By Sarah Jio
Photo: Sarah Jio
Shortly after my marriage fell apart and in those bleak days after my husband had packed up his belongings and moved to a new house, Natalie, one of my best friends, insisted that I sign up for Match.com. “You have to get out there,” she said. “It’ll be fun!”
Honestly, “fun” was the last thing on my mind. I was hurting and lost. My heart, smashed in so many places, wasn’t ready for new love, let alone fun. But somehow, I let Natalie convince me (over a few glasses of wine) to create an online profile. Match.com, I thought. Really? Was I really going to do this? (It helped to know that some people I admire had taken the plunge, too, like one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, who wrote about her year on Match.com here.)
Cautiously, I chose a few photos and wrote some stupid one-line description, which (don’t laugh), I believe went something like this: “Hi, I’m Sarah. I’m a writer in Seattle. Looking for the real and the epic.” (Yeah, I know. A little sub-par, given that I actually write for a living.) But that’s how my online dating roller coaster began, and was it ever a roller coaster.
On my first date, I nervously showed up 20 minutes early to a bar and suffered through an agonizing hour of conversation with a man who wouldn’t stop staring at my chest. Next! Date number two was better, although I had no idea what to wear, and ended up arriving at a sports bar in a Helmut Lang dress (he was wearing a T-shirt and jeans—oops). Eventually I got the hang of it all. Eventually it became, just like Natalie said, … fun.
There were bankers and lawyers, surgeons and sommeliers, actors and guitar players, and one unsettlingly handsome male model. I met all kinds of men and found that if I wanted to sit across a table with someone on any Saturday night, a date could be summoned by merely checking my inbox.
So I signed up for OKCupid, and, gulp, Tinder. I began to get used to, and become oddly fond of, the ping of my phone with notifications of interested men. “Seattleguy45 just liked you!” or “Marc just sent you a new message!” (by the way, have I shared my theory that every fourth person on Tinder is either named “Marc” or “Jayson”?).
I went on lots of first dates. I laughed my way through some, cringed my way through others. Some men got blocked for stalker-like behavior (no, it is never a good idea to send flowers to a woman’s house after one date), others became friends, and a few more intrigued me enough to go on second dates, and thirds.
I wasn’t really looking for anything, or anyone. And though a few people rose to the top, none were inherently right for me. I’d tell my friends that I wished I could pick and choose various traits from all of these dates to create the perfect man. But there are no paper dolls in dating, and there isn’t such a thing as a perfect man. And, frankly, if I’d met him back then, I don’t know that I’d have been in the right head, or heart, space to know it.
And so that year rolled along. And I stayed on the roller coaster, holding on tight when it dipped low and took me high. And then one day, I realized that I wanted … to get off.
I remember the moment I told a friend that I was thinking about deleting my various dating accounts. After a year of it all, I felt content being alone, tired of the endless dating hamster wheel. Really, just … tired. On any given Saturday night, I wanted to be spending time with my friends rather than struggling through a date with some man who talked incessantly about his cats. So, one evening, I set out to part ways with online dating.
But, while taking a final run through on Tinder, my eyes paused on a certain man’s profile. His face looked familiar somehow. After a few moments, I realized that he was someone I once met—twenty years ago, to be exact. I swiped right and we were an instant match. While I’d never write men first messages, I felt compelled to send him one. “Hi,” I said. “I could be wrong, but I think we met twenty years ago, when I was 16.” He wrote back immediately to confirm that he indeed remembered me, and how funny to think that after twenty years, one divorce and three kids each (uh, can you say Brady Bunch?), we’d find each other both washed up on the same shore, laughing about that time when we’d first said hello in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood.
We exchanged messages for a few days, and then we met for a first date. And a second. And a third. And then we lost track, because suddenly we were spending all of our free time together. Suddenly we were in it.
Each of us deleted our online dating accounts. And just like that, one chapter ended, and another began.
In Mexico last month, he took the above photo of me. I was standing there on a beautiful vista, waves crashing on the shore, thinking about the journey of my life, the long and winding road that led me there, with a wonderful man standing in the distance and a salty lime margarita waiting by the lounge chair.
I’m not sure why things work out the way they do. Fate? Faith? Time? Some random combination of circumstances? I don’t know. And I really have no idea what my future will hold; it’s too early to tell. But I’ve learned to be happy in the moment, happy for this day, and this time. Because I am.
I once was terrified of dating (online and otherwise), of moving ahead, of the roller coaster ride of it all. But I rode it out; white-knuckled it at times. It was alternately fun and nauseating. But it was worth it all. Somewhere along the journey, my heart healed, and I learned that I could open myself up to it all again. And I have.