Social media create a false sense of intimacy. You become a voyeur to birthday parties and weddings and can feel almost as if you are there – even when you're not. That type of pseudo-connection was not something I'd thought I would ever be sucked into. But I was.
Still pumped from the great party the night before, I vetted my camera roll and then posted the best pictures from my birthday party. Careful to block out the section of my silver tiara showing my new age. It hit me. Hard. I was 40 and single. Ouch. When did this happen?
I thought I took turning 40 better than most. I led a rich life. Full of travel and romance, but I was surprised by how much I yearned for a companion, to be settled down. The need for connection was palpable, and I needed to take action.
While most people had tales of instant messaging with old flames on social media, I had no such confessionals. Until the little green box lit up and there was a message from a guy I went to high school with yet barely knew.
"UR really beautiful."
I had no idea what to write. This was new to me. Who was this guy instant-messaging me from Washington, D.C., on this spring day? And why did I like it so much?
We began to IM every time I was on Facebook, and I decided to try to take it to the next level.
I'm coming to Maryland next week, I wrote nervously.
One second. Two seconds. Felt like five minutes of waiting.
He finally responded: Really. We should get together.
After a few weeks of Facebook messaging, I tried to transfer to regular email, but he didn't bite. Still, the meet-up felt promising.
When I met him in front of his apartment, I was hoping for fireworks. His face was still sweet as I remembered. His tan khakis were wrinkled and his shoes beat-up. The air was sweet, the cherry blossoms in bloom. The clothes could get a pass.
We began our perfectly orchestrated date. He had a full day's itinerary planned. A history buff, he drove to all the monuments where he was able to wax eloquently with myriad facts. I took out my camera and began to snap pictures. A stranger mistook us for an actual couple and offered to take our photo. I awkwardly leaned into him, and we took two shots. We did look good together, I thought. We even kissed at the end of the night. I didn't quite feel fireworks, but maybe fireworks were overrated.
The next day, I drove home and logged on. There he was, ready to flirt. And the day after that.
I texted him a few times but just got short responses. Yet on Facebook, he would chat for almost an hour. He got more and more flirtatious. I was enjoying the attention, but I needed more than a digital relationship.
We agreed to meet again. He told me not to make a special trip. I did anyway. Almost five hours on the highway. We met at an Italian restaurant. We began to make small talk, and quite quickly it came up that I was interested in pursuing this further.
"Oh, no," he said. "Long-distance relationships don't work."
"There's too much we would miss out on," he said matter-of-factly.
I was confused. He seemed so eager to be with me while on social media. And now that I was here, he wasn't?
He continued to dip his bread into olive oil as if nothing had changed.
I was outraged. What was the meaning of all those messages and flirtations? He started making jokes. I didn't laugh. I realized I barely even knew this man.
He called the next morning, wanting to meet for breakfast. I began to feel sick. How could I have been so foolish? This was the behavior of a teenager, not a 40-year-old woman. I drove home more confused than angry. On the long drive home I began to think of how ludicrous I was. How caught up I got in the story.
The next evening I went on Facebook, and there he popped up again. And again. He wanted me to meet him in New York for a Jets game. What about a trip to Atlantic City together? he asked. All relationship types seemed possible but only on instant messenger. I politely denied them all and began to wonder if our relationship existed only on Facebook.
I finally realized that was the only way he felt comfortable. Like a Cyrano de Bergerac, he could hide behind the little dancing dots. I didn't know how to make him stop. He seemed to want to chat every night. I unplugged for a while.
A few weeks later he messaged me on Facebook again, but I did not reply. After that I never heard from him again. He had my phone number, but I knew he would never call.
I am thankful he turned me down that day in the Italian restaurant. I still can't believe I was so desperate for a relationship that I was willing to find it when it was never there. I realized turning 40 did not mean I could lose sight of who I was and what I wanted. And I no longer believe in insta-anything. Relationships take time and need to work face to face – not Facebook to Facebook.