I’ve given it my best shot. Really I have. And while it’s not likely that I’m completely done with the online venue as a dating tool, I may be pretty close. For sure, I’m giving it a break for a while. Since I arrived in the Bay Area in late June, it’s been a major focus of my time and attention; and I’ve done so gladly. I’ve written scores of ads and posted, updated and re-posted my profile several times and on several dating sites. I wanted to test the waters here, to explore whether there was a potential click of chemistry with someone; and whether that partnership I’m feeling ready and available to call into my life just might show up.
It’s been a bumpy and often surprising ride. Now I need a breather from this roller coaster. I’m still reeling with all its fun and frustrating teachings, laughs, disappointments and tears; and I’ve got more material to write about than I know what to do with. I’ve felt the compelling and tantalizing potential of compatible connection; and I’ve known the sting of rejection when men have said I’m just not physically attractive to them, especially when they’ve been less than kind in saying so. I’ve felt the frustration of this culture’s narrow views of what fits for physical beauty and how that translates into men’s over-riding preferences for young and slender women, thus not giving me a second look because I don’t fit into those categories. And while I know not to take on what’s not mine, nor be defined by standards that I don’t abide by; it takes great determination to stay in my sense of wholeness no matter the lack of interest in me because I don’t quite fit the mold. I’m also aware of my own judgments around physical attraction and how capable I too am of not giving someone a chance because they don’t quite ‘appeal’ at first look. I’ve given some of those men that chance and I’ve chosen to be kinder than most in letting them know when I don’t think we’re quite a match.
No, this process hasn’t manifested a partner, but boy, it certainly has taught me a thing or two or ten about mindfulness, maturity and the importance of figuring out how to hold on to a sense of innate well-being no matter the external circumstances or messages. With all the time I’ve been spending out at Spirit Rock, I’ve learned just as much about mindfulness practice through this dating process. Maybe more. The teachings of the Dharma are truly everywhere.
Through the course of receiving several hundred responses to my posts, I chose to meet less than twenty of the men behind the emails for live, in-person dates. As they say in Alaska – the land of many men – the odds are good, but the goods are odd; in most cases, I chose not to pursue a second date. So I’ve begun – surprise, surprise – to seriously question the value of online dating. I wonder about the whole set-up, really. And while I’ve been wondering about this for a while, it hit me hard the other day when I was perusing and answering some questions on the OkCupid Dating Site. They have thousands of questions that are three-fold in nature: first I answer the question, then I indicate my preferred answers from a potential partner and finally I answer how important this question is to me. Based on these answers, they use some fancy mathematical formulas to determine how someone rates as a ‘match’, a ‘friend’ and an ‘enemy.’ I can see how someone has answered questions and he can do the same. We can see how compatible we are in different categories and we can see how our personalities ‘rate’ in different attributes compared to others on the site, which is somehow supposed to indicate how likely we are to being soul-mate material. Are your eyes glazing over yet? Yep, it’s all very pragmatic, analytical and formulaic, not so terribly warm, fuzzy and romantic. Remind me, why did I say I was doing this again?!
Welcome to the world of online dating.
The question that provoked my already-in-process thinking read something like this:
How do you best reach orgasm:
____ Oral Sex
____ Hand stimulation
____ I don’t have orgasms
Now I’m no prude, but there was no way I was answering this question. Period. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more it annoyed me. There’s plenty that’s ‘wrong’ with this question, most of which is not for this discussion; but for starters, who’s to say there’s one way and only one way to answer it? How narrow and ridiculous. But more importantly for this topic: Is this how I want my potential partner to learn about my orgasms or me about his? I don’t think so. Then it got me thinking about the other questions, too. How does it / can it work that we have all kinds of information about each other – our sexual history and proclivities; tastes and interests in culture, food and film; relationship history; career; family; trips taken; adventures had; values we’ve acquired over a lifetime; our stances on abortion, the death penalty, guns and Republicans; our spiritual leanings; drug experimentation; partnership preferences; demographic details and more information than we’d likely be able or inclined to reveal over months of dates – before we’re ever in each other’s company? And then, armed with that endless information, each other’s photos and voices, and the resultant eagerness and excitement about the synchronistic string of interests, lifestyles and world views that simply must (how could it not?) lead us to off-the-charts compatibility; we meet, only to find what we thought of as our more-than-realistic/reasonable expectations far from met and our hopefulness dripping down the proverbial drain. Somehow there seems to me to be something essentially not quite ‘right’ with this ‘cart before the horse’ set up.
Is this just sour grapes on my part? Am I searching for reasons to understand how it is that I could be so determined, so patient and persistent and yet have the repeated experience of the online world lost in translation into the ‘real’ world? Is it that simple? I don’t think so. I’m not sure, but I have a feeling that – for me, anyway – this front-loaded, information overload is essentially flawed.
There’s something indescribably sweet in the unfolding process of being discovered and of discovering another. That takes time and presence. In-the-flesh presence. And lots and lots of time. Languid, luscious, luxurious time. The delight of seeing my lover’s eyes twinkle when I tell him a story that resonates deep within him. A similar delight when we discover – Ohmigod, you like that music, too?; You’re also moved beyond words by that poet?; That film made you cry as well? The sweetness of being listened to and listening; of hearing and being heard – the utter beauty of understanding. The tenderness that makes me melt when a lover tells me about how he likes to be touched. And then makes him melt when I touch him just that way. And when we do all these things, I want to be snuggled up together, feeling the texture, temperature and tactile sensations of our skin on skin as we gaze into each other’s eyes and we’re absolutely nowhere near a computer screen or smart phone.
I want to learn the simple things about my partner – like his taste in cuisine – by trying out restaurants together and seeing which foods make our mouths water with their deliciously sensual offerings. That’s how I want to find out whether he likes Italian or Indian or Thai, not by reading a list on a screen across town from where he wrote it. When he tells me he loves the theater, I want it to be when I’m seated next to him as the curtain rises, our thighs gently grazing as our palms are joined. When we discover and share our mutual joy of hiking, I want it to be when we’re looking at trail maps together and deciding which one we’d like to take today, not at some future unknown time when we hope to take it offline. When he tells me about a part and culture of the world that has touched him, it’s when he’s touching me as we walk the paths of that distant land together. Or at least it’s when I’m hearing his laughter as he’s sharing a story of his moving experience or zany misadventure in that distant land; and I can hear, feel and almost taste his thrill in the intonations of his voice and his facial expressions, not on a Skype date, but sitting right next to him on the couch.
I want to be in his embrace when we share our longings; when the layers of our vulnerabilities are peeled back and our deeper selves are revealed; when we tell each other how we got to be where we are in this moment in time, through the struggles we’ve endured and the joys we’ve been blessed with; and how life has tumbled us through sadness and fear and loss and how grateful we are to have someone here, someone who wants to listen and who cares and tells us so with a look and a caress and a kiss, not with a mouse click or a virtual wink. I want to find out what matters to my beloved by walking through life together, by paying attention, seeing things through his eyes and opening my heart to him as my body does the same – I want this to be in the same time zone, in the same room, not in a quasi-one in cyber space.
Call me old-fashioned, but that’s how I want my potential partner and me to discover one another, not matched through algorithms on a dating site. Am I being naïve? Is this just how we’re moving now as a people, as a culture? I don’t know. But what I do know is that after months of online exploration with these men with whom there seemed to be a modicum of promising partner compatibility, it simply has not happened. Am I any closer to partnership than when I began? No idea. While I have no regrets, it does give me pause – is this really the way to manifest the kind of connection I want? I don’t have the answer, but many questions remain.
When I began writing this, I had intended a more funny kind of reflection, but now I’ve gone and gotten all serious. How did that happen? Let’s see if I can steer this in another direction.
Even though a partner hasn’t shown up, somehow I still feel ridiculously optimistic and hopeful that somehow, in some way, some day, it’ll happen. It. Will. Really. Happen. Am I delusional? No, but like I said, I’m patient and persistent and on my best days, I deeply trust this process.
Standards – What to do about standards? “Not satisfied? Lower your standards.” Nope. No way. Maybe I have extraordinary standards, but not in the typical or rigid way of someone needing to be perfect. Not at all. That is neither my goal nor expectation, for my partner or myself. I’m willing to do the hard work of relationship and to welcome another’s foibles as I’ve learned to welcome my own. The shadow doesn’t scare me and intensity is where I live. I want someone with a spiritual life who is evolved and is committed to inquiry and compassion and mutual growth and who is smart and hilarious with a high libido and some kind of creative life that matters to him – if these are unreasonable standards, well then so be it. I cannot water them down anymore than I can make myself young and slender.
So imagine my surprise, when few of these standards are met at the tables of Peet’s, Dempsey’s, Tres Hombres, McNears and too many other places whose names I’ve already forgotten. The places, not the men, I mean. While some of their faces have already faded, I write down the names so I don’t forget and so I can write stories about them later. Like I’m doing right now. Sometimes I’ve barely made it through an iced tea, a hot tea or a glass of wine before I knew it was time to take my leave. The leave-taking is often challenging because I’m determined to be kind and at the same time, honest. I think of it as my part in promoting online etiquette and common courtesy. God knows it’s needed, what with the unsolicited genital photos in my In Box; men’s disappearing acts in the middle of conversations; and their almost universal requirement for slender, young women, no matter their paunch or advanced years. Yep, it’s a big job, but I do it because it matters to me to be kind and because I hope that other people so treated may decide it’s worth it to treat someone else similarly. That doesn’t mean I haven’t looked longingly at the rear exit of restaurants and fantasized about going to the bathroom and not returning. But it was only a fantasy and after all, I still get to have my fantasies, even if they’re not the kind I wish I was having.
I’ve crafted a generic ‘Dear John’ response for these moments, whether it happens in a face-to-face conversation or in a phone call or email; my version of the dreadfully awkward moment goes something like this: Thank you very much, but I don’t feel a sense of chemistry or resonance that I would need to delve more deeply with you. And really, it’s not a statement about you or me, it’s just that mysterious but ohso necessary chemistry thing is just not present for me. I wish you all the best. Or something like that. And then I go on to try to find something, anything I can say that is an honest appreciation of them – sometimes this is wayyy more challenging than at other times, but I try to find that “everyone is beautiful” mantra that lives somewhere in me and that ultimately, I do believe, even when or especially when what I really want to say is that I want to move as far away from you as I possibly can because really, I can’t see anything in this moment nor can I project anything that will ever be revealed in the future about which I will appreciate in you. But I don’t feed nor speak from that voice. Because I believe that our paths have crossed for some unknown reason and that this is just another person moving through the world the best they know how; and even if I look forward to them moving away from me as quickly as possible, like everyone, they too deserve kindness, respect and compassion. Loving kindness practice, remember?
Like with Ed, the man who quoted me the SF Giants 1969 batting records during our date, never mind how clearly my ad spelled out my total lack of interest in spectator sports or that my eyes were glazed over for most of the statistical presentation. I smiled and sipped through my straw until my teeth almost gnawed it in two.
Or Steve, the man who was proud of the number of used cars he sold last month and the fact that he hadn’t ever left Petaluma; well except for that one trip down to Ensenada too many years ago to remember and how exotic it was for him to eat fish tacos in Mexico – whop-dee-do. I tried, really I tried to looked interested and not to feed that high and mighty part of my ego self. I don’t think he noticed otherwise.
Or the series of three – count them, three and in a row – dates who were clearly suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome. I had to call Flea right away for a reality check: “Ohgod, Flea, do you think I have Asperger’s and that’s why these men keep showing up, to hold up that painful mirror?” She thought I might have contracted it on my trip but comforted me not to worry as she was sure it wasn’t a permanent condition in my case, although she couldn’t promise the same outcome for my potential paramours. She encouraged me to move right along to the next candidate. I swiftly followed her advice.
Or Larry, the artist/sailor who, online, similarized my profile to a Blake poem. He had me instantly. At Peet’s, though, he spent almost the entire conversation talking about his daughter who was headed to college soon, barely coming up for air to even make eye contact. He didn’t ask me one question. I tried not to give him a diagnosis, that was about as nice as I could be to him.
Or Arne, the real estate agent who wanted me to know all about the forthcoming commission on his big deal, his really big Mill Valley deal that was coming through any minute, any minute now it was coming through, so urgently pending it was that he had to check his email a half-dozen times over our adult beverage. Ugh. I let him pay for my drink – I figured he could afford it with that fancy check coming in any minute.
And then there was Dane, the man who wrote a 200+ page book explaining with painstaking specificity how to have an intimate relationship with him and who of course, gave me a copy of it at our first and only meeting and wanted to know, in detail, how I imagined we could forge a relationship. I could imagine no such thing and excused myself with as few words as possible.
Then there was Charles, the man who told me he was 56, looked a weary and worn out 76 at best and drove to Petaluma from San Francisco for a cup of tea at 7:30 in the morning. I didn’t even have the decency to meet him halfway. As soon as he sat down, I knew I had made a most unfortunate mistake in ordering an extra-large tea, even though it was earl grey with lavender. It was a long morning by the time 8:30 came around and now it was my turn to forget how to make significant eye contact. I never said I was perfect at this kindness practice.
Or Joseph, the hot young Southern California screenplay writer whose voice captivated me and whose humor, heart and brains wildly charmed me … and who, after weeks of talking and beautiful shared writing, disappeared without a trace or another word. It took me longer to let go of him than I wished were true.
And then there was Jay, the street musician from Fairfax. Now I’m not so damn high falutin’ that I’m too good for a street musician, and as much as I like to think I am open and curious for my beloved to show up in any form he may be in; I’m sorry, but it’s just not very likely that my potential soul mate is going to be broke and playing harmonica on the streets of Fairfax. His conspiracy theories didn’t help matters one bit either.
And to be fair, there were a few with whom I had more than one date and even moved to BillClinton-like-sexcapades. Gary, the psychologist in San Francisco towards whom I developed quite a fondness, shared interesting talks and playful exchanges, not only on the leather seats of his BMW, but also at that sweet Italian bistro in Potrero Hill, that outdoor restaurant in the Mission on one of those rare balmy San Francisco nights before we went to the Marsh and also – most magnetically – in his bed. But we both knew this was not a sustainable relationship; what with my propensity for deep inquiry and his sense that he was unwillingly in psychotherapy each time I wanted to delve further. That alone did not make us a likely match for the long haul.
And then there was Creg, my Esalen connection who I’ve already written about and who, it turned out, suffered from severe depression, he informed me the next morning. It’s so severe he had been to the ER a half a dozen times in the last year and is currently on disability because of it. Another unlikely long haul candidate.
Then along came Mark, the Rilke scholar, who had memorized all the Elegies which he recited with hauntingly moving background classical music. I was more than eager to meet him, until doing so, I discovered that all of it was in his head; he hadn’t embodied any of Rilke anywhere below his neck. I felt even more sad for him than for me.
And there are others, still several others, who for now, shall remain nameless.
And, finally, there was Rob, the man who most interested me since I arrived and with whom, after a potent and promising initial connection, it became disappointingly clear that something was not quite ‘right’ and that the requisite chemistry we both longed for was simply not present. I wanted to dive in and explore the possibilities further, but he wanted no such further pursuit. I went reeling with a hurt heart about Rob, but more on him later.
And then there’ve been the handful of men – in more than only numerical ways – who’ve been most interested to continue with me, who felt a sense of engagement and resonance that I didn’t feel in the slightest; and with whom I had to activate the ‘Dear John’ clause. I was grateful that my longing for contact was not so great that their interest alone was enough to convince me to continue. At least I’ve come that far.
But I remain confused. I’ve got damn good intuition about people, but I can’t seem to find in person that elusive, ineffable quality of chemistry that seems to be present in these online interactions. Okay, so I’m back to that now. But really, it’s a quandary. How can it be – how can it feel so damn juicy and potent through our words and our voices and then fall fatally flat when we’re embodied? What is it, what is that quality of coming together that is so mysterious, seems so real over the cyber waves and then couldn’t be further from the truth when we’re sitting side by side in Peet’s Coffee as I wonder whether my time in this pursuit of partnership might not be better spent finally getting all those mercury fillings replaced?
I’ve decided it’s the pheromones. They’re mysteriously wired to connect us, to send us soaring in pursuit of one another from across a room with a simple but alluring glance, an unconscious yearning, a fluttering of heart and hips. But they’re pissed. They’re not getting front and center stage anymore – we’re finding out all sorts of things about each other that no one should know before our eyes have met and we’ve had days upon days to find out each other’s desires and longings, not in the few minutes it takes to read a profile. So they’re revolting. They’re supposed to be leading the charge, not playing second fiddle to our favorite photos, our lists of interests and deal breakers and favorite this-es and that’s and foods and films and places we can’t wait to share. They’re laughing as they watch us create our clever and seductive little profiles which they know can never short circuit their role in the process. They wonder what it will take for us to remember this. So they’re toying with us – “We’ll show you who’s really in charge here and we’ll send you whimpering back to the Sierra Club hikes or the week-end workshops or the friends of friends, or the cocktail/dinner parties or ohgod, even the ubiquitous pot lucks, just so you know how it’s supposed to be done!”
Okay, enough fooling around with pheromones.
Chemistry. There really is something about this chemistry thing. What is it? What makes it show up and what makes it so elusive?
There’ve been people I’ve instantly connected with, an energy inserting itself so irresistibly that we couldn’t resist each other if we tried. Yes, this has happened, hasn’t it; it’s not just my fantasy memory playing tricks on me, is it? Maybe not lately, but I do remember it in some not-so-distant past. And those connections haven’t always or even mostly been romantic ones; I’ve met some dear friends that way. My beloved Jim in Florida prominently stands out as do several others. And yet I also have dear friends with whom that connection was not instantaneous – not even close – and our relationships are no less rich and important. They blossomed and grew as we came to know, appreciate and love one another with the time and attention it often takes to do so.
But I’m still not answering the question. And that’s because I’m not sure I have an answer. Ohsure, I know when chemistry is present, but I don’t know what makes it show up. And that’s because I don’t see a pattern in the interactions with people with whom I’ve had it. It’s shown up with people I’d never expect; and I haven’t felt an iota of it with someone who I imagined I’d be bowled over by. All I know is that I know how it feels – captivating and enchanting, juicy and alive and palpable – and that I want to feel it again.
I was on a date recently – a rare second date – with Rob, that someone with whom I thought there was incredible partnership potential. And we were talking about chemistry. I asked him about his take on it. He said there were two elements he thought indicative: one, the degree to which he feels comfortable being himself; and two, whether he is turned on by his partner’s aroma/smell. Although I hadn’t thought about the first part being an essential ingredient of chemistry before – my sense of ease and comfort in being able to be me – he may be onto something. The smell part didn’t strongly ring true for me, except that biology and research on attraction are on his side; so it may be happening for me on unconscious levels. No doubt, there’s plenty going on biologically and hormonally that’s been researched and proven over and over. But we’re more than just what research tells us, aren’t we? Doesn’t our psychology and spirituality and other mysterious forces play just as vital a role in all these matters? Yes, yes and yes.
Sometimes chemistry has tricked me. I thought it was there, I thought it was real; but then upon further exploration, it really and truly wasn’t. Even with all the personal work and inquiry I’ve done, sometimes my own projections and fantasies, however subtle they may be, cloud my clarity. Sometimes I can’t quite or completely see the person before me, because I’m too busy hoping and imagining what might be possible, eager to welcome its arrival, rather than staying present to what is actually so. How challenging it is to stay in impeccable integrity, ever watchful for chemistry’s camouflage, dressed in my desires and leading me astray.
I’m examining another long-held belief – that instant chemistry is a necessary ingredient for partnership to be birthed. Is this true? How do I know it’s true? My recent experience with Rob sent me swirling on this subject. We didn’t have that kind of chemistry, but I thought perhaps that was a good thing, that maybe dazzling fireworks burn too brightly and thus burn out too quickly. Maybe something more subtle and softer could teach me something. And while I still believe that’s something worth exploring further, I also learned, maybe even more importantly, not to ignore the signs of awkwardness that show up and to give voice to them, even out of their awkward and vulnerable places.
Here was a man who was attractive, warm and kind, caring, engaged and present – qualities, attributes and ways of moving through the world that I would say are at the top of my list. We shared a multitude of interests and synchronicities that are unparalleled in my online dating experience. Here in the Bay Area, with a population of millions, he knows a long-time friend of mine. He’s intimately familiar with my remote neighborhood on the Big Island of Hawaii, not a place at all well known to mainlanders. We were even at the same concert there earlier this year. That might not be such a big deal here in the land of millions of people, but on Hawaii, it is a big deal. My favorite poets are his. We share a commitment to an eclectic and often irreverent spiritual path and deep reverence for the natural world. His favorite activity of whitewater river rafting is also one of mine. The commonalities didn’t quit. I figured (and he did, too) – that even though my attraction to him was far from the wildly passionate, ohmigod-I’ve-got-to-have-this-man kind – that maybe, just maybe, all that kindred spirit energy between us would be the solid and fertile ground within which Eros would be ignited. But that’s not how it worked out.
Here was a prime example of what I wanted clouding my perspective. Even though chemistry sometimes tricks me, there’s no tricking chemistry. While there wasn’t a resounding yes in me to move into the sexual realm together, I did so anyway. And while I have no regrets about that – our contact was sweet and pleasurable and tender – I now realize I moved too quickly into that realm, a pace that didn’t honor the awkwardness I was feeling that I didn’t want to be true. And therein, in those moments of silence, began a slide down a slippery slope that quickly ended in a crashing halt that he called, based on not feeling the necessary chemistry to proceed. A lack of chemistry he couldn’t explain or even understand, beyond perhaps the biological, but one present enough to know that he simply couldn’t continue.
So much was activated in me through this short journey with Rob. I thought my potential partner had arrived, so I moved too fast and I didn’t speak the awkwardness that was trying to tell me of my discomfort. I loved the contact; I loved the hiking and the kayaking; the making out and the making love. I loved the lying in each other’s arms in the Godyssey as we recited poetry together. Maybe I loved that most of all. What I know for sure that I loved was the touch, the simple human touch of skin to skin, lips entwined with lips. This is where my longing lies. I came to realize how much I miss touch in my life and especially the touch of a lover.
Unfortunately as a culture, we often arrange it so that most of our significant touch needs are met through primary partnership. Ohsure, I hug and kiss and touch my friends, and many people do; but I’m talking about touch – bodies intertwined, skin-on-skin embrace, tender caressing, eyes-gazing, kissing – all of which we generally keep in one category called partnership. We’re touch-deprived in this culture, I have no doubt about that, and that’s especially true for single people, I think. It’s why Cuddle Parties are all the rage, I imagine. Why contact improv dance is so engaging, says Flea; and I think she’s right on. We’re all longing for touch and I’m right in the front of the pack. So my longing for touch and damn it, my love of making love, sometimes gets in the way of allowing me to move slowly enough to honor all those parts of me that may not be ready, but which I want to be ready so that my longings for touch can find a place of rest. For a short time, they found that rest with Rob.
We’ve decided to be friends, Rob and me. It took me a while to open to that suggestion, since really, I wasn’t looking for more friends; I want a partner. But I don’t want to disrespect this gift the Universe has sent and I choose not to be childishly pouting about not getting exactly the form of relationship that I ordered. That’s just silly. So last week, we spent a day together at Point Reyes on an all-day stunning hike with perfect weather and delightful company – each other. All the things we had in common before were still present. Only one thing was missing, the expectation that we had carried in our other meetings. Without that present, the awkwardness was gone and relief and ease took its place. We shall see what is to come, but for now, it is enough; because it is the truth.
I’ve dated a few more men after Rob, but that resonance I seek seemed even more absent. It was with some sadness, but mostly relief that I deactivated some (but not all!) of my online profiles and let the Craigslist ads lapse. The time had come to take a rest from online dating.
No sooner had I made that decision that I noticed Spirit Rock’s offer of a Singles Sangha evening. Here was a return to that “old-fashioned” way of potentially meeting someone. I signed up right away. It was a sweet, relaxed and easy evening. Nina Wise, Dharma teacher and performance artist and teacher created a warm, playful and sacred container within which the 50 or more of us spiritually-inclined singles practiced loving kindness meditation; listened to her Dharma talk on the advantages and challenges of the single life; and played theater games together of movement, sound and fun. Even though I didn’t meet the anyone, there really is something about the horse leading the cart, I’m sure of it.
My time in the Bay Area having come to end, perhaps I’m at another beginning. Yes, I’ll take that much-needed break from online dating, but I’m still open, available and ready for partnership, however and wherever it may show up. In the produce aisle, walking down the street, on the beach, in the poetry section of the bookstore or wherever serendipity may find us. No matter where it may be, bring it on, surprise me – I’m ready to be amazed. Hold on just a moment while I climb up into the saddle.