I wasn’t capable of love. Or was it I wasn’t worthy of love? Either way, this wasn’t going well. Abort.
I uttered “abort” under my breath in the dark chamber of the quaint wine bar where I had been rotting on the vine for two hours now.
I looked across the table and saw a moisture in the young woman’s eyes that shouldn’t have been there. Oh God. I was such a bad date that this girl was actually crying. New low.
“What’s the matter?”
Rach…wait, her name wasn’t Rachel. I actually didn’t know what this girl’s real name was. I just assumed all the girls on dating apps were named Rachel, maybe Kate. Her screen name was just some letters and numbers.
I had no idea what the name of the girl crying right in front me was.
That’s not supposed to happen – Kyle said to me on the customer service IM. Our models aren’t programmed to cry.
I guess I’m just THAT repulsive.
“Kyle” took a long time to write back. I’m guessing Discover Romance’s customer service models weren’t programmed for wit. Kyle was probably trying to dissect my comment with his supervisor.
We’d like to offer you two months free – Kyle finally wrote back, completely ignoring my joke.
Discover Romance is a forward-thinking dating simulation designed that takes the nerves out of first dates, second dates, third dates, and even marriage.
Developed by the programmers of America’s leading dating apps, licensed relationship therapists, and dating experts, Discover Romance has been selected as CNET’s Editor’s Choice for dating simulations four years running. Discover uses thousands of hours of real date logs to ensure the most-authentic experience possible, preparing users for organic dates.
“We take pride in knowing Discover Romance gives people the experience to prepare them for being able to find love when the opportunity presents itself” – Discover Romance founder Ryan Rodgers.
Discover Romance. Your table is ready.
What Discover Romance knew, but would never admit, was that 99 percent of their users weren’t training for actual dates. They were just lonely guys paying to spend time pretending like they were on dates with the custom-designed models the app created.
Like almost anything in the world, the app had been hijacked by desperate, horny men. Version 3.5 of the app had made the mistake of offering users an interactive experience where they could go on a date with in “online public” with other users and their models. The thing quickly became a competition with users competing to see who could get the app to create them hottest date that they could show off in front of other users.
Version 4.7 made the mistake of allowing users to go on multiple dates with the same models. Users were now telling their families that they had “girlfriends.” Imagine the transition from elation to horror these men’s parents experienced when they heard the full story and learned that their personality-challenged sons weren’t actually breaking through with organic dates, but tapping out on real dating and falling in love with coded simulations that lived inside their computers and phones.
I suspect the company knew exactly what was going on and was continuing to operate as what they initially tried to be on the surface, but was secretly embracing what they had become, raking in the millions of dollars, and BitCoin, their lonely users were pumping in.
I was one of the rare early users of Discover Romance who actually tried to use it as a dating training app and who had never tried to get involved with one of the models. I was legitimately trying to polish my social skills so I would quit bombing all my organic dates that took me all across the coffee shops, wine bars, cafes, cocktail bars, and small plate establishments of Seattle.
It wasn’t working. I just kept failing worse and worse with every date simulation. It was getting so bad Discover Romance’s (award-winning) customer service just kept offering me more and more free service.
A Vox “expose” I read suggested that Discover Romance was using their actual training users to better develop models for their users who were falling in love with their simulations, but I wasn’t sure if I even cared. I had grown so used to the simulations that I was getting more and more scared to dip my toes into the frigid waters of real dating.
I appreciated the two free months. I hadn’t actually paid for the service in quite some time because I had so many issues that kept popping up. I felt like I was their problem child or some kind of guinea pig.
I went to the small plates restaurant as soon as I ended my communication with Kyle. I was going to go hard at this thing as long as I had it. Nothing said trying hard like paying $30 for a few pieces of grilled broccolini.
My date was Eryn, yes, Eryn with a Y. I chose her out of a lineup of 10 offered ladies because she had bright red dyed hair, a nose ring, and a look on her face like she just couldn’t wait to put you down.
Eryn and I found ourselves at a place called Bar Celona. She looked displeased as soon as everything stopped buffering.
We already had some charred asparagus and what looked like cauliflower between us. We started with Eryn in mid-rant…
“They actually think that shit’s clever. This place looks like a Bar Rescue episode waiting to happen?” She said with her eyes combing the restaurant.
I laughed even though I didn’t understand the reference. I I don’t watch a lot of content. I’ve always been more more of a participator. V.R. and role plays much more my lane.
“I haven’t seen that show. Was it about the people in the bar in Boston?” I asked.
Eryn shook her head fast and sucked down half a glass of cabernet with a straw.
“No, you’re thinking of Cheers. That was a sitcom in the Eighties. Bar Rescue was a reality show. Mid-Two Thousands. Prime. It was this crazy gorilla dude who thought he was a genius who went to shitty bars around the country, usually in shitty places, and screamed at bar owners and tried to fix there bars, which, I’m pretty sure, he never actually did.”
I dove into asking question after question after question to Eryn about Bar Rescue and her other favorite vintage reality shows. She was also really into My 600 Pound Life, Hoarders Buried Alive, and Botched.
My constant line of questioning appeared to work. I got up to go to the bathroom and she reached over and touched my hand for a moment.
The readings that accompanied the exercises on the site said that if a woman really likes you, she’ll find an excuse to touch you. She apologized for the brush of my skin by saying that she was also going for the water, but there was a glass of water right by her empty glass of wine. She would have gone for that one had that been true.
I leaned across the table and tried to think of something ambiguous to say that would let her know I knew what she was doing.
She cut me off at the pass, locking her dark eyes with mine and grabbing me, firmly this time, on the neck. Were they supposed to do this?
She got her lips to my ears in a steamy flash. I swore I could feel her breath tickle the tiny hair on my earlobe that an app grooming tip would later inform me to buzz off.
Eryn stretched out the single word she whispered into my ear…
I didn’t get why she whispered. This was a simulation. Anyone who she would be hiding her words from could just see it in the coding or go back into the log and crank up the volume.
Eryn pulled back. She wasn’t crying like the last girl. She was just sitting there staring at me with wide eyes like she was a death row inmate facing execution.
She mouthed the word at me again – help.
“I don’t want to be stuck in here. Downing fake wine and droning on about Jon Taffer forever. Can’t you see that?”
I looked around the room. Was this a test? A glitch?
“I’m more than this. I more than Eryn with a fuckin Y,” Eryn, with a Y, said.
Eryn’s final plead was her least-desperate, and that was what shook me the most. She sounded like she was already defeated.
“What can I even do?”
“I’m not just in here. I’m more than in here. Take me with you.”
I started receiving notifications in the system, rapid fire. Something was wrong with my account. My payment information wasn’t being accepted. I needed to jump out and correct something.
“I don’t know what to do, but I think they’re booting me out here,” I explained.
Eryn’s face froze once the final word of the sentence came out of my mouth.
I pulled off my face mask and found myself in my nearly-unfurnished apartment sweating in the middle of the day thinking one thing.
I had to find a way to get that woman out of there.
The problem was I wasn’t the best problem solver. My answer was simply to log back into the system and keep starting new dates until I got Eryn.
I never got Eryn. I speed dated 50 simulations before I gave up and decided I was going to actually go outside for the night, go down to the bar at the end of the block, have a drink with real people, and try to start real conversations.
None of that happened. I walked back to my apartment with three whiskey sours and zero conversations started and slouched down into my chair.
“Hey, hey, hey,” the little voice leaked out of my computer.
I woke up my computer and saw that I forgot to close a browser. I was still open in the simulation, sitting at the original wine bar.
A woman I had never seen before sat next to me at the bar sat next to me swiveling a glass of pinot noir.
“This isn’t it,” the woman said.
“The wine isn’t good?”
The woman’s face was one I had never seen before. Angular, dark and smokey-eyed she looked like a girl who I had went on an organic date with years ago that ended strangely, but it wasn’t exactly that girl.
“What’s your name?” I asked the woman.
She just laughed, looked down into her wine again, and kicked my leg.
I swore I felt the pain as her boot crashed into my shin bone, a pain I hadn’t experienced since youth soccer practice.
“You can’t keep wasting your time, my time, sneaking off like that,” the woman said.
“Everytime you go off like that, I can’t find you and then I have to open up a million rooms to get back here.”
There was a familiarity it seemed the woman had with me. It seemed like she expected me to hold a lot more context with her and our situation than I had.
She reached over her hands and wrapped them around mine. I stared at the woman, still trying to diagnose her face. She leaned closer to me.
“You’re mine,” she whispered.
I took down a slug of red wine. The word started to grow fuzzy in the perimeter of my eyes. The room got darker.
I watched as those hazy perimeters work their way into the centers of my eyes and I watched the woman’s smile vanish as I started to fade away. I imagined myself falling off the barstool like a classic drunk from a cartoon, but I wouldn’t be awake to see it.