I found it hard to bring up the fact I’d started online dating to my mother, since we’ve spent so many weekends watching sixty-year-old serial rapists chat up oblivious girls online on Law and Order:SVU. I felt like no matter how hard I insisted there was little danger of meeting someone in broad daylight in a crowded New York City cafe she would be picturing one of the creepers from To Catch a Predator hauling me into a taxi.
So, I made up a meet cute. I had met my date at The Strand. We both reached for Joyce, and after some nervous chuckling, he offered the beat up copy of Dubliners to me, and invited me to dinner to talk more about his influence on modern literature. I almost got caught up in my own story, it was so much more romantic then the volley of Okcupid messages that actually led up to my first date in the city; cute picture, good book list, so hard to meet people, friend met his girlfriend on here, know a place that has great coffee, meet you at seven.” This was not the stuff rom-coms are made of, but even on par with You’ve Got Mail.
So I went on a date, then another, then another, all of them fun but none leading to a second, which left my family slightly confused. So tonight, it’s Ben? Whatever happened to Jake? And Ron? And he’s a barista? Wasn’t Paul a bariasta too? The fact an ever changing roster of names contained more than a handful of coffee shop employees or aspiring photographers started to seem suspicious to my parents. Maybe Ron, Paul, and Jake were really one person. And if I was making up the names, maybe I was making up the whole endeavor, and the nights I claimed to be sharing a vegetarian platter in Astor Place I was actually finishing a box of cereal in my apartment, alone. There was no way to explain to my parents that a good 60% of guys my age on OKC living in Manhattan were pouring coffee by day and experimenting with analog cameras by night, or the fact that as a creative writing grad student I’d be able to create better back stories if the guys really were fictional. I’d be going out with famous pancake chefs and the son of the inventor of post-its. Still, as the more I included the dates in my weekly updates the more I would get the painfully measured, “oh, another have fun,” and the, “you know, if there’s anything you need to tell me, you can.”
Around this time of growing suspicion my ninety year old grandfather started asking questions about my boyfriend. Was he going to pick me up at the train station? Was he going to be coming for Thanksgiving? This was particularly bizarre because my Grandpy doesn’t believe in boyfriends. In his day, he’d been telling me for over a decade, there were husbands, and there was boys that were friends, but a boyfriend was something seedy that the next generation had thought of. He refused to acknowledge the title, and even as my high school boyfriend became my college boyfriend, he would always inquire after my friend. So it was all the more awkward to explain the beau he was now referring didn’t exist.
Your dating habits seem to be put under a microscope by your family in your twenties. I have friends in relationships who are getting pressured into marriage, single friends urged to start thinking about children, serial daters encouraged just to pick one already so they won’t die alone. And I have my parents, always supportive, politely asking if I have a date that weekend. If I decide to answer yes, a new guy, I know I’ll hear a small pitying sigh and my mom will hope he’ll be different then the others. And I’ll know she won’t mean funnier or kinder, but simply that he exists outside my imagination.