I gingerly swipe right on a couple. Tinder responds immediately by  encouraging me to reach out to them with something witty and provocative. The app even offers one line starters, which feel as awkward as a bar pickup line. I’m terrible at flirting—or perhaps it’s been so long since I’ve even tried that I’ve simply forgotten how.

I write something short and sweet to the first three men I’ve matched with. They either don’t respond at all or the response is short and doesn’t seem to invite more conversation. This feels so incredibly awkward, not at all how I should be meeting men. But it’s 2019 and everyone says this is how dating happens now. Besides, the alternative of hanging out in a bar to meet men seems horrifying. The fourth man I reach out to doesn’t respond immediately, and so I give up for the first day.

The next day I check the app, and there’s a response from number four. His first text to me is filled with more information than the other three combined, including where his family is from and some of his personal outlooks on life. When he tells me I seem interesting and attractive, my heart skips just a tiny beat.

I’ve told myself I’ll only get on the app once a day, unwilling to commit so much energy to dating, telling myself I’m still ambivalent, treating it more like a game, something to do during the lonely evening hours. But there are so many men on Tinder I feel the need to address the stack of profiles more frequently than once a day. Besides, number four and I are settling into a nice give and take conversation via text, so I find myself opening the app to see if he’s written to me.

For three days we text—a lot actually—about work, travel, kids, families, life challenges, marriages, divorces, death. A few days in he tells me my smile is mesmerizing, and then he asks about my work with nonprofits. My confidence boosted a bit, I brazenly suggest, let’s meet!

Unfortunately, my schedule over the next few days, with a large nonprofit event, a trip to Chicago, and a surprise birthday party for a friend in Michigan means we can’t really schedule anything for another week. But we set the date and continue texting during the next week.

During that time, I’m also texting with several other men on the app, and I’m getting confident about how to do this. I swipe left on so many strange profiles it boggles my mind. Men who are married but suggest their wife is fine with them dating on Tinder. A man who lives in Seattle (not sure why he matched with me) who is legally separated from his wife who has alcohol induced dementia and is in a nursing home. A man who posed naked in a bubble bath—he has so much eye makeup on he looks like a character out of a Wes Craven horror film. Many men with profile pictures without their shirts on—and some without, it appears, anything else on either. A man who has been widowed for four years yet seems too fragile to even consider dating. Too many men with golf and fishing and motorcycle profile pictures to count. It’s both hilarious and sad and frustrating and humbling.

During the week, I match with a few other men and somehow end up with four dates in a week. Two are fine, but I don’t feel a connection or chemistry. One is a no show. Many men on the app say they are fine to just make friends to do something with. I’m trying to figure out how I feel about that, but then it comes to me while I’m in Chicago.

I’m walking around Millennium Park, happily surprised to find there is a blues festival in full swing, with multiple artists on a variety of stages. I wander a bit, sit down to listen to one woman sing a few songs, and buy a t-shirt, before heading off to lunch. I pop into one of Rick Bayless’s restaurants, and dig into the chips and guacamole, with an icy cold beer, as I wait for my tacos to arrive. They don’t disappoint.

After lunch I return to the hotel for a short rest and to dress for the theater, excited to finally see Hamilton. When I enter the theater I’m ushered to my single aisle seat on the upper level in the dress circle seats. I’m thrilled to have an unobstructed view of the stage. There are two couples next to me with glasses of champagne, and I head back to the bar to get one. The show is great, but I don’t have anyone to discuss it with afterwards, so I head straight to the hotel and go to sleep.

The entire day in Chicago is perfect, yet it gives me clarity. While I am certainly capable of living on my own, enjoy traveling on my own, and have no problem doing everything I did in Chicago on my own, it would have been nice to have been able to share it with someone. Sunday night after I’m home, number four and I are texting and he tells me he loves blues music, and I tell him I’ll show him some videos I took when we meet, lifted by the thought of sharing the experience with him. The afternoon in Chicago is replaying in my mind, but I’m imagining I was with him instead of alone. He asks all about my weekend adventures and after a quick summary I explain that although it was all great, it was a reminder to me of why it’s time for me to start dating again—life is meant to be shared. I can finally feel myself opening up, ready to date again.

We have three more days until our first date, during which we text each other a lot. He makes me laugh and claims I make him smile. He’s flirty and I find myself unable to wipe the smile off my face when I think about him. The night before our first date I tell him I’m nervous to meet him, and he takes the edge off with some humor before we close down our phones for the night.

I am sitting in the bar of the restaurant we’ve agreed to meet in, my heart racing, and I realize I’m nervous because I want to like him. I’m worried one or both of us in person will not be what the other thought via ten days of heavy texting. I see him walking in the door right after I am seated, and I stand up as he walks toward me. We both smile as we embrace which feels oddly natural, even though we are virtually strangers still. We talk nonstop for three hours straight, neither of us wanting the evening to end.

We make a date for two days later and we talk for another five hours before we finally call it a night. Within a week we will have spent sixteen hours together on four dates, sitting close to each other and talking nonstop. Happily, he seems as interested as I am in moving forward, and we both agree to shut down our dating apps for now to give this relationship a chance. We both feel relieved to do so. My tattoo reminds me to take things slowly, one day at a time, poco a poco, even though my heart is soaring and my mind spinning.

Timing being what it is, this whirlwind dating week happens just as I am departing for a three week trip to Eastern Europe. I do believe that absence has the ability to make the heart grow fonder, but this is new and I know there are no guarantees. Only one thing is certain: this is the first time in a very long time that I will be excited to return home from a trip.

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