I have never felt more alone than that first autumn in New York. This became clear when I realized that despite our weekly happy hours, me and my fellow interns, whom I was banking on becoming best friends with before I’d even met them, had nothing in common except youth and desperation. “We’re just using each other until we make real friends,” one of them, a pretty girl with a Valleyspeak accent, joked one late night over drinks in a SoHo wine bar. We hung out a lot back in those days—so much so that the office gossiped about us dating. I guess I liked those rumors, not because I wanted to date her, but because those assumptions of romance were assurance of our burgeoning friendship. I was spending that much time with someone.
I didn’t have any friends in New York back then, not any real ones anyway, and I thought about that with each creaking step up to her fourth floor walkup, which was directly above the bar we’d just left. She had invited me to stay the night so that I didn’t have to trek back to Brooklyn. Anticipating a couch, she offered to share her floor-covering mattress instead. Immediately, I became flooded with anxiety as I mulled over the various ensuing scenarios, all of which seemed equally possible. We lay down together—not quite cuddling, but close enough to make a man wonder—before I decided I best not try anything. Keeping her as a friend, I rationalized, was more important.
We stopped speaking within weeks of our internship ending. During the increasingly rare occasions we did see each other, the conversation inevitably steered towards the same question: Who are you dating?
Dating got me through the first year in New York. It seemed to be my best chance—my only chance—of fostering human connections.
The roommate who was supposed to join me couldn’t find work, so he remained in Philadelphia for three months despite signing a lease. I didn’t mind at first: he was still paying his share and how often does one enjoy their first apartment in New York solo? But as the weeks went by, it began to wear. Most nights, defeated after yet another humbling shift serving tourists in Chelsea, I came back to a barebones dwelling with no one to talk to. New York was starting to feel like a real, and lonely, mistake.
I spent a lot of my free time swiping. Tinder. OkCupid. Bumble. Anything that could get me face to face with another human being. It wasn’t long before my Tuesday nights, typically occupied by reluctant trips alone to Brooklyn Stoops, my local dive, were replaced with dates in jazz clubs (Village Vanguard), underground restaurants (Wo Hop), and waterside parks (East River State). Each date promised the introduction of a new venue, a new neighborhood, and best of all, a new person. The companionship, though usually fleeting, was so intoxicating that I often scheduled first dates four days a week. It felt like a full time job. Except instead of earning money (which I was quickly running out of), I was getting paid in intimacy.
My experience, it turns out, is not unique.
“I took to casual dating to fill up my evenings,” admits Kaitlyn, 25, who lives in Bushwick. In 2013 she began commuting to the city from New Jersey. Knowing she wanted to eventually relocate to one of the boroughs, she began searching for company outside of the office, where she felt her options were severely limited. “I didn’t want to spend every day going to work with a handful of strangers who weren’t very friendly and then immediately head back to my parents’ house in Jersey.”
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“I was going out with a new person every week.” She spent all her free time on dating services looking for people to talk to.