Un-Hinged: The Not-So-Fairy-Tale World of Online Dating

When you open an online dating app, there should be a check box for the following Terms and Conditions: “I acknowledge that I am now entering an alternate universe in which no normal rules of etiquette and conduct apply. I agree to disregard all previous notions of sane behavior and priorities for the sake of finding a soulmate, hookup or friend.”

I get up early and sit by the window with my coffee, ready to watch the sunrise, when I decide to take a quick peek at the dating app I downloaded two days ago. 30 likes! My morning meditation can’t compete with the compulsive urge to “swipe” through this crowd of online admirers. But before I start, a new photo pops up on screen: Ron, 37. As if his bloodshot eyes, foot-long beard and shirtless torso don’t say it all, he writes: “Hey Gorgeous, what’re you doin’ up at the ass-crack of dawn with me on my birthday?” According to Ron, 37, I’ve somehow gotten wind of his special day and set my alarm extra early, just to be wooed by his half-naked photo and vulgar metaphors.

Even though Ron, 37 didn’t exactly charm the socks off me, I have to give him credit for putting it all out there. The other day I was chatting with “Ess,” 41 for about ten minutes when he asked me to breakfast the next morning. I took a quick second look at his profile and realized I was in a bit of a conundrum. Although good looks have never been high on my priority list (My preteen obsessions were Lenny Dykstra and Gerard Depardieu), “Ess,” 41 still wasn’t giving me much to go by. Besides his real name, he’d also left out his height and posted only one picture of himself wearing a skull cap and looking off to the side. Understandably, I had some questions– namely, Are you taller than my ten-year-old? What kind of hair growth, if any, is lurking underneath that hat? Is there a left side to your face? And, oh, yeah, what’s your name?” The problem was, besides the last one, I couldn’t very well ask “Ess,” 41 any of these questions without sounding totally shallow. But isn’t a dating app supposed to filter this stuff for you? So you don’t have to drive all the way to the Blue Bonnet Diner, expecting Prince Charming, only to meet Rumpelstiltskin instead?

But there’s a fine line between too little information and way…too…much. Tim, 44, clearly wants to be pen pals, documenting all of his favorite singers, how much he loves racing cars, what he ate for lunch that day, and how he hopes I have a great Tuesday! Even worse is Ken, 47, who at first seems to have a lot going for him: A father of two. Check. Plays in a band. Check. Has a good job as a carpenter. Check. Lives far enough away that I won’t recognize him on line at the grocery store. Check. We’re getting ready to set up our first meeting, when he asks me one question: “What are your deal breakers?” Clearly, Ken, 47 has a reason for asking, so I give him the floor first. Which turns out to be a soapbox, on which he proceeds to stand and rant about all his past girlfriends who turned out to be mentally ill, and how he promised himself he’d never get involved with that “type” again.

If there’s any shortcut to killing the romance, Ken, 47 has found it. But here’s the worst part: I actually get suckered into crafting the perfect response that will convince him that I’m psychologically healthier than all the women he’s slept with. And this, before we’ve even met! I’m about to hit send when my sanity returns. Instead I write this: “Sorry, but I just realized that now isn’t a very good time for me to be engaging in this way.” I want to add, “And best of luck to you, Ken, 47, in figuring out if a woman is emotionally healthy. If she’s still chatting with you, then you probably have your answer.”

All of this leads me back to Ron, 37, and that eye-opening question of his. I look at my reflection in the window and ask myself: “Salwa, what the hell ARE you doing at the ass-crack of dawn?” I press my thumb firmly on the home button of my phone and watch as the app icons start to jiggle and shake, until one in particular disappears into cyberspace oblivion. I get up to make a second cup of coffee, with the crazy notion that finding love should have a lot less to do with clicks and swipes, and more to do with alchemy and that lost art of spinning straw into gold.

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