Part II of one man’s journey from a young, hopeful evangelical who went “courting” on the weekends to a disillusioned serial online dater.
By JEFFREY ELLINGER
This is Part II in a four part story. To read Part I, click here.
After Jenny, in late 2005, I was holding onto the last strands of my spiritual rope. God hadn’t convinced a woman to marry me. In my feeble defense, you need to know that in the sub-culture of Christian dating, singles are taught that if they pray with “all their heart” and with “all their mind” and with “all their soul” and if they did so in the “correct” manner, they will be given The One.
For me, the exact opposite happened. God showed me The One; then He sat me down and had me watch as she drifted out of my life, as if she’d been a dream. She was not a dream, though; she was very real, and it seemed like more of a nightmare to know she was gone for good. It just didn’t work, and because of that I wanted to give up on Him.
Just when I was about to do so, about to give up on everything I’d believed for the last five years, on my plans to be a great missionary—into this void stepped MySpace. And MySpace, with her wily charms: she had a gift for me. The gift was named, “Suzanne.”
Living alone in Sioux Falls, South Dakota at the age of 25, the possibility of meeting an unmarried, interesting, attractive woman like Suzanne felt akin to the possibility of meeting a space alien. It seemed like almost no one in that city was unmarried. The people who landed there had gone to college in a medium sized farming town and had met a significant other while studying their animal husbandry or their horticulture or their whatever. All of those are fine careers, don’t get me wrong, but that’s just how it was, how I think it must still be.
Enter Suzanne: this wavy-haired thrower from Alabama as a friend of a friend of a friend on MySpace. And she looked like (and this is how I’ve described to others before) someone I would marry. This I know sounds weird. But I have to imagine others have felt this at least once. It’s happened to me on less than a handful of occasions and Suzanne happened to be one those. She was like a young Catherine Keener; I was enamored. How brightly she smiled in the picture. How interesting that she wasn’t looking at the camera but at someone just nearby. It seemed normal for me, a stranger in South Dakota, to message her. Actually, it seemed like MySpace had been designed to do that very thing. It felt like everyone was doing this—like what the Internet was there for.
Oh, Suzanne, the first one (online) who cut, as they say, the deepest. Suzanne, who smelled of herbal shampoo and clay. Suzanne, she engulfed me. She subsumed my existence, making me completely forget about Jenny as we talked hours a day, for months. Our chemistry was so great we decided I should visit her in Alabama. So I did, I went and I met her family and visited her church. It was all so perfect that we even had a talk, while lying in bed our final night, about which neighborhood I’d live in when I moved. So you might imagine, going back home for me, it was a very happy trip. I remember I daydreamed about where the wedding would be. Once again, God was real. He became even more real the next morning when I woke up with a text message and I found out He had spoken to Suzanne. He’d told her very specifically that she and I needed to break up by revealing a verse in, I think it was, Corinthians. And to be dumped like that, by God—I don’t wish it on anyone.
I did, however, muster up the heart to message another from MySpace a couple of weeks later. This woman actually lived in Sioux Falls, so it felt a bit more reasonable. I liked her because of her dark, bouncy hair and her “artistic” (judging by her Vonnegut quotes) compunctions. She replied to my message by saying she received “lots of messages from random dudes.” This was something of an awakening: had Suzanne been getting other messages, too? Would there be someone better for this woman in Sioux Falls, perhaps someone in Birmingham, Alabama? I trolled the Internet for guidance, looking for a professional article entitled, “The Stratified Assessment of MySpace Messages Sent, Unsolicited, From Males to Females Between the Years 2005 and 2007 in City A v City B.” Of course I’m joking, but I’m kind of serious too.
I never met Sioux Falls MySpace Lady. Still being rather puritanical at this time, I was oblivious to how MySpace had begun to develop the seedy hookup-seeking aroma it would have for years to come. MySpace, even in its infancy, was hardly a pioneer for finding love on the Internet. But for many of my generation—and certainly for a naive farm boy like myself—a MySpace page was the first time we had an identity online, and the first time we saw how easy it could be to meet someone that way.
With our MySpace pages, we were happy, or at least I was. Possibilities felt richer: you could meet someone who wasn’t married! Someone just for you. After Suzanne, I left Sioux Falls for Seattle. I needed to get away—from God, from Jenny, from Suzanne, from small towns, from my night job, from my family, even though I loved them dearly. I needed to be “on my own.” I needed to see if I could make it. So I left for the Pacific Northwest.
When I got there it was hard to believe (though comforting) that not everyone was married. This was 2006 and it was becoming socially acceptable, even normal, to use Craigslist. Yes, Craigslist, the same site I then used to connect with a woman who went to UW, majored in science, and liked zombie movies. Craigslist, how I met a graduate of Macalester college who worked for a Seattle non-profit and is now a lawyer in Minneapolis. Craigslist, where I met an “alt” girl who dressed in all black and worked at an art gallery.
These were all normal, cool, attractive women and the fact that I used Craigslist to find them was starting to feel fairly irrelevant. There in the mid to mid late ‘00s in the city of Seattle, it was all pretty innocent for me. I would have a nice thing, with a nice person, someone with an education and aspirations, and I would leave or she would after an amicable talk on “what we were,” and we would know it was time to move on. And I wouldn’t get so heartbroken, either, because there were other nice, normal women and I now knew how to meet others. I was online dating without even realizing it. It was so much better than courting had ever been.For five years I lived in Seattle and while I loved the city. I felt I had proved to the universe and to myself that I could do things on my own. Ostensibly, I was a man, or, at least, that’s what I could tell myself. I decided to move to Minneapolis to be closer to family in South Dakota. A little more wise to the dating world, I didn’t have the desire I once had to run out and meet someone new every five minutes but I still wanted—no matter how much I might’ve professed otherwise—to be in love. I wanted to be a famous novelist more, but I wanted to be in love, too.
So what else would I do? From MySpace to Craigslist to… the inevitable OkCupid. The lifestyle of an online dater had gained legitimacy, normalcy even. And while I was very happy to rejoin, I had no idea what lay in store.
This is Part II in a four part story. To read Part I, click here.
Jeffrey Ellinger’s writing has appeared online at Vice, Thought Catalog, and Pitchfork. He lives in Minneapolis. You can follow him on Twitter here.
Photo by Luke Faraone / remix by Fernando Alfonso III
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