October 18 marked the end of the 1964 World’s Fair, but it was also the beginning of online dating: a participant of the exposition introduced a “compatibility machine”, which soon after led to the invention of TACT (Technical Automated Compatibility Testing), New York City’s first online dating program! Forty-nine years later, Elizabeth Cohen took inspiration from her own experiences in internet dating and wrote The Hypothetical Girl, a short story collection for those romantically challenged in real-life.
Zola: You tried online dating after your divorce and that experience inspired this short story collection. What’s the best part of online dating?
Elizabeth Cohen: The best thing about online dating is you meet someone’s soul first; it gives priority to the essence, rather than physicality, of the other person.
Zola: The worst?
EC: The worst thing about online dating–for certain–is that it is so easy for people to lie and deceive in this world.
Zola: Are you still looking for love online?
EC: I am taking a break right now. I had a long string of ridiculous disappointments and then I fell in love–with someone who very well could be all wrong for me. Breather time!!!
Zola: You teach memoir writing. Did you ever consider writing your online stories as nonfiction? Why did you instead channel the material into fiction?
EC: I am a memoirist and a journalist and in fact am writing a memoir right now. But this experience seemed to require so much delicacy and anonymity, and was really in every way un-right for memoir. Plus, from the very start these stories came to me as stories, melding snippets of experiences and people but no one totally biographic moment. In short, I made these stories up…but let’s just say I had an excellent bank of ideas to work with.
Zola: Many short story collections weave characters or events together—but your stories keep characters separate. Why so?
EC: These stories wanted to be little windows into different worlds, they came to me that way, as discrete, unique little worlds. I could certainly see a book of linked stories of this kind…and from a marketing perspective, that might have been the wise way to go. Too bad the muses don’t give a crap about marketing, those bitches.
Zola: Have you ever felt compelled to write more about a certain character?
EC: I do feel an affinity for one character in the book, like maybe writing more about her… her name is Blanquita, and another character in the story abandoned her in a truck stop near Gallup, New Mexico. Maybe I just feel like I left her hanging. Like she deserves me to write her, at the very least, a ride home.
Zola: You dedicate the book to your mother but say she might not have approved. Of what? And why not?
EC: I dedicate this book to my mother: “who would not have approved, and even if she did would have said she didn’t…”. My mother thought of herself as extremely liberated and cool, but in truth she was a bit prudish. When people kissed in movies she left the room and called it “silly.” I think she would not like the idea of me writing about love and especially sex. And even if she could get past all that to be proud of me she likely would not have been able to say that. She was a great contrarian who loved to play the devil’s advocate. The funny thing about having a deceased parent is you even miss the hard parts of them. I would love to have an argument with her about The Hypothetical Girl. We could be very intense and then have a coffee and hug it out.
Zola: In “Limerence,” your character Larry uses the idea that he’s suffering from a disease of unrequited love to get over his heartache. He repeats his diagnosis to himself like a mantra. Do you have a routine post break-up that helps pull you back together?
EC: I actually do have a post break-up routine. And it really works for me. After a break-up I write. I write it out. I might not even be writing about the person or what happened or the break-up, in fact I almost certainly am not. But the act of writing, or writing something good and real from the cloth of imagination is immensely healing to me. It just changes the channel in my brain completely, and I do not have to live in the feeling of sorrow or hurt. I live in the new world I have created instead.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.