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My first online date was with a divorced father who was an immigration lawyer. He deserved to spend that holiday with someone who felt differently about him.I was starting to learn one of the most important lessons of online dating: the wisdom of saying no. I was shy and ambitious, a terrible mix, and so I tried to dismantle my isolationist tendencies.Yes to this party I don't want to go to, yes to this person I don't want to date, yes to this assignment I'm afraid to botch, because saying yes was the path to a remarkable life.I needed to say yes, because I needed to push myself off the couch and into the swift-moving stream of hurt and jubilation.Those two men had nothing in common, except that they both wanted to meet. Alcohol may have turned me into Cinderella for a few radiant hours, but I would wake up in dishrags again, crying about the messes I'd made.This time, the process of finding the right person on the site was more honest, but it was also slow. A lot of dudes in camo posing in front of their giant trucks. Some days I thought about finding a random dude and just banging him. Why did I think sex was something I needed to get over with? When he offered to make me a lavish meal on Valentine's for our third date, I knew the only proper response was to gently fold up the tent on our time together.One of the great, unheralded aspects of Internet dating was that the word was in the title, thus eliminating any ambiguity. Occasionally I would e-mail one of them, and they never wrote back, and I got it.Back when I was drinking, I wouldn't have responded to me either.
It's not as though every intimacy in my entire life had been warped by drinking.My first weeks on the site were choppy, but I soon became accustomed to the routine. The coy banter that allowed you to tease out someone's personality.Flirting was like any exercise: it got easier the more you did it.My only directions involved taking a glass of wine to my lips and letting the sweet release show me the way. It was the fate of all single women in their late thirties to stare down a personal profile, and as far as punishments go, this was fairly benign. It allowed me to inch toward intimacy with built-in distance. I understood that not drinking—and not drinking to such an extent that it was the first detail I shared about myself—would turn off certain guys. Those bearded eccentrics with their fluency in HBO shows and single-malt Scotch.It granted me the clarity that "hanging out at the bar" often lacked. How I missed those beautiful, damaged men, but we kept our distance from each other.I woke up the next day to a kitchen clogged with cigarette smoke, and the memory surfaced in pieces: I think I joined a dating site last night.I got several messages on the site that day, but two stood out.Back when I was dating my college boyfriend Patrick, who was sober, he would pull away from me when I was buzzed and handsy."You smell like a brewery," he'd say, and I didn't get it.I'd had quiet sex, and giggling sex, and sex so delicate it was like a soap bubble perched on the tip of my finger. I didn't want to watch some guy's face fall when I ordered a Diet Coke and then endure the pecks of his curiosity.I knew such joy could exist between two people, but I had no clue how to get to it anymore. So my "About Me" statement began "I used to drink, but I don't anymore." I've had stronger openings, but this one was good for now.