When the man I’ve been dating for a month tells me, casually over coffee, that maybe we should keep things open and see other people, I feign indifference so he won’t see the devastation written on my face.
I break it off, and he lets me go without a fight.
“At least, it happened early on in the relationship,” well-intentioned friends say.
True. But the connection I felt with him seemed to transcend time. I think what I most mourn is the lost possibility of love and having someone really see and want me in all my stubborn, free-spirited, brokenhearted, healing mess.
Afterward, I decided, maybe he’s right, and maybe I do need more dating experience. I downloaded an online dating app on my phone, mostly in an attempt to assuage the ache that feels soul-deep and heal the new tiny fractures that have joined the dozens of others already cracking open my battered heart.
Online dating—especially now in my late 30s—is new territory, and I find myself an oddity, the woman who isn’t divorced but widowed young, a fact I keep quiet because it feels too personal to cavalierly toss around to men who point-blank announce they love big asses and titties.
Truthfully, it took nearly four years to reach a point where loving someone else didn’t feel like a betrayal to my husband.
For better or worse, my short-lived romance did serve one purpose, and my hibernating heart has been prodded back into the sunlight, blinking and unsure, incredibly tender, but cautiously opening up to the idea of a second love.
After Brian’s death, I felt fully committed to mourning him for a lifetime, but I was only 33, and if I had learned nothing else, it was how fragile and beautiful our one wild and precious life really is. Thus I found myself tiptoeing into the shallows of the online dating world.
The first week I spend idle moments scrolling through page after page of men. I feel a little queasy as I consider all the options—tough men, sissy men, men who climb on rocks; a veritable cornucopia with every imaginable size, shape, and personality, all held within my hands grinning, smirking, or staring sultrily up at me from my screen. Throughout the day, my phone vibrates with exciting notifications.
“You have people waiting to meet you,” it exclaims. “You have 50 men interested.”
It seems so extravagant as if I am a Mormon man gathering wives in preparation for heavenly rewards. At first, I don’t respond to any of my matches. I am poised at the edge of a cliff, too frightened to jump into the water 20 feet below. The second week, I tentatively wave a hi—if they care enough; let them break the ice.
There are a lot of duds to sort through, and I screenshot the best ones and send them to my sister so we can roll our eyes and laugh together. There are men who announce they only swipe right on the pretty ones, multiple husbands seeking a third partner to spice up their marriage, men who demand a conversation if you match and label you a sh*tbag if you don’t. Then there are those looking for a sweet, girly girl—not me.
At this stage in my life, I am more sure of what I want than I ever was in my 20s when I was an overeager puppy, simply excited about the prospect of love and—what I had been taught was—forbidden sex. Now, I know what I want and what I don’t.
I swipe left a lot: on profiles that contain no bios, on the men wanting children, or those who profess a love for Jesus or who have such close-ups of their faces that you just see a blurry mix of flesh, nostrils, and eyes. Politically conservatives are eliminated, along with men who can’t keep up with me physically. Sometimes I do swipe right—sometimes, it’s a match.
Pretty soon, I’m chatting with my harem. Jeremy claims he is a 33-year-old but appears to be a mere babe and I suspect he is actually in his 20s. He is a police officer who tells me he loves older women, which makes me chortle.
I don’t make an effort to meet any of them, although Jeremy invites me out for a beer, which I tell him I’ll consider, and Chris, a solid 43-year-old who enjoys mountain biking, suggests a meetup when he’s in my neck of the woods.
Truthfully, the conversation feels like a good distraction from the sadness I feel each night when darkness falls, and I’m sitting alone in my living room feeling the pain of my aloneness pressing in, a heavy boulder on my chest that resembles grief.
In the daylight moments, I am strong and satisfied with my life as it is. It feels full and good, and I am grateful for the time I spend with my teen daughter and the writing I’m doing that satisfies my inner desire to create. I hike and run and occasionally meet friends for coffee. It all feels safe, and I don’t know if I want to disrupt that. But there are still moments when I wonder if I’ll ever experience love again. Real love. Death stripped away everything superficial, and I can’t waste it on mediocre.
A few weeks in, and I’m still skeptical about online dating but keeping my mind open as I forge ahead bravely and a little cautiously.
After all, we exist on a tiny blue dot spinning in space, looking for connections of one kind or another while we live out our brief blips in time—and in this modern world, sometimes that involves an app on our phone.
May all of us, with our myriad stories of heartbreak and wounds, bravely forge ahead and seek love, no matter how far the fall might be or how great the risk.