By H.L. Heaberlin
I signed up for OkCupid half naked and soaking wet after walking home from the movie theater in a terrible rainstorm, alone. I threw my dress in the tub and made myself tea wearing the fluffiest towel I own. I was cold, I was angry, and I was so far beyond done.
If I had been totally and completely honest when I wrote my profile it would have read:
“Twenty-six-year-old woman seeks intelligent, spirited, employed, tall brunet man to go to the movies with her because she’s so fucking sick of being the only single friend in her clique and no one would go to ‘The Great Gatsby’ with her, those bastards.”
I’d held out on the idea of online dating for a very long time. It seemed like the way women searched for second husbands and men shopped for casual sex. It didn’t seem like it was for me. I’m young and conventionally attractive. I live in a busy urban neighborhood. I see cute boys walking around all the time (with their girlfriends). I was, I admit it, hanging on to this idea of the meet-cute. This fantasy where the music swelled when he glanced up from his journal and pushed his glasses back as he looked at me and then we would immediately go out and do cute things together, like eat waffles and argue about Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
What didn’t occur to me while waiting for this preordained romantic moment was that my life was not meet-cute friendly. I worked two jobs and wrote on the side.
The only place I went was the coffee shop near my apartment. Once I got there I would plunk down at a table, jam my headphones in, and hunch over my computer with a latte while I rubbed my forefinger into the space on my forehead that got sore from being so furrowed all the time.
No one was going to come up to me in the coffee shop. I wasn’t going to run into someone in the park. I couldn’t afford to meet guys at yoga or the gym. Plus, boys my age didn’t really inhabit those spaces either. Single guys, presumably, spent all day in their apartments watching Netflix and playing video games.
There was also the fact that, while I liked the idea of not being single, I didn’t really want a boyfriend. I was just sick of being the only person I knew who didn’t have one, and the way that it was causing me to feel left out at best, and entirely superfluous at worst.
Becoming the only single friend in a clique, or even one of the very few single friends in a clique creeps up on you. One day your comrade in singledom starts dating someone, and you’re happy for her. You listen to her gush about the cute present she got. You giggle through descriptions of awkward but well-intentioned dates or sexual mishaps.
But by the time the next friend starts seeing someone, the first friend is now the authority with a boyfriend, and you still know fuck all. The giggling and gushing is different for you, and it’s completely different between the two friends who now share something that you don’t. When you stay single while all of your friends pair off, you always feel like the “extra.” The bigger the group of couples the worse the feeling gets. I have gone out to dinner and been the thirteenth wheel.
It’s not malicious or intentional. No one is purposefully leaving you out, but it’s still happening and it just becomes more official as time goes on. Those boyfriends become fiancés, those fiancés become husbands and the changes in your friends’ romantic relationship change your relationship with them by creating this weird disparity.
The reality is that you need your coupled friends for more things than they need you for. My best friend is my emergency contact. Her fiancé is hers. When my car didn’t start because of the polar vortex, I called a friend. She had called her husband for the same assistance earlier in the day. Those paired off friends always have a roommate lined up. They have someone who they can easily talk into going to that restaurant that just opened up. They have someone who feels a degree of obligation to go out to a movie with them.
After years of being the single friend, I had simply gotten used to this being the case.
Which is why it made absolutely no sense that I was suddenly, ludicrously pissed off that no one would go to “The Great Gatsby” with me.
I picked a bad day to get really worked up about all of this. After a week of hint dropping, texting, and just a little bit of begging, no one could be convinced to go see Leonardo DiCaprio do Baz Luhrmann things in the fake 1920s. So, I decided that I was going to take myself out for a lovely afternoon, boys, friends, and weather be damned. Unfortunately, my determination to have a lovely day came upon me on a day where the clouds were so charcoal black that the streetlights came on at noon, and the weather report was basically, “Good luck, lady.”
By the time I got off the bus, fat raindrops were falling like bombs and people were running into the bars for cover. I dropped down into one of the last bar stools left, pulled out my book, and ordered a beer.
And then, a cute, damp stranger squeezed into the small empty space beside me and asked me about my book.
And for just a moment, I thought to myself—this is it. All I had to do to get the meet-cute I’ve been waiting for was ditch my friends and drink alone at a bar full of fellow single people! If only I’d realized it was this easy before I could have been dragging cute boys to lurid cinematic re-imaginings of classic literature all summer!
And then my new romantic stranger ordered two shots, tipped them back together like Donna on Parks and Rec, spilled, and told me I was cute for a brunette before waving over his gaggle of solidly day drunk dude-brah friends.
It wasn’t a meet-cute. It was a meet-douche.
He and his friends swore loudly about “that bitch expecting them to find a fucking cab in this fucking weather” while I finished my beer and made a run for the theater, trying to keep under as many business’ awnings as I could. I spent two hours in an over-air-conditioned theater, alone, shivering violently and watching pretty people be in love with the idea of each other (which is probably what I get for skimming the book in high school).
When the movie let out it was still pouring and since I was going to get just as wet waiting for the next bus as I would get walking home, I plodded on, vowing next time, I was going to a restaurant with someone who would deter former frat boys, and who may not be able to make walking home drier, but could a least make it more fun.
I’d heard a lot of people describe signing up for OkCupid as finally admitting defeat, but I actually felt in control. I was actively choosing to put myself into a place that allowed me to be sought after, instead of passively remaining in my existing circumstances, where I was always waiting for a friend to choose me over their boyfriend, or a guy to choose the potential of me over staying home and playing Halo again.
I couldn’t control the weather, I couldn’t control other people’s schedules, but I could control my own availability. Drinking tea in my towel while writing a profile that admittedly focused on the fun/ambitious elements of my personality and downplayed the wet/angry portions of my general life outlook, I felt relieved and optimistic. I felt proactive in a way I hadn’t for years.
And it’s all Leonardo DiCaprio’s fault.[divider][/divider]
H.L. Heaberlin is a freelance writer and aspiring novelist. When she was growing up she wanted to be a dolphin trainer, or Rachel from Animorphs, but instead has taken a circuitous route through seamstressing, car sales, and financial advising, and wound up in arts administration. She doesn’t know how that happened either.