I hate online dating. Actually, I hate dating. I find it extremely time consuming, heavily anxiety generating and highly unrewarding. Today, I was talking to one of my friends who shares the same thoughts. Why on earth do people like dating? How do they find it enjoyable? I could not understand that people will find joy in uncertainty.
Through the years I have seen patterns in the dating lives of me and most of my friends, and to be honest, the process, our thoughts and our fears seem to be pretty much the same in most cases.
Stage 1: arranging a first date
Dating is a process that most of us go through with the hope of finding the reward of the rewards, the goal of the goals: love. However, as the famous British TV reality show states: “it all starts with a first date”.
We may have met someone in a bar on a night out, or online – as most people do these days-, and we fancy going on a date with them. The first question is when? Our busy schedules make it difficult to have time for “love” -even more so when we know it is highly unlikely that the feminist vegan poly-amorous brewer you met on okcupid will become the love of your life-. In my experience, when trying to arrange a time to meet, the preferred choices are: a week night – so you avoid the awkwardness of making up an excuse to leave if you don’t like them since you can just say: “Sorry, I have to go, I have work tomorrow”; or on a Sunday during the day, if you can actually see the potential and want to take things easy and have a good chat. I would say most people avoid the Saturday night. After all, why would you stop going out with your crew for another potential failed date?
When arranging a first date, there is another little detail to take into account: how soon are you meeting. Surely you want to find the date you are both logistically available however, most of us do not want to leave it too long because it may “fizzle”. I have been told this by plenty of friends, “meet ASAP if you like the person, it may fizzle otherwise”. This is a result of the quick materialistic world we live in. If we like it we buy it, if we find something we like more, we throw the previous former. Online dating only makes this process way easier and quicker. So eventually you will manage to find a day that you are both available, not too late because it may fizzle, but not too quickly either cause you need to make sure they aren’t a total psycho. Onto the next stage.
Stage 2: the texting game
The date is arranged in like six or 8 days. And here it comes, stage two of the dating nightmare: texting. 8 days may seem like nothing in a lifetime, but in the pre-first date life spam, it feels like a century. You need to entertain the conversation for Eight days before the date. We don’t want to come across as pushy, cause oh god forbid I scare the shit out of the poor dude! But we can’t really leave it either, because let’s be honest, we all want to avoid the awkwardness of “so, what do you do?” and have a basis for conversation on the first date. I call this stage the texting game.
Everyone has different preferences when it comes to texting. Some people love it, others hate it. I don’t think there is a rule of thumb for it. What for one person is too much, for another is not enough. This is what is tricky about this part -and dating in general- you don’t know each other, you are testing the waters, and playing with boundaries that haven’t even yet been established.
I find this the most nerve-wracking process out of all, because it is the one that plays with our deep insecurities the most. A lot of us, interpret the lack of contact as a lack of interest -mostly the extroverts-. Extroverts tend to believe that if someone is interested, they would reach out and talk to them. The more we talk, the better! However, not everyone is like that. Some people may be thinking about their date or planning it, but not necessarily texting all day everyday. This seems totally obvious from a rational perspective, but when immersed in the dating game, it can be extremely anxiety generating.
You have arranged a first date in 8 days. You have texted a few of times in the first couple of days and then nothing. What do I do? Shall I text? I don’t want to seem pushy… What if they aren’t interested anymore? What if they cancel the date? Or worse, what if they ghost me? Uncertainty, basically. This is fear talking, perhaps past experiences have lead us to it, but also our ego. No one likes being rejected. The answer to all the “what ifs”, once again, is obvious: time will tell. If they are interested they will message sooner or later, and if they aren’t the date will end up being cancelled and you will carry on business as usual.
Stage 3: the awaited first date
Eventually, one or the other usually reaches out, and the time and place gets confirmed, and here it comes, the very much awaited first date.
You are nervous. And excited. You have changed outfits five times. A million thoughts are crippling into your head: what if I don’t like them? What if I do and they don’t? What if they don’t show up? Don’t get too drunk! Be yourself, but not too much. Don’t have sex with them. The voice of reason soon sparks though: calm down bitch, it’s just a first date, if it doesn’t go well, you move on to the next day! Phew relief. And start again. But what if..?
Eventually, you end up putting on the very same outfit you put on at first and walking out of the house in a mix of excitement, fear and skepticism. You make it to the pub, or the bar, or wherever the hell you have decided to meet. Let’s be honest though, it tends to involve some sort of alcoholic beverage. You order a drink trying to calm yourself down while you text them “I am here, just by the bar :)”. And there you see them coming. Your heart rate is higher than in your Tuesdays HIIT class.
After the awkward semi-hug, semi-kiss, and the polite “shall I get you a drink?” the conversations starts. I saw a great instagram post about first dates a few days ago. It said that during a fist date, we spend 15% of the time drinking, 10% making small talk, 5% going to the bathroom, and 70% judging the shit out of the other person. I would give the drinking a bit more than 15% of the time, but overall, it seems pretty accurate. I personally find this stage the least nerve-wrecking out of all, because at least I can sense and see the other person. I can sense if there is some connection, and whether I want to see them again. However, for some people, this can be the most anxiety generating stage of the dating process because they may struggle with social interaction or they may not be able to interpret the signs as good as others.
Stage 4: back to the beginning.
Sometimes it is straightforward, you fancy each other and the date ends in a kiss or two, and arranging a second one. Easy peasy. Sometimes however, it ends with “I had a great time, I would love to see you again”. And the whole motherfucking process starts again. Okay, cool you want to see me again, but when? shall I text you to arrange? will you? how long do I wait before texting?
The first date is out of the way, sure. But you rarely go from one date, to straight commitment to each other. There is usually a process of dating. In which the stage one of arranging another freaking date is repeated, so it’s the stage two -the texting game- and then meeting again with the hope of going deeper this time – no, not necessarily sexually-, and establishing a stronger bond.
The process of dating is mainly inevitable for anyone who wants to have a long term relationship. We all have to go through it and we all have to battle our own fears, insecurities and anxieties while doing it. Unfortunately, as with weight loss, there is no shortcut.
Reality check: it is only about us not them.
The reality is in many cases, the dating process only brings out whatever is already within us. Let’s face it, we don’t care that much about them – we don’t even know them for god’s sake!- it is more about us. It’s about being rejected, again. It is about “failure”. And I say failure, because if the goal is to achieve love, or a long term relationship and we don’t then we can perceive it as failure, not because it is actual failure.
As nerve-wrecking as dating can be it can also be an opportunity to get to know ourselves better, our patterns, our fears, our insecurities and to learn how to deal with uncertainty. We can use this process to accept uncertainty as part of life, and to learn how to deal with the associated emotions, such as fear, anxiety or insecurity with compassion and love. It is an opportunity to practice self love by telling ourselves that those emotions are valid and we just have to bare with them and see them diminishing each time.
The truth is, they will probably text. Just a bit later. And we would have already learnt how to cope with those emotions that are inevitable but not necessarily based in real facts- but rather fears-. If we see dating as an opportunity for learning and growth, even if that first date doesn’t lead to a second, it will never be a failure. Afterall, they say practice makes perfection.