When I was about 26 and at uni, cruising dating chatrooms with a cask of paint stripper chardonnay was my idea of an affordable night out.
Back then, online dating was still sort of new and adorably clunky – a decent mix of good intentions and screamy dial-up. Genuine curiosity overshadowed any kind of aggressive right-swiping. And unsolicited dick pics? Spare me, in my experience, not one chap sent me an unsolicited picture of his man meat. The only game of snake on my phone was the Nokia 8210 variety.
It was all pretty straight forward. Your dating profile collided with another, you exchanged Hotmail addresses and, after about a week of exchanging epically-long emails (I remember feeling giddy with expectation knowing I was due one of these bad boys in my inbox), you met up.
Now? Well, I’m not 26 anymore, cruising has far different connotations and some goon bags are actually pretty palatable.
Modern online dating (heck, let’s just call it dating) feels like a bigger meat market than Mondos on a Saturday. I don’t scope the lads the way I used to. I remember when I was working for Nova, driving one of their two old-school refurbed ambulances (they had V8 engines and the bounciest suspension, it was like driving a big old couch, so much fun) as one of their zany ‘street team’ peeps. I was probably just as busy as I am now, however the difference is that I was meeting new people all the time. My job now, being desk-bound, doesn’t really lend itself to fraternisation.
So this is why I dipped my toe back into the online thing. It also supplemented my lack of interest in heading back to the Breakwater on a Wednesday night, especially when I have banked-up eps of John Oliver and Broad City to catch up on. Priorities.
One of the hardest things is actually getting started. Yes, profiles are hard, but once you’re done with the guts of it, it’s the finessing that’s more fun. I figure that the right guy will pick up on certain nuances and crumbs of humour that the chaff simply won’t notice.
But that’s if it even gets read at all.
A lot of people couldn’t care less about the blurb you may have spent half the day drafting, deleting, drinking a beer, coming back to it before just posting the damn thing. Because photos. And, be warned, if their blistering opening line is a scintillating ‘hi’, to me, means one thing: conversation-wise, you’re about to do all the heavy lifting.
I ended up with three accounts. Tinder, Plenty of Fish and RSVP.
Considering I was on it in 2004, RSVP was the first cab off the rank in 2016. I even searched for my old profile to see if it still stacked up. It no longer existed. Shame.
After a few days, I noticed that The Mister was getting a ton of dates from Plenty of Fish. He eventually met his girlfriend on there, so in a hasty case of anything-he-can-do-I-can-do-better, I signed up.
I also, reluctantly, registered on Tinder. I thought it was too millennial and too hooky-uppy for me. But hey, two of my girlfriends were racking up dates like Fitbit steps, so I really had nothing to lose.
Most chats would start out friendly enough. You know, ‘what do you do for a living?’, ‘how is your weekend going?’, normal small talk.
Little did I know my fresh profile was merely chumming the waters.
The über-creative ‘hi’ opening line, in hindsight, was the very least of my problems.
It took no time at all. I had so many remarks that were borderline no, no, no, actual sexual harassment, I almost had to suspend my profile within the first couple of days.
I usually got one of two requests…
‘How about we meet up for a beer at The Queens on Sunday?’ might be one.
Seriously, I read about these kind of shenanigans and always thought ‘Oh come ON, no one is really like that, right? RIGHT? And yet, there I was, my very own special moment of some dude hashing out his greasy routine. I don’t know what was more disappointing, him asking me straight-up for naked pictures, or that he wasn’t even trying to be clever about it. All I could think of – other than get fucked – was how many times this numbers game fell in his favour.
The frightening regularity of this repartee meant a thick skin was once again growing over my heart.
And that’s just it. Women are so conditioned into being polite to guys who are being jerks. But now I was well over it. I wasn’t going to waste my time by engaging with someone who clearly glossed over the fact I wasn’t into hooking up, guns or people who think that patting a sedated tiger in Thailand makes for a great photo which proved how damn adventurous they are.
The first actual date I went out on was a guy we’ll call Dreadlock Guy.
He was well-read in the horror genre, was a landscaper and had really long dreads. He was kind of interesting and he was pretty buzzed that I was into Star Wars. He suggested we go see the new instalment, and while I really wanted to watch it with my best mate Pete… I agreed.
As soon as I saw him I was like ‘nah’.
(That’s another thing about online dating. No matter how much chemistry you may have while texting or chatting on the phone, it’s the chemistry you feel upon meeting your date for realsies which will ultimately determine date #2. It’s like traditional dating, but in reverse.)
He said sorry he was late, that his mum had given him grief about borrowing cash off her to pay for his Force Awakens ticket. OK. Things must be grim to borrow movie money from mum and dad. But I let it slide. As the fact he was about a million foot tall.
We decided to kill some time before the session started – I had a coffee and he had a banana split (he must have hit pay dirt with his mum). I found out he was 39, lived with the parentals and he wasn’t a landscaper, he just did basic gardening stuff at a cemetery. He also jumped straight into telling me all about his ex and how she was abusive toward him. I seriously considered spilling my awful chain coffee on myself.
After the movie, I shook his hand, said got in my car and yelled ‘WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?’
It got worse.
The next day he texted ‘so that went well, did you like my dreads?’ and I wondered if he was referring to the same date that I was on with him. I was like ‘hey, so yeah, I mean they’re not my cup of tea but they’re impressive’.
Two hours later I got a picture message.
Hacked dreads on the bathroom floor.
He had cut them off.
Actually, he told me his mum cut them off. At his request, not because he told his mum he couldn’t pay back the banana split.
Look, I really want to believe that he had been planning to do it for awhile. But he never firmed up this belief. I was led to believe he did it for me.
There I was, looking at a picture of those gross ropey dreads on a bathroom floor.
All I could think and say and yell (again) was ‘WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?’
I then started to not respond to everyone.
Only the occasional boy was told off for not reading my profile while I bid them good luck. Two called me a bitch for saying so and one was grateful for the only reply he had in weeks.
The second guy I went out with was DJ Guy.
He had just moved to Perth from Sydney. Like that day. Literally.
I thought this is a guy that is looking for a tour guide. But as we got talking, he seemed though he had more depth than just scratching decks.
We finally went on a date. Actually no, we didn’t. We’ve never been out on a date.
I ended up meeting him at a gig he was DJing at in Northbridge. I took a friend of mine and had a drunky good time but it wasn’t a date – his attention was divided and there wasn’t enough time to piece together a conversation. That and the fact that I was slowly but surely getting more and more hammered as the night wore on. Not great.
Over the weeks, I got to the point that I couldn’t just keep waiting for someone. He was either at work or DJing at a gig.
I was always of the impression that if someone wants you in their life, they’ll make room. There was no room here. He was, however, honest enough to tell me that he was just too busy, and clearly we had different priorities. We’ve remained friends and I truly believe he’ll find a lovely dame who won’t have to pretend to like house music.
Enter Dad Bod.
Dad Bod worked in the oil fields off the North West coast of WA. He seemed so passionate, especially about sending me pictures of his shirtless dad bod. He was a single dad who was so into his kids and he had only been split from his wife for less than 10 months. He was 39 but seemed so much older – not in a mature way – but more of a completely knackered way.
I was concerned about the 10-month thing and more than once asked if he was truly ‘available’. The fact that he only ever wanted to text on Kik or Skype and not via, you know, an actual phone number kind of squicked me out.
Then another red flag cropped up.
He said he was able to meet up with me while he was on his break back in town, the only stipulation was that it was only after this bucks night that his mate was having. We’re talking midnight on a Saturday night.
The night of this bucks party thing, he texted me: ‘My ex is dropping me off to the bucks night, how awkward’. I didn’t know what was awkward about that. What I did know was that this didn’t feel quite right. He was too smooth, too opportunistic.
I was already out that night anyway, I had just met up with DJ Guy at one of his gigs, then headed over to a Fringe show in Northbridge before I got Dad Bod’s text that he was keen to catch up.
I was right. He wasn’t interested in having a casual drink at the Urban Orchard – my favourite place for summertime hangs – no, this silvertongue kept purring in my ear about how we should go to my place.
I told him no.
I told him no three times.
On the fourth, I excused myself to the loo. I took refuge in the chaotic Fringe Festival crowd which quickly swallowed me up and away from this guy.
I took the green limousine home. I actually cried. On the bus. Like a loser. I was jealous of The Mister. He had this amazing girlfriend and I couldn’t ever master a first date with anyone.
I suspended my profiles. Again.
It was at my cousin’s place a few days later when we got talking about Plenty of Fish and that its acronym ‘POF’ was really funny to say. Like a gentle fart. And on that note, I activated it again.
About two days later, I got a friendly note from a very good-looking rooster. If only I knew then what an actual cock this guy was going to be.
He was funny, sharp and a prolific texter for someone who was 44. OK, so I text a lot. But this guy had the textual dexterity of a 23-year-old girl. One of my work colleagues, Fran, remembers me saying (completely out-of-character, mind you) ‘arrrrgh, stop texting me for FIVE minutes!’
He wanted to meet up that Friday afternoon.
I had the day off, so, it was perfect.
We immediately hit it off, and in a short time, I was turning into Debbie Gibson, getting lost in his green eyes.
He said he volunteered for a hard-core environmental group and I quipped back: ‘So, you’re a vegetarian?’
‘Worse,’ was his telling answer.
‘You’re a fucking vegan,’ I said.
‘Yep,’ he said.
Then I dead-panned: ‘you realise your name is Hunter, right?’
We laughed. It was all good. I didn’t even care.
Two days later, after he volunteered at the Nannup music festival, he came straight over to my place for dinner.
I had made a spinach, pumpkin and ricotta tart.
He didn’t eat any of it.
‘Can’t do ricotta,’ he said, kinda ungratefully so, as I undeservedly berated myself. It was a shame the thought didn’t actually count.
I then found out he was interested in doing some writing and maybe I could get him some contacts within my industry. He kept asking me how I ‘got into it’ and my answer was always the same: ‘really bloody hard work over about a decade’ .
‘Is that why you’re interested in me? To get published?’ I asked.
He seemed to back-pedal a bit and I said that it probably wouldn’t be appropriate at this time, especially that he had nothing published previously that I could look at, and I didn’t really feel like being someone’s personal tutor.
I didn’t hear from him that day, nor the next.
The thing is, if you’ve established the fact that you’re a texter, or a caller, or an emailer, a Face Timer or a whatever, it’s going to be noticed if you suddenly stop doing it.
On the third day I was kind of going out of my mind with why he was ghosting me. It also didn’t help that my house was still not sold and my property in Kalgoorlie had been without tenants for three months. I had a lot going on. Hunter knew this. I was tightly coiled and bristled with anxiety.
I finally texted something simple like ‘Hey, you’ve suddenly stopped being so chatty, hope I haven’t done or said anything out of order?’
Two days later, I was doing my normal 2-kilometre walk to work when I texted The Mister about wrangling the cat for the home open that weekend. While I had my headphones on, I felt the familiar buzz of the SMS. Thinking it was The Mister, I got a shock that it was Hunter.
The text started innocuously enough.
‘I don’t feel as though the same chemistry was there as the first time we caught up,’ it read.
The message could have stopped there.
It really should’ve stopped there.
It didn’t stop there.
That’s when things went from Malala to Donald Trump in a split-second.
Now, I can handle people saying that my personality didn’t mesh well with theirs or the chemistry was off-piste or whatever, but this guy thought it was absolutely necessary and appropriate to make the most disgusting and derogatory comments about my body.
My head spun.
I had to hold onto a nearby fence.
I nearly vomited.
I still have no idea how I made it to work that morning.
But as soon as I got to work, still bewildered, I got a phone call from The Mister about my earlier text regarding the cat.
Immediately he knew something was up.
I couldn’t speak. My voice kind of broke over the phone.
He said he would meet me outside my work in 10 minutes (we work within about 200 metres of each other).
When I saw him, I broke down. I handed him my phone and let him read the hateful text.
The Mister – a lover, not a fighter by nature – wanted to beat the living shit out of this guy.
He asked me what I wanted to do about it, if anything.
I had already drafted a reply, which he read and made a couple of edits.
We decided to send it then block every way he could possibly contact me.
It was done.
I never heard from that mongrel again.
I then decided to not just suspend my online dating accounts but to completely delete them.
As it turned out, I didn’t delete everything.
Perhaps I should have.
But perhaps I wasn’t going to let some misogynist piece of shit have his desired effect on me.
Three weeks-ish later, I was back in the fray.
I had my first breakfast date where I got completely over-buzzed on three giant flat whites and talked my head off and out of a second date and then had a very promising date with a guy who was super fun to talk to, but there was absolutely no sexual chemistry.
And then sometimes, you just happen to meet someone who doesn’t have dreads, who isn’t still married, who is emotionally available, someone you’re not constantly rounding-up (like near enough is good enough) or someone who doesn’t secretly harbour a staggering hatred for women.
Someone you might not just suspend your online dating profile over… but to completely delete it.