How (Not) to Use Online Personals If You’re a Lesbian

The following is the 5th installment of a hilarious ongoing series by author and squirrel hunter (seriously) Amy Bronwen Zemser called “How to Thaw Your Unborn Child.” Start at the beginning here or just jump right in below: All you need to know is that she was married to a man, realized she was gay, got divorced, fell in love with a woman named Moira, who broke up with her after they’d had a baby together and Moira didn’t want to give Amy parental rights. Ouch:

After I left Moira, I got a studio apartment around the corner from where she lived, but since this was in Park Slope, Brooklyn, I might as well have moved to Chicago. Blocks change drastically in a city. I didn’t see Moira or the baby very often, which was painful, but it was often more painful to actually see the baby.

I loved the little studio I rented. It was about 250 square feet with an alcove kitchen and a little blue bathroom, the perfect place for a heart to convalesce and for the mind to focus energies on happier diversions, such as writing or home furnishings. A close friend, Leesa, flew out from San Francisco to help me choose a different palette for the walls of the studio.  We acted like idiots and laughed at everything, and I remember how good that felt. When I asked the clerk at Pintchik’s, the local hardware store, why I wasn’t getting the free popcorn with my paint purchase, Leesa laughed so hard she couldn’t speak for almost five minutes.  “Do you realize,” she said, gasping and clutching her stomach as she choked out the words, “that you just told that guy you wanted the free popcorn because it was your Pintchikian right?”

We built a huge bookshelf made entirely of pine planks and hundreds of bricks, which looked amazing when it was complete but turned out to be incredibly dangerous.  And expensive.  We made numerous trips to Home Depot and bought cheap dressers at local furniture stores that specialized in everything pine, and we bought rugs and used tables and bathroom accessories. We were having such a good time that we even considered sleeping together, but Leesa said that even though I was kind of fat, she preferred women that were even fatter. When Leesa left, my mother took over and helped with the curtains. When my mother left, I was by myself again, but not completely.

There was also Astro, my senior Boston terrier.  He snored and farted regularly, true, but at least he was reliable. He also figured out how to pry open the old refrigerator that came with the apartment, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to come home after a long day of teaching school to find him rooting around in the shrimp salad behind a dripping refrigerator door. I didn’t mind. It was like I had this really short, ugly roommate.

Like many single people (I was 33), I scoured the same-sex dating websites obsessively. I wasn’t ready to begin dating, and I knew it, but this didn’t stop me from obsessively working and reworking my profile, or from writing to startling numbers of women, often when I knew before we even met that the whole thing would be a failure. The profile I used was actually the same one I had written when Moira (and numerous others) wrote to me. Why waste time writing another when the one I had was so effective?  I reactivated the account, picking up where I had left off two years before, which felt strange.  It was like I’d had a dream that I had a partner and a baby, but now the dream was over and it was time to get back to dating.

My profile read, in part:

I am a histrionic narcissistic borderline splitter.  I am oppressed, suppressed, repressed, and depressed.  When people meet me the best thing they can come up with is that I have horrible breath.  My nose is like an air exchange unit that removes all the oxygen in the room, and I have to grease my hips to get through doorways.  I am twice as short as I am wide…

Revisiting my old PlanetOut personal makes me feel a little silly, but at the time this profile — which is much longer and more insufferable than the excerpt I provide here — got me a lot of attention, if only from people writing in to thank me for being funny. I realize this kind of witty cynicism isn’t mature or even appropriate necessarily, but I still hold that it doesn’t matter what you write in an online dating venue. What matters is that you have a picture that doesn’t make you look like a toad and that the writing has some degree of grammatical accuracy. That’s it, that’s the whole thing. Everything else you write is superfluous because at the end of the day you have to occupy a physical space with someone and see if there is chemistry.

Here’s one thing I learned about online dating: if you haven’t worked out your past relationship then you have no business fishing around on the internet for a new one. Still limping from my ordeal with Moira, I spent hours writing to potential mates with emails like this:

Hi there,

My real name is Amy and I’m 33 years old.  I recognize that your profile specifically asks that applicants for a date must not have “baggage” but surely you realize that anyone looking for love in this world is lying if they say they bring no past anguish to current relationships. So I’ll just skip the lies and get right down to it:  I have loads of baggage, bags and bags of it; in fact, my eyes are swollen from crying as I write these very words. I just left a 2-year relationship in which I had to say goodbye to a little baby.  I don’t know if I’ll ever love again, and lately I’ve been wondering if I should get on medication.  If you’d like to go out with me for a drink, I am free every day, including today, right now in fact…

Can you believe I was actually surprised and hurt that my heartfelt missives never resulted in so much as a lousy cup of coffee?  Not even a stroll down 7th Avenue?  But since I was writing to women in a female-to-female dating pool, I’d often get these very nice, sensitive rejections:

Dear Amy,

Thanks for your email.  Unfortunately, I’m not looking for anyone who is just coming off of a long-term relationship right now.  I’m so sorry for what you are going through, but your email sounds both sad and also a little hostile.  Maybe you should give yourself some time to recover from your pain…

I’ve always considered myself pretty good at cultivating a persona that reflects resilience and insouciance, no matter the level of misery the authentic self feels, but eventually I received so many brutally candid rejections that I was forced to revise my honest attempts at  connection. Somewhere along the way I realized that the only way I was going to buy my way into someone’s heart, or at least meet someone face to face, was to tell a bold-faced lie. I also changed the headline on my profile from I’m sad and I wish I were dead, to, I actually like my parents. After some hard-won consideration, however, I decided this wasn’t so much funny as it was irrelevant and stupid, so I changed the headline again to: When we have sex, can I call you Mommy?  

Leesa and I laughed about that one for days, but it got zero responses, which was lamentable. I thought it was hilarious.  In fact, I am cackling like a loon right now at the memory of it. But at long last, in a rush of exasperation before heading out to pick up the Pad Thai, I dashed off a headline that said something truthful about how my ugly, stinky Boston terrier had just thrown up on my oriental rug for the third time and did anyone know of a good stain and odor remover.

The thing of it is, I told Leesa on our fifteenth phone conversation of the day, I am not going to meet anyone good.  I’m over thirty.  All the good people are taken, I said.

“Oh, don’t say that,” she said.

“It’s true, though,” I went on. At our age, the psychologically stable women have already met their longtime companions and are thinking about starting families if they haven’t already (incidentally, you should say the words longtime companion the same way you say HOMOsexual).

“Anyone who is single at my age probably has a social disease,” I told Leesa.

“Thanks a lot,” said Leesa, who is single.

“Or,” I added, after a thought,  “is dealing with coming out for the first time.”

Leesa and I agreed that meeting someone who was going through the psychic torment of realizing she had to leave her husband for a woman was my best shot at happiness. The odds felt bleak. Besides, even if I met someone going through the pain of coming out, these people are a real pain in the neck to be around. They’re all bunged, as my friend Mary would say, all uptight and anxious about admitting their sexual orientation to the world. I should know. I used to be one of these annoying people.

There is a learning curve when you first come out, particularly if you’re not used to being stared at for holding someone’s hand or kissing someone goodbye publicly, or if you’ve never told someone that you were gay and watched them fan themselves first, rabidly praise the Christian right, and faint dead away. Fine, I’ve never seen anyone faint, but I have been told that my relationships were the source of unnatural passions.

Then one day I sat down at the computer and after deleting about six emails that began with something like, “Hi there, I’m cute n’cuddly and lookin for a nice women,” I noticed there was another email in my inbox:

I’m a professor living in Poughkeepsie.  I thought your profile was funny and was wondering if you would be interested in getting together.  I’m 33 years old and I teach politics at a small college.  If you are interested…

She attached a photograph of herself in a rash shirt and cap on a sunny day at the beach. I thought she was great looking with an intelligent face, but I wrote back right away saying I didn’t think it would be a very good idea to get together because she lived in Poughkeepsie and I lived in Brooklyn, and just exactly who did she think she was fishing out of her zip code for dates? I did send her a photo, though, and I think in the back of my mind I knew that this was going to be the right person for me. From one tiny little understated email, I knew this was the right one.  Dammit!  Why do the right ones always have to live in Poughkeepsie?

There was something humble and quiet about the way she spoke about herself, and she didn’t drop the normal stitches that most people do when they write, confusing the spelling of the three versions of “their” or writing “definately,” which I acknowledge are not cardinal sins but are nonetheless troublesome to writers. I went back to her profile page and found nothing about how she was looking for the right “women” or how her favorite thing to do on a first date was lie by the fire on a bearskin rug listening to Yanni. We wrote to each other a few times and then spoke on the phone at some length, and we shared our respective stories.

I kept waiting for her to say something insulting or inappropriate. I waited to catch her in a lie or lay claim to something that made no sense or was insane or unfunny or incomprehensible. Because she is a professor, I anticipated superciliousness.  But she was earnest and seemed kind.

“Do you have dogs?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she replied.  “I have two schnauzers.”

“Yappers,” I said.

“Yes,” she sighed.  “But they’re my yappers.”

I liked that on our first date she talked about how much she loved sailboats and how if I wanted to make a truly great gin and tonic I should try Plymouth gin. Only Protestants talk about sailing and gin.  I love Protestants.

I can’t tell you how many Jewish girls I’ve met online and in bookstores and at speed-dating events in churches. Although it seems like two girls from the same ethnic background would be a perfect scenario, whenever I get together with someone of Ashkenazi Jewish descent I always feel like I’m sitting next to some woman in an assigned seat at cousin Herschel’s wedding. Like if me and some Jewish girl defiled each other in a dark bedroom somewhere I could hear the voice of a thousand rabbis weeping and stroking their beards while hiding behind a gigantic torah.  “No, no, mine people,” they would cry, wringing their hands and shaking their heads with biblical sadness.

I realize that I can’t procreate with another girl but it feels better to be with a Protestant all the same.  It’s all too familiar and incestuous to carry on with someone of my same ethnicity and frankly, it always troubles me when people marry within their gene pool anyway.  “You have to break that shit up,” I want to shout at the Hasidic couples as they walk over that bridge in Williamsburg, their fifteen same-dressed offspring trailing behind like little penguin chicks.

A therapist told me an interesting story once…

Read the next installment of “How to Thaw Your Unborn Child” here.

Amy on coming out, homophilia & sexual identity:
My Husband Has No Penis