When I signed up to my first dating app, about six weeks ago, filling out the profile information caused no-end of soul searching.
My first problem was a practical one: I had no recent photos. My husband had left three years previously, and he was always the one who photographed me. My kids certainly don’t. They’re busy playing with Snapchat or TikTok or taking selfies. Sometimes I’m lurking in those selfies, but there is no way I’m using pictures of my kids on a dating site, even with their faces Sharpied into oblivion.
In recent months and years, when I looked in the bathroom mirror I saw myself – more often than not – through the callous, distorting lens of depression.
I would flee cameras at family gatherings. I would delete photos where I had been unwittingly caught. Looking back through Photos on my MacBook, searching for anything serviceable that could be used on OkCupid, it occurred to me that if something bad happened to me, my children would be left wanting. I’d obliterated all trace of myself. It was as if I hadn’t been around for three years. There was a complete absence of me.
The OKCupid profile has gone through several iterations, but I decided to combat the photo problem by captioning them to make it clear which ones were less than recent – using the same, hopefully witty, tone as elsewhere. Not taking the whole thing too seriously, but being honest all the same, which is more than can be said for many of the men posting less than fresh photos and passing them off as though they were taken yesterday.
I think the question above gave me the most pause. It was easier to say what I didn’t want, which has been both useful and not.
Saying I can’t or won’t have any more kids (the ovary police are undecided, but probably the former) was designed to filter out people who did want children. What it seems to have done is attract guys fifteen years younger than me who are wary of commitment with girls their own age. (Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining).
Stating that I wasn’t interested in being some extra-conjugal adventure (there are sites designed for that, why not use them?) hasn’t deterred the guys in relationships from contacting me, forming a bond online or offline, then confessing that they are in a relationship afterwards, when the damage is already done.
But that really only covers what I don’t want. What do I actually want?
I spent too long listening to the harpy voices in my head crowing that it was over for me, that part of my life. Who was going to want this fuckup, with her two kids from two different relationships? This hollowed out husk, who hadn’t had sex in almost three years and really hadn’t even missed it, because the medication and the sad had just de-activated everything. Under the clothes I was just a Barbie doll, with no genitalia.
I remember telling a good friend that I was worried I’d meet someone when I was one version of myself, then I’d withdraw, and hurt his feelings. Or I would be dating a guy, or guys, then suddenly lose the will to leave my apartment, and just delete my profile and disappear from circulation. These things could and may happen. But she said, fuck it, just do it anyway.
Of course, I didn’t realise it at the time, but the very fact that I signed up to OkCupid at all, was the first sign that my mood was improving, markedly, and so the whole endeavour has been much easier for me than I could have imagined. And over the past six weeks, as I moved on from there to bumble, to happn, and fiddled with my settings, I’ve had something of an epiphany.
I knew that I wasn’t looking for a relationship in a traditional sense – my kids and I don’t want a guy moving in or spending time with our family unit, which occupies fifty per cent of my time – and that has not changed.
I suspected that guys with kids of their own would understand my responsibilities and constraints but that conversely, coordinating our schedules so we could meet would be tough. That has also proved to be true.
What I didn’t realise, is that I was capable of enjoying more fleeting kinds of attachments. The French term is “rencontres éphémères“, which sounds much prettier than any English translation could render. No strings, but more than once. Non-monogamy. Girlfriend experience, but not girlfriend. Seeing someone, but not exclusively.
No-one I’ve encountered so far seems to be looking for anything serious, but then nothing ever starts out that way, does it? You start out with a date, with a night, with another night. We are all improvising.
I know what I don’t want, I still don’t know what I do want. But I feel more confident now that I’m going to enjoy the journey, until maybe I cross paths with a person I want something more with. Whatever that may be.