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What's Exactly Like Online Dating

When you’re a woman of a certain age.

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woman sitting alone at coffee shop
Cavan Images/Offset
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“Let’s meet at a diner,” I texted. New to this world, a restaurant felt public and safe.

“Send me a link,” he wrote back. He seemed more seasoned.

Me: “Is 10:30 ok?”

Him: “I’ll try.”

He’ll try?

Maybe that’s a normal response, I thought, and penciled him in for Sunday. As a woman over 50, I still use an actual appointment book and write with an actual pencil.

He texted every day leading up to our meeting, about driving routes, about traffic worries. I took a seat in the diner and waited. I called. Left three voicemails. Waited some more. It never occurred to me that he wouldn’t show. Ninety minutes later, I drove back home.

I’d posted my ad on a local Facebook page and received many responses straight away, all saying the same thing: “I’m interested.”

“When can you meet!?!” I’d text back immediately. No one except the diner guy wrote back. And he stood me up.

My ad read: White Electric Warlock

If you are unfamiliar with the Warlock, it’s a guitar easily imagined in the hands of a headbanger. All jutting angles, it looks like a parallelogram gone awry. I remember the day I bought it for my then-13-year-old son, Noah, the two of us at a guitar store staring dumbly at the scores of electrics hanging on the wall.

I cringed when he asked for the $200 Warlock and even more when I saw its coffin-shaped case — dusty black with a blood-red velvet lining. “You don’t want an acoustic?” I said, picturing him playing the Beatles at 20 on some expansive college lawn. Noah shook his head.

Oh well, I thought, as we loaded the coffin into the car. We can always sell it.

The Warlock was played through most of middle school, but from high school on it languished in the closet. When Noah moved out on his own after college, he left the guitar behind.

I’ve done this before: posted for sale things I probably never should have bought in the first place. An overpriced sports bag. Shoes that, curiously, did not indeed change my life. Each time, believing the sale would somehow rectify my original poor purchase decision.

My husband wanted no part of my mission; he was happy to put the Warlock out with the trash. But I assumed my buyers would be mothers, like me, hoping to fulfill the dreams of their newly minted teens, and my offering was a gift to the Sisterhood. Instead, I received queries from an Alberto, three Jacks and a Vinny. No matter. As a middle-aged woman, asymmetrical moles made me nervous; meeting up with men did not.

I took the diner guy rejection hard, but convinced myself I just hadn’t cracked the code. With amped up resolve, I got right back online.

If guitar selling were online dating, I knew from my single friends that I’d already broken two cardinal rules: Don’t appear too eager. And engage in proper vetting.

As new responses came in, I began quickly visiting profile pages. Most revealed young, seemingly harmless men fond of Star Wars memes. I’d offer what I considered alluring details about the guitar — “It was my son’s favorite possession!” — hoping to get someone interested. No one cared about my details. In fact, I worried they were scaring people away.

“I’m interested,” wrote a guy looking to create a “ ’70s Rock Room.” I wasn’t sure what that was and suddenly felt afraid to ask. His profile included a photo of a gun collection laid out like a litter of puppies on his living room couch.

“Sorry,” I wrote back quickly. “Just sold.”

Another prospect seemed hopeful at first.

“Can you meet this weekend?” I texted.

“Possibly. Is $125 your bare minimum?"

“Yes. But I’ll throw in a guitar stand!”

“That sounds like an excellent offer. I’ll converse with my parents.”

“Um. How old are you?”

“Can’t say. My mum says that's dangerous.”

Swipe left.

Finally, a message came in that felt exactly right. “I’m interested. For my son.” We met in the Whole Foods parking lot, a mile from my house. Late 30s, beard, nice smile. I opened my hatchback and lifted the lid of the coffin case.

“The body is kind of messed up,” said Mr. Right. (I think in our texts I’d written, “pristine condition.”) “Lotta chips. And the neck has a crack.”

“You’re not interested?” I said, trying not to sound desperate.

“I’m sorry,” he said. And left me.

I wanted to yell after him that I knew I didn’t belong in remote corners of parking lots with strange men and coffin cases. That I was simply trying to right a wrong, mitigate a regrettable purchase. But what I didn’t want to admit was that there’d been something thrilling about exchanging messages with all these men. That it felt intoxicating to see if I could entice someone into wanting what I had to offer. And that in my inability to actually close the deal, I was discovering a confidence and self-acceptance I never knew as a young woman, which felt as though I were righting a much bigger wrong.

I’m ashamed to admit that it took me until this moment to finally realize that “I’m interested” was a message automatically generated when people flagged an item to revisit later. That the men whose profiles I’d been scouring were likely not even looking for a guitar. They were probably fiddling around on Facebook and up popped the Warlock, the same way my feed can algorithmically become peppered with farmhouse tables or Fly London boots.

I don’t remember how I learned that the guitar store buys back used guitars. I carted in the coffin, hoisted it onto the glass counter, and opened it to the sales guy with gauges in his ears.

Like the others, he was not interested in me. Not interested in my alluring details. Barely interested in my guitar.

“I’ll give you $35,” he said without even looking up.

Women my age often refer to this indifference as feeling invisible. And before my foray into guitar selling, I may have felt wounded as well. But having to parse out all my recent rejections and remind myself that none of it was personal had unexpectedly left me feeling as electric as the Warlock itself. Unlike my younger self, I now knew that my own personal value has nothing to do with this man’s apparent lack of interest in me or my guitar. And I stood silent, letting that feeling reverberate.

“Well?” he said, finally regarding me. “Are you interested?”