Pariahs In The World Of Internet Dating

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

A few months back, I gained enough amnesia from my last experience to try it again. It had been months since I had been out on a date. Not that I was lamenting this fact — it had been a busy summer with a lot of winery gigs and writing and hustling to get my book proposal up to snuff for my agent — but I was missing the excitement of first kisses and frivolous texting.

I decided to make my profile description as snarky and sapiosexual as I possibly could. My hope was to attract someone who was on the same page intellectually. The first woman I wrote to was a little bit older than me, but beautiful in a way that I found very interesting. Maybe it was a combination of her brief essay on her profile and her photograph. I could tell immediately that she was intelligent, thoughtful and, seemingly, a lot of fun.

We met at a coffee place one exit up from where I lived. The whole situation was very different than anything I had experienced in the past. I had to be at work by 11 am, so we met for breakfast. Not the typical date, but a fun change of pace. We embraced warmly outside on the sidewalk and proceeded to head for the counter.

After we placed our orders and sat down, the typical getting to know you conversation began. I’m not entirely opposed to that sort of thing, but I do find it, shall we say, a necessary evil. It’s the part of a date that feels too much like a job interview.

“Here’s why you should pick me to mate with…”

I’ve become a positive guy as I’ve gotten older, but that Long Island cynicism is holding on for dear life. I’ve always felt vastly opposed to the process of omitting certain biographical facts for the purpose of scoring a second date — only to reveal these things later and have to witness the slow destruction of a structure built on the quicksand of half-truths. So, when she asked me what I’ve been doing, I mentioned the biggest thing in my life right now: my book.

I could see her face shrivel inward as I explained that it was a recovery self-help book. She returned my volley by telling me about the two-year relationship she just ended with the pizza shop owner who had a few years in A.A.

“His friends would come over and they’d sit around and talk about the other guys they knew that were in and out of jail. It just wasn’t a lifestyle I felt comfortable being involved in.”

Now, initially, I shook my head in an affirmative motion. It sounded like a lifestyle I wouldn’t feel comfortable being involved in, either. What I didn’t realize until she texted me later was that she was relegating me to that bin in the existential flea market and she saw herself as a wholly different entity. She didn’t even shop in flea markets. She was in Bloomingdale’s looking at Coach bags.

As we were getting ready to part ways, she confessed to me that she didn’t really reside in the working-class town that was listed on her profile — she lived in Rhinebeck — the posh town where many celebrities try unsuccessfully to blend in and the average house is half a million dollars.

“I’m one of two black women that live there,” she joked. “So, it is imperative that I maintain some anonymity.”

Fair enough.

As I mentioned, I learned that most of what she was telling me was not at all for the sake of face value conversation. It was for the express purpose of explaining why I went from the guy with “the greatest profile she ever read,” to something stuck on the bottom of her shoe.

The stigma of being in recovery, to some people, transcends educational level, socio-economic status, and ethnicity; and it is socially acceptable. There is nothing politically incorrect about sneering at this population. Nobody is going to fault anyone for saying out loud, “It may be okay for some people, but not for me.”

I get it. People relapse all the time. Some people do even after 10 or 15 years of sobriety. This is obviously why the second “A” in A.A. exists. Nobody is going to want to hire you with that scarlet letter attached to your chest, so there’s no reason why one should have to reveal their ties to such a society. Intimate relationships, on the other hand, are a whole other matter. It’s not advisable to keep this a secret when trying to date someone.

Truthfully, it was not the first time I got tagged out at first base because of it. Last Spring, I got to the point with a local doula where our texts were beginning to get pretty spicy until I inadvertently mentioned that I didn’t drink.

“In the interest of full disclosure,” her last text read, “I don’t know what a relationship with someone like that would look like.”

Let’s be honest about this: for all the lip service that is paid to calling addiction a disease, many people, in their heart of hearts, still see it as a moral failure. It would be considered reprehensible to tell someone that you didn’t want to date them because they once had cancer and it could come back at any time. And yet, to say it to someone in recovery is fine.

Either way, it left me without a date for Saturday night; but what it leaves for the rest of society is something way more poignant to consider.

Pariahs In The World Of Internet Dating was originally published in P.S. I Love You on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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