Note: Before we get into this, let me say that I am fully aware that there are a lot of people who absolutely refuse to bother with dating in its traditional form. Especially for young people now (I’m talking teens to 30-somethings), dating is a much more fluid, non-contrived, loosely structured idea. And that’s fantastic. You guys are not who I’m talking to. Continue being actual humans with the common sense to interact in ways that are logical and unforced. However, an upsetting number of people are still going on real “I’m gonna put on a tie and take you to a restaurant and be awkward” dates. To all of you, we need to talk options.
I’m not sure who originally came up with the idea of establishing clear boundaries between our love lives and all of our many other lives. Doesn’t that seem completely backwards? Don’t you, in a perfect scenario, want a love that bleeds through the lines and seeps into every corner of your existence? I’m not saying – nor would I ever say – that we should let our romantic relationships consume us, but I do believe quite strongly that the most important relationships (romantic or otherwise) end up being present to some degree no matter what we are doing. So if finding a supremely special person is the ultimate goal, why do our traditional dating structures start off by putting them in a box, removed from who we are in our daily lives?
Aside from how it strangely positions people in an unnatural subdivision of our lives, dates themselves are basically as crazy as it gets. People on dates are as fucking crazy as humans ever are. Ever. This abundance of emotional derailment stems mostly from the fact that dates feels a whole lot like an auditions. And most people don’t hold up well in situations like that. Even the ones who do…Look, I don’t care how perfectly self-aware and secure you are, when you focus too much attention on how you’re coming off to someone else, especially if you’re attracted to that person, you’re going to fuck it up. Somehow. You’re going to be a little too calculating with your words and actions, a little too nervous, and then a little too boastful to compensate for it, and then self-deprecating to compensate for the arrogance (and you’re not even typically an arrogant person! WTF is this date doing to you?) and by the end of the night, you’re back at home with a nauseating certainty that the lovely person you just shared a meal with has the complete wrong impression of you and you pretty much want to die. And it’s likely that they’re at home feeling the same way.
That’s the problem: dates force us to think way too hard about how we appear during a very limited amount of time. Dating is conceived in a way that there is a crippling combination of time constraints and pressure; We are so convinced that we must be our absolute best selves in that moment that it becomes mostly impossible to be anything resembling that. Dates are self-destructive and create altogether the opposite conditions under which an actual connection with another person might occur.
Let’s think about dates objectively: We’re supposed to block out multiple hours to spend with a person who we may not know very well, if at all, and do things that are outside of the spectrum of our usual activities, so we feel out of our element. We plan dates ahead of time to demonstrate respect for the other person’s otherwise full life, so we have days or weeks to for pressures and expectations and insecurities to build until we actually go on the date and are so stressed and sweaty, we can barely make words happen, let alone be anything resembling our actual selves.
In fact, every aspect of a “date” seems carefully selected to take us as much out of our element as possible before tasking us to be at the height of our interpersonal game. I’m sorry, but who can possibly pull off the correct balance of honest and reserved, flirty yet respectable, listen intently, actually store the information you’re hearing (because god forbid you don’t remember on the second date who the fuck “Mary” is even though they told you on the first date), confident but humble all while worrying about getting food in your teeth, second (okay, fourth) guessing your outfit choice and still waiting for your blood pressure to normalize after spending a maddening 15 minutes looking for a parking space because you don’t know this neighborhood because you would never fucking come here if it wasn’t for this date, which at this point, might literally, actually kill you. And it turns out, the person you’re with “doesn’t think Michelle Bachmann is that bad.” In the words of the great Deana Carter, did I shave my legs for this?
The places we choose to go on dates tend to be weird and illogical considering the fact that the official motive for going on dates is to give you and another person the best possible opportunity to get to know one another. The problem is that we’ve been told that there is a small list of date-approved activities and that these are the best ways for every person to get to know every other person, and if you find it difficult to be social in these situations, there is something wrong with you. The truth is, only a small percentage of people find that sitting in a quiet place, staring at each other over food or coffee to be the easiest way to open up and show someone who they are. Some people don’t communicate best with words. A great many people, who are feasibly really wonderful, charming, dynamic individuals, thing they’re “undateable” not because they suck as humans, but because the traditional dating practices we lean on are only suited to bringing out the best in a very, very small portion of people.
Supposedly the reason we go to fancy restaurants or do something adventurous and quirky like zip-lining, or otherwise venture completely outside of our usual activities on dates is A) a high price tag or risk of death makes the date “special”, and B) we’re supposed to want to show that we aren’t afraid to go outside of our comfort zone because apparently that’s an attractive thing to everyone. I have a suspicion that a staggering number of dates involve two people who are violently uncomfortable while pretending to be “adventurous, non-comfort zoners” when they would both rather be sitting at Starbucks. And if they were honest about that, if they felt like that was acceptable courtship practice, they might actually be comfortable enough to pay attention to each other, be themselves, and figure out if nudity and love are in their future. But instead, they’re on some bullshit date that is distracting them from each other.
So why do we do this? Why do we intentionally remove ourselves from our lives in order to audition someone to be a part of them? Doesn’t it make a lot more sense – and isn’t it a far more romantic gesture – to bring someone into our world? Not only would dates become far less stressful and more lighthearted, but there’s a lot more to learning who a person is than sharing overpriced tapas and talking about where you went to college; doing the things they do in their real life, meeting the people who, say, work at their favorite bar or taco truck, hanging out in the park near their apartment with their dog – don’t these activities give us an infinitely more well-rounded idea of who a person is, and if their life might potentially interact well with yours?
I propose this alternative: We kill dating. Just take the whole ridiculous institution and murder it in the streets. Murder it twice. Sprinkle the ashes here and bid that fucker a swift journey to the darkest part of hell.
Side note: I do entirely support the practice of going on dates once you already know someone. Doing special, sparkly, expensive, adventurous, or otherwise out-of-the-ordinary things with someone you are already comfortable with is super fun and makes life awesome. Go on dates with someone you love. Just don’t go on dates to find love.
Why aren’t we focusing more on following the things that thrill us and interest us and make us feel fully alive, rather than engaging in a series of hollow interactions with strangers in the obscure hope that one of them will thrill, interest, and enliven us? We aren’t we taking ownership of our personal mission to be happy and fulfilled, and letting romantic relationships – and all relationships, really – be a product of that journey, rather than being the single goal themselves?
What if, as an alternative to the brutal freak show that is normal dating, we just let life happen? What if, instead of carving out intentional moments to try and force love to spontaneously appear, we simply seek out juicy, enriching experiences doing shit that we like and see what kind of people we meet along the way? Spoiler alert: Those people are not only more likely to have things in common with us, but by encountering us when we’re just doing our thing, being our amazing, un-self-conscious, beautiful selves, they are going to understand us much more honestly, much more easily. We are the best versions of ourselves when we are doing what we love, not when we are trying to deliberately convince someone to love us.