Makin’ Dirty Dishes by Jody Keisner

inbox-gmail.comHis picture didn’t interest me. I found him pleasant enough, but he looked good in a goofy way. He had a bulbous nose and carroty, buzz-cut hair. He appeared a tad overweight, soft in the face, maybe pudgy around the middle, though he had posted only a headshot, so I was speculating. What I fell for instantly was the sexiness that oozed from his words.

He talked about a blues song by Otis Redding, one in particular that started slowly and then built to a frenzy that sort of did something to him. He wrote in his online dating profile, “If you listen to this and feel the same way, we should talk.” I immediately ran out and bought the CD. Lying on my green couch in my small one-bedroom apartment located in a low rent area of Kalamazoo, Michigan, nicknamed the “Student Ghetto,” I shut my eyes and listened to Otis and imagined this man Rob’s* hands (though I hadn’t seen them), on my legs, my stomach, my shoulders, my neck. While Otis feverishly sang “Try a Little Tenderness,” I imagined fat fingers, massive knuckles, palms that were strong and unyielding, a metaphor for manhood in a romance novel.

We were both in our 30s, we both read literature, we both liked to hike (this was the online community’s version of “enjoys taking long walks”), we both found online dating sites slightly ridiculous yet oddly compelling, and we were both graduate students who knew to spell-check our profiles. He emailed. I emailed back.

His emails were sometimes playful, sometimes flattering, sometimes self-deprecating in that way that makes one seem charming. And more importantly, his emails were all directed right at my inbox. The daily attention was exquisite, and at my computer, I could make the cyberspace-Rob whoever I wanted. I imagined him as an attentive listener, a free-spirit, someone who adored water-skiers (I had grown up on a manmade lake in Nebraska).

We wrote each other daily, sometimes thrice-daily, for three weeks. The accessibility of the Internet allowed me to indulge in our email relationship constantly: in the computer lab at the community college where I was an adjunct, in my office at the university where I worked as a teaching assistant, in my apartment, in friends’ apartments, in coffee shops. Finally, mercifully, knee deep in each other’s emails, he wrote me and asked me to meet:

did you realize that our dating site is  under the impression that there’s a 73% chance that we’re perfect for one another? yeah. It’s true…meet me for a drink…

He called me to establish our first date at a martini bar and restaurant. The phone conversation was short, perfunctory. Still, I was over the moon for him, or at least for the virtual him, before even meeting.

Rob was sipping whiskey in a tumbler at the bar when I arrived.  He wore light blue jeans that were tight around his chunky thighs and a white, collared shirt that made his freckles stand out like stars in his ruddy complexion. His hands were just as I’d hoped. At dinner we were polite, informative, and light. We talked about our interests: he was in a blues band and I attended regular literature readings. Neither one of us had the same edge or exuded the poker-hot chemistry our emails conveyed, but our date lasted three hours nonetheless. I was so nervous that even though I had two glasses of wine and several glasses of water, I never used the restroom. My jeans were also snug, a size too small, and I didn’t want him to see me tug them when I got up.

At my car, after our date had ended, he hugged me for a long while and asked me to come see him play the next weekend. He invited me to his band’s CD release party several months away, a gutsy move that suggested our commitment to continue seeing one another. I said yes.

ours is a two-front affair, Rob emailed me that night.

I assumed he meant one part virtual and one part real.  I hoped our two-front affair would be just like “Try a Little Tenderness,” eventually working itself into a frenzy.

One evening, I showed up at the shack of a bar that his band performed at. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him as he played guitar, and when I left, he watched me from stage, singing lyrics by Tab Benoit: “Baby, who’s makin’ dirty dishes with you?” Yet, other than during his break for five hurried minutes, we hadn’t spoken to each other. At 3:12 a.m. he sent an email that I read first thing when I woke up:

 i’m sorry i didn’t get a chance to chat more. i was very happy to see you tonight and wish i could have sat and talked with you more…you have no idea.

The fervor of our email affair increased. We wrote each other stories about our growing up times and our previous lovers. Rob’s biggest mistake in his first marriage, he said, was his complacency. And me, I had dated and cohabitated with men who my friends referred to as “fix-er-uppers,” but I was ready for a healthy man. We wondered, through email, what we might be like as a real-space couple. After our cyber-dates, I lay on my couch and thought about the soul-scorching conversations we would conduct in person, late night walks we would take through artsy downtown Kalamazoo, dinners we would cook for each other which ended with both of us half-dressed in his kitchen (though I had never seen it). I imagined us slipping into love, which wasn’t hard as I was already crazy for his online persona, and if the voracity and intensity of his emails to me were any indication, he was quite smitten with mine. It wasn’t unusual for both of us to head immediately to our own computers, in our own apartments, and compose lengthy emails to each other full of witty and meaningful things that we hadn’t had the guts to say in person just minutes before. It wasn’t that our real space dating was sour—we’d only been on five dates—it was that our cyber-dating was thrilling.


Sitting in his small, economical car parked outside of a restaurant one night, both of us still belted in, we finally leaned in for our first kiss. I was vaguely aware that my hand was massaging his Adam’s apple and his tongue was exceedingly dry, like a wad of stale bread. We pulled away awkwardly. No! It can’t be like this! My mind was screaming. Grab him and kiss him again and show him what you are made of! But I only muttered a thank-you for dinner and left.

The next day, the first time in four months, Rob didn’t email me. Nor the next day or the next. I obsessively checked my inbox a dozen times each day. After class, I declined offers of cheap beers with other graduate students. I snapped at the undergraduate students I taught. I sulked in front of my computer. I had become emotionally dependent on our relationship in cyberspace, a fabricated place where he was the perfect boyfriend, I the perfect girlfriend, both of us magical kissers. I loved the flawlessly constructed email me. Online courtship allowed me to be my best self, exposing only my brightest moods, every conversational line impeccably delivered, and every nuanced word without a hint of anxiety or self-consciousness that permeated real life. Online, he didn’t see me in my threadbare kitty pajamas or the scabbed pimple on my chin. I didn’t see his nervous habit of sticking his pinky inside his ear, or catch him looking at another woman’s wiggly bottom while I told him about my day. Internet dating allowed both of us to remain mysterious, desirous, uncaught. But oh, how I longed to be caught.

After four days of zero communication with Rob, I sent a short email inviting him to a public reading event. My fingers ached to fly over the keys, banging out clever words, torrid secrets. He sent a terse apology for not being able to attend. Something was different in his email tone.

I went to the reading alone. The next night, he called.

“I’m sorry,” he said cheerfully. “I’ve been busy with my music…”

I exhaled. His band’s CD release party was the following weekend, and I wanted to go. I was ready to move our relationship off of the computer and merge the cyberspace and real space us.

“And with another woman,” he added.

“What?” Never once during our thrice-daily emails did I consider the possibility that he might have been cyber-dating someone else.

“She’s been in my life for a while. I don’t think it’s fair to her if I keep seeing you.” He paused to let the news sink in: he’d been makin’ dirty dishes with someone else.

“I hope she’s what you’ve been looking for,” I said stupidly.

“She is.” His voice was syrupy, and for the first time in our short relationship, apathetic. “Maybe I’ll see you around?”

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“No,” he laughed. “Probably not.”

I hung up and then sat at the computer typing furiously, capitalizing words when I wanted to scream:

 1.) I know the kiss in the car was weird, but just so you know, I can BRING THE HEAT. 2.) You shouldn’t have been writing me when your heart was somewhere else. 3) You’re an ASSHOLE.

I thought for a brief second about calling a friend for a much needed email intervention, but reason and logic had not yet reared their fun-hating heads during what was turning out to be my imaginary online relationship. I pressed “send” and showed Rob my worst self.


Three months later, Rob’s name appeared in my inbox. His relationship with the other woman had ended. I must have started this email two dozen times in the last month, he wrote with uncharacteristic seriousness and proper capitalization. But by then, I had already moved on to my next dotcom suitor, a man who composed short, straight-to-the-point emails and preferred to do all his talking and flirting in person, a man with whom I had already shared a pleasant first kiss, and would soon have several belly-searing kisses. This man and I, we would one day marry, but for now I enjoyed our face-to-face dates, which marked the end of all of our email communication. Jon’s lack of interest in cyberspace only bothered me a little. Besides, we were never as good online as we were in person.

Jody KeisnerJody Keisner’s work has appeared in Brain Child, Literary Mama, Studies in the Humanities, Women’s Studies, Modern English Teacher and elsewhere. She teaches courses in creative nonfiction at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.




*Name has been changed. 


  11 comments for “Makin’ Dirty Dishes by Jody Keisner

  1. You had me from the start, Jody, and held me all the way to the end. Great opener, great descriptions with a tinge of self-deprecation all the way through, too. I enjoyed the read. I did a little online dating recently, but it was nothing like this. No heat, all serious get-to-know you earnestness. I also quit pretty quickly when I realized I didn’t want to put forth the energy required for face-to-face. Online and face-to-face–so different, in my experience and apparently in yours.

    • Yes! Online dating IS so much less work because…well, maybe, just maybe because we’re only called upon to use our brains and not the rest of our bodies. Or maybe because fantasy is always easier than reality. I appreciate your kind words!

  2. I’ve been working with a student in the Writing Center who is writing an argument paper on why online dating is a bad idea; her premise is that online “heat” doesn’t always translate to face-to-face “heat.” Great essay.

  3. Excellent essay, Jody! I really enjoyed reading it. I loved “bring the heat” – hilarious! You are way better off with Jon!

  4. Jody, I totally get this. I’ve done it so many times, not on the Internet because most of my “dating” was before that time, but creating imaginary relationships with men who were emotionally unavailable. This piece zipped along with impeccable pacing and held me from word one. A most enjoyable read. Congrats on finally finding “the one.” I never did.

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