I was on the bus a few nights ago, on my way to spend a fancy night in a fancy hotel just off the Mag Mile. I wish I could say I was going to be spending it with a fancy gentleman. But no, this was part of a work project for a feature story on "staycations," and my perpetually single ass was going to be enjoying this hotel suite three times the size of my actual apartment all by my lonesome.
Perhaps with that in the back of my mind, I was occupying my idle time on the bus trip the way I often do on the CTA or in line at Starbucks: browsing one of the five dating (and/or hookup) apps I have on my phone. This time I was on Tinder, which, for the happily uninitiated, is a fun game where you look at pictures of another person and swipe right if you think they're cute or left if you wouldn't give them a second look even if it was last call at a 4am bar on Valentine's Day. If you swipe right on someone who's also swiped right on you, Tinder gives you the option of sending that person a message, but this feature is rarely used; mostly, Tinder is the 2010s version of the old self-worth-murdering website Hot or Not.
I'm swiping mostly left, like the picky, shallow monster that I am, when I come across a guy who's pretty attractive; I tap into his profile and he seems smart and funny, and we have a handful of mutual Facebook friends—Tinder ties into Facebook to show you how you're connected, because there's nothing Zuckerberg doesn't have his hands in these days.
The guy is 27, which is, let's say, a significant number of years younger than me. But—and I don't know if you guys know this—it's been scientifically proven that 90 percent of the people on Tinder are 27, and most of them are also repeat marathon runners and world travelers who work hard to play hard and are looking for the proverbial "partner in crime." By which I mean, they're the worst.
Sidebar: What I really can't figure out are the gay guys who live in the suburbs. Why? It's one thing if you're married and have children and want your own yard to mow or have a Metra fetish, but if you're a single gay man, what are you doing out there?
This Tinder guy, despite the age difference, seems like not the worst, and sometimes you have to deal with what you're dealt. So I go to hit the "like" button, when the bus hits a jolt and I accidentally tap the dreaded "super like."
The "super like" is a recently introduced feature of Tinder that's basically the "coming on too strong" of dating apps. I'm not completely sure how it works, but I think it actually calls the other person's phone, even if it's in airplane mode, and doesn't stop ringing until it can inform them that some really desperate person is trying to get their attention. I would never purposefully employ the "super like," as it would betray my sense of myself as simply a busy and successful and discerning…perpetually single person.
I have "super liked" this poor guy. And yet Tinder says we're a match, meaning at some previous point he's at least swiped right on me. I decide I should save face by immediately sending him a message, the gist of which is, "Haha, didn't mean to come on so strong but glad we matched!" And eventually I get to the hotel and use my Facebook ninja skills to figure out who he is—and discover to my horror that he works for a company that my company works with, and it's suddenly even more awkward than I thought, and oh, the horror, the horror.
So this is the state of my current dating life.
Jump back a couple of months to Christmastime. I'm back home in Arkansas for a visit, and on the last night of my trip we have a big get-together with the extended family. My mom's side of the family has for the most part all lived in the same town for most of my life, so I grew up very close to my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins; we frequently got together for birthdays, holidays or college football games.
While we're eating dinner, my younger cousin Michael—a kid I used to babysit for when I was in middle school—and his wife, both of whom I adore, confide in me that they're expecting their first child. I'm the first person, aside from their parents and Mike's sister, to whom they've decided to spill the beans. I couldn't be more honored. And then Michael realizes they have to tell the rest of the family now; if our grandma gets the idea that she's been left out, there'll be hell to pay. Everyone's obviously elated; there's a toast. I'm delighted, but there's something at the back of my brain wondering what exactly I've done wrong.
My Dad and my Mom were 25 and 19 when they got married, and my Mom was 21 when I was born, the first grandkid on both sides. So I'm the oldest of all the cousins, but I seem to be the most single of us. My youngest cousin, who's 24, is the only one besides myself on my mom’s side who's not married—and the fact that I'm saying so on a stage right now probably means her boyfriend is proposing to her as I speak. I've never been all that bothered by it before now, but, I don't know, maybe it's the knowledge that now I could legally get married back home that makes me wonder if I've missed the boat.
The idea of same-sex couples being able to get married was so far outside the realm of possibility when I was figuring out my sexuality that I would never have thought of it. One of the reasons I struggled with accepting being gay back in the early ’90s was that it Obviously meant giving up on the idea of marriage and family. That was for straight people. If I came out, getting married would disappear from my list of options, or so I believed.
I wonder if that deep-seated dogma plays any part in how terrible I am at dating. I've only had one relationship that lasted more than a year, and it shouldn't have. I tend to go on two or three dates with someone new and then I just get ~really busy~ and forget to text them back, or else I never hear from them again. The only significant other I've ever brought home to meet the family was my last girlfriend, 20 years ago. With the exception of a couple of bad breakups, I'm friendly with all of my exes. I have a Master's degree in "let's just be friends."
Now I'm nearing 40—god, that sounds so much more ominous when you say it out loud—and I'm starting to think all the "good guys" my age are already married off. That's why everyone on Tinder is 27, right? Of course I don't put all my online dating eggs into one basket. I have, over the years, had profiles on match.com, nerve.com, gay.com, ManHunt, Grindr, Scruff, Jack'd and Hinge. I see some guys on OkCupid who I've been seeing on dating sites for like ten years; I mean, you have to wonder what's the matter with those guys, right? Wait…
A few weeks ago I spent a day hanging out with several of my oldest friends when I realized that I was the seventh wheel. These people I love individually are also three couples, and I've attended and/or stood up at all of their weddings. And though it didn't keep me from enjoying the company of some of my favorite people, the thought crept into the back of my mind: Is this how it's always going to be? Am I just The Single Guy? Whoops, I forgot to get married?
I look around my circles of friends and family and I see so many incredible couples. I want what they have. I think. But it hasn't found me yet, and the more time goes by, the less sure I am that it will.