In March 2013, I quietly ended a three-year relationship. While the man was good and kind, and we gave it more than a fair shot, we knew we weren’t each other's ones. I mourned what we lost, but I knew I had get back into the New York City dating scene.
I looked forward to dating again, but also dreaded it. After experiencing the soft cushion of monogamy and a relationship that seemed lasting, I was no longer interested in quick flings. I had been there before: When I first moved to New York — a 22 year old working for a wedding magazine — I couldn’t have been more single. I dated investment bankers I met on the No. 6 train, and went out with six-foot-something guys, who I met during Tall Speed Dating. I was young, tall, skinny and had a glimmer of invincibility in my eyes.
I dated investment bankers I met on the No. 6 train... I was young, tall, skinny and had a glimmer of invincibility in my eyes.
Now, I was older and less sure of myself. Four months after the breakup, I started dating again, but found striking up conversations with guys at bars awkward and disappointing. I flirted with attractive men at parties only to learn about their live-in girlfriends. I had heart-felt conversations with guys who would never call. I Tindered. I Hinged. I joined OKCupid. None of the apps produced great matches. The recurring doubt, “Is it me?” gathered steam, and New York's female-to-male ratio didn't help: There are around seven women to every one bachelor.
Single guys have their pick — and they weren’t picking me.
Welcome to the Meet Market
I was ready to give up, when a co-worker challenged me to seize the New York dating scene in the bravest way.
"Would you ever want to be the featured dater in the New York Post's Meet Market section?" she said. She knew the editor of the section. "He’s looking for 'strong, self-assured single women.'" Ashamed to tell her I rarely felt that way these days, I agreed.
Was I crazy? Was I was ready for New Yorkers to judge me over their Sunday bagels and coffee?
One of my best friends encouraged me: "You need to expand the dating pool into which you're diving," she rightly said. I needed to look beyond the skinny hipster dudes I typically date, and keep an open mind. I needed to say yes to new experiences — even the wacky ones. I opened the New York Post Meet Market's 50-question questionnaire and got to work. “In what way do you want your date to be different than you?” and “Tell me why you’re a catch,” were two of the hardest ones. Articulating my answers helped me figure out what I wanted, and more importantly, why I deserved to find it.
Next step was the photoshoot to capture the all-important image, which would run in the New York Post and be seen by its 133,000 readers and live forever online. It is what everyone would look at while analyzing my Meet Market profile and my datability. I wore black, of course.
The first date
The Meet Market matchmaking process is all about compatible schedules. My first Meet Market date, and my first blind date ever, was set for January 1 — a suitable evening for turning over a new leaf. “Your date’s name is Oleg," said the editor. "He doesn’t necessarily match the description of the type that turns you on, but he’s handsome and he is without a doubt one of the coolest guys I have met on the job.”
My heart raced as I neared the cocktail bar in Hell’s Kitchen where we were meeting. The maître d’ ushered me to the table and Oleg stood to greet me. Despite being a couple inches shorter than me and not the kind of guy I was usually attracted to, Oleg was classically handsome, clean cut and had a sweet smile. We quickly launched into our stories, exchanging our respective what-do-you-dos and where-are-you-froms in quick succession.
We had barely started our drinks, when the New York Post photographer arrived. “I like to start with happy," he said, "and end with happy.” He instructed me to slide onto the bench next to Oleg and began directing us: “I’m going to take a bunch of photos. First, I want you both to look psyched. You’re enjoying each other. Good. Now Abbe, I want you to give me a bored look. Good, good. Oleg, gaze at Abbe like a lovesick puppy. Ok, now switch. Oleg, do you have a smartphone? Look at it. Abbe, give me a grin. Good! Now you both hate each other. You can’t wait to get out of here. Great. We’ll end on another happy note. Oleg, can you put your arm around the lady? Perfect. I got it.” He left us with one final pitch: “If you guys get together," he said, sliding his business card across the table, "I’ll sell you all these images for a great price.”
The rest of the date flew by. Our conversation flowed. We bonded over our close-knit families and the Ukrainian piano teacher I once had. (Oleg came to the U.S. from Russia when he was seven.) We shared our entrees and ordered three rounds of cocktails. Declaring the evening an overall success, we left and walked to the subway. Oleg asked for my number and tapped it into his phone. We took the same train back to Brooklyn, and while hurtling through the East River tunnel, Oleg grasped my hand. Before I stood up to exit, he planted a kiss squarely on my lips. “I’ll call you,” he said.
Before I stood up to exit, he planted a kiss squarely on my lips. “I’ll call you,” he said.
The following week, I was full of nerves. On Sunday, the first installment of the Meet Market article came out, introducing readers to me and my potential dates. Early that morning, an ex-boyfriend texted saying he saw me in the paper. I ran to the bodega to get a copy of the New York Post, and was pleasantly surprised. I looked good, sounded articulate — even funny — in my answers. Of the three men I could have been paired with, Oleg was the cutest. Admittedly, his response about guilty pleasures (his being Katy Perry songs) made me cringe.
He's just not that into you
In the days following the article's publication, when people asked how the date had gone, I told everyone the same thing: Oleg was not someone I thought I would go for, but he was cute and we had fun. Then an uncertain thought occurred to me. While I had been telling people Oleg said he would call, he never did. I panicked. Was the good time I thought we had only in my head?
The following Sunday I ran to the bodega, flipped to the Meet Market “He Said” column and read this: “The whole time Abbe was nice to everyone, I couldn’t figure out if she was really that nice or just pretending.”
Then came the doozy: “Abbe and I took the same train part of the way home, at which point it became clear to me she had much higher hopes for another date than I did. As we said our goodbyes, I had mixed feelings and decided to see how I felt about it in the morning.”
My mind reeled. Oleg had asked for my number and leaned in for the kiss. Why was I being painted as the one throwing myself at him? My worst fear, being publicly humiliated in the paper, was coming true. I wanted everyone I knew, and everyone who read about the date, to have amnesia and forget about it.
I crawled into bed, replaying every detail of the date, obsessing over what I could have done differently. After a few hours, I sat up. The sting of humiliation had dissipated, and I decided I wasn't going to let some strange guy I met once make me feel terrible. Instead of thinking about thousands of unknown New Yorkers judging me, I took charge of the situation and summoned my backup.
Instead of thinking about thousands of unknown New Yorkers judging me, I took charge of the situation and summoned my backup.
I posted a scan of the New York Post page on Facebook. “Oleg just couldn’t handle a beautiful, smart woman,” I wrote. Within minutes, my high-school and college friends lifted me with their comments: “His loss.” “What a dweeb." "What an idiot." "What a loser.” Positive reinforcement flooded in; my self-doubt faded. The people who cared about me knew I wasn’t a desperate, dateless freak. My friends saw me as they always had: intelligent, hard working and brave enough to put my single self out there. If Oleg couldn’t see me that way, no problem.
I’m glad I submitted myself to the Meet Market. I re-entered the dating world with gusto, showing New York and its New Yorkers I had skin thick enough to handle its entitled men and its flash-in-the-pan dating culture. I was terrified of being rejected, and it happened — with all of New York watching. Still, I was OK. Dating in Manhattan is sadistic. The Meet Market experience changed my perspective. I decided to spend more energy looking for a quality partner, someone excited about having a healthy relationship with me. Unlike Oleg, I deserve someone who will lie awake all night thinking about the charismatic woman he just met and can't forget. I am willing to be patient, waiting for it to come along.
Getting publicly rejected in the New York Post helped me flip the age-old “Is it me?” question. Yes, I finally understood: “It is me.” By letting my friends bolster me, instead of succumbing to the self-esteem trap of one man’s opinion, I became comfortable in my own skin. I shifted my focus from finding a man to my career and my hobbies. The result? I am more well-rounded and armed with a newfound sense of self-confidence. It is these qualities I hope are attractive to my future partner. (Hopefully that future partner also recognizes my New York Post blind-date experience as something that is admirable — something that took courage.)
I may never sign up for the Meet Market column again, but the experience gave me a solid sense of self: I am an adventurous woman. I have gained immense courage out of moments of uncertainty. I deserve someone who can see that — from the first date to every day after that.