The Night Before
On Sale Now
Internet Dating and Deception
Unlike my first two thrillers, The Night Before began with something very personal.
I have been dating again for eleven years now. Relationships account for seven of them. The other four – two on the front end and two more recently – were spent immersed in the world of Internet dating. Add to that the experiences of several exchange students and au pairs who have lived with us, and nearly all of my single friends, and the stories involving deception became impossible to ignore.
When you’re a writer, you answer that call with a novel.
The concept for The Night Before began with one of these stories. Two years after my divorce, I gave up on the hope of meeting single men “in the wild.” I swallowed my fears and joined what was then the industry leader in online dating – Match.com. I was cautious. I hid my profile to the public, only revealing myself to people I chose to contact. There were some false starts (the guy who was sixty but claimed to be forty-five, the guy who still lived with his parents, the guy who used his brother’s photos).
But then I met the perfect man! He lived in my hometown. He was divorced – amicably and for a few years. His story was elaborate. The strained marriage, the sadness his family experienced, but now the peace that had settled in. It was similar to my own. Strangely similar. His behavior soon became strange as well. I eventually found out what you have already guessed – he was still married.
Anyone who has been the subject of a con knows the feeling. It is beyond anger, sadness, shock. It is a kind of violation. This person had gotten past all of my defenses, my 42 years of wisdom, my knowledge about how deceptive people can be. And he got past them for one simple reason.
I wanted to believe he was the perfect man.
I let it go – after all, there is no penalty to the deceiver for this sort of behavior, no recourse for the deceived.
This is precisely why Internet dating is so fraught with deception – both by the people we choose to date, and our own faulty reconstructions of them. We go on these sites and apps not with a desire to uncover the bad ones, but with a deep longing to find the good ones.
After cautiously returning to Match.com, I met a wonderful man and we had a wonderful relationship. Our combined six children and other practical considerations brought that to a close. Another relationship came and went. I was writing full-time by then, and still living in a very married suburb. Days could easily pass without leaving the house for anything more than picking up kids from school. I was, again, faced with the choice of never meeting a single man, or venturing back into the world of online dating.
This time was very different. I had collected a small group of single friends, all of whom had stories and wisdom to offer about the new frontier within this world – the apps. Bumble, Tinder, The League, to name but a few. People had been moving off of their computers and onto their phones, swiping left and right on nothing more than a photo, age (almost always false) and location. What made matters worse, was that these apps did not allow you to search without making your own profile public. Total exposure.
The good news was that this new frontier made it more difficult to lie. The apps usually required a Facebook or LinkedIn account to join. It took a lot of effort to create a fake persona because it had to begin with a fake profile on a social media website. Who had time for that?
The bad news was that the apps had radically changed the landscape of dating and relationships.
For those of you fortunate enough to not be acquainted with these apps, here’s how they work. You see hundreds of profiles when you first join. They only allow screening for age and location, so you have to wade through everyone and anyone within those parameters – regardless of their marital status, relationship goals, jobs, kids, education, or even personal habits like drinking and drugs. You swipe left for “no” and right for “yes.” You swipe until your thumb begins to ache, and your brain feels like it might just explode.
But then, you start to get the face bubbles! Little circles with faces of the people who liked you back – your matches! Conversations begin. They usually go like this:
Hey gorgeous. How’s your weekend?
Fine. How’s yours? Do you mind if I ask if you some questions? Are you divorced? Do you have kids?
You have a great smile. Do you like live music?
Thanks. And sometimes. So – what do you do for work?
People collect screens and screens of face bubbles. They spend hours keeping them active so they don’t disappear, sending random, vague texts about trivial things like what they had for dinner. And they do this because they are not done shopping.
They are not done shopping because every time you open the app, it takes you to all of the new people who have come within your broad parameters. More options. More potential face bubbles.
One man I spoke with confessed how he couldn’t believe that so many young, hot women had swiped right. He couldn’t believe how many were willing to meet him for dinner. He said that after years in a marriage with a woman who no longer found him attractive, he was in a glorious candy store of women who did.
On the flip side, a successful male friend of mine told me that women often used him for free meals. They flirted, sent him photos of their naked breasts. And then made dinner reservations at expensive restaurants. Like, Jean-Georges expensive. Of course, he was expected to pay. He had become their meal ticket.
Have you done the math yet?
One more story before I wrap this all up.
I was on one of these apps, swiping left and right, collecting face bubbles. Becoming a face bubble. I saw a man who looked familiar. He was using a name – let’s say it was Stan. I swiped right. He swiped right. We texted a bit. And then he deleted his profile. Odd, I thought. But it happens.
A few days later, I saw him again. Only this time he was using a different name. Let’s say it was Dan. I swiped left now because Stan/Dan was obviously shady. I saw him a few more times – sometimes Stan and sometimes Dan – until, finally, I got curious and began to investigate. Stan claimed to be a – let’s say – “poet.” Dan was in – let’s say – “marketing.” They both lived in the same town.
Step one – a quick Google search finds him. (It’s a very small town). Turns out, he’s a retired “marketing” professional with a self-published book of “poetry.”
Step two – Facebook. Turns out, we’re Facebook friends! Me and Dan that is. Aha – this is why I recognized him.
Step three – visit his Facebook page. This is where I discover he has a serious girlfriend. They’ve been together for a year or so. They’ve been traveling the world. They were at a bar together – yesterday. They look so happy in the pictures.
But Stan/Dan is not quite done shopping in the candy store.
Not long after, Stan appears again on the app. This time, I swipe right. He swipes right. Apparently, he has so many face bubbles he doesn’t remember we have already done this dance. A text exchange follows. It goes something like this:
Hey. Love your smile.
Hi. Same here! So, you look really familiar. Have we met? Or maybe we’re friends on Facebook?
Afraid not. How’s your weekend going?
Wow – that’s so strange! You look exactly like this guy named Dan on Facebook. My mistake. So – do you want to talk sometime?
Then the face bubble turns gray. Account Deleted.
I almost feel sorry for Stan/Dan. Yes, he’s found someone. But there are so many other women out there – just waiting for him to swipe right so they can send him photos of their naked breasts.
Picture yourself going online to buy a sweater. You might choose a website you like, type in the search you want. Blue wool sweater. Several options appear. They all look so nice! You add a few to your shopping cart. But then something miraculous happens. On the right side of your screen, you start to see photos of blue wool sweaters. They, too, look nice. Maybe even nicer. Some are nicer – and cheaper! You click, and now you have a new website. A new shopping cart. Before you know it, you have dozens of blue sweater bubbles to choose from. If only you could try them all on before having decide. Because if you buy one without trying them all on, how will you ever know if the others might have better?
Wait – you can try them all on because they’ve just sent you an email offering free shipping! Every day there is renewed excitement as another package arrives at your door. Another blue sweater that you get to try on for free, and return tomorrow.
This is the new frontier of Internet dating. The choices seem endless. The fear of losing what you already have fades away, because of this illusion. And yet, anyone who has actually tried to find a long-term partner from a face bubble will tell you the same thing. You can get plenty of first dates. Maybe plenty of casual encounters. But finding something real is still a needle in a haystack.
I used to have a favorite blue sweater. I wore it until it had holes in the elbows, and even then, I kept it in my closet. I didn’t want a nicer blue sweater. I wanted the old one with the holes.
I wonder if we are becoming a culture where our ability to form genuine attachments to anything, or anyone, is being hijacked by bubbles on our screens. Virtual candy stores of sweaters. And human beings.
I wonder if we are becoming a culture where getting new, shiny things on-demand with the click of a button, the swipe of a screen, is an insidious addiction that will sneak up on us as our old things lose their luster.
Sometimes I visit Stan/Dan’s Facebook page and try to reconcile how happy he looks in those pictures with his girlfriend with his face bubble on Bumble.
Sometimes I wonder if she will feel the way I did when I found out my perfect man had lied about being married.
The feelings this world provoked in me, and so many others, is captured in The Night Before. The desire to find love. The desire to see the best in someone. To trust. To believe. That is at the very heart of the story of Laura Lochner.
But that is not where the story ends. I gave to Laura the anger that women (and men) feel when they are deceived in such a vulnerable setting. I gave her a powerful backstory that would make her capable of acting on that anger, rather than letting it go. Moving on. Accepting it as an inherent cost of dating on the Internet.
I wrote a story about a liar who just wanted to have some fun. But chose the wrong woman to lie to.
After my experiences with Stan/Dan, and the candy store man, I deleted the face bubbles on my screen, then deleted my own. I don’t know if I will ever return to that world. For now, I am content with the very full life I am blessed to have. And the great material for The Night Before.