Squash and Wally at home, with favorite furry blanket.

My most recent attempt at online dating, which follows earlier unsuccessful sorties, has crashed and burned somewhat spectacularly, with my being banned from Bumble. I’ve never been banned from anything before, so I’m feeling kind of modern. 

I wish I could say why it happened but I cannot, as there was neither a warning nor an explanation. I was right in the middle of typing an answer to a question from “Christopher” about whether I have any pets when the Bumble app shut down and locked me out. Though I can’t say I’d been using the app religiously, I did check in once in a while, and was thinking of paying for access to my latest accumulation of 50+ likes, which you can’t see unless you pay. The thing is, if I had swiped right on them the first time I saw them, I would have been prompted to start a chat. In other words, I’d already rejected them once.

And now I am blocked! Though I emailed Bumble three times asking why, they say they can’t tell me due to privacy concerns. The form letter assured me I’d been reported multiple times and referred me to a list of reasons one’s account might be deleted. I know I didn’t use hate speech, or try to collect money, or talk dirty, or send spam, or post inappropriate photos. The only thing I can think of is that maybe one or two times I gave out a link to my website, thinking it a quick way for a fellow Bumbler to decide if they really wanted to get involved with this “Marion Winik” person. But my website has information about my books, with links to Amazon, so maybe they pegged me as using Bumble to sell a product? 

I checked around, and found that most of the people complaining about being banned by Bumble are men. One of the few women who have been exiled could only surmise that she had shown too much cleavage in a profile pic. Another suspected an ex-boyfriend had maliciously reported her. Others say that any prospective match whom you stop replying to or offend in some other way can get you knocked off the site.

Ah, so maybe it was Robert of Bethesda. We were talking about a coffee date in Baltimore, and though we didn’t confirm it, or trade phone numbers, or communicate at all in the days prior, the day I got banned was the very day we had talked about meeting for coffee. What if he drove up here and sat at Artifact with no way to contact me? I’d feel really bad about that but I’ll never know now. In any case, the great love between Robert and me almost certainly would have gone in the bucket with these failed connections:

–  I spent many hours texting with a cheery widowed crossdresser from Washington D.C. who runs a government agency. He told me he hasn’t had “what would be called normal sex” in many years, and he gave me a bit more detail which I won’t go into here. For a couple weeks, he texted me morning, noon and night.

– I had lunch with a portly Pittsburgh Steelers fan recently retired from the Methodist ministry. I give him advice on his planned historical novel.

– I met a man from York, Pennsylvania who had lovely blue eyes and an unfortunate skin condition. He marveled that I am able to live in the city of Baltimore, what with all the shootings and carjackings and such. On the other hand, he bought me three glasses of wine.

I tried, I swear.

– Eventually, as the texting continued, the crossdresser and I met in person. He was a petite yet fleshy fellow, and though he had listed Harvard as his alma mater he now explained he was in fact was a graduate of Catholic University who had attended a brief extension course at Harvard. Nothing against Catholic University, but still…. In any case, after our sad meet-up, the texting stopped. I had had my darling Wally along with me so he could probably tell I am already taken.

– A man who used to date a psychedelic shrink with an eighty-acre wellness ranch in rural Louisiana explained to me that after she helped him cure his toenail fungus, she lost interest in him. This person was actually the most viable prospect I met, but we experienced no fireworks when we met for a bagel. We remained in communication for a few months, at which point it turned out he had read one of my books and wanted to meet for lunch. When the day of the lunch came, he called to say we should probably cancel because he has been seeing a woman from Annapolis. Well, okay then. But the next week, he sent pictures from Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Possibly I will hear from him again.

– While I was visiting my son and future daughter-in-law in Austin, I got a flurry of very nice-looking and -seeming matches that I couldn’t do much about because I was only in town briefly. This also happened when I was in Boston for a weekend. Apparently dating in either Austin or Boston would be more fruitful for me. Let’s put a pin in that, as they say.

The question is — why? Why, why, why did I even think of getting involved with this crazy shitshow again, after a decade of adjusting pretty happily to single living? How did I suddenly decide I’m alone in a bad way, that the fact that my only intimate relationship is with a dachshund is not okay? I’m not even living alone right now. Jane is here, roosting temporarily as she figures out next steps, involving grad school, a serious boyfriend, and a job that may change from remote to in-person. Ah, twenty-two.

Right around the time I joined Bumble last November, I read an article in the New York Times about a “huge, kind of explosive, social and demographic” change. Thirty-six percent of Americans over 50 live alone — currently 30 million people. While older people have always been more likely to live alone, the article pointed out that baby boomers like me have made life choices that are greatly increasing the likelihood of that outcome. “Even with an active social and family life,” it says, “people in this group are generally more lonely than those who live with others.” 

Though the article didn’t get into online dating, I feel like we could finally be closing in on an answer to the question posed so memorably by Paul McCartney in Eleanor Rigby. All the lonely people come from Bumble and OKCupid.

Though I spent the whole first part of my adult life as part of a couple, by the time I turned fifty, I was widowed once and divorced once, and have been single ever since. I’ve been living alone since Jane left for college in 2018. I wrote an article about a month in about how surprisingly fine it was. “Perhaps that’s the dirty little secret that’s being covered up with all this cultural anxiety about empty nesting,” I gloated. “You finally get rid of the little brats and eat whatever you want for dinner. Mwah ha ha ha.”

Well, it’s been a long time since 2018. 

I sharply experienced the onset of Empty Nest, Part 2 while I was visiting my son and his wife and baby boy in Boston last October. Despite all of their kindness and adorableness, I started to feel a little low. I had to run across the street and pace the aisles of Target for some anonymous crying. I also cried most of the way home on the airplane. It wasn’t because I totally ruined the Singapore noodles (they literally dissolved the entire dish into glue due to incorrect soaking procedure) or because my dear little grandson was a bit wary of me (he doesn’t see me often) though these things doubtless played a role. 

I could tell it was something old, some buried button getting pushed. After some scribbling in a notebook, I thought what might be hurting me so is the recognition of the sweet little triangle of trust and intimacy that my son and my daughter-in-law and their baby have, which I’m not really part of, and it’s been a long time since I was part of any polygon of love at all. 

This is when I decided to go looking for “my person” again, and came up with the idea to join a dating app, meet my new soulmate and fix the whole problem! I chose Bumble because I heard that the woman has to make the first move, preventing the discouraging inbox-full-of-randos situation.

The Bumbling went poorly, as described above, and I forgot to even look at the app for weeks at a time. But then this past weekend, my Boston son took his little family to visit my Austin son, and my daughter was down in North Carolina with the family of her boyfriend, and I found myself on the couch in Baltimore with a black dog and an orange cat thinking I must have made some mistakes along the way. 

The fact that my family is spread out all over the country can be traced to my initial choice to move away from the place I grew up (Asbury Park, NJ), then to move again from the place my sons were born (Austin, TX), and then to leave that garden spot (Glen Rock, PA) to raise their little half-sister in yet another place where we have no family connections. This last would be Baltimore, MD, home of the not-so-sexy Bumble line-up.

Since it’s too late to start over and never leave New Jersey in order to establish an ancestral home for my family, and in no universe that I know of could my first husband or my second marriage have been saved, there remained just one solution. Therapy, you’re thinking. Hell, no. Back to Bumble! I checked my open chats and saw that the venture capitalist in Austin had at some point lobbed a conversation-starter about my pets. But before I could reply, or look at my new set of hunky Baltimore options, the app shut down and I was banned for life. 

My daughter made me feel better by telling me she’s been blocked by Tinder more than once, and you just get a new phone number from Google Voice and start over.

Nevertheless, I don’t think I’ll be returning to the apps, unless at some point I move to a buzzier hive such as Boston or Austin. But really, if I’m going to get another chance at coupledom, I think it’ll take something like what happened to one dear old friend — she was tracked down on social media by a cute Quebecois man she had a fling with in the 1980s, and now she’s practically living in Montreal. 

In the absence of that kind of fairy-tale intervention, I will remind myself of the luck I do have. There is so much of it. I just have to think for a second of what real sorrow is to put my recent feelings in perspective. The glass is way more than half full, Eleanor, so quit your bitching. 

This was the first version of the illustration, but it might be the better one. I really can’t tell.

University of Baltimore Professor Marion Winik is the author of "The Big Book of the Dead,” “First Comes Love,” and several other books, and the host of The Weekly Reader on WYPR. Sign up for her...

19 replies on “Bumbling”

  1. You should move back to Austin! It’s a hellish place now in some ways but still Austin in other ways.

  2. One of your best ever, Marion.
    The image of a “polygon of love” is tremendous.
    Makes us miss you, even though you are a short walk away.
    I should walk over with some Mary Sue Easter Eggs–even if you eschew most sweets, and the Royal Farms nearest hasn’t started stocking them. xo Jim

  3. The phrase “Banned on Bumble” also reminds me of the side-splitting climax of one of my favorite novels, now cancelled, and set in New Orleans, when Ignatius J. Reilly’s put-upon mother, Irene, says to him: “Attacked by a bird? Only you would get attacked by a bird.”

  4. I absolutely love being privy to your thoughts about living alone. I have lived alone now for twenty years after ending marriage. I have an active social life and have never considered myself lonely. I just don’t think I could do coupledom again. No real interest.

  5. Hahahahaha Marion’s hilarious lists of ,um, dicey situations, the best!!!!
    And Paul McCartney, Yes!

  6. “Banned by Bumble” — sounds like a movie title. Maybe it will be one day!

    (P. S. I like the illustration with the deeper blue background better, but both are lovely.)

  7. Yep. So great and hilarious! Excellent date illustrations too—big time series potential.

  8. Oh Marion! This was a hum dinger! You really hit a nerve with us over fifties! I too have lived in many places without family (still am)& was wondering this morning “where’s HOME?” Please remember how deserving of love you are, and that you ARE loved! It will all come together in some fashion; be patient. And by the way my middle name is Eleanor; I was named after that song! I consider it my theme song! 😉

  9. Marion,
    What a wonderful, spot-on article. Every word was pitch perfect . . . humorous and heartbreaking at the same time. Bumble know what it’s missing.

  10. I will comment on the 2 versions of “the date”. I prefer the first one you did. I like it’s presence. As to what is projected, in the original the figures are both better grounded and distinctly elevated, the alcohol floats, and the body language seems to be that the guy is uncertain/non-committal and the gal more eager. To my eye there is more suspense and the whole composition works, because it’s about will they won’t they? It’s quality is humorous. In the one you ended up choosing, she’s uncertain and he more eager, but the overall quality is more uneasy. They may be in proximity, but seem more separate in their effort. What made you pick the second one?

    1. I think you are right, particularly about the attitudes the figures convey, but I was unhappy with the way I colored the first one. I wasn’t thrilled with the second one either, but I had already spent two days…I need to go back to art school to develop more confidence with watercolors (in the second one, I turned to magic marker for part of it. Thanks so much for these thoughts, Hilry!

  11. A really interesting, a terrific article, Marion – and the watercolors are also wonderful. I’d like to see a whole series of them. I don’t think you should go to art school because the drawings are so wonderful as they are – and they speak so much. You are perfect as you are!

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