When I started writing a novel the summer after I graduated college, I was in the midst of a dating spree that included an array of corporate suits, three playwrights, a bartender, a model, and a cowboy. The ones I liked didn’t like me back. The rest of my dates were either boring or boorish, and my wrist cramped from so many hours spent swiping through dating apps. So I fantasized a little — I conjured up the dreamiest guy I could imagine to serve as one of the love interests for my protagonist. I created the perfect fake boyfriend... if only he existed in real life.
Adam was hotter, sweeter, and more thoughtful than any guy I knew in real life. I decided he was very tall, 33 years old, and Jewish, with a little scruff and a Southern drawl. He had an apartment stocked with food that he knew how to cook (at 22, this impressed me), and was finally sort of ready to settle down (this really impressed me). Maybe he was a little too perfect, but writing his scenes was a delicious respite from my real-life carousel of disappointing dates who only wanted no-strings-attached hookups.
It took another 18 months to finish writing the manuscript, find an agent, and revise my work. In that time, I dated a lawyer who raised chickens, a production assistant on my favorite crime procedural, and a biker who worked at a domestic violence non-profit. By the time my agent sent my manuscript to editors, I was dating a European tech guy who also happened to be a count. Like, with multiple ancestral castles you could research on Wikipedia. After two months of polite rejections from editors, I felt like a failure. And I had to break up with the count the week of the presidential election once I realized our politics clashed dramatically. Everything was terrible.
And then I met Adam — my dream guy — in real life.
I was at the Matzo Ball, the Jewish singles’ dance held annually on Christmas Eve. My parents met at the very first one in 1987, my cousin met her husband there years later, and given that, I felt destined to meet a boyfriend or even a husband at the event. The ballroom looked like Gringotts tricked out with club lighting, a DJ, and a dance floor packed with tipsy Jewish young professionals. I flirted with guys at the dance for more than an hour — and was ready to go home alone — when a drunk partygoer pulled a 50-something gentleman into my path and told us to talk. (Let’s blame her matchmaking on low lighting and the generous bartender, shall we?) The gentleman laughed, and instead of hitting on me, offered to be my wingman. We hung by the side of the dance floor, scanning the room.
“Who do you want?” he asked.
I hesitated. It felt tacky to point at a random hot dude and ask this stranger to summon him for me. “Bring me someone tall, smart, and interesting,” I suggested.
My wingman nodded and disappeared into the crowd. Two minutes later, he was back my side, this time, with a man who had to be six-foot-six.
“This is Adam,” my wingman said. “He’s going to buy you a drink now.”
We drank, we talked, we danced, we migrated to a second bar, and he dropped me off at my apartment in a cab before heading home himself. By the time I made it from the curb to my bedroom, he had already texted to ask when he could see me again. I was smitten. Just like Fictional Adam, Real Adam was also very tall, 33, and Jewish, with a smattering of scruff. Instead of a Southern accent, he had an Australian one. We began seeing each other multiple times a week, and over his home-cooked dinners, he told me he was ready to get married and wanted to have children soon. I wasn’t ready for any of that, but I nodded along, stunned that the dream guy I had conjured up was sitting right in front of me. It was hard enough to fathom that Fictional Adam existed in real life; it was harder to fathom that Real Adam wanted to be a part of my life.
The longer we dated, the dreamier Real Adam became. He made excellent cocktails and liked to drink them with me in his building’s oversized hot tub. He whisked me away on a spontaneous tropical getaway and taught me to salsa dance in San Juan. He volunteered with an organization that helps homeless teenagers. He had a dirty sense of humor and a spotless apartment. I was falling for him.
I was afraid to tell him about his literary counterpart, out of fear I’d come on too strong. I already worried that I liked him more than he liked me. Finally, I came clean with him about Fictional Adam over the steaks he grilled us on Valentine’s Day. His reaction made me swoon: He screwed up his mouth and attempted to mimic a Southern twang. He swaggered around the apartment, copying the character’s mannerisms.
Three days later, I got the best phone call of my life: An editor loved my book, Playing with Matches, and wanted to publish it. Real Adam showed up at my door with two dozen pink roses, a bottle of Champagne, and a handle of vodka, my main character’s favorite drink.
The book wasn’t finished, though. My editor wanted me to add a few new chapters to flesh out Fictional Adam more thoroughly, but I didn’t know how to write about him without elements of Real Adam creeping into the novel. Casting around for new material, I couldn’t help but focus on the issues in my own relationship: how conflicted I felt about our 10-year age gap; how jealous I got when he mentioned his cooler, older female friends; how insecure I was about dating him when he refused to call me his girlfriend. The lines between the two men blurred even further.
I loved the eerie connection between Fictional Adam and Real Adam so much that I brushed aside all of the red flags that we weren’t working out. Our conversations were stilted; he never introduced me to his friends; he had an annoying habit of quoting misogynistic comedy sketches and saying that, sorry, women simply aren’t funny. Despite all that, I was still infatuated. I told him I wanted to be his girlfriend. He told me he’d consider it and never brought it up again.
It was painful to admit that my love life wasn’t as picture-perfect as the rom-com I had written. When he broke things off, I was furious for months — not because I thought we should still be together, but because it would be such a good story if we were. What was I supposed to do, meet a random guy on a dating app? Where’s the novel-worthy romance in that?
Of course, I’m a millennial, and it was only a matter of time before I downloaded dating apps again. I swiped ferociously, and eventually, I did meet a random guy on a dating app. Two apps, to be precise. I was looking for sources to interview for a story I was writing about dating, swiping right on every single man between the ages of 18 and 30 in a 100-mile radius on Tinder. I didn’t even glance at Saul’s photos or bio when we matched; instead, I told him I was a reporter and asked to conduct a brief interview on the app. He answered, then never responded to my follow-up question. I never considered him as a serious romantic prospect; I used Tinder to scout out sources at work and other dating apps in my personal life.
A week later, I ran into him again on Hinge. This time, I studied his profile: I read that he worked at Hinge as a software engineer, and I instantly liked his warm, dark eyes and sunny smile. He complimented the outfit in my profile photo (a crop top printed with George Costanza’s face) and said he recognized me from Tinder, but I nearly ignored his message because he lived a 45-minute trek away across two subway lines — practically a long-distance relationship. In an uncharacteristic move, I wrote back, and soon, he invited me out for drinks.
A week later, we were glued to bar stools at a cocktail bar for nearly five hours before we decamped for pizza and kissed good night by the subway station. And we've been together ever since. This time, I’m not propelled by adhering to a story I’ve made up about how romance should go. Prior to meeting Saul, I couldn’t have possibly imagined the specific combination of quirks that make him exactly who he is: the confident grin he gets right before he delivers the punchline of a joke; the fiercely loyal way he talks about his friends; his undying affection for his 95-pound rescue dog, Shiloh. And yet, that’s what draws me to him.
Despite my job as a dating editor, I never fantasized about meeting a boyfriend on a dating app; I had assumed there was no romance in it. But the relationship that has ensued has been more swoon-worthy than anything I could’ve dreamed up on my own and happier than anything I’ve experienced to date.
Last Saturday, we holed up in a coffee shop. He was tweaking the design on an app while I worked on writing a new chapter.
“Are you going to base a character off of me?” he asked.
I shook my head. I have no doubt he’d make a great character, but I’ve learned that reality can be even stranger and sweeter than fiction.
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