On New Year’s Day, after two years of being divorced from my ex-wife, I decided to rejoin the dating world. The last time I went on a date, Mark Zuckerberg was a pimply faced kid who hadn’t yet stolen Facebook. While online dating existed at the time, no one had yet sent a nude photo because the bandwidth was too slow.
On New Year’s Day, I made the resolution to start dating again, so I did what any other red-blooded American does in 2015 — I joined Tinder.
When I told my friends that I was joining Tinder, I received severe warnings of danger, as if I wasn’t just joining a harmless little dating site based on the “Hot or Not” concept, but joining Al Qaeda. Friends told me that I would get emotionally hurt (actually, it was my ex-wife!), that I didn’t have the temperament for cheap hookups, and that I would inevitably “fall for a ruthless Russian escort who will steal my money, my heart, and then have me killed.”
Luckily, none of these events came to pass.
I honestly believe the Tinder experience is less a crazy one for men than for women. A female friend and I joined Tinder at the same time. During the month we were both using it, I matched with seven women, all intelligent and attractive, and she matched with three hundred men, mostly horny dudes eager to have sex.
I was more picky than the average guy on Tinder. I ONLY swiped right (swiping will definitely be added to the Oxford English dictionary as 2015’s word of the year) if the woman included a clever bio with her photo. I’m mature enough to know that a woman’s cleavage is not enough to cement a good match. If she can’t find the time to write a two-sentence bio, I assume that she will be too lazy to ever show up for a date.
Of the seven women with whom I matched, I had three dates, and one long online conversation. All of the women were interesting people. I have no complaints with my experiences, even though romance has yet to bloom. The biggest hurdle in my first month of online dating was my slow learning curve. At midlife, and in a new world of social media, mobile-connectedness, I had to learn how to date all over again.
Here are four lessons I learned from the four women I met on Tinder.
1. Women are wary of men online.
And rightfully so. Men are crazy. And many of them seem to enjoy sending unwanted photos. So every man, no matter how “nice,” goes into the field with some suspicion hanging over his head like a grey cloud.
The first woman that I matched on Tinder had several mutual friends on Facebook. Yes, Tinder draws information from Facebook. In fact, you have to BE on Facebook to use Tinder. Tinder only supplies you with the potential date’s first name, but anyone with minimal library skills can track down the full identity through a quick scan of the mutual friends. From what I hear, EVERYONE does this, but only the foolish ones TELL the other about it.
I texted: “Hey, Margaret,” (not her real name), ”I see we have a lot of mutual friends. I easily found out who you are, and I see you wrote a book that I actually have READ. So cool to meet you on Tinder!”
Margaret never responded back.
Lesson One: Do a little research on the other person, if you so choose, but play dumb, or else you sound like a stalker.
2. The locale of the actual date is important.
No matter how much you text online, meeting in real life (IRL) is playing in the big leagues. It is where you learn if you have any chemistry together, and location plays a major role in setting the mood for romance. If you have ever watched the TV show The Bachelor, you’ve noticed how they turn the first date into an experience to remember, from candlelit dinners to helicopter rides. Even a coffee date is more memorable at an indie coffeehouse than a generic Starbucks. But probably the #1 Least Romantic First Date idea is to take a woman to a museum exhibit on Pre-Holocaust Poland.
Enough said. Not a good first date with Woman #2. My fault.
Lesson Two: It is a date, so keep it light.
3. It is a date, not an interview.
I invited Woman #3 for drinks in Brooklyn, where she lived, then immediately called every friend I know in Brooklyn to find me the ideal romantic bar, only to remember that most of my friends have kids and haven’t hung out in a bar since 1996.
“I know a good place where I go with the kids for ice cream sodas,” said an old college buddy.
“What is this — Happy Days?” I answered.
After a Google search on the “Best Bars in Brooklyn,” I found the ideal spot. I met Woman #3 on a cold winter day. We sat at a candle-lit table at an atmospheric hipster bar where we ordered overpriced cocktails. And we talked, and talked…. for three hours. We talked about everything — life, love, sex, our work, our divorces — until we could talk no more. Then we walked to the subway, and something was clear to both of us: after all three hours of baring our souls, any romance deflated like a Macy’s Thanksgiving balloon falling from the sky. Our evening felt like a therapy session, not a hot date where we were in the mood to make out. We hugged at the subway station, as if we just became new friends, not potential lovers.
I discussed this date with my female friends.
“What went wrong?” I asked.
Apparently, I have gotten so used to being professional with female colleagues, mindful of sexism in the workplace and society, that I forgot that a date is… well, a date, and when you’re a man, and she’s a woman, it’s OK to feel all of that stuff related to the birds and bees.
Lesson #3: Stop talking so much about your past life and focus on the WOMAN sitting across from you. And make it known you see her as a woman.
4. Dating in mid-life differs from dating in your 20s.
Woman #4 is still a work-in-progress, so I’m not going to write too much about it, but I will tell you that we have already dealt with practical issues such as work, schedules, distance, and… finding a babysitter for her children. Dating is different now. We are older, and if not wiser, at least have new responsibilities. We have children and aging parents and careers and mortgages. We know the red flags. We know too much about life. We have been hurt in relationships and divorce, and we carry baggage. Do we still believe in soul mates, like we once did in our youth? And if we don’t, why even date at all? Wouldn’t it be easier to just stay at home and watch Game of Thrones?
Lesson Four: Even hookups grow complicated when dealing with New York City babysitting rates.
It is quite possible that Tinder is the wrong site for me. I suspect after a few more weeks, I might move to a more complete site like OK Cupid, where you have to answer questions about yourself. Tinder is superficial. The concept of “hooking up” with some stranger on the internet is completely foreign to me.
But Tinder has been a great start. It is easy to join, a press of a button. And there are interesting people to meet, once you push away all the noise. My first month of dating is the start of a journey for me. I now ponder questions that I have avoided since my divorce.
In this second stage of my life, what do I want in a woman? How do I feel about dating someone with children? Do I want to remarry? And do I want the same things in relationships in 2015 that I wanted 20 years ago?
For now, I’ll keep on swiping and see where it takes me.