Last month, a friend of mine broke down and signed up for an OKCupid account, after months of being single and not knowing what to do about it other than lie in bed and groan, like Tina on Bob’s Burgers. After a four-year relationship, she’s single for the first time, basically ever, and like even those who have been dating all of their lives, hadn’t the slightest clue how this thing works. It’s like watching someone learn how to drive, if the car fucked them at the end of the lesson after paying for their meal and then never called them again.
Her newness to the situation means that she’s like a sixteen-year-old when it comes to dating. Everything’s still a big deal and every relationship a life-or-death situation, like a Motown song or Vietnam. She hasn’t reached the point yet where she’s jaded and cynical (when your nose can smell flaws like they’re drugs on Courtney Love) and every guy is still the greatest thing ever to her. It means that when it doesn’t work out, she’s crushed, like she’s a bug who discovered that these giants aren’t so gentle, and the words “he’s just not that into you” haven’t sunk in yet.
We’ve all been through these years (some of us are still going through them), and watching her relentlessly hit pedestrians and change dating lanes without signaling has given me fresh eyes on the situation. I have learned that no matter how old we are, we all have the ability to lose all of our common sense and grounding when a seemingly great guy comes around, and woman or gay reading this is equally guilty. You obsess so much about a guy that somehow the obsession becomes more important than the guy, an impersonal force whose inertia is insurmountable.
For instance, I dated a guy last summer who seemed like the greatest guy in the world, until the next greatest guy in the world came along and was replaced by (quelle chance!) another equally fabulous human being. It’s not that you’re a serial dater, just a very hopeful romantic, always holding out that the next guy will prove your romantic idealism right. You give it all you have, because it’s better to say you gave 110% than to think that you held back later.
That’s all great, and I’m hardly one to judge others for optimism, but applied too liberally, it can be downright exhausting — both for you and those around you. After a failed date with a guy who just wanted to have sex with her but was too nice to say it, my friend started endlessly analyzing what went wrong. I finally had a break down and started yelling at her in an alley, “Why do you care what this guy thinks about you? You don’t realize how much power you have. Stop giving so much of a fuck and start having fun.”
I couldn’t blame her for caring so much, because in society, we’re taught to judge our own worth by how much we’re approved of by other men. From Miss USA to Melissa McCarthy, we tell women that their value is how fuckable and lovable they are and the worst thing a woman can be deemed is unlikable — to be a “b*tch.” For this reason, male rejection comes with a double punishment for heterosexual women. Not only do you lose a date, but you’re told that you’re failing at your societal raison d’etre. They’ll be taking away your crown now. No Disney for you.
It takes a certain amount of deprogramming to get through the other side, the kind that only years of following all the rules and failing anyway can teach you. Like Anne Hathaway, you can do everything right, the way you were told to, and be hated for it anyway. You can laugh at his jokes, play down your weirdness, not say a word about your exes, pretend that you never fart and you don’t eat that much — and still go home alone. You can worry about whether he thinks you’re too fat, too skinny, too smart, too intimidating or too talkative and swear he’s not calling because he’s busy — or just stop giving all your fucks to someone who doesn’t deserve them.
Thought experiment: Do you really think he’s out there obsessing about you? So why do you do it?
Instead, you can start measuring your own value and worry about how much fun you’re having. What do you think? What are you getting out of this date? Are you enjoying yourself? Sometimes I think we focus so much on the thought of being rejected by the other person that we don’t stop to ask whether we like them or not. I’ve been heartbroken after getting dumped by guys I didn’t even like that much. I would say, “Sure, he doesn’t have a job and he lives at home with his mom, but he could have been the one. What if I missed my chance?” It’s Motown, baby, forever repeating the same sad song.
It’s not only exhausting to those around us (who constantly listen to us complain about the guy who broke up with us over the phone) but to ourselves, who have to live with the burden of all of this rejection. You get burned out. They say that dating is a numbers game, because your success rate is so much lower than the value of what you put in, and who can deal with digits go up that high? I don’t even want to begin to think about all the frogs I’ve kissed — especially during my Freshman Year, because the answer would be all of them. I used to wonder if there were any frogs left.
But lately, I’ve started to think of my life as watching a reality show, as if I were the nice, smart Kardashian sister that people actually like. When I’m making stupid decisions or being a total ninny, I ask myself what I would think of me, were I in the audience at home. Would I want to throw the popcorn and scream or assign me a Sassy Gay Friend? When we’re dating, the answer is usually that we would want to reach through the screen and slap ourselves. “Why are you being such a mouthbreather?” we would scream. “Snap out of it!”
With this in mind, I went on a date last week with a guy I met on Pride Weekend, when he was much drunker than I was. It very quickly turned into inebriated babysitting, so I told him I had other plans and took up his offer to meet up at a musical, The Jungle Book, the next day. After we met up, it quickly became clear that we had no chemistry in that way (I called it “like a hand and a garbage disposal”), but the date wasn’t without it’s perks. I got free food out of the deal and got taken to see historical racism put to music. A win-win situation if there ever were one.
At the end of the date, he explained that we should just be friends because [insert reason here] and I smiled and nodded. I told him I thought that was a great decision. And for the first time on the whole date, I asked him about himself and listened, interested in what he had to say about his life, his dreams and aspirations. I found myself having fun now that this guy I didn’t even like rejected me. I got to enjoy the rest of my night — all on my own terms.
My advice now: Date like you mean it — but save some of that passion and energy for yourself. You’re the one who has to go home with you at the end of the day.