When four years ago I ended my marriage, the thought of going on a date again, or even having a new relationship, wasn’t appealing. It was a breath of fresh air to have come out of a decade-long toxic marriage, and I intended to savor it. Alone. Well, not completely alone. I have my son and my cats.
As the years went on, however, I started to miss being with someone. I didn’t miss marriage itself, but I would love to date again, feeling the excitement of meeting a new person, getting dressed up, and going to the movie or just dinner. Hopefully, it can evolve into long-term dating.
While for some people dating comes naturally, for me it’s rocket science. Even back in high school, when many of my hormone-raging friends had at least a spring fling, mine was nothing to write home about.
I didn’t date until I moved from my hometown to Jakarta for work. Later, I married the first guy who proposed to me, a decision that I later wished had come with an undo button. I never regret having my son, though. That pretty much summed up my dating resume.
So returning to the dating scene after a divorce, at an age when you need reading glasses to browse Tinder and when every part of your body is giving in to gravity, is even more daunting. My insecurities, of my body or my dating skills, seemed to double, if not triple.
And the modern dating scene in the digital age did little to help.
Just the other day, I read an article about a Californian man who sued Tinder for violating discrimination laws by charging 30-year-old and older users more than the younger ones for its premium service. Tinder, in its court documents, argued that the younger users were charged $10 less than those of 30 and older because “they face financial challenges.”
I can understand why he sued Tinder. It’s not just the age discrimination, but it gave you the same feeling as when you buy health insurance and get charged higher premiums for being middle age because you’re very likely to get a cardiac arrest or other geriatric conditions. If Tinder is pessimistic about the prospect of its older users in getting a date, I thought, what would be the odds for us, the users.
Further fueling my insecurities is the negative stigma that comes with being divorced or a widowed female in a socially conservative and patriarchal society like in Indonesia. Take the labeling, for example. An eligible, attractive divorced or widowed male is called “duren”, a short for ‘duda keren’, meaning a cool single divorced (or widowed) man. A divorced or widowed female, is “janda” which has more negative connotations and comes with stigmas attached. Even in the digital age, janda is still viewed either as an inferior, debilitating, helpless, and pitiful soul or as a sex-starved homewrecker.
And there is the children issue. A single, divorced male with kids is cute and endearing. A female single parent is burdensome and a potential gold-digger.
“You don’t bring up kids on the first few chats. You only put pictures of yourself alone and with friends,” said an acquaintance, sharing tips about creating an online dating profile that she learned from a course.
So, there I was, revising my Tinder profile. While typing and retyping my profile, my head was filled with questions: Do I sound too independent? Do I look desperate or even cheap? Do I seem too needy and clingy?
Long story short, after trying online dating for some time, I was nowhere near getting a date. Not even a coffee date.
Dating apps and online dating websites have evolved. After sometimes, it feels superficial. People immediately judge what sort of person you are based on your pictures and what you write about yourself. We’ll be tempted to beef up and craft our profile to ensure that it sells. We are reduced to an online shopping catalogue.
The men may swipe right on my profile and we’re matched. But they will continue to swipe and put me in a “wish list”. I also did the same. I was worried that I might miss the one.
Turned out I didn’t miss anything. Eight out of 10 men that I chatted with were scammers. They literally infest every single online dating websites and dating apps that I can easily identify them from the picture.
The other two were perverts. Online dating has morphed into a tool for sexual pleasure. I wasn’t talking about young men. They’re men in their mid-40s and 50s, even 60s who think that sending a woman pictures of their penis amounts to a sexy pick-up line.
Sex video call was the worst though. One night, I was tucking my son to bed when my phone rang with a video call. It was from a guy in that I had been chatting with for nearly a week. He’s in his 50s. A quick sleuthing showed he was clean and real. So I picked up the phone. But instead of getting a “hello”, I saw his face on the phone screen with his eyes half-closed. Then I heard him grunting. His hands appeared to be inside his pants, moving up and down. He obviously was masturbating. I quickly turned off my phone. That one sex video call officially killed my appetite for dating.
I’m not saying that online dating is bad. I know there are some of my friends who meet their date online. But it doesn’t work out for every person.
“So, where should we look for to find a man just for a decent date,” asked one of my best friends who has just recently divorced as we sat in a café, munching our cakes, quietly. We had met for coffee and to chat about our dating experience. There were only a few tables filled with guests on a lazy Saturday afternoon, making the humming from the café’s air-conditioning deafening.
I looked up and saw a mixed of exasperation and bafflement on her face. “I have no idea. I even doubt they exist,” I answered. We burst out laughing.
After my brief dating quest, I decided to stop. I have uninstalled all dating apps and stopped checking my account on a couple of dating websites. Some friends tried to fix me up for a date with their single friends. But it never went beyond exchanges of several text messages. The dating environment in digital age felt overwhelming and exhausting.
A short conversation with a colleague in the new office made me realized why I chose to get a divorce. My new office mate remarried nine years after she got divorced.
“He’s not the kind of man I want to marry. But he’s the only single man who proposed to me,” she said, while we were sitting in our quiet office eating our lunch. Her face was somber and her voice soft as if she didn’t really want me to hear what she said. In an instance, I saw a reflection of myself many years ago, in her.
Maybe, it’s time to step back and reflect. I don’t want to date out of desperation and settle for whoever is available. I’m not comfortable to hide who I really am – like the fact that I’m a single mother – just to get a date. It would be like going back to the same toxic relationship that I was once in.
Once I came across a writing in one of those self-motivational page on Facebook that seems to provide better advice than your psychologist. It said that you don’t chase people to like you or love you. They will show up when the time is right. Until then, Jay Shetty, an ex-monk-turned-motivational speaker, said, “What we need to do is be someone that makes us happy, and not be with someone that makes us happy.”
I think he’s right.