I have been re-reading Conscious by Annaka Harris. In it, she dismantles the intuitive notions we have of self and free will. It’s worth going back to every so often to remind myself that many of the grand ideas and thoughts of control that I have are my own doing. Really though, I am more a passenger of my body than I would like to admit.
We wish we could have some threshold that begins and ends with consciousness and certain choices in our lives. Who we “choose” to fall in love with and marry, for example, is one of those. We feel as though we are compelled by such integral concepts as “dignity” or “values.”
When we met through OkCupid (OkStupid is what we later called it), we had questionnaires that matched us with people who felt similarly, implying that closely held beliefs would create better relationships. Perhaps this is true, as some researchers studying the subject have explained.
When my wife and I realized that we had both moved from Tennessee to Fort Worth, me from Memphis and her from Nashville, over a small subset of time, we agreed to meet up. I told her that I would have Blue Nights by Joan Didion and I would have a box of Reese’s Pieces. We met and the rest as they say is history.
What does it matter how we met up? Whether we met in a bar or met online, we are here now after six years ago today. How exactly does one celebrate something that may or may not have been an explicit choice? Do we choose who to love? Can we “choose” poorly?
One could argue that online dating takes all the fun out of dating, but I could not disagree more. When I was in college, after several attempts to get to know the young women in my classes, it was clear that I was doing an appalling job of choosing. Looking back, I found that I chose people who I shared almost nothing in common. I shudder to think about how, as young as that person was, I could have ended up marrying at that age, only to be years later wondering as Robert Frost does what road I could have taken instead?
The benefit to me of online dating is that it allows someone to short-circuit really bad decisions early on. To me, it was like I got a leap ahead.
Though it was not perfect by any stretch. One such date advocated for a fascist system of education in the first date, and recommended we go line dancing on the second. After practicing all day from videos on YouTube (I was practically unemployed at the time), I went to our meeting spot, where I waited for forty-five minutes. She texted me after that and she said she was going to shower and that it would be another thirty to forty-five minutes. I said that was not okay, and she texted saying she would never go on another date with me, “In a million years.”
Now, clearly she does not get her side of the story, but it was such a small set of moments that to dwell on it for longer than I already have is pointless. The thing to learn is that even with online dating, you can still hit snags. It doesn’t save everyone.
One of the questions on OkCupid was, “Should people with lower IQ’s not be allowed to have children?”
I thought this was a horrifying question, yet even more horrifying was that many people answered, “Yes.”
Suppose you took an IQ test and found yourself below the threshold some government calculated on being allowed to have children. How would that strike you?
Quite a lot of these ideas of “rationality” taken to their farthest extent had already occurred with the Third Reich.
People should read their history.
These are the sorts of thoughts I had as I plugged away on OkCupid, and much like other dating app users, I had questions like these which created a hard stop. Anyone who answered a question in that way was obviously not someone whose ideas I would like to explore.
Unfortunately I have reached that age in my life where someone’s intelligence and their intellectual acumen matter too much to me. I can see it in the way I spend more time with people and less time with others. It’s a useless dichotomy. When my wife’s profile stated that she had gone to Vanderbilt, my ears perked up. It was the very first thing I said to her when we met for that first time: “So Vanderbilt?”
But what I find most thrilling about Claire’s intelligence is the way it seems to be “baked in” to her demeanor.
At all times I find myself painfully showing off how much I know to other people (just look at this blog!)
Claire is kind and patient in thought and action and slowly she wins people over. Like Aesop’s fable of the wind and the sun, she slowly warms them, while I gust away.
I have a lot of hot air.
In any case, what OkCupid made me realize, and what online dating made me come to understand, is that I really was not well-equipped to monitor and respond to the contents of my own heart. It may be that way for some, and I have to congratulate them. But for me I seem to come to everything late. I lost my virginity way late. I started drinking and smoked a little later. I did not teach in a larger classroom until three or four years after I graduated with a teaching degree, preferring to do special education instead. It seems in many walks of life, not just with romance, my life has staggered a bit.
Or perhaps not. Perhaps I was simply waiting until the moment when I felt as though I could do it well.
All that to say, my wife and I are carrying on splendidly, much more so than I ever thought. I never really thought that I could be loved this way, so fully. To have that affection interact with everything my life touches creates such a nominally different experience. My favorite moments have been when she starts cussing. It is rare, but because of that when she does it’s always playful and I roll on the floor laughing.
I wanted to write lovingly about my wife here, and that can get sort of boring to you. But I hope this is useful to you. Suffice it to say, for introverts, I think that online dating is profoundly useful. It makes explicit a lot of the cerebral thoughts that occur in bouts of loneliness. Now here I am enjoying the company of someone I love and I have found that to be incredibly important for not just socially distancing oneself in the context of coronavirus, but in making decisions both great and small. I have been able to take great leaps because of her.
I have used Esther Perel’s quote so many times, but here I will say it again. We are not successful because of my ideas, but we are successful because we have each other. Any notion of the self and of free will always has to come to terms with the fact that none of us are really islands, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner your life will improve.