There are many stages of heartbreak. Three months deep into my break-up, I have experienced almost all of them. First there’s shell shock, followed by denial, and then some combination of paralysis, anger, and loneliness. Then there’s this period where you just feel numb and find yourself staring at inanimate objects, having really cliché, intro-to-philosophy-type thoughts like, “What is happiness, anyway?” Eventually, after you’ve regained at least some of your dignity, you enter the classic “I’ll show them!” phase. This is when your brain tries to trick your heart into thinking that you’ve moved on, and you suddenly have tons of energy for things you’ve never cared about before, like alphabetizing your bookshelves and figuring out what the best food podcasts are, even though you never cook and literally don’t own a single pan. This is also the phase when you begin the dreaded coital dance known as dating.
For me, this phase began with writing “living well is the best revenge” on a Post-it, sticking it to the wall beside my bed, then staring at it for twenty minutes before deciding to take a nap. When I woke up from that nap, I downloaded Tinder.
“How bad could it be?” I thought. Funnily enough, despite Tinder’s reputation as a hook-up app, most people don’t want to meet soon after matching, but rather engage in hours of meaningless texting—about the latest trendy food hybrid, about how Brooklyn is so expensive—which is something I can’t stand doing with friends, let alone strangers. But eventually, I matched with a handsome enough 30-something who was OK with skipping the small talk. But an hour later, walking into the specified bar in the West Village, I immediately understood why people take the time to screen each other via text. Tinder guy turned out to be two of my worst fears combined: a short actor.
As is common with short actors, this guy was very fond of himself, and within minutes he was playing aloud a recording of himself singing a song from his upcoming off-Broadway show. As I politely smiled and nodded along to the ballad—a duet!—blasting from his phone, I tried my best to conceal the actual shivers of terror running down my spine. Next, naturally, he asked me if I was into threesomes. Although he posed it less as a question and more as an offer, adding that he’d had a few threesomes in the past that were “OK or whatever,” but he’d be willing to have another if it’s what I wanted. I said it was very generous of him, and before I knew it, he was leading me into a nearby gay bar, where he suggested I “find a girl for a group sex,” despite the fact that 98 percent of the people in the bar were gay men. It was when he attempted to grind with me to a Lana Del Rey techno remix that I finally made my escape.
But it wasn’t a true escape, because in the following days and then weeks, Tinder guy’s texts were incessant, despite my complete lack of response. It was everything from, “Babe, how about that threesome?” to “Is your phone broken!?” to the complete non sequitur “I was on TV this week.” Finally, he asked if the reason I wasn’t responding was because I was too dumb to understand simple English.
Something I’ve learned over the years is that a lot of men have trouble dealing with rejection. Their brains literally go haywire, and they begin spewing out insults in a desperate attempt to rebuild their fragile egos. And this sad phenomenon has only been exasperated by online dating, which allows men access to countless more women who don’t want to have sex with them.
My very wise friend Ally once said: “The New York dating scene is a war zone. If you don’t watch out, your legs will get blown off and you’ll end up begging for money on the L train.” That might be a bit overdramatic but I understand the sentiment. Sometimes the idea of “getting out there” seems like torture, but you have to do it, because the alternative is a life of sitting home alone, eating bags of beef jerky while watching Netflix in your uncle’s hand-me-down sweatpants (something I’ve been doing regularly). After the Tinder fail, I watched Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, trying to will myself into the headspace of the film’s main character, who takes great pleasure in fucking strange men—something I, too, used to find sexy and exciting, before my ex-girlfriend tore out my heart and threw it in the trash along with my will to live and my problematically high sex drive.
A couple nights later, I went to a dinner party on the Upper East Side. I wore a slinky silk dress and intentionally went to the party alone, to force myself to mingle. I ended up in a long conversation with an older, seemingly early-50s cardiologist. He was wearing high-waisted khakis and had overgrown nose hairs, but he was really sweet, and was becoming funnier with every sip of punch I took. Primed by my screening of Nympho, I was eager for an atypical experience, so I agreed to go back to his apartment.
I was looking for an experience, but this was the wrong one. Once the doctor took his clothes off, he looked way older than 50—he may have been pushing 60. The thing about older men is, they rarely look good. Especially when they’re naked. When women gain a few pounds, they just become more pillowy and fun to cuddle. But men gain weight in all the wrong places; they look like pregnant trolls. Not to mention that once they hit 30, almost all of them have back hair. To make the situation worse, the doctor then took out a cock ring from his bedside table, which he informed me was necessary for him to stay hard. I’m pretty sure I’ve never felt more gay than while watching him fasten the leather strap around his un-manicured balls. When I recounted this story to my best friend over a PTSD brunch the next morning, she—ever the competitor—immediately informed me of the time she slept with an older guy who, after he came, had to put on a full-face oxygen mask “to keep him alive.” She never lets me win.
The reality is, it’s hard to find someone who you can imagine having sex with more than twice, who doesn’t make you want to kill yourself as soon as they start talking. But if you don’t want to be celibate, sometimes you have to lower your standards. This is generally when you find yourself in bed with a random French guy who only mentions that he’s married after you’ve had sex, right before he tells you that the crutches in his living room are for when he pretends to be disabled to skip lines at the airport.
I’m not trying to make a sweeping statement that modern dating is doomed, or to echo Carrie Bradshaw’s claim that dating in New York is somehow harder than in other places. (Although I will say that, despite the vastness of this city, I’m constantly perplexed by how difficult it is to meet someone who hasn’t already slept with someone I know.) I’ve met some really great people in these past months, too—a beautiful artist who looked like a young Richard Hell, a hot androgynous Ivy League girl who could talk about books and movies for hours. But the funny thing about heartbreak is, it doesn’t even matter who you meet, because no one stands a chance.
There’s a distinct difference between beginning to date after getting out of a bad relationship and forcing yourself to date after ending a healthy relationship that you wish you were still in. After I broke up with my verbally abusive ex-boyfriend, years ago, I fell in love with everyone who so much as held a door open for me. “Wow, you talked to me for three minutes on the subway without calling me stupid or fat? Of course I’ll have sex with you! In fact, why don’t you just move in?” But when you’re still in love with your ex, as I am now, all the new people you meet are stuck being compared not just with your ex, but with a romanticized version of your ex who is actually far better, smarter, and more attractive than they are in real life. It’s an unattainable standard. And you’re essentially a hypocrite: you’re completely emotionally unavailable, while also highly demanding of people’s attention. The combination is not so attractive.
Recently, I spent a couple of weeks dating a 32-year-old respected magazine editor who on paper is clearly an appropriate partner choice for me. I’m always reading articles about how we live in an age of “hook-up culture,” about how, for us millennials, courtship is dead. But in my experience, this is far from the case. And the editor took me on some pretty epic dates: there was dinner on a boat in the Hudson River, a beach weekend in the Hamptons, martinis at the Carlyle, and a series of other rendezvous that made me feel like I was living in a Woody Allen movie from the seventies. A couple times I actually found myself thinking, “Wow, you might be the perfect guy.” But ultimately, it only solidified how hung up on my ex I am, because even the perfect guy wasn’t good enough. He could be James Dean reincarnate with a Black Card and a completely hairless back, but it still wouldn’t feel right, because he’s not the person I’m in love with.
Karley Sciortino writes the blog Slutever.
Hair: Casey Geren; Makeup: Yumi
The post Breathless: Dating Is Impossible when You’re Still in Love with Your Ex appeared first on Vogue.