I knew the stats. And there was the constant, nagging and uneasy feeling that men always thought that they could do better – just a click away, there’s someone better; that I was a commodity to be monitored in case the market fluctuated and his stock fell.
This, is the story of Rhinoceros.
A pool of water was gathering at my feet. Fresh out of the shower, heat radiating against the cold January air. Stunned silence.
“My name is Grace*. I’m Ali’s wife. I found very graphic texts between the two of you… I need to know what kind of relationship you’re having with my husband…”
Ali, the man I loved, was married.
Ali and I had met online on Plenty of Fish as the Arab Spring rocked his native Egypt. In a wasteland of slick online players and douchebag predators, Ali was an incredibly sexy, smart, thoughtful man. He wooed me with stories of growing up in Alexandria: the way his grandmother would weep at night when the hibiscus fell from their branches at the family home by the sea; his hopes for Egypt’s future; how he lived his life between tradition and modernity. He first kissed me under a quiet, starry sky, our breath steaming up a cold February night.
In hindsight, perhaps I should have known. Statistically, 30% of men online are married or attached (true story: Ashley Madison, the dating site for marrieds who want to cheat, was intended as a place for cheating women to find affairs, as men already had enough access via other online dating sites), but conversely, 1 in 3 American married couples met online.
And it’s a rough gig for women. One man recently set out to prove how easy it was for women to date online, but lasted only two hours. As Jezebel’s Rebecca Rose puts it, “HAHAHAHAHA said everyone woman ever who has tried online dating. Yes, it’s super “easy,” dude! If your idea of “easy” is somewhere along the lines of scaling Mount Kilimanjaro naked with a rhino strapped to your back—a rhino who makes nonstop gross, unwanted sexual comments to you.”
Online dating is a minefield of fucked up rhinoceroses. In my online dating career (yes, I’ve put in my time, paid my dues – I am entitled to call it a career), I would often find myself thinking that many of these men were probably dismembering bodies in their basements or lurking in street shadows. And there’s the endless, disgraceful parade of rhinoceros profile pictures: Racist White Guy posing in front of a pagoda making derogatory slant-eyes at the camera (hahahaha aren’t you clever, she said rolling her eyes); Creepy Dude posing with half a dozen Westies in EACH ONE OF HIS 45 PROFILE PICS (because chicks dig dogs, obvi); and the shameless men hailing from Tribe Douchebag in their obligatory half-nude bathroom selfies (yes, we see your abs, now put your shirt on).
There was Policeman, who after four email exchanges in about an hour offered to come over and “warm up my bed.” Ah, the City’s Finest at work!
There was Military Man, who after chatting like a normal person turned into a cyber-rapist: “I long to see you on your knees in front of me, trembling in fear.” By the time I reported him, his account had been deleted. POF’s response: you should have clicked the “Report” button. Thanks, POF. Would you also like to ask me what I was wearing so you can be even more unsupportive?
There was Bird Man, a gorgeous filmmaker-philosopher whose passion for exotic birds both charmed and frightened me. As my sister put it: he’s either a genius, or a serial killer. But, after texting with Bird Man, it became apparent that he was (gasp!) a Holocaust-denier who thought that feminism was a ‘bourgeois racket.’
No Neck was a sexy foodie who knew good gin, amazing Lebanese roasted chicken, and Afghan kabobs. A dull conversationalist, he also carried a bottle of cologne in his car, which he would use to douse himself as he smoked and thumped the beats. It ended the weekend he demanded that I get rid of my arthritic angry-old-man cat who purred himself to sleep on my chest each night. It didn’t help that No Neck also demanded that I marry his jobless, broke brother for Canadian citizenship, or that during arguments, he felt that I ‘talked too much.’ It was around this time that I added a caveat to my POF profile: MUST LOVE/LIKE/TOLERATE CATS – NO, SERIOUSLY.
There was Angry Racist on the One-And-Only-Date–That-Will-Live-In-Infamy. Angry Racist pedantically explained to me that Asian girls “look like pandas.” Counterintuitively, I did not throw my beer in his face, but proceeded instead to methodically down roughly 3 pints in less than 40 minutes, keen to make my speedy escape. The date prompted an extra caveat: HOMOPHOBES/RACISTS/SEXISTS NEED NOT APPLY.
And I’m not the only one. Consider Tumblr users Dating Site Douchebags and Plenty of Fish Fails who have chronicled every dick-pic, every grammar and spelling mistake, and every douchebag rhinoceros they have come across in their own dating ventures.
There were, of course, lovely men too. The Economist was a kind, timid man who would become a dear friend, but sadly, our Left-Right-Brain dynamics were irredeemably incompatible. And though he relished being regaled with my daily stories of woe, The Economist always looked bewildered by me.
Nice White French Boy, as one of my BFFs called him (because of my penchant for dating non-Caucasians), was sweet, but everything about him screamed boring. Ultimately, he had nothing to say about anything, and months later, as I spotted him on the street, I actually caught myself yawning.
As I recounted my rhinoceros stories at a family party (Can you believe it? He said Asian girls look like pandas! He wanted me to give up my cat! He was a cop on duty! He thinks the Holocaust is pretend make-believe!), it dawned on me: why the fuck am I dating online?
I knew the stats. And there was the constant, nagging and uneasy feeling that men always thought that they could do better – just a click away, there’s someone better; that I was a commodity to be monitored in case the market fluctuated and his stock fell. Why was I putting myself in the crosshairs of this unwashed mass of irredeemable rhinoceroses? Was I one of those sad feminists who work on behalf of better lives for women but who, at the end of the day, ends up a cuckolded, neglected, or abused woman?
But at the end of my relationship with Ali, it was feminist conviction, my loyalty of the sisterhood (because “Sisters Before Misters”), and Grace, that saved me.
Ali begged me not to listen to his wife. I angrily demanded the truth. I asked the same questions, over and over: who IS this woman? His arranged wife, whom he married over the summer, he answered. Do you have children, I asked. No. DO YOU HAVE CHILDREN, I asked. Collapse.
And then the truth: he had two young children. He had been married for almost a decade.
Ali had turned me into the Other Woman. You have made me a part of your family’s story, I screamed. And when your children find out – and they WILL find out one day – I will be that whore Daddy fucked.
It was over. I would never speak to him again. And I waited for the phone to ring – one last call before the end.
Grace had questions. I need to know, she said. If you were me, you would want to know. I owed her nothing, yes, but she was owed everything.
How long had this been going on? A year, an 8-month break, and another 6 months. Did he promise you anything? No. Did he say he loved you? No. Are you pregnant? No. Were there others? I don’t know… maybe.
I cried, I apologized. You have small children, I said. I’m so sorry… I didn’t know.
Grace had the character and courage to tell me: it’s not your fault.
Grace would never know that she had saved me. That in writing this piece, a year after that terrible January night, her compassion would wash over me, reminding me that it really wasn’t my fault.
It’s not me. It’s you, rhinoceros.
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent. And the not-so-innocent.
Have you ever dated online? Was it great? Was it horrible? Is there hope – if you found love – WHAT IS YOUR SECRET, DAMNIT? Tell us in the comments!
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