I was Ladywriter99 on Tinder, OKCupid, Plenty of Fish and J-Date.
I answered messages from anyone who seemed interesting and reached out to anyone who had “liked my profile” whose profile I also liked. I was averaging about two dates a day three or four days a week for several months.
I was e-mailing with a tattooed polygamist, a successful author, an Israeli engineer and a professional comedian who sent me unsolicited nude selfies (rear view). I got to mess around with a hot app developer 20 years my junior (even if I did have to pick him up at the BART station). I got to enjoy the popularity I missed out on in high school.
But it was all because I couldn’t deal with being alone after the death of my husband.
In 1970, I met my future husband, George Albert Hansen, at a pool party at his parents' house in Walnut Creek,CA. His mother and my father worked together as physicists at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. I was seven. George was 11 with curly dark hair, brown eyes and a serious manner as he politely showed me his model train set.
Over the years, George and I saw each other at family parties. We both smiled a lot.
In 1981, when I was a 17-year-old nerd, I needed a date for my senior prom. So, I called George, then a senior majoring in engineering at Cal Berkeley, although he said he was majoring in pinball. He accepted the prom invite, purchasing a vintage tuxedo jacket and driving us to the San Francisco Galleria in his Dad's Buick
One day, George and I were sitting close together on the white leather sofa in my Dad’s living room. I had my knees up. There was a rain storm and George put his head on my shoulder.
“I’m afraid of thunder,” he said, “aren’t you?”
When I said I wasn't, he said, “Then how am I going to kiss you?” I decided I was afraid of thunder.
We were together from then on.
I got through law school at U.C. Davis because of George. I was super stressed out by all the classes and exams, but George calmed me down. He’d drive up almost every Wednesday from Santa Clara, where he worked as a software engineer, just to have dinner with me. I’d come home weekends to see him.
A gifted test taker, he coached me through the bar exam. After I graduated in 1988, we moved in together.
We spent all our time together to the exclusion of others. We were both introverted, anti-social, only children. We cooked (OK, George cooked), did projects around the house, and acted like boring suburbanites. George was either coding software or he was working on his outrageous home theater system.
In 2009, when he was diagnosed with metastasized male breast cancer, George told me the cancer had spread, but he’d beat it. He’d drive himself to chemotherapy, stopping afterward to buy groceries for dinner.
He still worked full time, did all the cooking and remained adorably chubby and upbeat. He treated his medical treatment like taking on a co-worker’s job after downsizing.
We were together for for 32 years until he died of cancer on April 13, 2013. He was 53. He’d lasted much longer than his doctors had predicted.
And I was alone. In our house. With virtually no friends and very little family. I’d quit practicing law years ago. My life was George.
I started going to many, many yoga classes. I gardened with a vengeance. I joined the Rotary Club, the local synagogue, a car club and a couple networking groups even though I had nothing to sell. I joined a writing class and a writer’s group. I looked at my law degree and winced.
But I still sucked at being alone. Especially at night, when everybody else was home with their families.
People kept telling me to “get out there,” so I did. Too much. Kind of like going crazy at an outlet designer shoe store even if you don’t know what kind of shoes you want.
I started on J-Date, the self-proclaimed premier Jewish dating site. Apparently, there weren’t too many local, single Jews, so I moved on to OkCupid.
I was sleeping either four or nine hours a night. Nothing in between. When I couldn’t sleep, I fell into the abyss of the OK Cupid Question Mill, which claims to match people by their answers.
These quasi-inane questions spiral on. Hypnotized by the changing screens, I’d check off one box. And the next one appeared. Do I want a relationship for one night, months, years or a lifetime? Do I primarily want love or sex? What type(s) of sex? Am I a cat person or dog person? Could I deal with a drug user? Someone who carries a gun? Do I support Satan or God? Hillary or Ron Paul?
I uploaded my professional photos and the messages start coming in. Since I’m an unemployed slacker with writer’s block, I'd answer them. The guys writing to me were also online, so they'd often answer really quickly, until I was having multiple flirty conversations. Apparently, we were all slackers.
Since I’d never really dated in my formative years, my dates often seemed surreal. Like I was watching someone else interacting with these guys, saying clever things, nodding empathetically. I just wasn’t sure who I was in this picture. I didn’t expect to find another soulmate. And if I did, I would probably be too sleep-deprived to recognize him.
But if I couldn’t sleep, I could always swipe right or left on Tinder.
My life became a sick experiment in performance art dating. I'd talk to, and meet anyone who sounded nice and/or cool and was willing to meet within a 15-mile radius of my house in daytime at a public place.
At night, if I wasn’t out, I was usually texting with a couple guys and/or having one or two pre-meet-up phone calls. I’d have several in-person dates a week. I had never talked to this many people in one day.
It was all starting to feel pretty pointless, however. I still hadn't gotten a job. I was too busy staying online all day because I liked receiving compliments from men I’d never meet.
Eventually I realized this was an addiction. I had fun stories to tell. I looked put together. I was having adventures and figuring out public transit. I was “getting out there,” the generic advice foisted upon the bereaved by those who do not want to spend time with them.
But it felt wrong.
Last November, I was dating four guys at once: a cowboy, a lawyer, a Tai chi instructor and an architect, plus I was still online. When I was trying to my juggle dates for the week, I got so frustrated I threw my cell phone at the wall. And I realized I would still be spending my holidays alone.
I went offline on and off for awhile before fully abandoning my dating sites. I realized that online dating was not going to take the place of a real support network. I was addicted to having someone to talk to in the evenings, even if it was just a prelude to a meet-up that never happened. When someone was texting with me, I felt wanted, and less lonely.
But I learned a lot from my online dating adventure. Like how to avoid wasting time on connections that aren’t going to happen. And to stop being high maintenance over my appearance to try to get guys. (I’m happier eating lots of carrot cake and letting my hair fade).
Most importantly, I learned that it's better to put my efforts into making lasting friendships in the real world.
But for the time I needed it, online dating did make me feel socially adept, adaptable and resilient. Which is far better than being the widow in the bourbon-stained bathrobe buying the giant, economy-sized bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin plus 12 Butterfingers at Bevmo.