The Hypothetical Girl exposes the hidden emotion of online dating

The Hypothetical Girl by Elizabeth Cohen

Even this book’s cover is clever and wonderful.

Every story in Elizabeth Cohen’s first collection, The Hypothetical Girl, has a “Yes, yes that’s it!” moment.

These are romance stories for the connected twenty-first century, but I have to warn you, most of them don’t have happy endings.

Although online dating is gaining more acceptance in our culture, a lot of people still look askance at relationships that began on the internet. They feel it can’t be real love if you didn’t meet in some wonderful, haphazard way, thereby giving you a great story to tell your grandkids.

Cohen doesn’t make online dating out to be some miracle, but she does accurately portray the challenges and rewards of searching for your soulmate.

As a former OKCupid user, I found myself cringing with memories of dates gone wrong while I read these stories. Instead of making me feel like some kind of freak for having various misadventures with dudes (and yes, ladies) I met online, Cohen’s characters made me feel like I was never alone during those single years, because I was always in the company of others in my exact situation.

The collection isn’t overtly experimental, but Cohen uses white space to great impact, pulls off the second person without being annoying, and inserts love quizzes and poems that made me laugh. It’s not interactive in a choose-your-own-adventure way, but it feels like that.

“Love, Really,” takes us through the entire process of online dating. It’s not broken down into numbered steps, but frequent use of white space serves the same purpose and makes for a smoother read. The second person point of view drew me in and got my heart pounding a little—perhaps because this story felt eerily familiar to my own experiences.

That isn’t the only second person story, something I consider to be quite a feat. “Love Quiz” is a metafictional second person story in the form of an actual quiz, which the reader is invited to take. We all know we’ve done it.

The collection’s arrangement also worked well. More traditional stories appear in the beginning, and things get stranger from there. Sort of like how online dating (okay, any kind of dating) works in real life.

I’ve heard some people say online dating is no different from meeting people in person, or that it’s even a little easier. But I disagree. Online dating requires more artifice than “real” dating: a profile written to exacting standards that reveals just enough but not too much, photos that say something about your personality but also make you look good, a carefully curated collection of your likes and dislikes.

Cohen shows that she understands that difference. Her writing reveals the artifice for what it is and then strips it away, leaving us with raw emotion.

What do you think?