What I learned about emotional baggage on my most recent first date.
What if our 'perfect' online dating profiles are hurting our chances of finding something real?
It seemed like Seth and I would be a match made in cyber heaven.
Of course, I determined this based on our skimpy online dating profiles where we both strategically left out pieces of our life stories. Little did I know that Seth would teach me what it means to admit I’m human and come with a lot of baggage, just like the rest of the world.
Like every safe online dater, I made sure we met for our first date at a coffee shop. Nothing too serious to break the world’s most awkward ice. (Seriously, if you’ve never had the privilege of walking into a crowded public place with all eyes on you to meet a stranger, consider yourself blessed.)
The coffee date went well, measured by a minimal number of painful pauses.
He bought my peppermint mocha, which is always a good sign.
I made the mistake of choosing a coffee shop located especially close to my neighborhood, so of course someone I knew spotted me. A text from my friend came in shortly after I left: "My dad just saw you getting coffee. He said you looked like you were with a boyfriend."
I guess we looked natural enough to move to the second date — that’s good news!
On our second date, we met for dinner.
It’s a bigger leap from the casual coffee meeting. Somehow when forks and knives get invited, it feels like a big deal. But the conversation went smoothly, and we wanted to keep talking, so we moved to the wine bar down the pre-flooded Ellicott City street.
On the walk back to our cars at the end of the night, I decided he didn’t feel like a serial killer, so maybe we should disclose each other’s full names. It felt like a good next step.
We laughed that it took so long to share our names, and then we decided we should try another date sometime.
He texted me a few days later and asked if I wanted to go for a hike.
Pardon the interruption while I tell you that it was January … in Maryland. If it’s not snowing in Maryland in January, then it’s generally cold enough outside that I really would prefer to be hibernating indoors. I contemplated asking if we could postpone this hike for — oh, I don’t know — four months? But I scrapped the idea, thinking I needed to appear adventurous and easygoing.
"Sure! That sounds great! Can’t wait!" I texted back. I mean, at least I didn’t totally lie and say something like, "I LOVE HIKING IN THE BELOW-FREEZING TEMPERATURES!!! ☺"
So we went on the hike, but it didn’t take long for me to lose all the circulation in my hands and feet.
Turns out it’s tough to hide fingers that resemble the dead.
I have an autoimmune disorder called Sjögren’s that affects a lot of my body, but loss of blood is one of the more noticeable symptoms. I guess it was time to fess up. "Yes, I was diagnosed when I was 16, and it makes my life a little more complicated," I said.
And just as soon as we got "SICK" out of the way, he started asking questions about my family. (I should have trusted my gut on the whole hiking idea. Nature brings out the deep!)
So I told him the truth: "My dad just got out of rehab for alcohol addiction, and we’re currently working on rebuilding our family after the years of destruction."
I suddenly wished I’d come down with the flu the hour before I got in the car to go on the hike. I felt like I’d brought one of those person-sized hiking backpacks and strapped it to my back, then started unloading one piece of my crap at a time. At first, I delicately took out each item and tried to space out the unloading into appropriate intervals. Then, at some point in our hike, I decided to dump the whole thing upside down and just put it all out there.
I wonder if our coffee date or dinner date or hike would have ever happened if I would have added to my online dating profile "I’m human. I have (a lot of) baggage."
But the problem is that we can’t stamp our baggage onto online profiles. Who would honestly swipe right to a profile that reads, "Sick. Addicted. Broken. Can’t wait to meet you!"
We live in a world of filters where we try to build a perfect image of ourselves online by sharing fake versions of our imperfect selves. And especially with online dating, we expect to find someone who’s as perfect as their profile looks. After stalking their polished profile, we meet them in person and then try to hide our disappointment. Because — guess what? — they’re human!
I know I’m not the only one who’s experienced this.
Most of us are just trying to find joy in the midst of our pain. We’re learning to love ourselves and love our lives despite all of life’s disappointments (especially the ones that make us want to hibernate for the winter). We’re all beautiful messes, just trying to make the best first impression we can.
But maybe we should go into online dating with lower – human? – expectations.
Maybe we should be looking for the brand of baggage we want to sign up for rather than trying to avoid people with baggage altogether.
Maybe we should remember that "normal" means wearing the scars of past heartbreaks.
And if you’re wondering what happened to me and Seth after that hike in the woods, he did stick around for the next round of dating; he even met all of my closest friends. But let’s just say it wasn’t exactly that match made in cyber heaven.