After my relationship ended in April I took some time out from romance. To take care of myself. To join the gym again. To clamber out of depression. Doctors and therapists and a Cosmopolitan article I found online were all in agreement – this is good, it’s a process, it’s going to take you months. Months?! Bollocks, I thought to myself, over a glass of wine. Three weeks is plenty. Let’s go!
It was my first time getting to have my very own dating app profile, instead of stealing other people’s Bumbles at parties to swipe on their behalf while giggling. It’s different when it’s your own. When you’re playing with Julia’s phone and you swipe on Jeremy and he doesn’t swipe back, who cares, what a loser, MOVE ON. When you’re swiping with the fate of your own future in your hands, and Jeremy doesn’t swipe back, and you are definitely not remotely emotionally ready to be on the apps, it’s devastating. Why, Jeremy? I liked your dad joke and your picture of a puppy. Love me. I’m broken and need a cuddle. WHY WON’T YOU LOVE ME? NO ONE WILL EVER LOVE ME! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?
That first night on the apps I really shouldn’t have been. They would message me with things like “hey” or “what u up to” and I’d make exaggerated whiney ugggggh sounds, annoyed, telling Ashton ANOTHER ONE wanted to TALK TO ME, before tossing my phone across the couch. “WHY? What do they WANT from me?” I wailed. I was mad when they liked me and mad when they didn’t. I hated them all and yet needed them all to adore me.
Ashton just raised an eyebrow and say “um, just wondering why you think you are ready for this”.
I even met one, that first night. I got him to come out to the Peel which is a very gay bar, very very gay. We had matched on Tinder and he had made a reference to an old TV show (or I did, and he pretended to understand it, I can’t remember now) and I decided we were soulmates. I should not have insisted he come out at 11pm, sober; and I should definitely not have lured a straight man into a gay bar ever (I would like to formally apologise to the LGBTQ+ community, this was a dick move, please dock me some ally points accordingly). He was awkward and looked to me to make it less awkward; which I resented, and so I just panicked and stopped speaking to him and focused on sipping my diet coke in slow motion. Mercifully he left after half an hour, saying it was too loud. The next day he messaged asking me out again, I said I was very sorry, I was definitely not ready and I was very sorry and was going to do meditation instead of dating and I was sorry, and he said that sounded boring.
So I deleted the apps.
I repeated this pattern. A few drinks, a declaration I was ready, reinstall, chat chat, oh god they’re asking me QUESTIONS, delete the apps.
Of course, Cosmopolitan was right, it was a process. After three months the apps mostly stayed undeleted, creeping into Mondays or even Tuesdays before I’d get rid of them. But I still wasn’t quite there yet. In my head I was sort of a greyish sea creature, and I didn’t believe anyone would actually like me. If they swiped back my first thought to myself was “why”. (I mean, a topic for a future blog, but depression really is a little bitch).
As well as having self-esteem in the toilet, I didn’t know how to interact with men. I’d message them with “soooo, um… how’s the weekend been treatin’ ya, there, mate?” I was not smooth. I pictured myself leaning on a bar and fishing for a straw with my mouth, missing it, poking myself in the face, my mouth hinging open and shut. A greyish sea creature, trying to eat plankton. Glub glub.
My first real date (meeting sober and in daylight) was at the pub down the road. On the apps he seemed cute and chatty, so I decided to be bold and brave and go meet this so-called MAN in a so-called BAR. I took deep breaths. I closed my eyes and pictured Wonder Woman. I set up Find My Friends so two people could monitor my geolocation at all times in case of murder. I vowed to remain vigilant and not share personal details. Don’t let him see your license, he might steal your identity. Don’t hint where you live, he might steal your television. (Months later these overzealous precautions have all disappeared. I show up on a first date with unbrushed hair and say “hey watch my stuff while I go for a quick wee?”. I really should work on a happy medium…)
When I arrived at my First Real Date I was very aware of… everything. I didn’t know what to do with my hands – do you put them down? Do gestures with them? Can one gesture on purpose? What do normal people do? How do my hands suddenly require so much manual attention? And I was sure everyone KNEW. Like they were all looking at me whispering, “she’s on a date”, “is she ready for this?”, “wait, what is she doing with her hands?” I felt like I was in way over my head. What happens when he sits down? What do I say? Am I supposed to eat, or not eat? What if I have to burp?
He arrived and we had an awkward hug and I thought I might be physically sick. Then I asked him about his day and he started talking and I remembered to breathe and it was… fine. He was friendly, nice, he smiled at me. But I still wasn’t ready. I decided that I wanted a nice first-date-back, a stepping stone back in, that wrapped up with a tidy little closure bow. So I thanked him for a lovely time, silently praising him for the service, and then walked the long way home. I mean, obviously. Couldn’t have him guess where I lived.