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Offline: love, loss, and dating without Facebook

paul love

There’s only been one girl in this year without the internet. I liked her “that way,” and she didn’t like me “that way,” and so that was that. But it was fun while it almost lasted.

Our original chance encounter was brought on by boredom. I was sitting alone in my apartment, and none of my friends were returning my calls. It was a holiday weekend, I have lame friends. So I called my parents, grabbed my skateboard, and puttered around Union Square while I confessed my problems with singleness to my folks. They were literally pitching me on a sort of embarrassing meat market conference meant to pair off Christian homeschoolers, when I saw a familiar face.

It was an old friend from an old church I used to go to, and she was with a crew looking for a night on the town. She had this beautiful friend, standing quietly among the group. I tagged along. We went to a bar, a really lame bar, and shouted small talk into each other’s ears while the V-jay attempted to destroy our spirits. I did okay at the small talk, even with the beautiful friend, and then she talked with this other guy, this really smart successful guy who I’d small talked with already, and I saw him take his phone out and hand it to her, and was sure that he was friending her on Facebook.

Without texting, everything becomes very black-or-white: you call, you decide, you hang up

And so, as we left the bar, I asked for her number. She almost gave it to me, but then my friend, the original church friend who she lives with, had a cab, and they were off.

I don’t date a lot, to be honest. I don’t have any strategies or skills. I don’t have a well-formed rule set, or any record of success. I’m hopeless, basically. And so I called her the next day, tactlessly, before successful guy could make what I assumed would be a series of well-calculated moves on Facebook. Before, I don’t know, he invited her to a casual cookout or something. I got her number, without any attempt at pretense, from the original friend.

Without text messaging, everything becomes very black-or-white. You call, you decide, you hang up. There’s no “I don’t know, what do you want to do” back and forth where you end up at a movie an hour later and you can’t remember who picked it. Most of my friends avoid calling me for this reason — it’s a lot of pressure.

Luckily, she said yes.

And so began a series of almost-sort-of-like-dates that culminated in our steamless non-relationship. Despite my best attempts, we never got past the friend zone. But we had a fun time.

What was funny was that the no internet thing was sort of a non-issue for her. Like, her phone was a RAZR. She didn’t like to text. She didn’t like to talk on the phone, either, but I guess nobody does anymore.

I could only learn about her through conversation

For me, no internet kept things mysterious and surprising. The most obvious change was that I couldn’t Facebook stalk her. I couldn’t see who she knew, or where she’d been, or whether she trended corny or standoffish in group photos. I could only learn about her through conversation. She drew me a diagram of her family and friends, to help me follow her stories better.

For the first couple weeks, I actually didn’t know her last name. It just didn’t come up, and I didn’t think to ask. Undeterred, my brother used her first name and a few offhand remarks of mine to stalk her online himself. I asked him not to tell me, but he couldn’t help dropping a few revelatory details about her career — I was surprised how little I “knew” about her from my hours of conversation, versus his minutes of Google work.

An unforeseen consequence of ditching my smartphone for my brick-dumb Huawei is that I don’t have a camera on my phone. And so try to imagine this: I hung out with a girl for multiple months. Saw her multiple times a week. She even met some of my friends, I even met a few of her friends. And I don’t have a single photo of her.

I don’t know if you know this, but I have a terrible memory. Like, monumentally bad. It’s not just for facts and figures, either. I don’t remember faces very well. Sometimes when I would meet up with her, I’d be waiting on a corner and keep thinking I’d seen her, and it would take a second to realize it wasn’t her. And then when I finally saw her, my memory would putter to life and go “oh yeah, THAT’S what she looks like.” I don’t want to sound all sappy or anything, but she was always better looking than I’d remembered.

For our quasi-dates I relied on word-of-mouth recommendations for restaurants and things to do. I grabbed a brochure from a community organization in her neighborhood. Sometimes we’d just walk and look around for something to strike our fancy. I dedicated a couple of pages in my Moleskine to listing useful facts about her, or the name of an artist she liked. And yes, I sent her some snail mail.

There was something so ethereal about it all, without a trail of digital communication

There was something so ethereal about it all, without a trail of digital communication. Without a single photo. I don’t know if that makes it better or worse, I can’t say qualitatively that this is a purer form of relationship, or prospective relationship, but I enjoyed the magic of it.

And there’s something that makes it more precious, if I’m allowed to use that word, now that it’s over. After all, this was all in my mind from the start. She just wasn’t that into me. And so in my mind it will remain. With this fuzzy version of her face, and some misremembered encounters, and a couple pages of reference notes.

Until I get back on the internet and stalk the hell out of her.

The Verge
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