It is early December, less than two weeks since I moved out of my apartment and left my husband. Our daughter is not yet 3 years old, and our arrangement is that she spends three nights a week with her dad and four with me. It was during my first night without her that I realized I hadn’t thought this through very well. The pain of missing her was extraordinary. At first, I channeled the pain into looking at dog rescue websites, thinking maybe I could get a dog. After a few nights of that, and realizing that I didn’t actually want a dog, I thought that maybe what I wanted was a lover.
It had been years since my ex-husband Edward and I had any kind of sex life. We’d not been very compatible to begin with, but then years of familiarity had worn us down. Trying to have a baby had revived at least a technical interest in sex, but once the pregnancy was secure, sex between us pretty much vanished. We’d had sex only three times since our daughter was born. I hadn’t missed it terribly, but I had also been consumed by learning how to be a mother. Now, sitting alone in my cousin’s spare bedroom, the echo of loneliness inside me can be heard for the roar that it is.
I shut down the dog rescue site and type “okcupid” into the search bar. I just want to look. There are many dating websites I could choose from, but I choose this one because I know several people who have had good experiences on it. And (this is a part I can’t explain), it’s the dating site that I know Edward is using, so it seems only fair I should use the same one.
The news of Edward joining a dating site came to me less than two weeks after we agreed to divorce, while we were still living together. I’d bumped into a friend and she told me that she’d seen his profile on Okcupid. I was…dumbstruck. He’d said he didn’t want a divorce, so why was he jumping onto a dating website immediately? While it was very confusing and hurtful at the time, I have since heard from many men that jumping into dating is the first thing they do when a relationship ends. Like, immediately. Within hours of a break up. Still, the fact that we were still living together, with a toddler, made the news that he was on a dating site feel extra strange.
At that time, I’d had zero desire to date. I was consumed with the tidal wave of change crashing over my already hectic life. My job had ended and we had agreed that Edward would stay in the apartment while I moved out, thinking that would be easier for our daughter since she was more bonded with me. I faced losing my apartment and becoming a single mother, while unemployed. Romance was not on my mind. But another couple of months went by, I moved out, and suddenly I had several nights a week to feel very alone. Even after spending time with friends and family, or at some event, I’d return to find the murk of loneliness pacing and awaiting my return.
I already have a fake profile set up on Okcupid. I had made one weeks earlier so I could look at Edward’s profile. I mean, your spouse who you live with has created a dating profile less than two weeks after agreeing to a divorce and you’re not gonna look at it? Of course I looked. I looked at it while on the phone with my best friends, so we could dissect it together. It felt good and horrible at the same time. I was relieved to learn that I would not find his profile enticing, had I not known him, but I also felt so immensely sad to be throwing him back out into the cold pond of old, heavy fish. And yet here I am, weeks later, wondering what I have for bait.
After looking around on Okcupid for a few minutes I log off so I can create a real profile. Or, as real as these profiles can be. First I come up with a name for myself (you don’t use your real name of course). I settle on NotebookJane because it sounds smart and creative and simple. Okcupid gives you sections to fill out (My self-summary / What I’m doing with my life / I’m really good at / Favorite books, movies, shows, music, and food / Six things I could never do without / I spend a lot of time thinking about / On a typical Friday night I am / You should message me if…) There is also a section titled “The most private thing I’m willing to admit”, but for some reason that doesn’t pop up for me. Maybe Okcupid can sense that I’m not willing to admit much, including that I am only two months out of a marriage and still technically married.
Within an hour of creating the profile I receive my first message. It’s from a guy dressed in camo who says he is stationed in Libya. He asks me if I will agree to shut my account down and communicate only with him. We have a winner!! I tell him to buzz off, nicely. By then the messages are rolling in. It’s hard not to feel flattered, even though they are all along the lines of “Hey”, or “Move to Libya and stop communicating with everyone you know.”
“What’s up?” “Yo sexy.” “I like your hair.” “Do you ever want to be dominated by a strong, well-hung, real man?”
I’m not even kidding. I don’t know what to say to these. But the next morning I get a sweet message from a very cute guy. No words, just four symbols: a rose, a cup of coffee, a question mark, and a smiley face. I’m smitten. This is original! I think to myself. He must be shy. And he must really like me, or he wouldn’t make himself vulnerable with the rose. I write back a simple “Yes”. And then I read his profile several times throughout the day, look at his pictures many times, and wait.
He looks familiar, but I can’t place it. By the end of the day he hasn’t written back, so I write again. “How’s Friday afternoon? Have to leave by 4.” He doesn’t write back. By the next morning, I’m a little annoyed. What did the rose mean?? Does he want to have coffee or not?? I should explain. Okcupid lets you see when people were last logged into their account, and if they are logged in now. So I know he has been on the site several times since I wrote him. I know he has seen my message, and I feel terribly insecure that he hasn’t written back. No matter. I get out of bed and dress for an early morning meeting at a spiritual support group I joined a few weeks earlier.
At the group, my eyes fall on a guy I had noticed before, and had thought was a little cute, and I suddenly realize I am looking right at the Okcupid guy. And I know his name. Dylan. I can’t help but stare. Does he know who I am? Did he realize it was me when he sent me the rose-coffee-question mark-smiley face? Has he had a crush on me for weeks and is too painfully shy to say anything? He doesn’t look at me. After the meeting I go up to say hi, although we’ve never properly met. He can’t quite meet my gaze; his eyes keep plummeting to his shoes. I tell him my name and stare at him for a few moments, thinking there will be some sign of a shared joke between us. But nothing. He is either shy or dumb, I’m not sure which.
I go home and send him a message: “So, do we know each other from __________?” He immediately responds with my name, realizing who I am. In his next message, he writes that he “is a womanizing love addict.” Now, a sane woman with self respect would probably shut down the conversation at that point. But I am neither of those things, and thus begins an entire day of furious messaging between two horny, impulsive adults. We are trying to find time to get together, though we both say we are busy for the next few days. Our texts are filled with innuendos and flirty compliments, and the tension is mounting.
At one point, he asks me to take a picture of myself, whatever I am doing in that moment, and send it to him. “Don’t think about it!” he writes. “Just send it!” I am one of the least photogenic people I know. Unless I put concerted effort into it, I always come out looking like John Lithgow. So I end up sitting in the car for half an hour, taking selfies in the middle of a parking lot. Meanwhile, he snaps a photo of himself in the mirror, poor quality, but emphasizing just how cute he is because he’s obviously cute without trying. The best selfie I can get makes me look like a female relative of John Lithgow, rather than the actor himself, so that’s an improvement. I feel really stupid doing it, too. It has never been my style to base dating on looks. But here I am 39-years old, a newly separated mom with a young child, no job, and broke. Looks are it, baby. John Lithgow or not.
By that evening, the sexual tension between us has broken through all our reservations and we are making plans for me to go over to his place that night, after his nine-year old daughter is asleep. I know. Judge if you must. I feel like I know him, or at least know a lot of people who know him. And he seems well-liked at our support group. And the fact that he belongs to the support group speaks well for him. So at 11 o’clock that night I am outside his apartment texting that I’ve arrived. Lust has ignited my body, and loneliness has convinced my heart that this is something real and substantial.
We kiss as soon as he opens the door. He is eager and breathy and very sexy. We kiss over to the bedroom where he suddenly becomes self-conscious and starts arranging pillows and blankets into some sort of a love nest, like an awkward bird who forgot to build his nest before the mating dance.
Finally, when the nest is ready enough for him, he steps toward me and I think, This is it! Finally! SEX!! And then a small voice says, “Dad?” and he bolts to the door because his daughter is there, right outside his door. Our talking must have woken her and now she is wondering who is here and what is going on.
Dylan ushers his daughter back to her bedroom and I wait, in the nest of maroon-colored sheets and those hard, thin pillows single guys always seem to have. After a few minutes he returns, apologizing. But I don’t care. I feel bad for his daughter, but I assume she is fine because I assume Dylan has women over sometimes and knows what he is doing. Dylan lies down on the bed next to me, quickly and stiffly, and laughs nervously. Is he shy or dumb? I still can’t tell. He moves in to kiss me, again, and then, “Dad?”
It’s obvious by the way he bolts to the door, again, and ushers her out, again, that he doesn’t want her to know I am here. Once I realize this, I don’t really want to be there anymore. She has already woken up twice, which means either we are bothering her or she is worried. I make up my mind to leave, and I wait a few minutes for Dylan to get back so I can say good-bye. But he doesn’t return. Ten minutes go by, fifteen, twenty. After half an hour I realize he has probably fallen asleep in his daughter’s room, or who knows what, but I am now feeling a little pathetic and desperate. This was all a stupid, impetuous, selfish idea.
I drive home and start to think of all the other, better things I could have done with my day and evening. Why did I devote so much energy into texting with a stranger? Why did I drop the things I wanted to do for him? I don’t even know him. But I know that I’m deeply lonely, and spending the night in someone’s arms would probably be very good for me. The next day he texts me a simple “Grrrrr”, and I write back “I know.”
The day after that, he invites me over during the day, when his daughter is at school. I walk in and he offers me tea. I laugh, but then realize he is serious. “No thanks,” I say.
“What would you like?” He asks.
There is an awkward pause and then I blurt out, “I want to have sex!”
It’s clear to me, in that moment, that I have totally accepted his self-declared title of a womanizing love addict, and I don’t care. In fact, I want to be someone’s addiction. I want to be adored and cherished. I want someone to toss and turn at night as they long for me. I want to be his first thought and last thought of every day. But of course, that is what he wants from me. We both crave the fix from each other, but neither of us wants to fix the drugs. Dylan’s eyes ignite when I say that I want to have sex, and he strides over to me, bends down, and lifts me over his shoulder. Then he carries me to his bed and I laugh the whole way.
Sex is over before it has even begun. It goes like this: he sets me down, pulls off my pants, gets behind me, enters me, and ejaculates. He is inside of me for less than five seconds. Lest you think I am some mute doll who passively receives everything, I am all for skipping foreplay when lust is running as high as it was between us. Sometimes I love to get to the intercourse ASAP. But this? Bam! Womanizing Love Addict.
Or maybe, my soft mind thinks, maybe it’s just been a really really long time since he’s had sex. I turn over to receive his remorseful apology. He is lying next to me, forearm on his forehead, face impassive. I nuzzle up to him and kiss his jaw, behind his ear. He turns to me and laughs. “What, you want to go again?” As if that would be the craziest thing ever. As if how could I possibly handle more of that sex he delivered. I nod. “Sorry,” he says. “I’m not built like that.” Remorseful apology nowhere to be found.
I leave a few minutes later and telephone a friend. I cry as I tell him the story because I feel so shitty and, well, used.
Dylan is ruddy and rogueish. The archetype I’d assign him would be impish rugby player at an English boys college. He’s stocky and handsome and brotherly, like I could tease him pretty fiercely and all it would do is strengthen our bond. I’m highly disappointed in that highly anticipated sex, but I also don’t want to give up on him just yet. So I go back over in a couple of days when he asks me to help him brush up his resume, since I’m a writer. We are like two magnets as soon as I walk in the door. We tumble into the bedroom and have almost an exact repeat of the first time. Except this time I’m on my back.
I can’t help but ask him if he always comes so quickly. “Yeah…” is his reply. Then he picks up his phone and says, “Wanna see the other women I’m talking to?” I watch his clumsy fingers scroll through dozens and dozens of messages to hundreds of women on three different dating websites. He stops at one. “Watch this,” he says, and then types rose-coffee cup- question mark-smiley face.
“Hey!” I say, pushing his shoulder. “That’s the message you sent to me!”
“Oh, it’s the message I send to everyone. They all eat it up. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.”
He opens up message after message to show me that the line he sent me, the one I thought was so cute and original, is a canned, shithead line from a womanizing love addict. It’s like the air has been sucked backward out of the room, leaving a ringing void. Do I leave? No. I turn my head away and stare out the window, fighting back tears. This heart of mine … I just dragged it off a minefield, see. It had fought a good, long, difficult battle for years, and been terribly wounded along the way. That’s what divorce can do; it can leave you with a swollen, wounded, desperate heart. I couldn’t recognize good medicine anymore, couldn’t remember if love was supposed to hurt or ridicule or shame or ignore. Maybe all four. Which way was up?
You’d think that I’d lose interest in Dylan after that. But I still go back two more times. And what was I doing, really? He had told me he was a womanizing love addict straightaway. He’d even told me he was in a support group for it. And rather than respect that, I pushed for sex. Several times. I was using him as much as he was using me. We talk about his so-called love addiction, and we even talk about how we are using each other. Part of me wants us to become friends. He could be like the cute, pal-like older brother I never had. But every time we are near each other we tumble into bed and have terrible sex.
I am moving into my brother’s house, after a short housesitting stint has come to an end. I’ve helped Dylan a couple of times with copywriting, and he has agreed to help me pack a truckload of my stuff and move it to my brother’s. We’ve talked about how we’re friends and can be helpful to each other. He is now half an hour late. I text him to see where he is and he doesn’t respond. I text an hour later and he responds that an opportunity has come up to interview for a great job in an hour, so he can’t help me. There are so many problems with this situation, obviously, and I end up doing the move by myself. I am sure there are at least a few friends I could have arranged in his place who would have shown up, but then I would have been denied the sick satisfaction I get from proving that he is an asshole, as if I didn’t already know. I slam the back of the truck and drive away, ready to move onto better things. And though it will be a long while before I stop using people for sex, at least I don’t call Dylan again.