OKCupid Fail

I met, if met is the right word, my wife on the online dating site OKCupid.

After returning from a long trip to Germany and Finland, during which while hiking and semi-lost on the frozen landscape of Arctic Lapland I realized that a former heartbreak had been lifted, I created a profile on OKCupid to re-enter the world of possible romance.  I was attracted to the site because of the endless number of questions one could answer, strengthening the possibility that the algorithm could uncover the ideal match. Surely such wide ranging and personal questions, if answered honestly and in great numbers, would discover that perfectly matched person who would be so in sync with my values and desires that my earlier mistakes of hope clouding reality might be eliminated.


The result was overwhelming. Dozens of women messaged me. All were in the 90-100% match range. While flattering, I assumed that being a straight, employed, fit, reasonably decent looking guy in my age range in San Francisco might be, if not a rarity, at least an attractive proposition to the many single women in the city.  I answered none of the messages, “liked” none of the possible matches the site served up by the hundreds.  It was all too much.

Until one day I received a message that responded specifically to what I had written in my profile about my love of swimming and books. On top of that OKCupid said we were a 99% match. I answered the message and began a month long email correspondence that only deepened my expectation that an ideal match might be possible.

At the time I was traveling back and forth to New York for work, alternating two weeks there with two weeks back in San Francisco. This delayed meeting my new online friend. When the time finally came, she suggested we meet in front of the South End Rowing Club and go for a walk along Crissy Field. Here the algorithm succeeded beyond its possible calculated knowledge. How could it have known that I had been a recent member of the adjacent Dolphin Swimming and Rowing Club, very likely standing next to this woman on the small common beach between the two clubs, swimming in the same water, enjoying the same open water experience that had sparked the match in the first place?


More dates followed. A match had been made. I proposed. She accepted. My best friend Josh married us at Green’s on October 18, 2014. We were an OKCupid poster couple.


How would I know that some four years later my wife would dissolve our marriage, telling me she no longer loved me, hadn’t loved me for nearly three years, confirming what we both knew—but that I suppressed—that our marriage had been a disappointment.

A few days ago I re-registered on OKCupid, not to renew a search for another match—never that route again!—but to remind myself of the kinds of questions the site posed, and to see if I could locate my old results. I couldn’t backtrack, but answering the questions again has been insightful. So far I’ve answered again over a hundred questions, and already am being deluged with likes and messages. I need to turn this off, but in the meantime seeing the algorithm at work is revealing if only cold comfort.

My wife and I were indeed well matched on all the kinds of questions I’m answering again. Similar political views; nonbelievers; nonsmokers; moderate or non-drinkers; similar attitudes towards sex, exercise, diet, fitness, dogs and cats.

I haven’t come across a question, though, to the effect of “What is your view of marriage?” Or “How much togetherness is too little, too much?” “Is it important to please your partner?” “Is marriage a shared destiny, or two independent destinies?” “Are we now on one road or two in life?” “How much affection is appropriate in a marriage?” “Is our love possible?”

These latter were the essential unanswered questions that doomed our marriage. Our visions of marriage turned out to be profoundly different. Our ideas of compromise, compassion, and commitment proved to be different.

She withdrew her affection and I persevered believing what I had was good enough. I was too much and she was too little. I believed married people trudged the happy road of destiny together. She believed in two roads, two destinies.

When the crisis hit, I wanted to try to work things out, see a couple’s counselor, resolve issues and differences. She said no. She said had we more equity—more time together as a couple– perhaps she might have been willing to try.  Later she told me it would have been futile, at least from her perspective, that our fundamental outlooks, our needs and desires, our ideologies, were too dissimilar. There would always be compromise. One of us would always be unhappy.

I reluctantly agreed.

OKCupid failed to identify those core belief systems that give deep meaning to a relationship, that establish a foundation for a lasting bond and true marriage of shared joy.  It failed to define happiness.

We had shared happiness for a while. I know we did, that it was real. It disappeared too quickly, the fractures becoming evident within a year.


It makes me deeply sad.

Could I have been different? Could there have been a different outcome, a different destiny? I’ll never know.

I’m reminded of the lovely, bittersweet song by Ivor Novello, The Land of Might Have Been:

Somewhere there’s another land
Different from this world below
Far more mercifully planned
Than the cruel place we know
Innocence and peace are there
All is good that is desired
Faces there are always fair
Love grows never old or tired
We shall never find
That lovely land of might-have-been
I can never be your king
Nor you can be my queen
Days may pass and years may pass
And seas may lie between
We shall never find
That lovely land of might-have-been
Sometimes on the rarest nights
Comes the vision calm and clear
Gleaming with unearthly lights
On our path of doubt and fear
Winds from that far land are blown
Whispering with secret breath
Hope that plays a tune alone
Love that conquers pain and death
Shall we ever find
That lovely land of might-have-been?
Will I ever be your king
Or you at last my queen?
Days may pass and years may pass
And seas may lie between
Shall we ever find
That lovely land of might-have-been?



Grow Bigger

When did I realize that the collapse of my marriage was an opportunity, not a failure?  An opportunity to grow beyond the self-imposed limits of the compromise I was living? An opportunity to become the possibility of being bigger than myself?  An opportunity of independence free from judgment?  An opportunity to connect more deeply with the world, and with myself?

I didn’t understand this sense of opportunity on February 9th, the day my wife told me she no longer loved me and no longer wanted to be married.

It’s ironic that this verdict was delivered on this day. At the South End Rowing Club February 9th is known as “the dreaded 9th,” allegedly the day the water is the coldest in San Francisco Bay. The idea was coined by South End swim legend Bob Roper, who annually scheduled a long and difficult swim on that day, to test the mettle of the strongest swimmers. That my wife and I had just returned from Bob Roper’s memorial service on this February 9th only deepened this irony.

Bob Roper

It was a cold day indeed. The details wounded. They hurt. My conception of love, stability, security, of the marriage commitments a man and woman were meant to hold sacred, was shattered. I wasn’t sure I even wanted to face the consequences of what my wife was doing, what she was saying, why she was saying these things. Jung wrote that if you want to understand why someone did something, look at the consequences and infer the motivation.

The classic Kübler-Ross model of grief has five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They are not necessarily sequential. I have been through them all since the dreaded 9th—and have come to add a sixth, and final, stage: celebration. This isn’t a narrative I’m creating to make myself feel better. I know that the journey getting to celebration will be rocky, with detours, roadblocks, speed traps, and maybe even a few short-cuts.

I can’t yet see the destination—maybe it’s always only about the journey—but I know in my heart there is one, unlike on the 9th of February where the only view I saw later that afternoon was the cold gray water and cloudless blue westward sky contemplated from mid-span on the Golden Gate Bridge: a windy, thoughtful place on a cold thoughtful day.


I remembered Matthew Arnold’s lines from Dover Beach about the sea’s eternal note of sadness:

Sophocles long ago

Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought

Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow

Of human misery; we

Find also in the sound a thought,

Hearing it by this distant northern sea.


The briskness of that afternoon brought clarity, too—clarity that the only solution the ocean offered was to swim in it, to surround myself with the life-affirming currents, the ebb and flow, that yes, can remind me of human misery but also opens me to a welcoming oneness with a power greater than myself, a power that lifts me out of whatever puny state of mind I happen to be wallowing in.


Plan the work and work the plan. That’s the deal I’m making today: downsize my life to what’s essential, and yes, what sparks some joy.  Move out of my wife’s house.  Live lightly, temporarily, until the end of the year.  Move to Boston.  Plan and transfer work to Boston and the east coast.  Look forward to swimming in Boston, being closer to my family, old friends.  Reconnect my past with a new future, a future that’s both familiar and uncharted.  Grow bigger.

When I once asked my therapist Dr. Ralph, about a different heartbreak, whether the pain inside my heart would ever go away, his answer was, “No, the pain will never go away. But you will grow bigger.”

Bigger indeed.



May 2019

It’s May 2019 and my wife of four years is dissolving our marriage, and I’m facing an immediate future of dislocation, laced with emotion, sadness, anxiety, and uncertainty. There is no drama, no anger. At least none expressed.

This isn’t a time in my life that I either anticipated or wanted to build something new. A new chapter is being thrust upon me, not by my will but by hers.

This drama in my little world leaves me cold to the drama in the greater world; yet it’s inescapable. The country’s a mess. The world is a mess. Maybe it’s always been, though Trump America is unlike anything I’ve lived through before, not Vietnam, not Watergate, the Clinton impeachment, the Bushes and their wars. Trump America is utterly dispiriting. I can’t listen to the news anymore. It makes me physically sick.

I wake up at 3:00am, my mind racing with too many thoughts. Why this, why me, is any of this worth it, is life worth it, who would care if I were gone, where will I live, how will I live. I don’t go back to sleep, then drug myself on caffeine as soon as I’m up to make it through another day.


Life is suffering. This is undeniable. Whether a believer or not, all religions embrace this basic precept.  Life embraces it.  Everyone dies. We experience the pain of others’ deaths, of loss, of sickness, of heartbreak. It’s only a matter of time and scale.

To make someone else’s life better is the only salvation: to not inflict unhappiness on another person; to find goodness in a person despite their flaws; to honor one’s word, one’s commitments; to do what’s right, not what’s expedient; to not be a jerk. These are not easy.  I often fail.  But they are the only way out, the only way to make sense of the tragedy of the world, to not turn tragedy into a living hell.

If you resent someone, for something that person has done to you, it’s said that to be free of that resentment, pray for the person you resent. Pray for their happiness, their success. Buddhists say that prayer can be setting an intention. It’s not asking a sky-dwelling God for gifts from heaven.


So I’m praying for my wife. May she find peace. May she find happiness. May she make someone else’s life better.

I’m setting that intention for myself.