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*It was the opening line that did it: “I am compassionate, communicative, sincere, sane and tired of being alone. How about you?”

In the six months that Denyse had been online dating, no one had ever said anything like this. Too many men in Atlanta answering her dating profile used such trite nothings as mentioning how many cars they owned or touting their education, espousing high (or low) minded political beliefs. They offered the flippant “Hi” or “ ‘Sup’” as an actual greeting. And there were plenty photos without shirts. Denyse wondered how the hell she ended up here.

Of course, she knew the answer: at 23 she’d married a young man her age that didn’t know any more about himself and life than she did.

Against a backdrop of emotionally stunted friends and family on both sides, the two journeyed into an initially wondrous but ultimately unfulfilling life vacuum that produced two kids, two mortgages but very little in the way of personal or emotional growth.

Now here Denyse was, fresh out of a 20 year domestic purgatory that should have ended a decade earlier, at 43, saddled with learning how to flirt, how to communicate, how to simply BE when meeting strange men via a medium that she hadn’t heard of when she got married. So far, all she’d experienced was a handful of clumsy, anemic dates with men who just wanted sex or an instant wife.

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That is, until “Jamie”. Contacting her, this man professed interest in the tender simplicity of Denyse’s profile (“I’ll say it, I don’t know how to do this”, Denyse wrote) and admitted his own fear of it all. While Denyse found Jamie’s overture witty, smart and gentle, there was strength in his admission of being lonely.

Denyse knew just how he felt. She was lonely, too.

They began communicating. Denyse came to look forward to his daily E-mails. It was exciting to be interested in someone and have them express the same feelings. Of the suitors she’d encountered online, Jamie was shaping up to be the best man.

There was just one problem: Jamie wouldn’t send a photo. There wasn’t one on his dating site profile. In fact, there wasn’t much at all on that page beyond general info that could apply to anyone.

Denyse didn’t say anything during the first couple of weeks, wanting him to know that she wasn’t just about the physical. But three weeks of increasingly promising communication with no photo of Jamie was annoying and patently unfair, particularly since the curvy Denyse, 5’3 and sporting her new short streaked hairdo, had four photos on her dating profile page for all to see.

By contrast, the only physical thing Denyse knew about Jamie was his posted description: 45, dark brown hair, light brown eyes, average build. “Some consider me attractive”, he wrote.

Even his height—-5’7-—Denyse didn’t consider a deal breaker, though she was attracted to much taller men. He told her he worked in human resources for a popular hotel chain. He’d been married but had no children.

Her friends deemed Denyse foolish. “Jamie,” they warned, was an Internet troll, no doubt writing from somewhere in Nigeria.

“What’s a troll?” asked Denyse.

“Girl, let me know when he start asking you for money,” said one of her girlfriends, “‘cause that’s definitely coming.”

Instead, Jamie asked for Denyse’s phone number. The following afternoon, he rang her cell at the small hair salon Denyse co-owned. His voice wasn’t what Denyse expected, or quite honestly, hoped for. Not nearly as masculine as what usually turned her on.

She liked what she heard, though. He was charming. And nervous, at some point mispronouncing the word misanthrope before cleaning it up. Denyse attributed Jamie’s nervousness to his interest in her.

Almost immediately E-mails gave way to phone calls and texts several times a day. There were prolific conversations. And laughter and tears.

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They shared a lot about one another—-about their families, about goals, spiritual beliefs. They often consulted one another in making personal and professional decisions.

They’d argue, but only about the photo thing. Jamie offered some jive about privacy regarding his work at the hotel; actually insisted a photo was just “a small detail” in the scheme of meeting someone.

But Denyse had had enough. Three months was a long time to communicate and yet not be able to recognize the person at, say, the local McDonald’s. “Or in a damn police line-up”, added that girlfriend.

For three days Denyse refused to take Jamie’s calls. She blocked his texts. Finally, Jamie relented. Leaving a message conciliatory in tone, he asked that Denyse meet him two days later, on a Thursday, at a local Italian restaurant.

“Let’s do it about two, after the lunch rush, so that we can have privacy to talk,” he said. Denyse unblocked him and texted that she’d be there.

Jamie was right. When Denyse arrived, there was almost nobody there. Stragglers from lunch included a table with three men in business suits; a man and woman seated holding hands, seemingly in deep conversation and in a far corner, a strikingly attractive woman sitting alone. A few minutes early, Denyse headed to the bar and ordered a coke.

She couldn’t believe it took her this long to meet someone for whom she’d grown so fond. Those three days of not talking to Jamie left her yearning.

She grasped the chilled tumbler of cola with both hands, hoping to rid her palms of their clammy feeling, to no avail, so she went to the Ladies Room to wash them and check her make-up. And to breathe. She looked at her text. A single message, from that girlfriend: “Girl, call if you need me. I’m faster than 911.”

Denyse returned to the bar to see that the lone attractive woman was now also at the bar, two stools from her coke. The bartender, weary of serving the woman from such a distance, had invited her to the bar.

Denyse didn’t like that. This woman, with straight, shoulder-length brown hair, in a form-fitting single-piece powder blue skirt, was gorgeous. Denyse was plenty confident in her gray Chanel pants and jacket, but she still didn’t need for Jamie to come in here and see this other woman two stools away.

“I figure y’all both waiting on somebody,” the bartender said, “so you might as well be where I can serve you both. Miss, what’s your name?”

“I’m Denyse.”

Bartender: “Denyse, meet Jamie. You two can get to know one another while you wait.” With that, the bartender wandered off to the kitchen.

Denyse couldn’t move. Stunned, she looked straight ahead. “You’re kidding, right. Tell me you’re kidding….”

“I’m sorry,” pleaded Jamie. “I truly am. I don’t know where to begin.” As Jamie spoke, Denyse heard in person the voice that for weeks had come through her cell; the assertive but far from masculine tone. Now she took the raspy voice for what it was–that of a female.

“You can begin at the beginning,” said Denyse, fuming. Jamie asked that they get a table, away from the ears of the bartender. Or better yet, step out of the restaurant to the park across the street.

“Lady, I don’t want to go anywhere or do ANY thing with you,” Denyse spewed. But she did. They strode in silence to the park and found a bench.

“Who—-no—-WHAT are you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Are you like, Gay or some Trans….”

“I’m a woman, just like you. Born a woman. I’m not Lesbian or Transgender. And I’m straight.”

“Okay. So what the….”

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Tearfully, Jamie began. Single and lonely, she came to an online dating site. “Looking for a MAN,” she emphasized. “I’d never done the online thing, so I went to the woman’s side of the site to get an idea on how to write my profile page. I read a couple of really awful ones written by women. And then I read yours. It was so cool and so…honest and vulnerable…you just sounded like somebody I wanted to get to know.”

According to Jamie, she stepped away from the idea of online dating for a couple days, but couldn’t stop thinking about Denyse’s words. “I don’t have any girlfriends who think like you,” she said. “I wanted us to be friends.”

So Jamie went to the male side of the site, created a fake male profile and reached out to Denyse. “I couldn’t use my photo because clearly I’m not a man. I just wanted to get to know you. The more we communicated, the more I thought you were cool. Everyday was going to be the day I told you, but the deeper it got, the more I knew you’d be hurt.”

“Listen, I’m not interested in some lipstick lezzie stuff,” barked Denyse. “Nothing against it, but I’m….”

“Who you callin’ lipstick lezzie?” Jamie said, feigning indigence. “I ain’t trying to eat nothing here. I. Love. Men.”

Denyse began to weep. “This is crazy. I was falling in love with you. Do you realize what you have done here? I’m trying to find somebody. And you do…THIS? Yeah, I can appreciate you wanting to be friends, but you started the thing with a lie. Why should I trust you now?”

“Maybe because I didn’t send you a photo without a shirt standing in front of my car?”

“You’re fucking nuts”, said Denyse.

“And you are too—-you talked all this time with a ‘guy’ and didn’t see what he looked like. Shoot, I didn’t even change my voice much….”

“You know what, kiss my ass….”

Jamie: “Hey, I told you earlier, I don’t do women….”

Both went silent. And then they both laughed. Then both began to cry. Without words, Denyse rose from the bench, headed across the street to her car, got in and cried some more. On the way home she lamented her terrible reality: All this time she thought she’d found someone to love, someone to whom she could relate emotionally; with whom she could share. A true friend.

Later that evening, Denyse realized she’d found all those things.

Jamie called. There were apologies. Still more tears. Angry rants. Laughter. Resolution.

A week later, Jamie and Denyse scurried out of the Nordstrom at Atlanta’s Phipps Plaza, shopping bags in tow, howling in hearty laughter at the “rap” a bold gentleman in the mall tried to lay on not one, but both of them.

“It was the shoes that got me,” said Jamie. “Those were stylin.”

Denyse: “Yeah…in ’82.”

Just two friends treating themselves to some shopping, a movie and dinner. Both Jamie and Denyse continued their search for men. In the process, they found each other.

And just as many people who meet online say when asked how they met, Denyse and Jamie simply quip, “We met through friends.”

The Twisted was created by Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author who writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]