You meet the Digital_Suitor on [insert dating website here].
The Digital_Suitor suggests you switch to e-mail.
The Digital_Suitor’s e-mail address is the name of his ex-dog.
The Digital_Suitor does not tell you his last name.
The Digital_Suitor does not tell you his last name because he does not want to race to the finish line.
The Digital_Suitor believes racing to the finish line is a problem, particularly with women he meets on [insert dating website here], who all seem to be in a big hurry for late-night runs of puppy pads and tampons.
Your e-mail address, however, contains your last name, which makes you feel oddly vulnerable, like the Digital_Suitor already has something over on you.
The Digital_Suitor writes long, circuitous e-mails, containing requests like, “Play your privacy card for me,” and “What gets you going each day?”
You’re unsure how to reply, as you’ve recently relocated to a new city after your liberal arts graduate program ended—hence the [insert dating website here]—and are barely eking by, juggling teaching webcam English classes to kids in China alongside three serving jobs, one of which occurs at an actual circus.
Instead, you mention only that you are a “teacher of painting,” feeling fortunate the Digital_Suitor doesn’t press you on the details.
The Digital_Suitor asks about your past, serious relationships, writing, “Spill it.”
You’re unsure how to reply, as your two major past, serious relationships ended with one boyfriend picking up a heroin addiction, and the other fleeing his apartment via U-haul for the other end of the country, never to be seen again.
Instead, you mention how you like being part of a “creative partnership,” citing the “films” you and an ex made along Lake Michigan two summers ago, which were really just thirty seconds on an iPhone.
The Digital_Suitor, after two weeks of long, circuitous e-mails, sends you a YouTube video of an upbeat pop song indistinguishable from other pop songs, which are always upbeat.
The Digital_Suitor accompanies this video with the suggestion that, as you listen to the upbeat pop song, you “stand up and clap your hands,” because “if this music doesn’t make you happy, I certainly never will.”
You consider the desperation of your present situation to be signaled by the fact that you actually try this technique. You stand up beside the slab of wood sutured to the wall that you’re fortunate your apartment came with, as you can’t afford a desk, and play the video and try clapping your hands along with the beats. But as much as you try, you can’t get into it. The song sounds like a child’s boom box, and it’s too early in the morning for this.
There was a time when shaking your hips felt fun, and real, and solid, like something meaningful was taking place, and there were times when you could twirl around your apartment with the Pixies blazing from what was once a decent sound system, but which turned out to be something you had to sell to afford the very apartment in which you now halfheartedly spin and drink off-brand coffee, the kind that doesn’t really “take.”
Your initial thought is to sit down and write the Digital_Suitor a letter about this feeling, of wanting to dance but being unable to, and feeling really broken and useless and glum about that, thinking that this move to a new city and this writing slab sutured to the wall aren’t turning out to be all they were cracked up to be. But then you slap your cheek. You tell yourself to pull yourself together. “That’s ridiculous,” you shout out loud. “I can’t tell him that. I don’t even know his last name!”
Nonetheless, even if the music didn’t make you smile, it did make you think, and you want to return the Digital_Suitor’s favor somehow. The trouble is, you’re not very good with music, let alone deciphering the tastes of someone you’ve never even met. You also understand spending three years getting a liberal arts graduate degree in a small town didn’t exactly thrust you into the throes of current trends, and that anything you choose may infect the Digital_Suitor’s urban tastes.
So, in lieu of music, you compose an e-mail, a well-hewn anecdote of your time backpacking through Mexico when you were nineteen. You leave out the fact that you were nearly raped by a Canadian journalist who approached you at a cell phone stand in the Yucatán, and include only the fact that you filled up two journals and took incredible photographs, two of which you attach to the e-mail.
The Digital_Suitor replies to your anecdote quicker than usual, in under two hours, despite the fact that he is at work at a Tech Company creating an app that adjusts your home lighting with your Smartphone. Regarding your Mexican adventure, the Digital_Suitor writes: “That kind of spontaneity and wanderlust and adventure will ALWAYS attract me in a very intense manner.”
You decide it’s high time you and the Digital_Suitor talk on the phone.
“Can we talk on the phone?” you reply. “I’d like to hear your voice.”
It takes the Digital_Suitor three days to reply.
(Read part II of “The Digital_Suitor” here.)
August Evans has written in Mexico, Sweden, and Aix-en-Provence, France, where she taught before studying writing at the University of Chicago with Nic Pizzolatto. Her Pushcart-nominated story, “The Mythology of the Wife,” was a finalist for the 2013 Kore Press Short Fiction Award, and appears in the Delmarva Review. Find her in Entropy, HTMLGiant, Melusine, The Drunken Odyssey podcast, and Bad at Sports, a contemporary art blog. Her story, “Figs,” is forthcoming in the January 2015 issue of Isthmus. Find her on Twitter at @lyte_in_august.