Newly single, I have, at the urging of friends, downloaded dating apps on my iPhone. On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself in some dark hole of the internet and wondered if I was an unknowing participant in a secret Cindy Sherman project where she’s disguised herself as red-eyed, heavily jowled men sitting next to sedated tigers or at the finish line of Tough Mudders. Those first few swipes felt odd. Throw in a married dad from my son’s elementary school and a few minutes of swiping left made me want to wash my hands. I’ve been guilty of having a few laughs at the expense of these dating prospects. I’ve screenshot their most awkward profile photos to share with friends, and I’ve attended Lane Moore’s Tinder Live Show.
When I was first single and my friends would ask me what I was looking for, I would tell them straight up that I wanted someone with integrity. A strong moral compass. Their replies were varied versions of “Good luck with that.” I’ve also mentioned this thing I want, integrity, to several of my guy friends. They, often acting as spokesmen for their gender, lowered the blow that men are not like women — women are better at being decent. They would tell me I was a catch but that they wouldn’t set me up with their single friends because they were all too troubled.
I wondered: Is integrity something we never had, or do we lose it as we age? Is it like romantic love? The concept that our character decays or corrupts as we grow older seemed counter to what I thought would happen.
On the dating app, I knew I should respect the brutally honest and unapologetic online profiles: “Alert! I’m married” or “No Gold Diggers, I want casual sex with sexy ladies.” There was also “Looking for meaningful non-monogamous relationship.”
Alas, I was probably not looking in the right place for integrity. I don’t just want honesty (see above); I want ethics, virtue, sincerity, honor and all that jazz. It’s not that different than listing a preference for a tall guy or someone who likes hiking. I am not a fan of the shirtless, headless selfie. The same goes for any photo of them in bed on a pillow. Who took that? Also, it should be noted that there are a surprising number of men posing with puppets.
[pullquote]A recent Bumble conversation morphed into my brief turn as cyber detective.[/pullquote]
Last year, a good friend of mine cancelled her engagement with a man she met online. A couple months before she finally ended things, she would begin sentences with, “What guy isn’t addicted to porn for hours? I mean everyone has their stuff.” “Stuff” became the euphemism for that inevitable lack of character that somehow had become a universal given.
Another friend admitted to an OK Cupid date, which seemed to be going well until it ended with her date’s admission that he only wanted to have casual sex and, in fact, had a drug habit. There was another friend who met her soul mate online. He moved across the country to be with her, and that job he said he had, well, that didn’t work out. By the time she finally kicked him out, she added up all the expenses he incurred while they were together — the number was north of $60,000. Yes, there are many happy unions as well, but I obsess over the con artists and cads.
A recent Bumble conversation morphed into my brief turn as cyber detective. Armed with just a first name and a place of employment, I was able to find out his real age, how much he sold his house for, what his ex-wife looked like and the fact that he no longer worked at said company. Ha! I thought. The fact that my age was suspect as well was beside the point.
It’s not lost on me that all my book boyfriends, like good Mr. Knightley from Jane Austen’s Emma, are fictitious characters made up by a woman. Outlander’s Jamie Fraser is another one. Maybe what I need isn’t a dating app at all. Maybe what I really need is an alternate universe — guest-on Fantasy-Island alternate universe. My fantasy, as explained by Mr. Roarke to Tattoo, would have me meet Mr. Knightley. It would be very similar to the episode where a guest showed up wanting to be Kathy from Wuthering Heights so she could meet her Heathcliff.” Maybe we’re already living in the alternate universe because the avatars on Tinder and Bumble are often works of fiction as well. I know men pay for The Girlfriend Experience. I am getting dangerously close to paying for The Integrity Experience.
I’m not perfect, and I’ll admit to my almost fetish-like desire for the scolding that Mr. Knightley gives Emma on Box Hill. I wouldn’t mind a “Badly done, Lisa” scene of my own. But I do want someone better than me that would be worthy of my trust. And it’s that desire that sometimes seems more burden than hope. I met my ex the old fashion way (in real life) at college, and yet this didn’t protect me from what ultimately doomed us.
And so, I remain open to the Skynet of dating.
I understand hookup culture and the empowerment it sometimes provides, but I’m looking for something beyond. Does it even exist? I haven’t given up because I believe there is nothing sexier than integrity. That’s even the opening line I used in my online dating profile — and maybe that has been screenshot for laughs as well.