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From the Department of Internet Dating

April 8, 2010

It rained the day I painted my nails black. Hard, pounding rain. Against the screen in the windows, sliding down the panes, splattering into dark mud… We sat on the couch, nursing colds, disappointment, and lonely failure, together. She slid the nail polish brush over her nails while flipping through a magazine. The television blinked in the background. I watched her almost-absent-minded strokes fill with blood red color. I watched the rain stream down the window. I took a deep breath and willed a new beginning, a new identity, a new life that knew nothing of the past three years. A life that knew nothing of professional identity and personal sacrifice. I walked to the kitchen and rummaged through her nail polish collection, grabbing the darkest color I could find. She tossed me a magazine, and I concentrated on long strokes, round edges, and the sound of the rain. A ad came on the television, and she threatened to sign me up. She always did. I always rolled my eyes. This time, I said OK.

She made my profile for me. Checked the boxes, answered the questions, uploaded the photos. Most days she knows me better than I know myself. I get lost in the maze of quiet, layered conversations ongoing in my head. I chose a user name, and she completed the rest. I watched with my head on her shoulder as she easily navigated the questions, identifying my most patterned behaviors and personality traits. I wondered how I manage to complicate things so much in my head; she had all my answers so easily, but I supposed she had never heard the options, choices, don’ts, doubts, worries, and wonder. It all must be so much clearer without some of that white noise and shrilled screeching. She hit submit, and we waited for verification. I waited for verification – I waited for an unknown computer to say, “Yes, go ahead, you are suitable for dating.”

I can’t say that I hated it from the start, but it didn’t feel like the unexpected smile that comes when when someone new catches my eye. Or the way silent intrigue scans for a wedding band, hopeful. It didn’t feel like soft sweatpants at the end of a long day, a sigh of relief, the waiting is over and the best part is about to begin. Instead the muscle across my shoulders tightened with each click of the next number on the bottom right of the page. The same way I browse for bathing suits every other summer – wrong fit, wrong fit, wrong fit – I flew through pages and profiles.

Inevitably, she stopped me. I knew she would. She slid the computer from my lap, reminded me to have an open mind, and hit the “wink” button on somebody’s profile. She navigated every initial interaction I had on that site. I’d take it from there, of course. Reply to messages, delete messages, and judge, judge, judge every face that popped up on the screen. I called upon skills I learned during the summer after seventh grade, when we would flip through the yearbook, critiquing the person behind each face. I hated it at twelve; I grew to hate it again at twenty-six. Wrong fit, wrong fit, wrong fit, but I’ll try to charm you with my words, part with my phone number, and agree to meet you out – because I have an open mind while I silently judge, judge, judge.

The muscle across my shoulders never relaxed. I never figured out how to blend my old life with the new. I was a wrong fit for my current life. He popped up on the screen the evening I decided to delete my account. I can’t say that I smiled or felt hopeful. It was still internet dating, I was still nursing disappointment from weeks prior, my life and I still didn’t match. But I didn’t think wrong fit. I took my computer downstairs to her, undecided as to whether I would show her his face or tell her I was deleting my account. I showed her his face, she hit the wink button, I promised myself I would keep my account for twenty-four more hours, he responded.

Of course, this story doesn’t have a fairytale ending. It doesn’t have a fairytale ending because I don’t believe in fairytales, and I don’t believe in internet dating, and I don’t believe in much from those days other than black nail polish and the sound of pouring rain. I didn’t want to spend time writing back and forth with him. I wanted to spend as much time as possible away from that website and my judging, my pained shoulders, and the identity I can paint with words. He suggested we meet and I didn’t hesitate to say yes, although I knew I would still miss the unexpected smile, the hopeful intrigue, and the relieved comfort.

We met for a drink. He showed up with a mirror. The type of mirror that reflected back at me every wrong fit I had tried on for the past month. We talked for three hours while I tried to navigate my misfits while soaking up everything he had already figured out and I struggled to grasp. I smiled more in those three hours than I had in the past month. That says a lot and not very much at the same time. He asked me out again, and I agreed.

I spent the week cultivating my new life. He showed up with the mirror again. I hated what I saw in it. I couldn’t navigate my misfits well this time. My inner monologue carried on at higher volume than our conversation. I went home and stripped down to only my black nail polish. I cried the way I should have cried the day the rain slammed its fists against the window pane. I deleted my account.

He told me a week later that he didn’t think things were going to work out between us. He said he didn’t have enough time to get to know me. I wanted to tell him that was part of the everything he had already figured out and that I struggled to grasp. I wanted to tell him that I know how long it takes to get to know me, I’m walking that path now. It’s a path worth traveling down. The view is best from the center of the woods, among the the options, choices, don’ts, doubts, worries, and wonder. I promise. But I didn’t tell him that, and I don’t think I will get a chance. Because I don’t believe in fairytales, I don’t believe in internet dating, and I don’t believe in much from those days other than black nail polish and the sound of pouring rain.

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