By Grace Rouse
Though my family didn’t own a computer until well into 1998, I still consider myself an early adopter of this social network phenomenon and was amazed at the varied and interesting folks I could “meet” without having to leave the watchful eye of my insane parents. Stuck in independent study for much of high school, I was a 17-year-old never-been-kissed type. Between LiveJournal, Bolt.com, and good old AOL chat rooms, I managed to eek out what I figured to be at least a marginally normal amount of friends and daily interactions.
It should come as no shock, then, that I found my first boyfriend on what was, at the time, probably the most offensive “dating” site on the web: HotOrNot.com. Even those of you unfortunate enough to miss out on this truly groundbreaking website might be familiar with the format, ‘cause it’s a lot like Tinder.
Members would build a very basic profile, complete with one photo and interests in the form of searchable tags. Upon logging in, you would be greeted with a screen with a photo of others on the site, people with whom you shared many common tags, and the numbers one through 10 underneath. You’d rate the photo and decide if you wanted to “match” with that person. Just like with Tinder, if the other party also “matched” then you could contact each other and live happily ever after!
Except, not really, because Hot or Not required that one of the parties needed to be a paid member in order to actually chat. Imagine, then, my utter rapture when one of the fellas I matched with had a paid account that was expiring in three days, people. I was sure this was some cosmic sign that we were meant to be. We exchanged emails and AIM screen names and began the dirty business of getting to know each other online.
He was in a band. A band with a name taken from an important episode of The Simpsons. Not a great band, and his ex-girlfriend was the bassist. He was nineteen, and wore glasses. His Chucks were well worn. He told me about The Promise Ring, Superdrag and Ozma.
We met in person just before I turned eighteen. I had been spending a week with one of my best friends to keep her company while her parents were away, and she reluctantly agreed to let this utter stranger and his best friend drive the 80 miles to Sacramento. We made White Russians with Popov and watched him play guitar. He had photoshopped his picture, fixing his teeth so they were straight and clearing his poor complexion.
We were hot and heavy soon after my eighteenth birthday. He never had a job the entire time we were together, so I paid for a Motel 6 and had my very first kiss under a blanket while my girlfriends were in the next bed watching Thirteen Ghosts on cable. It was sweaty and disgusting, and it made me feel like I was finally learning what it was to be in a relationship.
A few months later, I lost my virginity to him. It was super romantic. My head was up against a bass amp on his old mattress on the floor. He asked, “Do you want to see if it will hurt less if I put on a condom?” and then, fireworks (not really). I’m glad sex turned out to be totally awesome when I was a little older, because if this was what people were so excited about, I was very confused.
Red flags were everywhere. More than once he left me in his parent’s house to go out with friends for some reason or another,generally after dark. He couldn’t stop talking about his ex-girlfriend, the one in the band. He felt the need to tell me how lucky I was to find a man willing to go down on me because not many would, and that he had read about it online so he’d be expertly skilled. He was mistaken on both of those counts.
“My ex used to be afraid she would pee if she’d orgasm, maybe that’s what’s wrong with you,” he suggested one day. I remember thinking this was absurd, that the only common denominator in these cases was him. That his own idea of what women want, straight from the internet, was surely more accurate that the way these women’s bodies were actually responding to his “expert skill.”
And then, the inevitable: he broke up with me over the phone, in the entirely insensitive way that shouldn’t have been surprising considering we met on the internet’s most shallow dating site. He had to go because he was so cool; he had friends waiting for him (outside of his parents house) to go out for the evening. I called him just about every name I could think off, the most offensive kinds of things. He was no better than all the women he claimed burned him and used him for his various talents and skills. Fuck him.
I finally, just last year, blocked and deleted the last remnants of this man from my life upon the realization that he was and had always been a poison. “I’ll always feel close to you because I took your virginity. No one else can do that,” he said to me once. It took a long time to realize that he didn’t own anything in my life, and that me being in his life was the privilege he no longer deserved.
In the end I learned a lot from this relationship about self worth and body autonomy. I don’t have to do anything that makes me uncomfortable to keep someone interested in me, and I don’t have to put up with abusive behaviors and neglect. I am so glad that so many years later I have a large number of friends who have met absolutely wonderful human beings through the internet. I’m also glad I learned how to love and be loved in a much healthier way.
Oh, and the orgasms are great.