Maybe we don’t have to talk (too much) about why I had a dating app on my phone. Suffice to say, it was complicated, a weird collaboration between an observation, a few anxieties, and my aging ovaries.
Let me explain.
The observation: At Christmas, all my siblings are meaningfully paired off with significant others, now having borne multiple children. My sister has a new baby with a cool name, and a dark and bearded man who makes excellent breakfast and is feminist. Meanwhile, I am one parent with one child.
The anxieties: I am nearly mid-life (but I have been crisising forever; I am afraid its my cash crop. I am an INFP after all). My childbearing years are probably behind me. I’m nowhere near where I thought I’d be by now with a weird life that jives with no prosperity gospel ever. Most of my friends are paired off, or are pairing off, or are divorcing and re-pairing off – or trying to. My kid reminds me weekly that I have approximately three and a half years of his childhood left. I see many cats in my future, which I am by the way mildly allergic to, and I already knit more than any sane human should, spinstering be damned. Blah and blah, and so on and so on. My brain lately is a litany of mostly inane fears and dreads.
The ovaries: Biology. Meh. The universe wired my body to preserve the human race, as it turns out, and as I age, they get a little desperate and feeling sorry for themselves. Enough said.
All of this together is a lot. Add in the weird season of creative life I’m struggling in, and the shifting winds of community, and existential questions that have nothing to do with a partner. (What is ‘gainful employment’ again? I keep hearing about it.) I quit my job to make art, which means I have too much time to process the past which has me asking questions about the last time I dated, circa 20 years ago. These may honestly just be best-left buried in their shallow grave with Y2K.
So I’m on this app. And I’m there to figure some things out, nothing serious. And I don’t even know if I believe in apps. It seems too easy to swipe away an entire future possibility before bodies have even been in the same zip code, but apparently this is how pairing up is done these days. No offense if this has worked for you – I hear it sometimes does. But for the rest of us, God forbid we actually fall in love with someone we met at church, or in a bookstore, or in a college class, or (gasp) a friend. God forbid “falling in love” not be the most important thing in making commitments to begin with, but I digress.
Day 7 or so, I get notice that someone has liked me. And instead of the immediate “no,” this time I’m intrigued.
I’m intrigued because number one, he seems really decent. His profile responses are thoughtful and funny. He didn’t check the “spiritual but not religious box,” (major points here) and shares my faith. There are no sea bass to be found anywhere. (P.S.A.: If you haven’t read “I am a Tinder Guy Holding a Fish and I will Provide for You,” go do it now. Thank me for the laughs later.)
And number two, my ovaries need to settle the hell down: he’s breathtaking. Like, McDreamy meets arabesque tattoo sleeve meets Luke from Gilmore Girls, complete with hipster glasses, but he doesn’t seem to know it.
The last picture is a mirror selfie of him at the gym, bare-chested and sweaty and usually this would automatically put him in the category of “absolutely not.” Except the expression on his face says so perfectly, “I guess this is how I’m supposed to play the game, so here, but this is ridiculous.” Plus, he mentions pancakes in his profile three times, which means he’s not averse to carbs. Maybe he’s just naturally abdominally and pectorally blessed.
At this point, I don’t know what to do. Message him? Ball’s in my court. But besides the fact that I have no idea if I even want this, I’m pretty convinced something has gone terribly wrong:
1. He’s a scammer out for my personal information and/or money.
2. He was blacked-out drunk-dating at 4am and accidentally clicked “like” and would soon realize his mistake.
3. He’s desperate for some girl to tell him he’s gorgeous, his ego will be stoked, he’ll be a mansplainer par excellence. Something in these realms.
But ovaries, speaking to me through dreams and visions, be like, “Just see, just say something. Just give it a chance.” So despite my better judgement, this is what I say, and I quote:
“Now I’m not nearly as gorgeous as you, but I do make a mean stack of pancakes.”
It’s dumb, but also names the disparity that is so obvious, and best of all it gets the job done well. He’s charmed, he laughs, we text about pancakes. A few days pass, I find out more, the conversation moves toward more serious topics. I’m pretty sure we’re not going to meet, but every time I’m sure, he says something new that keeps the conversation going.
But one day (yesterday, to be precise) suddenly I can’t go on.
The more I begin to like him, the more I realize the absurdity of everything that’s happening.
This ‘everything’ includes the fact that I don’t even know if I want a relationship – with anyone, let alone someone whose life doesn’t intersect with mine at any natural point. I begin to think obsessively about Wendell Berry, and about Norm Wirzba’s Agrarian Theology class.
The ‘everything’ includes the fact that my life right now is so strange, even to me, and what even would I be inviting him into?
The ‘everything’ includes my gut, which feels swimmy and sick, like I am outside my integrity, doing a thing that feels culturally perfunctory, but why. Because I have ovaries like ticking time-bombs? Because I might look like an eccentric religious fanatic or at least super-confused? Because someone might deem me pre-spinstery and pathetic for being uncoupled?
Most of all, I realize he’s not the same kind of weird that I am. He’s played the world by the rules, played it safe and smart, and he’s winning. And it’s a certain kind of winning, one that feels out of line with everything I am committed to.
I tell him we’re not well-matched, and I need to move on. I care enough for him not to just ghost, so I wait for him to reply before unmatching. He challenges me on it. Am I just freaking out, he wants to know?
I start telling him who I am – like, not in the profile “single woman looking for” kind of way, but who I really am: the sacrifices I’m making to try to be true to how I am gifted instead of faithful foremost to the capitalist project; the contours of my calling and vocation and what that requires of me; the fact that I live with one of my dearest friends who is a man I’m not married to or romantic with and it’ll probably be this way for a bit; the reason I came to Houston in the first place and the new monastic community we were trying to build, and how my time here has turned out nothing like I hoped or imagined; the ways God has been faithful anyway and abundance has come on its own terms.
I say it all. I tell him everything.
He says he gets it, he’s cool with my life, likes my confidence about it, and it doesn’t scare him off; he could be with a pastor he thinks. It’s all good, except this one thing: What do I mean exactly when I say all that stuff about capitalism?
(He’s a stock trader on the side, after all. He works in the oil business after all.)
And do you know what ultimately ends it?
Wait for it.
What ends it all is a middle of the night conversation about the Sermon on the Mount, and what Jesus could possibly mean by “Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (The absurdity of this alone must say something about me.)
I won’t go into the intricacies of the arguments, but in the end I begin to realize something:
I begin to realize that for the first time in a long-time, I have meaningfully articulated something about what my life is about – even if at the end of the day, it’s an eclectic handful of hunches, questions, dreams, and commitments that maybe loosely hold together? Question mark? Or maybe not. (I joked – well only half-joked – with my housemate the other day that trying to make sense of what we’re doing is like holding a horseshoe, a lemon, an axe, and a robot in my hands, trying to figure out some intelligible and defensible connection between them.)
I woke up this morning, said goodbye and thank you, and then clicked the unmatch button, deleted my profile, and the app.
In the end, there was a gift in the absurdity of what we were doing: namely, I have said now at least once somewhere outside my head a comprehensive but texting-succinct narrative of what I’m doing and why, what’s at stake, what still vexes me, and who I am. And I have argued apparently convincingly for why I’m not desperate for some man to come along and “complete me” – whatever this could possibly mean.
Most of all, it was the same realization all over again – the one I keep circling back to on the clock face of my passing years: I’m fine.
I’m fine. No, my life doesn’t make a certain kind of sense, or at least you’ll need certain kinds of eyes to see it. I’m 38, divorced, in this particular body, with a manly baby-child who’s going to kill it as an adult. I’m a churchy worker, an incredibly disorganized, blocked, and anxious artist, a reluctant writer, an activist-and-revolutionary wannabe, in my black neighborhood, living out my farmgirl soul in the third largest urban landscape in the country. And no, it’s not defensible, but it’s fine.
Nothing is wrong with me. I don’t have to be “normal” on anyone else’s terms.
And I’m fine with it.