(Note: If you haven’t gotten around to watching Season 3 of the L-Word in the last 12 years, there’s a brief spoiler in paragraph 2)
Recently, a friend of mine started thinking about exploring her sexuality and, at the bizarre suggestion of her therapist, dove into the L-Word to try to sort it all out.
Of course, as a first matter of business, all the queers we know tried to steer her towards Seasons 2 and 3—the famously popular Carmen/Shane episodes (all except for the whole insane leave her-at-the-altar thing). But we also warned her that the show would prove heavy-handed, unrealistic, dated, and even offensive at times.
To be fair, before queer women had any real positive visibility in entertainment and media, the L-Word offered a peak into a world that we desperately longed to explore. Ten or fifteen years ago, young questioning women snuck around with DVD copies to stealthy watch after their parents went to sleep.
After plowing through the six seasons at an overachieving pace, my questioning friend shared her impressions. She confided that she was glad the show didn’t have much basis in reality; the notion of everyone’s sex/dating lives overlapping in an incestuous web of connections seemed very unappealing to her. Did she know me? Without giving it more thought, I blurted out, “that’s just about the only thing the show got spot on.” (I know know, way to lose a potential team member…)
Yes, Alice’s “Our Chart” is scary real.
My friend’s commentary got me thinking about my own “Chart.” This past year, I had tried (and sort of failed) to forge new, clean connections not haunted by ghosts of my past. But first, I realized, I had to dust the cobwebs off some of those older and still messy connections.
. . .
I moved to New York City more than seven years ago. And since that time, I’ve been in only one monogamous relationship that lasted more than eight months. And even if I haven’t been a total slut, I’ve gone out a lot.
I’ve been to lesbian networking events, lesbian speed dating, alcohol-infused “Bikini Brunch” parties, real lesbian brunch (with actual food), queer dance classes, annual pride parties, Stone Walls’ Friday lady’s night, the Hot Rabbit parties, etc. Whenever I go out, I run into friends, acquaintances, and folks with whom I’m excited to reconnect. That part of our interconnectedness leaves me feeling energized and part of something special. And then, of course, sometimes I run into folks I really had hoped to erase from my life forever.
On the virtual side of things where you have a bit more control over “run-ins,” during the last nine months, I exhausted Tinder’s supply of potential matches without really going on that many dates. Perhaps I had been a bit too picky last summer in my early stages of single-life, applying strict rules by swiping “no” (a “left” for those not accustomed) on the following potential matches.
- anyone in a relationship (at least 25% of candidates);
- anyone who uses an Instagram filter to put birds/flowers/bunny ears, cat noses, other decorations on their heads/faces (about 10-15% of candidates);
- anyone with the following words or phrases in their profile: “astrology,” “yoga,” “spirituality,” “vegan,” “free-spirited,” “420 friendly,” “cat mommy” “tarot cards,” “curious/questioning” (no offense, just not up for it now), and “unicorn” (collectively, about 50% of candidates); and
- anyone with too many emojis (not really sure why but another 5-10% of candidates).
Refusing to change my criteria, I accept the consistent appearance of that sad pink pulsing circle that tells you Tinder has no more ideas for you.
(As a side note: This is a circle that straight people probably never see unless they visit their grandparents in a retirement community. I recently spoke to a straight friend who didn’t even know about the Pulsing Circle of Sadness. The friend also informed me that non-subscribing users have limited “right swipes” on Tinder. I had never reached the limit, apparently).
When those pulsating radar-like circles appear to tell me that I’m now staring into an empty lady-less abyss, it also asks me if I’d like to upgrade and expand my search with the “Passport” feature. I could, for example, pay Tinder a monthly fee of $19.99 to enjoy searches of other gay cities like Los Angeles, Austin, San Francisco, Portland, or Madison. If I struck Tinder gold in any one of those locations, perhaps I could consider picking up and moving for the lovely ladies of Tinder. (Maybe Tinder wasn’t actually that crazy; my last girlfriend found the presence of exes in my life so “suffocating” that she suggested I move to LA).
But with some pesky long-term commitments like work and a lease, I decided to stick with New York and let Tinder hibernate for the rest of winter. Sometime in February, I did open Tinder and found some new potential matches awaiting. Perhaps some gays had just broken up, moved to New York City, or opened their relationships? (After some time, I felt more open to dating people already in relationships so long as I didn’t have to sleep with a boyfriend or husband). But, I soon realized, my app was flush with potential matches. Something wasn’t right.
As I sat there on the toilet, familiar faces started rushing across my screen (I swipe almost exclusively in the bathroom).* That’s when I realized that Tinder had reverted back to May of 2017. Tinder’s data scientists probably thought they were demonstrating some kind of great mercy by discarding almost a year of “no swipes” (and people who swiped “no” on me). But as Tinder threw exes, friends, acquaintances, crushes and others right back at me for a second time, I started to have had more mixed and unsettled feelings.
Being queer in a small community doesn’t just mean that exes haunt my bathroom; they haunt real life spaces. Last year, at Dyke March, as I pushed through the crowd to avoid awkward encounters with some random hookups, my ex and her friends were attempting to evade me. The image of my ex running from me as I attempted to escape a number of other women struck me as so absurd that I recently vowed to face my lesbian demons:
- My last situation-ship: Short-lived and intense, it ended with a barrage of very unpleasant text messages. Last week I reached out with an olive branch text, “hey, I’m sorry things ended so badly but I hope you know I think fondly of our time together and I’m really hoping you’re doing well.” I never heard back. Unresolved. And maybe to be continued?
- Two situation-ships ago: Also short-lived and fairly intense situation (hmm…do we see a pattern here?), she reached out and we had brunch. We ended up talking about our dating lives and we each described a similar torturous Tinder date. You guessed it! Of course, it was the same woman (two weeks apart). Success.
- My ex who stalked me for two years: Unfortunately, past attempts at peaceful dialogue failed miserably and only led to more stalking. I’d just have to engage in the usual risk management techniques (i.e. wearing lace up shoes in which I can run). Still unaddressed but I’m accustomed.
- My most recent ex who told me to move to LA: A recent dating situation took me way closer to her on the vast queer”Chart” than I ever intended or realized. She had reached out several times in the past but I had always declined her invitations. I emailed her to see if she wants to get together. To be continued…
As much as I gripe about the intimacy or incestuousness (depending on how you see it) of the lesbian community, I don’t actually hate it as much as I say. Not only do I think it’s healthy to face my lady demons, but I love being part of a small community within a huge city (even if that community proves highly dysfunctional at times).
Last year before Pride, an ex from about five years before reached out. Even though I never ignore emails, I didn’t respond to her. She had caused me a lot of stress and I wasn’t in a place to face her. But then, I ran into her on the street in broad daylight (because, of course, I did). She invited me to hang out a few more times and when we did, she offered me one of the most healing and kind apologies I’ve ever received. Now, running into her isn’t so bad at all.
. . .
* I almost exclusively swipe in the bathroom so that:
I don’t get addicted to it at the dinner table or before bed (it can make you feel very shallow and even dirty); and
If any of my Tinder dates ever turn into a relationship, I can tell everyone I swiped on her in the toilet which, for me, is superior to the traditional, “we met on Tinder.”