Essay: Extremely Online

Essay: Extremely Online
This should make for a good story.

I hate "online dating" in the way that only someone who's never tried something can hate that thing. To be clear, my principle objection has nothing to do with being offended by the idea of giant tech companies or cynical commodification of human relationships. But I'm offended as a storyteller.

I've always wanted to tell my future children the grand story of How I Met Their Mother, but with a finale much less disappointing than the version on CBS.

A great romantic story is about destiny shrouded in the pauper's disguise of coincidence: Maybe a wild Ultimate Frisbee throw of mine would skid to rest at her feet. Maybe I'd be biking and she'd hit me with her car. Maybe we'd both be pawns in a high-stakes game of international intrigue between our two feuding families.

But online dating? I didn't want to tell my kids about connecting with my wife because of some dating site computer algorithm. Algorithms are math, and math is the exact scientific opposite of romance. Even "we got shitfaced and hooked up in the Swackhammer's bathroom" is a better story than Love At First Swipe.

Yer for more than a decade I've tried practically everything else: Quietly pining for unavailable women; posting witty comments on all of a crush's Facebook photos; brooding soberly in the corner at parties while thumbing through Twitter; showing attractive women my killer impression of Vox podcaster Matt Yglesias, everything. Hell, I spent four years as a student at a small, Presbyterian college and — despite the implicit promise of the brochure — ended up without a single wedding ring to show for it.

So gradually, like a picky eater being encouraged to expand his palette by the other members of the Donner party, my desperation started to chip away at my resolve. In a foolish fit of foreshadowing years ago, I made a dark vow that, if I turned 35 and somehow I still wasn't married, I would cast aside my pieties and descend into the snarling online hellscape of the horny and the damned.

But then, on my 34th birthday, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down America. Dating, as a particularly gruesome slideshow in ninth-grade health class taught me, has always been a bit epidemiologically risky.

But COVID was another level. Women, I hear, don't like it if you give them a disease that kills their grandparents. For over a year, even if I wanted to try dating a bunch of people, I couldn't. Limitations can clarify things. Prison makes you more likely to take chances when you get out, not less.

And so this is a moment, in this one summer, when the entire online dating field is rusty. Yes, I have no idea what I'm doing, but everyone is out of practice. Everyone is ready to take stupid risks. And ultimately, here's the best part: Any love story, even one that involves online dating, is pretty grand when it starts with "we were just emerging from the worst pandemic in a century."