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Crushes on Strangers

Safely, From a Distance

Safely, From a Distance

Four years ago, I bought a bottle of white wine, a pack of Parliaments, and muscled my way into the world of online dating. After years of being a stubborn holdout, I had finally committed to the possible discomfort of coffee with strangers. What I had not anticipated, however, was how squirmy I would feel just getting started.

“Tell us a little about yourself.”

Gulp.

I stared at the blinking cursor, writing phrases only to erase them. I could not shake the thought that my answers were meant to lure potential dating partners, that this was a marketing document of sorts. Pick ME! Love ME! I answered all the questions matter-of-factly. Then I went back and answered them all with a wink. By this point, I had finished the bottle and tapped into a six-pack, and in the space that asks what you are looking for from this site, I wrote a long and searching passage about the fragile hope of tossing yourself into the dating void. I don't have a copy of this anymore, and that's a relief. It was the kind of earnest monologue that pops out at the bar when you are so drunk you touch people unnecessarily on the knee, when you try to form a song circle.

I woke up the next morning with pangs of regret, but the replies rolled in. Some were the tossed-off, scattershot variety, but a few had been painstakingly drawn. “I totally understand you,” one guy said. “Let's blow this joint and run off together.”

I had no idea how to respond. I felt the same stuttering blankness that had befallen me the night before. For the next three days, the emails kept coming, one more personal and daring than the last, and I read as many as I could take, feeling like a total fraud. I had presented myself as a person who wanted to cut through all this nonsense, strip away all the ironic defense mechanisms, and—get to know each other.

Instead, I pulled down my profile, and tucked back into my turtle shell.

Credit: Blende 007

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TMN Contributing Writer Sarah Hepola is the Life editor at Salon. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Nerve, and on NPR. She lives in Texas with a sweet orange cat who is not fat, he’s just big-boned. If you just read her story about Joseph Gordon-Levitt, she’d like to point that it is fiction. More by Sarah Hepola

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