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On the internet, meanwhile, I could be someone else entirely — maybe I was Parker, age 20, taking a semester off from Amherst, where I was studying art history, or Steven, a cater-waiter with dreams of becoming a Broadway star.I slipped in and out of identities as nimbly as I changed clothes.

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More than that, I loved using the apps because they allowed me to become disembodied — to exist only as the version of myself photographed in flattering angles at the magic hour, when the light cast everything in a tangerine glaze, that version of myself whose responses were always pithy and who could disappear at any moment. I was nothing more than bits transmitted via satellite.

By the time I made it to an actual meeting in real life, the version of myself that I had been presenting was so refined that I felt I could actually become him, this me that I had created in words and pictures.

“But I can’t seem to get anyone to stick around.” I hesitated. To me, this was a shameful secret — what was wrong with me that I couldn’t meet guys out in the world, like a normal person?

Certainly, I still met men in bars and clubs sometimes, as a teenager living in New York City with a passable fake ID, but I was unmistakably jailbait and any man who picked me up had to know it.

By the time I got to the guy’s apartment, it would be too late for him to back out at the sight of my conspicuously round, boyish face.

But as I grew older, the world changed around me and meeting people online became more commonplace.Suddenly the internet was no longer the domain of creeps and predators; in fact, everyone had the internet in their pocket on their phone, and they used it constantly.By the time I was in my early twenties, the old sites I used to frequent had fallen away and been replaced by apps that all my friends were using too, and this astonished me — the normalizing of these digital connections, as intimacy that was forged virtually then reified through flesh-and-blood interaction became just another thing that people did.I was grateful for this shift, the collapse of real and artificial spaces into one another.There was still something about first corresponding with guys online that I would always prefer to a real-life meeting, with all its vulnerability and exposure. ” people used to say when I would cop to meeting someone online. The risk that I’d get catfished by a sociopath who’d chop me up into little pieces and dump me in the Hudson paled in comparison to the realer, more urgent risk of a guy in a bar who might reject me: The former was the stuff of paranoid late-night news specials, but the latter could actually happen, and , to me.I went on dates even when I didn’t want to, when I would have preferred to stay home and watch Netflix or go out with my friends, because if I did not go on dates I might never find love, and I knew that love was the highest calling.