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L.A. Affairs: I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me whole

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VIDEO | 00:11
L.A. Affairs

My pandemic dating life is a set of Russian nesting dolls. (Illustration by Alycea Tinoyan / For The Times. Photos by Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times. Animation by Jim Cooke / Los Angeles Times)

I renewed my dating profile during the incredibly tedious shelter-in-place order. I knew I shouldn’t have, but I did it anyway.

I rationalized that my decision was out of boredom, but in reality I did it because I couldn’t sit with the intense and uncomfortable aloneness. Rather than process those feelings, I succumbed to the impulse and reinstalled a dating app instead.

“Pandemic dating” is a catchy little oxymoron I’ve heard more than once since the shutdowns started. The words themselves reveal an even more absurd paradox: getting to know a complete stranger under the surreal restrictions of a global quarantine.

I matched with several men: It brought me a false sense of satisfaction that they choose me above other women. I felt uneasy because I posted profile pics of myself with hair extensions and filtered out the little white scar on my upper lip. My profile is a bit of a catfish, but there is a certain unwritten understanding in online dating that we all look different in real life. (The real question becomes just how different and whether the other person can abide that difference.)

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I’ve been on both sides of the equation.

I went on my first socially distanced date in March after a few phone conversations. I liked his voice, and he seemed pretty woke to why his past relationship didn’t work out. I really thought he might be special.

Against my better judgment, we decided to meet in the parking lot of a fast food drive-through on Pacific Coast Highway. We parked our cars nose to tail and rolled down our windows. We talked for an hour, from our respective driver’s seats. The conversation flowed until he complimented my appearance and coyly asked me to stand outside my car. Deal breaker. Some things happen unseen on a first date for good reason. If pandemic dating requires I prance an imaginary catwalk in the parking lot of McDonald’s, then I’m out.

As I quickly concluded our date, he leaned out of his window and asked for a kiss.

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Oh, my God, no. I had zero remorse blocking his number. Zero attachment equals no FOMO fantasy that I may have cooked up after contemplating photos of him surfing some exotic shoreline or ruffling the head of his doe-eyed Labrador retriever.

Recently, I was on the receiving end of rejection. Rejection is a tricky situation for me. It teeters precariously on the brink of abandonment because I am somewhat anxiously attached to love. I whittled my possible online dates down to two men. One was a lawyer who lives in my neighborhood. We chatted online for a few weeks with the understanding that we couldn’t meet in person because the quarantine restrictions had intensified.

Eventually, the lawyer’s texts waned. He lacked initiative and only answered questions posed to him. His avoidance triggered my tendency to try harder. I pushed to see if we might walk our dogs around the block some evening and safely bump into each other six feet apart. He agreed rather vaguely, with no time frame other than “maybe this weekend.” I never heard from him again. I waited until the following Monday morning and then deleted him from my dating app.

I know that conventional wisdom says, ‘Don’t date your roommate.’ But this felt different.

I forgot about the lawyer and chatted with the other guy in my dating queue.

I distracted myself from my quarantine existence with daily chores.

One day, pandemic-shoddy in my sweats, sans makeup, I spent the morning weeding, cleaning and taking out the trash. That afternoon, as I took my grungy self and my dog for her third walk of the day, I saw a man and his young daughter riding bikes toward me. I recognized him as the lawyer.

He saw me — and ignored me. I didn’t wave or smile either. I felt too exposed, vulnerable and horribly rejected. As I watched him ride away, I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me whole.

We were engaged but in no rush to be married. Our lives in 2019 were oriented toward the fulfillment of our future selves. Coronavirus erased that.

After a few moments of demoralizing self-talk (where I bargained with myself to diet and never ever leave my house again without mascara) I realized that the profoundly uncomfortable feeling I just experienced wasn’t just the sting of a social rejection.

The mental stress of months sheltered in place as a single woman seemed to have reset my reptilian brain to survival mode — fight or flight. My heart raced, muscles tensed, visible circles of sweat appeared under each arm. My brain hijacked my nervous system and let loose some pretty primitive fears that normally might illicit a shrug or maybe an eye roll at most.

The truth is, I am a self-sufficient, adult woman. I was possibly rejected and yet I am also still safe — viral apocalypse or not. Just like that, the whole incident lost momentum and I stopped thinking about the lawyer.

His loss.

Therein, lies the win.

Not once in all those years did I get the vibe that he wanted to reconcile. Not once. And it seemed to me that he just turned the page. We didn’t work out, so it was history. Maybe I had to turn the page too.

Introspection is worthless if it doesn’t change your life for the better. The fact that I was able to see this tiny, infinitesimal snub for what it was and move on with my day equaled success in my book.

My pandemic dating life is a set of Russian nesting dolls. As the weeks melt into months, each hollow figurine reveals yet another degree of social adjustment, anxiety, indecision and ultimately acceptance of a new dating normal.

I deleted the dating app again, but I haven’t given up on online romance. I think I’ll wait a while and see how this pandemic pans out.

The author is a Los Angeles-based writer.

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.


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