Love, Lies, and the Internet: The Hypothetical Girl by Elizabeth Cohen

What initially attracted me to ‘The Hypothetical Girl’ was the title. Or, at the very least, I find the sentiment behind the title appealing. Despite being in the latter half of my twenties, I have no idea ‘who I am’. I’m okay with this, as I don’t believe anyone is one thing. What I struggle with, in particular, is the idea of identity and perception. What defines us? Is it our profession? Our political leanings? Our favorite movie? Our hobbies? Our relationship status?

Because, by profession, I am a librarian, but if I had a dollar for every time I heard that I don’t look like a librarian, I’d be wealthy. I lean so far left that I’m in danger of falling over and I’m fairly certain if you tell me your favorite movie is Batman and Robin, we aren’t going to be friends. And because I struggle with a rather contrary nature, I can’t help but wonder if my preference for typically masculine things is due to my appearing particularly feminine. As for defining one’s self by relationship status, that is the topic of ‘The Hypothetical Girl’ by Elizabeth Cohen.

Hypothetical Girl

This collection of short stories deals with the world of online dating and the search for human connection in the modern world. The set-up to each story is simple and, to a point, effective. Introduce lonely woman, introduce potential mate, potential couple fails and the woman is let down. While each of the stories is different, at their core they are very similar. There’s an actress and an Icelandic Yak farmer, a deer and a polar bear (proving love does take all forms…via Skype), and love developing through common passions. There are limericks, texts, and emails exchanged all in the pursuit of true love.

While the set-up can be effective, it is also repetitive. Nearly every story is similar and by the end of the collection, the effect is disheartening and, quite frankly, borders on bitter and depressing. The women were more concerned with the men who claim to love them (from afar) than they were with their own desires. I strongly prefer the idea of equal partnerships and while this may be naïve, it is what I expect and what I accept. I couldn’t relate to the women in the stories, save their desire for love and human connection – which I believe is nearly universal. I did enjoy the online aspect of the collection. In a world where social media and online presence is so prolific, I think it’s interesting to look at what can happen when you misrepresent yourself to a person you’re claiming to fall in love with – essentially love, lies, and the internet, if you will. While the collection as a whole didn’t work for me, the story “Limerance” is a highlight (falling in love over limericks), as is “Love Quiz”.

In a world where modern technology is the dominant form of communication, I think a collection like this is relevant, even if its appeal is lost on me. The stories are well-written, occasionally funny, and, in brief segments, poetic, but my enjoyment was hindered by my lack of sympathy for the women and bitter endings of the relationships. I’ve never ventured into the world of online dating, so perhaps the depressing endings are reflective of reality. I simply don’t know. I do know that two of my coworkers and one close friend have met their spouses via online dating, so it certainly seems like it can be an effective tool. 2.5/5.

Of note, I often talk to people I know online more frequently than I talk to the people I know in real life. It’s odd, but there’s a certain convenience and ease to online communication. Is anyone else guilty of this?

Does anyone else ever feel hypothetical? Are we defined or perceived a certain way by what we like? Because I don’t want to be defined by my love of Flashdance or Pretty in Pink – though I’m team Ducky all the way.

Roasted Tomato

I try to walk that fine line between too much and not enough personal information. This post definitely leans towards the former, so thanks for bearing with me. Because this novel features a lot of bitter disappointments (and no food I want to feature), I’m recommending comfort food – pasta with roasted tomatoes.


*I received a digital review copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.

19 thoughts on “Love, Lies, and the Internet: The Hypothetical Girl by Elizabeth Cohen

  1. I for one appreciate personal information on Rory. I often lean on the digital crutch for my socialization. I think it’s a godsend for the introverts among us! Too much face time leaves me exhausted.


    1. Thank you. I like blogs with some personal information too (like if a person loves penguins, for example, or dislikes coleslaw, as all reasonable people should),

      I sometimes find online communication easier. I have to be an extrovert at work and, your right, it is exhausting!


  2. I definitely talk more to people online, but part of that is because all my closest friends live 3+ hours away… so even my “real life” friendships are maintained online, at least on a day-to-day basis. I have many acquaintances where I’m living now, but very few I would call friends.


    1. Despite moving to Colorado ten years ago, I am the same. I have a few close friendships, but mostly acquaintances. I usually blame that on working so much (and, true enough, some of my close friendships are coworkers), but there’s probably some introversion to blame for it too.

      Online communication makes it so easy. I can leave a comment for someone or send them a message at 1 or 2 in the morning (I’m a night person) and they can get back to me when it’s most convenient for them (which usually isn’t 2am).


  3. I talk to the friends I met online more than the friends I met through jobs or other “in person” means. All of the good friends I have in PA have moved away, so we can’t hang out anymore. (I mean, I still talk to them, but not in person and not as often.)

    I have met so many wonderful people online who have become good friends–I think I would be a very lonely person if I hadn’t met them. It seems that it’s far easier to meet people online who are similar to me than it would be if I were trying to meet them in my area (because there are SO MANY people online).

    As far as how we’re perceived/defined, I think different people define us by different standards. I can define MYSELF by my passions, my political leanings, or any number of things, but that still may not be how other people perceive or define me.


    1. I’ve moved around so much that I’ve never felt settled long enough to make the typical “life long” friends you read about.

      I think it’s easier to find people with similar interests online. Occasionally you meet what is essentially another version of yourself, which is both fun and odd. The short story collection explores how people portray themselves online (hint: most of them lie) and why their relationship fails because of it. I find that I am more honest online because I’ve found people I can be totally honest with. It’s refreshing.

      I was out with someone the other day (and we were at a Bob Dylan concert) and he looks at me and ask if I’m “one of those Bob Dylan people” (there were actual air quotes). I mean, what is “a Bob Dylan person”? Does liking his music make me only one kind of person.


      1. A “Bob Dylan person”? That’s an…odd…question. How do you even answer that? I would have asked exactly that–“Does liking his music make me only one kind of person?” Sigh.


      2. My response was similar…”What do you mean by that?”, to which there was an awkward silence.

        Does it mean I have fabulous taste in music? Why yes, yes it does.


  4. What’s wrong with Batman and Robin?? Kidding.

    Online dating SCARES ME. While I agree, it can be effective, I would always worry I’d need up with a total freak that lied in the list of info about him.

    I’m also guilty of communicating more with my online friends… it’s just easier and more productive and just works for me since I have such a busy life. Also, while I can keep up a normal conversation, my topics tend to revolve around books and blogging lately and my online friends understand this more.


    1. Geez, if there was ever a definitive list of worst sequels ever made that would top it – no doubt.

      I’ve never online dated, I have no intention of online dating, and I try not to cringe when other people tell me that they are doing it. I worry. I am a worrier by nature, so I’m not sure I’d be able to do it. I don’t mind people maintaining a certain amount of privacy or anonymity online, but I’m also not aiming to date them.

      I tend to be more introverted, so while I enjoy going out and in person conversations, I can also find them tiring (depends on the event, the person, and the topic). I actually like the time lag involved in online communication. If a certain time doesn’t work, the conversation thread will still be there a few hours later. It definitely makes global communication easier.


      1. It was really bad. I wish I could forget how terrible it was. I bet George would like to forget about it too.

        There are just too many creeps in this world these days, I wouldn’t trust someone blindly like that. Yeah, I’m not aiming to date either. My fiance and I have been together for going on 7 years now so I’m not even sure I remember how to date.

        I’m extremely introverted. I can have extended conversations with few people but in general I don’t handle it well and I hate talking on the phone. I agree, the lag gives you the opportunity to think and formulate a response. My brain works slow like that.


      2. I hate talking on the phone. It actually pains me to call someone (be it the doctor, dentist, or pizza delivery person).

        I’ve never been one for “dating”, that getting to know a person phase is awkward no matter how you handle it. I tend to be incredibly independent and feel trapped easily. I think a lot of that can be blamed on my background (difficult childhood, etc. etc. whine, whine, whine), but some of it is just me. I actually like to be alone and I’m naturally a quiet person. I’m introverted, which I consider different from shy. I can talk to anyone, it doesn’t mean I want to though. That being said, I’ve quite enjoyed blogging. I can interact as often or as infrequently as I want. And, of course, there are actually others like me. People (like you) will tolerate my whining and/or giddiness regarding books. I mean who else was going to countdown to the release of Coming Alive with me.

        And I agree, I think George quietly wishes that everyone would forget that movie. He’s come a long way.


    1. I liked a few of the stories, but as a whole they felt redundant. The writing was decent, so I might be willing to check out a full length novel by the author (should she write one).


  5. I too like the online conversations as you say you can go at your own pace when convenient. Also, I get to “talk books” to my heart’s content which I don’t get enough of with the real human race. Talking just physically exhausts me.

    My humble opinion about online dating: It can be rough, discouraging and time consuming. I am living proof that it does work, I married my husband in November. He was worth the wait, the effort and every lousy date I endured. I searched for a very long time and probably met over 150 men. I was selective, persistent and determined not to settle. Most definitely I met liars and married men but that happens anywhere you would meet someone. I also met many very nice men, whose company I enjoyed but simply were not suited for me. Online dating is convenient and allows you the opportunity to meet people you would not encounter otherwise.

    A great book about dating is Around the World in 80 Dates by Jennifer Cox. A true story about her global, online dating. Very interesting, funny and inspiring.


    1. The world, despite my best efforts as a librarian, doesn’t read enough. I feel like I deflate after I have to do extended public interaction or even after a night out.

      I’ve never online dated, but I can see the appeal. The idea of trying to find someone compatible is ideal. I firmly believe opposites attract, but there’s something to be said to having significant common ground. It’s so disheartening to hear that there were married men on there, I know people cheat (unfortunately), but to put so much effort into cheating! Much to my own dismay, I’m rather idealistic and, like you, refuse to settle. Compromise is one thing, settling another. Just to add (and I imagine I’m preaching to the choir here), I hate lying. I’ve known many liars, some far too well.

      Global, online dating…I could read about that.


  6. Mmmmmm comfort food.

    I probably won’t give this a try. Short stories aren’t really my jam anyways, and I can easily see myself just being frustrated by a lot of the women characters. I see women (in my own family, friends, and other acquaintances) compromising too much in the search for love and companionship, and it almost never works out well. I just wish women of today had…. higher standards? or more self-respect? I’m generalizing here in a big way, but I’m sure you get my point. I can see how you wouldn’t have much sympathy for those in this book.


    1. I go through short story phases. When they are done well, I think they can be amazing. Other times, I feel like authors write short stories when they are struggling with getting a novel together (I feel so snobbish when I think that, so I try not to).

      The women in my family tend to be the poster child for what not to do. I love them anyway, but still – a little self-love never hurt anyone. I’d like to think I have high standards. If I’m going to spend my entire life with a person than things better be good between us (not perfect, but good and we’d have to agree politically).


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