I’m 39 and My Dating Life Resembles ‘Girls’ More Than ‘Sex and the City’

Girls vs. Sex and The City
Girls vs. Sex and The City

By Jenifer Jonson for HowAboutWe

In the first season of "Girls," twentysomething ingénue Marnie lays out the "hierarchy of communication" between men and women:

"Texting is one of the lowest forms of communication on the totem of chat. You have Facebook at your lowest, before that there's Google chat, texting, email, and a phone call. Face-to-face is of course ideal, but is not of this time."

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Hearing this, I, a 39-year-old mother of 3 who until recently hadn't been on a date in 15 years, found myself screaming "YES" at the television.

I'm one of those people who met a man in college, married him, had 3 kids, and moved to the suburbs. Even before my marriage, I was always the one looking for a meaningful monogamous partnership. Dating was simply a means to that end. And once I became a wife and mother, I wasn't exactly keeping up on the singledom trends.

But now, fresh after a divorce, I find myself in some strange bubble. I'm the Rip Van Winkle of dating. And the first thing I've found upon awakening from my slumber is that dating has metamorphosed into some bizarre impersonal robot-version of its former self.

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After a few weeks back on the scene, I made the following discovery: if the man is 5 to 10 years older than I am, or is also recently-divorced, we will play the game as I remember it being played - he'll ask me out on a date, we'll go on said date, and things will (or won't) progress from there.

If he's not in either of the above categories, chances are I'll get some version of the following, which is an actual email sent to me by one chronic bachelor after our first "hang-out" type "date-but-not-a-date":

"First I'll friend you on Facebook, then you'll check out my photos and gossip about me with your friends, and then one night you'll send me an ill-advised text when you find yourself in my neighborhood…"

A single friend later broke the news to me that this guy and I were not going to date in any traditional sense of the word - rather, he'd consented to adding me to the constellation of girls who might, given good timing and circumstances, share his bed.

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This was a foreign concept until the friend explained that everyone now has a "rotation" - a group of possibilities (augmented in no small part by the vast group you can meet online) with whom they are in tangential touch. So, for instance, if you find out via Facebook that you're in the same city, you may - or may not - get together. Said "getting together" is a by-product of happening to wind up in the same place while you both lead your own unfettered lives. It is NEVER something as planned as a date.

In other words, modern "dating" comes with a built-in plausible deniability clause that makes passive forms of communication THE form of communication, without ever giving anyone the idea that you actually want to see them again.

All of which brings me back to "Girls." At first, I had no reason to watch it. Then I caught a few episodes, in an attempt to make sense of all the critical writing about it, much of which made me feel like I was back in a womyn's studies program in the early '90s.

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But now, Hannah and her brood have become my lifeline, a source to learn how dating is done these days. I watch it feeling like a tourist watching Spanish TV to learn the language. After I devoured both seasons in two days, a strange thing happened: I realized that I now had more in common with this group of twentysomethings than my 30-to-40-year-old married friends. I now identified more with "Girls" than with "Sex and the City."

Years ago, I watched SATC and envisioned myself as a Charlotte who would eventually find her Trey (even after I got married). But watching it now makes me long for those simpler times. SATC is hopelessly anachronistic. Remember that now-quaint episode where Carrie stresses about getting an email address so she can contact Aidan (gasp) digitally??

Regardless of my current TV preferences, the facts are these: while I was date-sleeping, men (and women) were let off the hook for making anything as retro as a "date" happen. We wound up with a culture where we sit around waiting for our phones to light up, and then vet anyone who actually tries to talk to us, all in a desperate bid to never be active or responsible participants in our own dating lives.

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In the immortal classic, Hot Tub Time Machine, Jacob asks a hot girl (in the dark ages of the '80s) how he can get in touch with her. By text, maybe? Or is she online? Befuddled, she says, "You come find me." His answer? "That sounds exhausting."

So here we are. We can say far more things to far more people, but the breadth of communication is prized over the depth of the conversation. For the serial dater, this may be the optimal scenario - he can sit back and let girls happen to him. But barring any time-traveling hot tubs that'll take me back to the halcyon days where I waited for the landline to ring, I think I'll stick to the old guys.

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