I’m going to preface this post. Almost a year ago I wrote a non-fictional essay about an online dating binge I went on to tragic results. Needless to say, I learned my lesson and am more cautious than ever when meeting anyone online. Because I had ambitions to send this story out to American publications, I titled it Mind the App in homage to the great city of London:
It was the first week of the New Year. After leaving my last semi-serious relationship behind in 2016, it was time to get back into the swing of dating.
The now ex was a true creative. He was a moody Belgian filmmaker named Aleks*. We dated for two intense months in the fall that ended with me leaving him because he lacked the emotional maturity required to take our early 30-something relationship seriously. I saw him as a young boy in the body of a man without direction; he saw himself as a creative on the verge of Hollywood success. The reality was something in between. His only film was a much talked about sci-fi flick distributed on YouTube.
Sticking to a well-curated checklist of must-haves became the priority for my next paramour and I’d be spreading my net wide to make this happen. I decided the best course of action was to go on the biggest online dating binge of my adult life and downloaded five dating apps (Tinder, Bumble, Inner Circle, Hinge and Happn, for the record). By Sunday afternoon I had dates lined up for Monday, Tuesday and Friday.
On Monday I met with a gentle soul from Tinder named Rob, a vegetarian polyamorist with a wife who looked to be keeping him emotionally hostage. You can read all about that date over tapas here.
I had to reschedule Tuesday after being caught-off guard by a mega wine hangover from tapas. I texted my date Manny, an Indian-American ex-pat working in finance or consulting or law (can’t remember, something impressive) asking if he’d be okay with moving our date to Thursday. He said that he was going to Dubai on Thursday, but what about Wednesday? I agreed, that worked.
Hours later I struck up a conversation with Michael on Bumble. Michael was a tech entrepreneur. He lived and breathed start-ups and was perhaps best known for the failure and postmortem report that followed one of these said startups. He was born in the Czech Republic, grew up in Austria, spoke six languages and moonlit as a piano man. In his late 30s, it was hard to believe such a dating app unicorn was still single. He asked me out for the following Wednesday.
Michael and I continued to chat the next day. Our banter was as witty and effortless as a digital interface would allow. He asks me if I can move our date to that night. But I had Manny that night, whom I had already rescheduled on once and at that point knew would be taking me to one of the most upscale sushi restaurants in London. I wasn’t about to cancel on him. But Michael was relentless and requested that we meet at 9pm by the time that date winded down. I reluctantly agreed; from the little I knew about either of these two men, I seem to have a far better rapport with Michael.
After work that day I came home to drop my gym bag off. I quickly turned on my laptop to discover Michael had friended me on Facebook. That was fast, I thought. After clicking through a few of his photos I decided I should probably Facebook-stalk Manny as well, just so I knew what to expect. Three mutual friends. “That’s nice,” I thought, “wonder who.” Michael is one of them. Seriously??.
How after years of not dating have I managed to book two dates on one night with two guys who know each other? I couldn’t decide if it was the most hilarious rom-comesque situation to have ever transpired or if my dating binge was already out of control. I decided to approach date number one with a laugh. It goes well. Manny is a consultant at a top firm. He’s been living in London for nine years, has also lived in New York, went to undergrad in the States and travels a lot for work and pleasure. He even picked up the check at the end of the date, which I quickly learned has become increasingly rare in 2016. I made my excuses to head out early to meet Michael under the guise of meeting girlfriends in Soho and he heads back to the office (consultants, amiright?).
I head a few blocks south to an Italian wine bar to meet Michael. He’s already there, looking incredibly European with a cable knit sweater paired with a piled up gauzy scarf. “You will never believe who I went on a date with…hint: you know him.” Manny and Michael graduated in 2009 from one of the most renowned business schools in the world. They’re both wildly impressive in their own ways, but I note a good deal more chemistry with Michael. We laugh at the same things. We both hate running but want to love it. Same goes for oysters. I tell him about my last long-term disaster of a relationship with a personal trainer who had a penchant for a very specific variety of taboo sex and he tells me about his cold Russian ex who would often wonder aloud with whom she would ultimately end up with. He’s into cooking (the root of his failed startup); I don’t like to socialise out because London is just so damn expensive. The level of comfort we shared with one another is foreign to first dates. He walked me to my bus stop but first gently kissed me at a red light. As far as first kisses go, this one was electric.
He convinces me to delete my dating apps, under the pretension of us giving it a go monogamously for a few weeks. “How rare,” I think to myself. “A man that actually wants commitment.” My friends would later scold me for jumping into this so quickly. We agree to keep our date for the following week. He’s going to cook me dinner at his beautiful new-build condo. Now that he doesn’t have roommates, he wants to make the most of his place.
Manny Whatsapps me photos from Dubai the next day. Of course he’d be interested. The one time I want the successful suit to go cold on me after date number one, he texts. The next six days crawl by. I see the polyamorist for another date on Saturday, and it pleasantly surprises me. He takes me ice-skating at Somerset House. Read all about it here.
Four more days roll by and it’s finally Wednesday, my second date with Michael. I go to work like normal, stop off at home afterwards and touch up my make up. I take the tube to Michael’s stop and he’s waiting for me looking almost as cute as I remembered. There’s something about his style, I can’t quite put my finger on it, that doesn’t quite do it for me. No worries, I think. None of this is important considering how many boxes he ticks. I need reprioritise anyway.
The date starts off with us making dinner together. There’s candlelight, champagne and seared tuna. Who is this incredible human being? The conversation is as natural as it was on our first date. He opens a bottle of red and we move to his pristine ivory L-shaped sectional.
Things escalate quickly and before I know it we’ve gone the whole way. The evening is a success. I sleep over at his request and the following day he heads to work before I do. “You’re even gorgeous in the morning,” he coos in his ambiguous continental European accent, as he gets ready. “Let yourself out whenever you’re ready. Take your time.”
I look around utterly astounded by my luck. I’ve met a man who’s five years older than me, has a good job, a gorgeous condo and is into me for all the right reasons. It’s obviously payback for all the underachieving at best, mentally unstable at worst boyfriends who treated my heart like monkey meat over the past few years. I leave his place around 9:30am, let him know the doorman can now lock up and that I had an amazing night. He responds with an equally positive text. Everything appears promising. That evening I head home to crash early from the delightful exhaustion of having stayed up all night in bed doing anything but sleeping.
I don’t hear from him the rest of the evening. He must be so tired after last night, I comfortingly tell myself. The next morning, the same thing. No little green messages waiting for me from Michael. I don’t think much of it and get to work while it’s still dark out. I decide to send him a quick text about the view from my office window of that day’s glorious sunrise. Although as a rule of thumb I won’t text first in most circumstances, I figure that because his primary complaint about his ex was her indifference, it was warranted. He responded hours later with a fairly generic text to which I responded equally generically. He then asks me about how my day is going, which I find incredibly annoying. Why are we making small talk over text? I coyly suggest we talk over the phone later to which he responds, “I’m working on the 2016 schedule. I need to be in seclusion until Sunday at noon.”
What schedule he’s referring to, I have no idea. What’s happening at noon on Sunday, I’m equally perplexed by. I decided this conversation will not continue and I’ll resume dating other people as normal. He’s obviously not into me, which is mildly inconvenient. I don’t have a date rule. I don’t care how many dates we’ve been on before I can put out. What I do care about in the wise words of Patti Stanger, the Millionaire Matchmaker herself, is, “No sex before monogamy.” We decided to be monogamous, so I got on board with the idea of being physically intimate.
Later that night I meet with two of my ex-pat girlfriends at a wine bar near Covent Garden. One recently moved from New York City with her i-banker husband, and the other, now happily in a relationship, was once an online dating virtuoso. I explain my conundrum. All I really wanted to do was start seeing other people but we had agreed not to. The new arrival takes my phone and crafts the text: “Sunday at noon? Great. I’ll be waiting for you with a Bloody Mary.” I didn’t much care about the outcome, so I let her send it. Two bottles of wine later we stumble out of the bar and go our separate ways.
On this particularly frigid night I found myself waiting at a closed bus stop. I checked my phone to see where the next one was. As I open it, I see an abnormally long green message from Michael waiting:
Coco, I would like to leave it at that. I can imagine that this comes as a surprise and I am very sorry for that. I know it’s not considered good form to do this via text, but I believe that given how recent things are, it’s still appropriate and probably best to keep things short.
I don’t have a really good reason beyond the fact that my heart is not in it. When you know, you know. The same applies in the opposite direction.
Everything on top of that I will now say will just be plain wrong, so I’ll leave it with simply sincerely wishing you a wonderful life and somebody to love soon. Good bye.
Good lord. For two dates that is perhaps the most dramatic breakup text I’ve ever received. I appreciated a good ghosting in that moment. Beyond patronising, he doesn’t even imply I need someone. He outright states it.
Having been through half a dozen glasses of wine that night, I tearfully call Aleks, the ex, and spill about my problems with another man, slurring my words, vying for the ultimate Seduction 101 fail. I’m a mess. He’s watching a movie with a friend and immediately drops it. Within 30 minutes he’s at my door ready to comfort me. For 14 hours he holds me, strokes my hair and tells me it’ll be okay and that I deserve so much better.
I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself. There was nothing about my relationship with Michael that I could have held onto. We barely knew each other. But Aleks’s response to my wine fuelled rage about it shed new light on him and our past relationship that hadn’t progressed.
In that moment I realized I’d ended things with Aleks for all the wrong reasons. Frankly I’ll take Aleks’ sincerest flaws over another man’s illusions of relationship grandeur any day. I spread my net wide and ended up at square one. I just hope Aleks has it in him to forgive me.
*Name has been changed for anonymity.