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INSTRUCTIONS

Dear sir,

It has been brought to our attention that you have encountered difficulties while navigating the San Francisco dating scene. You find the process deeply upsetting, confusing, and ultimately unknowable. Your efforts to increase intimacy in order to mitigate your overwhelming sense of loneliness have been met with seemingly insurmountable obstacles such as...

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Dear sir,

It has been brought to our attention that you have encountered difficulties while navigating the San Francisco dating scene. You find the process deeply upsetting, confusing, and ultimately unknowable. Your efforts to increase intimacy in order to mitigate your overwhelming sense of loneliness have been met with seemingly insurmountable obstacles such as:

  • Height
  • Income
  • Lack of pets 

Additionally, you do not:

  • Surf
  • Hike
  • Travel spontaneously to South America

Therefore, please remain alert as our analysts introduce several highly important and thoughtfully italicized key terms. These key terms will serve as a guide toward your greater understanding of:

  • Appropriate behaviors
  • Statistical anomalies
  • Potential for suffering and despair

Let us begin with the online profile of Sharel_sf_24. She crouches in the north-facing grassy slope of Dolores Park, holding up her French Bulldog by its front paws. The animal teeters on its little hind legs, tongue hanging, eyes bulging. According to the caption, they are dancing. Ignore this gap in logic. Whether or not Sharel_sf_24 and the dog are actually dancing is not germane to our discussion. What is germane is that Sharel_sf_24 seems like a nice girl, so you star her or swipe right; it depends which app you are using. Next, you try to garner her attention by shaping a message imbued with low-key sexual undertones:

“Hey, can I come dance too?”

You pause, your thumb hovering above send. You have friends who would vouch for the efficacy of low-key sexual undertones. Then again, some may argue you are being overly low-key. Sharel_sf_24 probably receives a hundred such messages in a week, in a day even; yours must stand out.

Listen: We are not so different. We too once grappled with loneliness. We too once longed for intimacy as we silently cursed our fate. Like you, on any given night, our cohort would often gather around a single phone, nodding, disagreeing, rewording.  

“But can he do the Lindy Hop?”   

With this, you attempt cuteness. Here our analysts advise caution, as being overly cute may convey desperation and be perceived as a form of weakness. Also, this message is humorous. Research has shown that the use of humor is risky. If Sharel_sf_24 laughs too hard, you may lose her. Rest assured, we have Big Data on this.

“Hey, you look like you are having a great time in the park. I would love to go for a walk with you and your dog sometime.”

This is a solid example of courtesy. Well done. However, our bots indicate that courtesy may be viewed with suspicion:

  • What is this man trying to hide?
  • What is his real motivation?
  • Does he have pets?

In fact, a girl like Sharel_sf_24—young, bright, NY→DC→SF who loves trying out new restaurants and craves artisanal bacon chocolate before midnight—knows that any man desperate enough to attempt internet dating should, in nearly every instance, be avoided.

We do not say this with irony; it is actually true.

Pay no mind to these discouraging facts, as there still remains the option of encountering women in real life. By this, our analysts refer to actual, physical locations such as:

  • Bars
  • Parties
  • Trampoline parks

In The Mission, you are pretty sure it is MeganLovesToLaugh who stands outside of a popular bar. MeganLovesToLaugh’s blue-tinted blunt cut forms a cage around the glow of her I-Phone. Yes, you recognize her, even without the duck face. She is thirty-four and half Hispanic. She enjoys running, hiking, and cycling, and you better enjoy these things too. You imagine a solid but petite body wrapped beneath her hoodless pea coat which, despite the cold, and despite the fact that it is a coat, manages to display cleavage. This causes you to desire her more than she desires you, which, we are afraid, is not at all. In these instances reduced desire is critical, as increased desire adversely affects your behavior, resulting in further displays of cuteness, humor, or courtesy.

We hope you are keeping track of these highly important key terms and ask that you remain focused.  

MeganLovesToLaugh is not laughing. In fact, she is in no mood to talk. Her adept and graceful fingers flicker across the screen, the presence of a double French manicure notwithstanding. Know this: your successful approach of MeganLovesToLaugh while she is texting is a complete impossibility. Understand: She is deep in critical thought, deciding where to go and what to do next. Who are you to interrupt that process? It is not your business.

If MeganLovesToLaugh wanted to socialize, she would simply re-enter a popular bar and disappear into a large group of her friends. You are not her friend. Rather, MeganLovesToLaugh prefers the company of those more like herself, who wear hoodless pea coats and extremely high and expensive boots made for women. Do you fit into this category? Do you wear extremely high and expensive boots made for women? No. You do not. Yet, are MeganLovestoLaugh and her friends so different? Do they not dream, do they not weep? Does not every soul, regardless of gender or footwear, grapple with an overwhelming sense of loneliness? Perhaps they too cluster around a single phone, their fingers dancing into blue light, scrolling through endless, incoming pleas for intimacy, evaluating, balancing, deleting.  

Perhaps they do. Perhaps they do not. Yet therein lies the question: Who do women such as Sharel_sf_24 and MeghanLovesToLaugh actually go out with? Who are these lucky few? We see that you find this question triggering, that it tightens your firsts and taps a well spring of pent-up sadness. You feel excluded. We understand. You feel alone. We understand. With each passing day, the lack of tenderness and affection in your life amplifies a penetrating, corrosive sense of worthlessness and abandonment.

Fortunately, our latest metrics indicate that you may be due for a break. Recently, in fact, you unknowingly messaged 432Juan-ita for the eighth time in as many weeks. On a whim, 432Juan-ita agreed to meet you for a drink. Bear in mind, this drink must occur in one of the prescribed dating neighborhoods of Hayes Valley, the Mission, or Nopa. During this drink you will be charged with the insurmountable task of obtaining consent for sex back at your apartment. Indications that 432Juan-ita may grant consent include the following:

  • She is drunk
  • She is blind drunk
  • She is blind

Should you obtain consent, you and 432Juan-ita will Uber back to your apartment. For your edification, your apartment may not be:

  • Someone else’s apartment
  • A hotel, motel, or basement
  • A couch

No. Your apartment must be a single, large, one-bedroom apartment with a queen-sized bed within the city limits of San Francisco.

This is impossible.

Once upstairs (and there must be stairs), kissing ensues and, thereafter, sex back at your apartment. Of note, our supervisory board recently down-voted “kissing” from our list of key terms, as local data indicate a growing trend toward skipping this step in the process tree. Other steps that may be skipped:

  • Converse or extremely high and expensive boots made for women kicked off as 432Juan-ita walks you backward toward the bed
  • Removal and/or tearing of vintage clothing
  • Breasts, pectorals, genitals fondled in no particular order

The geographical provenance of this last item has been the subject of hot debate, as research suggests goal-based digital enterprise to be normative across city and state lines. Nevertheless, as vintage clothing is removed, tattoos not previously visible may be displayed and shared. On her ankle one may find:

  • a smudge that is supposed to be a flower
  • a flower that is supposed to be a smudge
  • A star

In the morning, as a mere formality, 432Juan-ita leaves you her number. However, you will not see her again. Do not consider it. The advent of repeatedly sleeping with the same person does not comport with any of our current schemas. For a moment, you entertain the thought that something is missing, that a night of sexual bedlam has solved nothing and left you with an underlying sense of emptiness. In short, you wonder if there isn’t something more. We assure you, there is not. Instead, we advise replicating the previous evening’s process with any of the following:

  • Peanutbutter_Mess, for whom every friend is a benefit
  • MostlyVegetarian except when mostly naked
  • JaneSleepsInTrees, who did briefly in college  

Months pass. You keep at it. Yours is a noble effort. Know that we stand solidly behind you, even as mistakes are made:

  • Seventeen individual instances of forgotten names
  • Three reveals of your cat allergy
  • One candlelit discussion of childhood trauma

Somehow, painfully, there is progress. You acquire the correct apartment in the correct neighborhood. You acquire debt. You purport and propagate a desire for marriage and children. You adopt facades of:

  • Self-confidence
  • Happiness
  • Nonchalant body language

You convince yourself that you no longer care, that she no longer cares. Every weekend it is a new adventure, a new body. Congratulations. You have been matriculated into the ranks of the lucky few. Still, now and then you wonder if something is missing. At night, in the throes of passion, you entertain new and strange ideas:  

  • Does her mind believe as her body behaves?
  • Does her deep breathing indicate more than just breath?
  • Does her pulse signify more than just a heartbeat?

Indeed, our best minds are not sure what to make of this uncharted territory and fear we will be unable to assist should you proceed further down this potentially treacherous path. Once, you even briefly consider calling 432Juan-ita. This breach in protocol confuses us. Clearly, there has been a breakdown of communication between our parties. Perhaps you have failed to keep in mind our thoughtfully italicized key terms. Also, might we remind you of the empty nights spent with just your phone, swiping, messaging, staring into the nothing.

Yet your heart continues to swarm with dark and uncontrolled emotions. How can this be? Our analysts have checked and rechecked your data points and have concluded that you are now happy. This has been proven. And yet, in the end, your mind remains deluged with unnecessary questions: what if your overwhelming sense of loneliness is not, in fact, a symptom of being alone? What if your fear of intimacy is the very thing that ultimately prevents you from experiencing intimacy with others? Perhaps we can do little else but stand by as you look into the mirror one night and come to the painful understanding—your jaw tightening, your shallow breath holding back grief—that it is not the girl in the photo who can save you.


Benjamin Russack is a Marriage and Family Therapist who lives, writes, and holds a private practice in San Francisco.

Check out his blog on romantic love, here

He’s also created a youtube series on romance and dating, which you can view here.

How Benjamin feels about being a Tawkify recruit:

 “How often does the world just hand you something? Only an idiot turns down a Tawkify date.”

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