[This is a transcript of a piece that I read at the most recent Drinkers with Writing Problems: Lit Up monthly live lit event on Friday, August 26, 2016. I was also one of the writers who wrote on the prompt “The Future.” If you live in or are visiting the Chicagoland area on the last Friday of the month, please come check us out! You’ll never know what delights wait for you there.]
Dante’s Guide to Modern Dating Hell (with revisions by yours truly)
“Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost…
All hope abandon, ye who enter in!…
These words in sombre colour I beheld
Written upon the summit of a gate…“
I’ve been participating in some form of online dating for probably over a decade. I started back at a time when sites like Nerve and Salon were the hottest thing around and you could still find love or something resembling a “connection” through AOL chatrooms. Smartphones didn’t exist and it was still considered romantic to have long, indulgent telephone conversations late into the night. It was fun, like playing a game with extremely low stakes. Plus, it wasn’t difficult to meet people in real life. There were parties, bars, group activities where people and their eyes weren’t glued to mobile devices. We were young, carefree, aimless, and without heavily delineated standards, which made it so so much easier to date. But time marched on. People paired up, broke up, got back together, married, bought houses, had kids. In short, settled down and started having dinner parties to which they only invited their partnered friends.
For those of you in long term relationships, who don’t have to be subjected to modern dating, please feel free to pat yourselves on the back because, let me tell you, it’s a fucking mess. For those of you magical people for whom online dating works, kudos to you. This isn’t about your success stories. Most of us are aware of things like catfishing and unsolicited dick pics, but I’m here to discuss some of the more nuanced and insidious things I’ve encountered. In order to make some sense of it, I leaned on Dante and his 9 circles of hell with some modernist revisions:
1st Circle – Limbo
Dante’s First Circle of Hell is resided by virtuous non-Christians and unbaptized pagans who are punished with eternity in an inferior form of Heaven. They live in a castle with seven gates which symbolize the seven virtues. It was believed that if you practiced the seven virtues, you would be protected from the seven deadly sins. You would be humble instead of prideful, kind instead of envious, abstinent instead of indulgent, chaste instead of lustful, patient instead of angry, liberal instead of greedy, and diligent instead of slothful. Limbo is where I find myself; I’m not guiltless of sin by any means and I am no true believer that dating apps or sites like “OKStupid” will do anything for me other than waste my time. Having a profile for the prospect of dating feels like I’m standing blindfolded on a virtual corner screaming at passersby “Do you like me? Do YOU like me? Do you like ME?” As difficult as it is, I continue to prefer meeting people in real life.
2nd Circle – Lust
Those being punished here are ironically being blown by strong winds for all of eternity. They can’t find peace and are restless for “fleshly pleasures.” These are your adulterers, your Ashley Madison users, always on the hunt for side chicks, never committing themselves fully to a relationship, most especially the one that they have with themselves. I’ve had my share of run-ins with married folk and it is never as deliciously scandalous as you might think it would be. Mostly, it’s made awkward when they won’t hug you for fear of your scent lingering or they start telling you things you don’t want to know about their wives.
3rd Circle – Gluttony
A dear friend once called the aforementioned dating site a “human slot machine”; push a button and a seemingly endless group of vaguely compatible humans appear on your screen, who live in the closest 5-mile radius. This section of hell is overseen by a worm beast. The selfish and cold inhabitants are punished with icy rain which I imagine to be like Chicago’s “wintry mix” of snow, sleet, rain and misery. Gluttony is what happens when I’m “rated” four or more stars and yet, am not warranted any conversation. Even if I’m “connected” with someone because we like each other’s profiles, they still have nothing of worth to say to me or the imagination to ask me one bloody question about myself.
4th Circle – Greed
This section is for people who are either hoarders of wealth or those who spend spend spend. Since when did it become the norm to have the ubiquitous “I’m on a boat” picture or rock climbing or being in a wedding party as a suit lost in a sea of faces? Is that all there is? I highly doubt that people’s everyday is like that. Unsurprisingly, their punishment is to push weights with their chests for all of eternity.
5th Circle – Anger
Here the “wrathful and sullen” are punished. Many of my ex-boyfriends would have a place carved out for them with a nameplate. This time, they would only have each other to fight instead of with homeless people or old ladies on the bus. They would have no cars at their disposal for scenes of road rage. Their punishment is to gurgle underneath water forever which is an idea that has occurred to me more than once.
6th Circle – Heresy
More than disagreeing with religious doctrine, heresy can also cover disagreements with the truth or generally accepted beliefs or standards. I’m going to put men who call themselves “devil’s advocates” here and those who are atheists and won’t shut the fuck up about it. Also, those who are contrary just to have something to say even if it’s something in which they don’t believe. I also want to put people here who don’t mean what they say or say what they mean. They will spend eternity in flaming coffins.
7th Circle – Violence
There are 3 rings in this circle. The outer ring is made of murderers and those who have committed major vandalism. This is for people who try to kill the spirit of others on dating sites by responding to any confrontation with words like, “I was never attracted to you in the first place.” Also, I would place men who harass women online with their totally inappropriate come-on lines like “Hey! Boobies!” or “Hello my future wife.” They will all live in a river of boiling blood and fire.
The middle ring is for people who have committed social suicide by being abusive fucks. They should be shunned from society until they can correct their ways and never hurt someone again. In hell, they are turned into trees and bushes and fed on by harpies.
The inner ring are blasphemers, those who show great disrespect to something holy like people with open hearts who are looking for love, and sodomites, which I reinterpret to be men who think that women are porn stars who require no preparation, lube, or communication before trying to shove their dicks in your ass. This last ring is punished with burning sand and rain that falls from the sky and hopefully directly into their anuses.
8th Circle – Fraud
This section is for “monsters with different natures” who live in 10 stony ditches.
Ditch 1 is for panderers who exploit the weaknesses of others and seducers who lead astray with false promises like people who claim to be “world travelers” and have never had a passport. Ditch 2 is for flatterers who praise excessively and insincerely especially with motives of self-interest like thinking that a compliment to you means they get to have sex with you later. The rest of the ditches are filled with sorcerers, false prophets, corrupt politicians, hypocrites, thieves, evil counsellors, falsifiers, perjurers, and counterfeiters. So, pretty much liars who don’t deserve your time.
9th Circle – Treachery
This last section is divided into 4 rounds. The worse the sin, the deeper the sinner is in the ice. Of course, the last person is Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus with a kiss and becomes essentially, the devil’s bubble gum. This is the place for men who say, “What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”
In conclusion, I think we all can do better. How about unsolicited book pics or cat pics? Who doesn’t love a good cat pic? I want to see you hanging with your grandparents or helping old ladies cross the street. Or maybe take a picture of something you’ve built, created, or cooked so that I can know you are talented beyond supposed “good conversation.” It would be great if dating sites came with free therapy sessions so that everyone can work on their own shit before trying to get into a relationship with someone. In the meantime, I will judge from this side of the screen.