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first person

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Illustration by Drew Shannon

Is anyone here old enough to remember when you met someone you liked, and you just … dated them? When there weren’t the endless oceans of possibility in online dating that left us drowning in detritus, praying someone would just toss us a life preserver (an intelligent message or a current pic or anything, really, beyond a perfunctory “hi,” or worse, “hi baby”) and haul us out of this mess?

These are exciting times – the first generation to collectively date into our 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond. We are pioneers. Savages. Unbridled by history and the “right” way to do things, we can set this any way we want. Whatever works. For us. In this smouldering new euphoria, it’s no longer even necessary that soulmates be born on the same continent. How cool is that?

So we wade in. Oh. The water’s not too bad. Oh, look over there. Oh.

The first time I tried a dating app, I went on eight coffee dates in seven days. I don’t drink coffee. About three days in, I reminded myself that this is my ship to steer, so in fact, I had four coffee dates and four beer. Coffee date wasn’t a euphemism yet.

The first guy I met was the ex of a friend of a friend – brilliant, hilarious and socially awkward, his teeth clicking on mine, like a teenager’s braces, when he lunged for a kiss. I also went on a date with a man in red pointy-toed boots and a metal-studded belt – it was a welcome relief to get into the bowling shoes. I’ve had lots of promising online encounters, meet and greets that went nowhere, interviews and inquisitions. The best-looking man I’d laid eyes on turned out to be the close-cropped “the customer is always wrong” dude I’d met a year before, but now with wavy silver hair to his shoulders and a beaten leather coat. He’d recognized my photo right off but wanted to surprise me. A couple of dates turned into relationships that lasted a year; one made me sad when it ended.

Still, my most enduring relationship since online dating began, was one where I met a guy in a dark Irish bar on George Street in St. John’s on a Tuesday night. He and the Budweiser had a brash way of covering shyness once he gathered the nerve to slide into the conversations being flung across the bar – machismo comparisons to heroes and horses – asking me to slow dance after he caught me biting my lip when he leaned back and said quietly to no one, “I’m only hung like a Newfoundland pony.” Online, I never would consider a conversation with someone so brazen, but my gut had some say and it was right, about his heart and his sense of fair play. But we were not meant to last.

Back to the drawing board. Drawn and quartered. Are we idiots? The only thing that could make online dating more awkward for me is a PowerPoint presentation. It’s not natural. It ties my tongue and tangles my intestines. There is a dissonance that results in disconnection, more fundamental than not being able to choose, given too many options.

This way of dating creates a clash of virtual reality and human spark, short-circuiting our antennae. I didn’t need to speak to every male in that bar – or bookshop or grocery store, or wherever you met people once upon a time – to know that I was interested in only one. My feelers did that for me. They sifted through the noise without me even hearing it. But my feelers are silenced, incapable of receiving signals intercepted in cyberspace. Maybe we’ll evolve, but for now we’re left piling our plates from the buffet of plenty, hungry and dissatisfied.

Nearly 20 years in, I met the guy who might be what I’m looking for, but since I’ve been trudging along in this battle for so long I’m a hot mess incapable of making any impression beyond borderline psychotic. And when he sends a note in ALL CAPS, I crash and burn. Then type 480 characters (including spaces) into three long texts explaining how the past three douches made me this way. And we both walk away from a handful of dates a bit shell shocked.

This pure soul came to Newfoundland to teach – his first time in Canada he says. Yay, I say, but you’re still not quite … in Canada (that’s another story though). He’s now got stories he can tell at parties about the crazy Newfie he met (he doesn’t even know that term but he will soon enough, bless his heart), and I am left wondering if he’s really another playa or if I’ve somehow managed to misread the whole damn thing.

No one wants to introduce their friend to their friend, or their friend, nowadays. So I dust off my profile – smart, funny, just left of normal – and get back in there, and sell another piece of my soul. Bottles of wine and cases of beer are spent wondering where all the good ones are.

And the only conclusion I can draw is that this is all a colossal waste of lipstick.

Violet Browne lives in Mt. Pearl, Nfld.


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