Being unceremoniously dumped at 30 is how I found myself embarking on the two activities I’d always sworn against — spinning and online dating. He broke up with me on the third-floor landing of his five-story walk-up in the East Village. Right there on the cold marble steps, slick and muddy from melted snow. Split into two sets of stairs per landing, it took eight half-flights and four turns to reach his apartment on the fifth floor. After over two years of trudging up those dreaded stairs, I knew every chip, paint splatter, and creak intimately because each step brought me closer to the home of my lover and best friend.
Often, we’d climb them together, lugging groceries, exchanging gripes about our day, planning our future. Only the climbs kept getting harder and harder until we found ourselves constantly fighting up those stairs. Fighting over what to get for dinner, over money, over his ever-changing career ambitions, we were arguing up the stairs over Christmas plans when I paused at the second turn. We were only halfway up, but I was so tired and worn down from the growing uncertainty of our future together. So, on the third floor landing I stopped and asked, “You ever think you’re purposely creating all these obstacles because you really don’t want to be in this?”
By this I meant us, and by us, I meant me. My intention was to guilt him into reassuring me this wasn't the case at all and prove it by giving in to my proposed plan for Christmas. Instead, he replied, “You know, you’re right.”
I never made it to the top. Never again pushed open the door to the tiny box of an apartment he shared with two roommates, to find him, my Cracker Jack prize, cooking dinner in his boxers with the heat from the oven flushing his round freckled face until it was nearly as red as his hair. Stunned, I sat on the frigid, damp stairs until my body grew numb inside and out. Without a tear, I got up and walked down, each step taking me further away from the life I’d imagined with him. The tears came when I hit the street. A blubbering mess, I pushed my way through the drunken revelers teeming down St. Mark’s. I’d only made it to the corner when I heard his voice behind me, calling my name. His hand on my shoulder froze me in place. I stood still, waiting desperately to hear what it was he chased me down to say, but he only held out a twenty-dollar bill.
“I don’t want you riding the subway home alone while you’re this upset.” When he turned to hail a cab, I walked away and rode the subway home alone.
Six months later I joined my first online dating website. My distrust of online dating as a viable love path can be defined by what I call “the sweater theory.” Going to my favorite little boutique, I’ll survey the store, find what I like best (like a nice sweater), and make a purchase. However, if I go to one of those massive outlet malls, with tons of big department stores, I will keep looking and looking, determined to find the very best bargain. Until, flustered and wall-eyed, I’ll walk away overwhelmed and empty-handed. Well-meaning friends urged me to give online dating a try.
“It’s a great way to feel like you’re putting yourself out there, ready for something new.”
“My friend’s co-worker met her husband online.”
“Even if you don’t meet someone, at least you’ll end up with a few good stories.”
Surfing through the profiles of endless e-men who didn’t find it necessary to capitalize their i’s, and who all seemed to enjoy a night out on the town as much as lounging at home in a T-shirt, I couldn’t imagine myself naked with any of them.
Naked. Suddenly, the horrifying notion that, I’m never, ever going to have sex again was replaced by a fresh hell. I am going to have to have sex with somebody new, and even worse, This stranger is going to see me naked!
Naked is what brings us to spin. I’ve never been much of an athlete or a gym goer, and I’m not even all that coordinated. The only thing appealing about spin was that I couldn’t fall off a stationary bike. At least, it was highly unlikely. Again, friends encouraged me.
“You’ll have so much more energy, and the endorphins will really boost your mood.”
“It’s the quickest way to really take off the pounds.”
“After climbing a steep hill, when you back off all the bike’s resistance and sprint full out, it’s such a rush. Like an orgasm.”
An orgasm? Really? Because, first of all, we aren’t climbing any real hills are we? Due to the fact that this isn’t a real live bike riding around in, you know, space. Second, my sizable rear end stuck on a hard tiny spin seat for over an hour is about the furthest thing from the joy of sex I can imagine. However, driven by a strong desire to shrink my rear end before anyone new saw it naked, I started spinning.
Spinning sucks as much as I imagined, but quickly seeing positive results, I kept going back. Sitting in the dark, ass aching from the hard spin seat — unicorns and moons glowing all over the walls of my gym’s black-lit ultra-funky spin room — I pedaled furiously, legs pumping against the unforgiving weight of the stationary bike’s resistance. Then, feeling sick, and not wanting to find out how ultra-funky my own vomit would look under black light, I reached down to loosen the bike’s resistance knob when our instructor, Kat, a squat woman whose voice summons fear even when she’s laughing, manifested next to my bike.
“Don’t cheat yourself!” she screamed in my face.
Suffering through a spin class is strikingly similar to online dating. Both are simulated experiences of the real thing, and neither has ever resulted in me having an orgasm. However, if Kat ever wanted to branch out and apply the skills she’s honed while screaming at people to go faster on bikes that don’t move, her motivational mantras would apply magnificently to online dating.
My first date, Adam the AP Calculus Teacher, took me for lunch at an Indian food buffet. His pick; I was too shy to admit Indian food makes me ill so I pushed my food around the plate and nibbled on naan while we chatted. Almost immediately, he dropped a glob of curry on his shirt, and the smeared red stain on his chest was the most memorable thing about him. That and he habitually intoned “Sure, sure…” after everything I said as we small talked about what we did for a living, our families, where we grew up.
Later, I met Casey the Theater Critic (a.k.a. a blogger who got free tickets to off-off-Broadway plays) with a wide pale moon face who un-ironically wore a red fez hat with a black tassel. We met for dinner and a free play. He ended all his phone calls with, “Ciao for now!” I know this because he continued to answer his cell phone throughout the night. During the show, he kept leaning over to me and explaining the play’s jokes and references as if I were a third grader who couldn’t possibly understand such sophisticated theater as The Land Whale Murders, a comedic murder mystery set in 1886 New York. How much time could be saved if Kat were able to intervene on these first dates cutting through it all by yelling, “Show me what you got!”
Being stuck for hours with a stranger when there is absolutely no chemistry is miserable. Remaining single longer and longer, I arranged for the first meet-ups to be shorter and shorter. There was tea with Mike Small, who was six feet tall. Coffee with Brad, who was lovely, but he smelled so bad. I met Jim at a local Irish pub. When I walked in, I was pleasantly surprised to see he actually looked like his picture, was as tall as he claimed, had a lanky broad-shouldered baseball build, and was wearing a thin gold chain under his T-shirt. It was the kind few men pull off successfully, but when they do, it makes me want to lick my tongue under the cool metal along their neck.
“Now that’s what I like to see,” Kat would’ve barked enthusiastically. Jim got me a drink. He highly approved of my choice of Jameson on the rocks and when he smiled he had the most adorable dimples. As we talked, he kept rubbing his shoulder up by his neck. I wondered if he pulled a muscle working out or something, but no, he then proceeded to tell me he recently had a cyst removed and it was still sensitive. As he elaborated on the procedure and how he just started showering again because the area had gotten badly infected, I mentally planned my escape route with my inner Kat cheering me on.
“Faster, faster, that’s it! You can do it!”
Quickly polishing off my drink, I made up a flimsy excuse and got the hell out of there. I may be jaded at this point, but I feel discussing a person’s cyst within ten minutes of a first date is a valid reason to bolt.
I found myself planning my escape route earlier and earlier until I went on what might be the shortest date of all time. We met at the Columbus Circle entrance of Central Park and, strolling through the park for three whole avenues, popped back out at the 5th Avenue exit next to the Plaza. A computer geek, Chris was nice and cute, but also excruciatingly shy and fairly dull. He’d recently sold an app for the iPhone that was an “Emotions Tracker.” The concept of the app was for users to enter in an emotion and what activity they were doing at the time. Then the program would track the emotions along with the correlating activity. Eventually, you get this kind of touchy-feely pie-chart breakdown thing of your tracked emotions and the related activities. This all has something to do with promoting self-awareness. He showed the app to me, at great length, on his sophisticated smart phone and it took considerable restraint for me not to cry out, “Awesome. Would you please type, BORED TO TEARS, and, ON DATE, in for me? I want to make sure I’m self-aware of this later. Thanks!”
Keeping my mouth shut, I focused instead on the exit of the park. “You’re almost there. Two more minutes!” Kat coached. The date officially ended, however, when I offered to walk with him to the subway and he declined, ditching me to go into the Apple Store.
In class one morning, Kat played a steroid-infused jacked-up remix of Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart. I don’t know why but I always go completely Pavlovian over that stupid song. Every now and then I fall apart. Nothing gets me in the mood more quickly. Keyed up, I cranked my bike’s resistance up to an eight, which is really steep for a fictitious hill. Peddling frantically, my legs were a whirling blur. Thigh muscles screaming, my heart pounded as I pushed my body harder, chasing my friend’s promised orgasmic rush. Maybe this time… Then I hit a wall. Everything hurt, and suddenly I felt nothing but anger towards each waking moment and bad decision that delivered me to this bleak present. Frustrated, I forced my legs to keep moving but, much like on my dates, my mind drifted to what I might eat later as a reward for surviving this uphill climb to nowhere.
I could have really used Kat when I met Ari, a short redhead who did something in finance, for spontaneous drinks at a cute little wine bar near where I live in Astoria, Queens. It was close to Christmas and I arrived at the dimly-lit bar first. Scanning the room to make sure he wasn’t there, I lingered on a guy who looked a bit like Ari’s picture but then the dude gave me a “What?” look, confirming this wasn’t my date. Too bad. He was really cute. Taking advantage of my early arrival, I stripped off my heavy coat and hat, fixed my hair, and attended to my runny nose — a winter dating hazard. Positioning myself perfectly on a rumpled loveseat by the bar’s entrance, I quickly changed my mind and scooted over to a mismatched loveseat next to the first. Crossing my legs, sheathed in my favorite ribbed tights and high boots, I angled myself towards the door so he would see me immediately upon entering. It had taken me twenty minutes to wriggle into those tights and maneuver ball-of-foot cushioning pads into my boots, and all that effort wasn’t going to waste. In case this time was the time. Feigning aloofness, I pretended not to notice him when he walked in but I did sense him noticing the hell out of me, validating my efforts.
We sat side-by-side on the two loveseats basked in the soft white glow of the bar’s large Christmas tree, drinking wine and working our way through the first online date conversational check points; what we did, family, growing up. When I excused myself to go to the ladies’ room he stood up as well, like a gentleman. Then he put his hand on my ass in a very ungentlemanly way. My muscles tensed beneath his fingers. Having my buttocks’ newly improved firmness felt up by his clumsy caress was a meager prize after all that spinning.
“I applaud your boldness, wearing such a short skirt in this cold weather,” he purred.
Thank you? I wasn’t sure how to respond to his smarmy compliment. So, instead I looked up at him with a sexy half-smile and unconsciously emitted this high-pitched feminine sound, kind of a cross between breathy sigh and an attack-of-the-vapors Southern titter. Turning the corner, I wanted to punch myself in the face.
“Don’t give in to it. You’re not fooling anybody!” Kat would’ve bellowed.
Only this wasn’t spin, it was dating, and I was on my own. When I returned from the bathroom he pulled me down onto his loveseat. Smashed up next to this person I’d only just met in person, I downed the rest of my wine in one gulp as if I was going into battle. I could blame the booze, how cozy it was in the bar, or the stupid Christmas tree — its white twinkle lights illuminating my loneliness — for why I gave in to it and made out with this dude. Pawing at each other like high school kids who were the first ones at the party to nab the couch in the basement. My muscles tensed beneath his touch, while my mind hovered out above my body, detached, watching the scene from a distance. As if it was the only thing on TV on a rainy Sunday afternoon. For a moment I pretended I wasn’t still alone this Christmas, but I wasn’t fooling anybody.
When the bill came, he broke it down and told me exactly how much money I needed to contribute. Since he was putting in more than me, apparently due to some mysterious dating formula he’d developed, he suggested I take him somewhere else for a nightcap, my treat. This idea made perfect sense, financially. Feeling he’d shortchanged the server a bit, I casually tossed down an extra dollar for the tip. He haggled with me, insisting you always tip on the bill’s pre-tax total, not the final total as I was doing, so there was no need to leave more. I stood firm and the second he reached down and took that dollar bill for himself, rather than leave it for the waitress or even offer it back to me, I knew I had a better chance of getting off on a hard spin seat than with this douchebag.
Actually, it was two different redheads who worked in finance, two different dates, both were at Christmas but in two different years. These two men, Ari and Aaron — one took the dollar bill back, and the other itemized our bill — are nearly indistinguishable from each other as they moved in and out of my life as unexceptionally as their tongues slid in and out of my mouth. Why did I kiss them? I could say that I have a weakness for selfish redheads at Christmas, but the real reason was boredom. I was so tired of pedaling in place and craved any kind of movement even if it wasn’t in the right direction.
Maybe that’s the reason I slept with an actor whose small claim to fame was playing Tony Stark in a web series parody of Marvel’s Avengers. If you’re finally going to go all the way with someone you met on the Internet, why not start with Iron Man? Tony Stark was nice, funny, always picked up the check, and tipped handsomely. I also found it sweet how he would walk me to my subway at the end of each date, wait with me on the platform, kiss me before I got on the train, and then walk over to his own station. After we had sex, I didn’t hear from him for a week. When he finally did contact me, I wished he hadn’t. Out at a friend’s birthday party, I checked my phone to find that, of all things, he’d texted me about Breaking Bad. We were both big fans, and the show was three episodes away from its series finale.
T. Stark: OMG to Breaking Bad last night!! — 6:38 p.m.
Me: Haven’t seen it yet. Can’t wait. — 6:47 p.m.
T. Stark: No Spoilers… but holy shit!!! — 6:58 p.m.
Me: Yes, I have a Breaking Bad date when I get home tonight. — 8:04 p.m.
T. Stark: Lay the fucking pipe Z… lay the fucking pipe. — 8:04pm
Me: OK? — 8:14 p.m.
T. Stark: Hard — 8:15 p.m.
T. Stark: Raw dog — 8:15 p.m.
T. Stark: And I’m totally in love with this Indian chick I’m banging — 8:16 p.m.
T. Stark: Went to MIT — 8:16 p.m.
T. Stark: Works for AMEX — 8:16 p.m.
Me: Dude, stop! — 8:18 p.m.
T. Stark: OMG, it’s an inside joke that I was supposed to send to my buddy… mea culpa, mea maxima culpa — 8:22 p.m.
T. Stark: BTW, I’m at a friend’s rooftop in your area if you’re free ;) — 8:33 p.m.
T. Stark: I screwed up. You’re a really nice person who deserves the best. — 11:42 p.m.
Thank you? That is what I texted him back in the morning. He never replied. And just like that, I was back on the bike. I want to be in shape to finish climbing up those stairs, but I no longer know what waits for me at the top.
The one big difference between spinning and dating is that, at the end of class, Kat leads us through a series of stretches and the last one is to wrap your arms tightly around your chest and give yourself a big hug. During which she always says, “Really love yourself, but always know I love you more.” Cheesy, but when these words are spoken with true affection by a squat woman who has been screaming at you for over an hour, it is life affirming. Also, if someone said that to me at the end of a bad date, I’m not sure I’d consider it so bad anymore. Whenever I get that panicked feeling wondering if I’m the problem — Maybe I’m too picky? Maybe I didn’t give the cyst guy enough of a chance? Or, maybe I should have met Mr. Stark up on that rooftop? — those moments, when I’m tempted to reach down and back off all my resistance, I imagine Kat yelling at me, “Don’t cheat yourself!”
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