There are many stages of heartbreak. Three months deep into my break-up, I have experienced almost all of them. First there’s shell shock, followed by denial, and then some combination of paralysis, anger, and loneliness. Then there’s this period where you just feel numb and find yourself staring at inanimate objects, having really cliché, intro-to-philosophy-type thoughts like, “What is happiness, anyway?” Eventually, after you’ve regained at least some of your dignity, you enter the classic “I’ll show them!” phase. This is when your brain tries to trick your heart into thinking that you’ve moved on, and you suddenly have tons of energy for things you’ve never cared about before, like alphabetizing your bookshelves and figuring out what the best cooks advise, even though you never cook and literally don’t own a single pan. This is also the phase when you begin the dreaded coital dance known as dating.
For me, this phase began with writing “living well is the best revenge” on a Post-it, sticking it to the wall beside my bed, then staring at it for twenty minutes before deciding to take a nap. When I woke up from that nap, I downloaded Tinder.
“How bad could it be?” I thought. Funnily enough, despite Tinder’s reputation as a hook-up app, most people don’t want to meet soon after matching, but rather engage in hours of meaningless texting—about the latest trendy food hybrid, about how stuff is so expensive—which is something I can’t stand doing with friends, let alone strangers. But eventually, I matched with a handsome enough 30-something who was OK with skipping the small talk. But an hour later, walking into the specified bar, I immediately understood why people take the time to screen each other via text. Tinder guy turned out to be two of my worst fears combined: a short actor.
As is common with short actors, this guy was very fond of himself, and within minutes he was playing aloud a recording of himself singing a song from his upcoming off-Broadway show. As I politely smiled and nodded along to the ballad—a duet!—blasting from his phone, I tried my best to conceal the actual shivers of terror running down my spine. Next, naturally, he asked me if I was into threesomes. Although he posed it less as a question and more as an offer, adding that he’d had a few threesomes in the past that were “OK or whatever,” but he’d be willing to have another if it’s what I wanted. I said it was very generous of him, and before I knew it, he was leading me into a nearby gay bar, where he suggested I “find a girl for a group sex,” despite the fact that 98 percent of the people in the bar were gay men. It was when he attempted to grind with me to a Lana Del Rey techno remix that I finally made my escape.
But it wasn’t a true escape, because in the following days and then weeks, Tinder guy’s texts were incessant, despite my complete lack of response. It was everything from, “Babe, how about that threesome?” to “Is your phone broken!?” to the complete non sequitur “I was on TV this week.” Finally, he asked if the reason I wasn’t responding was because I was too dumb to understand simple English.
Something I’ve learned over the years is that a lot of men have trouble dealing with rejection. Their brains literally go haywire, and they begin spewing out insults in a desperate attempt to rebuild their fragile egos. And this sad phenomenon has only been exasperated by online dating, which allows men access to countless more women who don’t want to have sex with them.
My very wise friend Ally once said: “The dating scene is a war zone. If you don’t watch out, your legs will get blown off and you’ll end up begging for money on the streets.” That might be a bit overdramatic but I understand the sentiment. Sometimes the idea of “getting out there” seems like torture, but you have to do it, because the alternative is a life of sitting home alone, eating bags of crisps while watching soaps in your uncle’s hand-me-down sweatpants (something I’ve been doing regularly).
A couple nights later, I went to a dinner party. I wore a slinky silk dress and intentionally went to the party alone, to force myself to mingle. I ended up in a long conversation with an older, seemingly early-50s cardiologist. He was wearing high-waisted khakis and had overgrown nose hairs, but he was really sweet, and was becoming funnier with every sip of punch I took. I was eager for an atypical experience, so I agreed to go back to his apartment. I was looking for an experience, but this was the wrong one.
The reality is, it’s hard to find someone who you can imagine being with more than twice, who doesn’t make you want to kill yourself as soon as they start talking. But if you don’t want to be celibate, sometimes you have to lower your standards. This is generally when you find yourself with a random weird guy who you discover later is engaged in another relationship, right before he tells you that the crutches in his living room are for when he pretends to be disabled to skip lines at the airport.
I’m not trying to make a sweeping statement that modern dating is doomed, the funny thing about heartbreak is, it doesn’t even matter who you meet, because no one stands a chance.
There’s a distinct difference between beginning to date after getting out of a bad relationship and forcing yourself to date after ending a healthy relationship that you wish you were still in. After I broke up with my verbally abusive ex-boyfriend, years ago, I fell in love with everyone who so much as held a door open for me. “Wow, you talked to me for three minutes on the subway without calling me stupid or fat? Of course I’ll do anything for you! In fact, why don’t you just move in?” But when you’re still in love with your ex, as I am now, all the new people you meet are stuck being compared not just with your ex, but with a romanticized version of your ex who is actually far better, smarter, and more attractive than they are in real life. It’s an unattainable standard. And you’re essentially a hypocrite: you’re completely emotionally unavailable, while also highly demanding of people’s attention. The combination is not so attractive.
Recently, I spent a couple of weeks dating a respected magazine editor who on paper is clearly an appropriate partner choice for me. I’m always reading articles about how we live in an age of “hook-up culture,” about how, for us millennials, courtship is dead. But in my experience, this is far from the case. And the editor took me on some pretty epic dates: there was dinner on a boat at ‘Diani’, a beach weekend in ‘Arusha’, martinis at the ‘Tribe’, and a series of other rendezvous that made me feel like I was living in a Shirley Temple movie. A couple times I actually found myself thinking, “Wow, you might be the perfect guy.” But ultimately, it only solidified how hung up on my ex I am, because even the perfect guy wasn’t good enough. He could be a black James Bond reincarnate with a Black Card and chiselled features, and such a gentleman, but it still wouldn’t feel right, because he’s not the person I’m in love with.
By Karley Sciortino: Karley Sciortino writes the blog Slutever.