When I was on holiday in Greece this summer, a guy that I’d been on a couple of dates with wasn’t replying to my messages. It was crap because I’d already let myself imagine how well he’d get on with my friends, and I could tell he was pulling away. In the past I’d have spent all day worrying if my chin spot had given him the ick, and googling things like “how to look at someone’s Instagram story without them knowing.” But this time, I thought to myself, You’re in Greece, don’t let him ruin your fun, and instead of moping, I went out and ordered too much food (because it’s hard to have sharing plates when there’s just one of you) before paying a ridiculous 30 euros to have a sun lounger where I could lay back and reread The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh. I realized, then, that I was happier about my reaction than I was sad about his rejection. It’s so reassuring to know, for sure, that I’ll be okay, that I won’t let things like this obliterate me like they used to. That’s the first thing I learned about dating last year. But I discovered loads more, too. Even more than in 2021. Here are some lessons I’m taking away from 2022.
We need to give in to uncertainty
Your crush might not have texted over the weekend because they’ve been busy and, rather than replying from a pub bathroom, they want to wait. Or they might really just not care and are finding it harder and harder to summon the energy to think of something to say to you. It’s exhausting convincing yourself of the truth of either scenario, only to convince yourself of the opposite two seconds later.
There’s a big difference between processing something and obsessing over it
Ultimately, it’s a question of whether you’re learning anything new. I don’t know how much time I’ve spent analyzing the way certain men have treated me—telling me I should meet their sister only to pull away so fast a week later that it almost felt as if I’d made it all up. By refusing to engage in this rehashing anymore, you’re not unhealthily squashing down your feelings, you’re simply no longer asking questions you already know the answer to. It means you can pick yourself up and move on and find other, better things to fill your mind, like how good Aubrey Plaza looked in that black Versace swimsuit in The White Lotus.
Don’t overthink texting—just reply with the first thing that comes into your head
We spend so much time trying to work out the perfect response to make someone love us, outsourcing the replies to friends, brainstorming clever things to say, but we don’t know what that person is actually looking for. Maybe they like it when people send a Real Housewives GIF? Maybe they want a long paragraph about a book you just read? You might as well have them be put off by the real you than put off by the you that you invented to impress them. And, anyway, the way you text is never going to be what decides whether you end up together or not.
We shouldn’t compromise
A friend saw her ex-boyfriend the other day. “He looked really handsome,” she told me. “It just made me think: My next boyfriend has to be really handsome, too.” Years of being single has made me feel as if I should be less picky, but hearing her say that, I realized that isn’t the case. In fact, as my friend Moya always says, “If it’s not a fuck yes, then it’s a no,” which works for most things but especially dating. If they don’t make you want to run through a field screaming, if they don’t make every Ariana Grande song make sense, if they don’t have you shoehorning them into conversations they have literally nothing to do with, then what’s the point? Stay in and organize the cupboard that stresses you out every time you open it instead.
Concentrate on how people make you feel
The point isn’t that he takes ages to reply—that doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t like you. The point is that his not texting you back makes you feel like he doesn’t like you. That behavior makes you unhappy, and you shouldn’t be with people who make you unhappy.
Meeting someone and deciding within hours that you want to spend every Saturday morning for the rest of your life cuddling them on the sofa doesn’t make you clingy or crazy
In today’s dating climate, where every interaction seems like a competition over who can care less, it’s easy to feel embarrassed about having strong feelings, but you just have a lot of love to give, and when you have nowhere to put it, it builds up inside of you until it feels like you might explode.
All you have is your pride
A friend told me that, before she lets herself do something demeaning for a romantic interest—say, paint her nails red because TikTok said it attracts men, or clean a guy’s sink because there’s too much gunk around the taps to make staying over a pleasurable experience—she remembers that bit in J. Lo’s “All I Have” when she sings, “Pride is all I have,” and then LL Cool J responds, “Pride is what you had, baby girl, I’m what you have.” You might not get the guy/girl, but maintaining a sense of yourself is much more important.
Speaking of your friends, they want you to set them up with people
Even if they act mortified when you suggest it.
Don’t go to people in loving, long-term relationships for advice because they often have no idea what’s going on with dating
They will probably tell you that you’re being picky when, in reality, you just went out with a guy who did “pinch, punch, first of the month” at the beginning of the date. All it means is that they have no idea why someone like you could be single because they love you so much they can’t make sense of the idea that anyone would pass you by.
Sex should be thought of in much more fluid terms
I came to this conclusion after a conversation with a friend. He said that when he’s had too much to drink and can’t get hard, women always assume the sex is over, pulling up the duvet and pressing play on whatever documentary they were watching. My friend mentioned that one thing he’s taken from conversations about queer sex is that there doesn’t need to be such a concrete beginning and end. You might start and then stop and cuddle for a bit and chat and then you might start again. Sex isn’t just penetration; the whole thing counts. It’s a warm pink bubble of touch: them stroking your leg with the tips of their nails or giving you a T-shirt to wear that smells like their skin.
People can sense energy
It doesn’t matter if you spend the whole night laughing loudly at people’s jokes, that you dance in a really hot way, and that you have abs for the first time in your life after the £15 no-show fee scared you into turning up to reformer pilates every day. If you’re insecure or needy, it will be obvious to everyone around you. It’s frustrating, because it takes so long to be okay with yourself, but it’s also good because it’s a reason to actually do the work to get to a good place.
I’m not sure if there’s any one thing you can do to be confident, but there’s definitely stuff that helps. When you’re showering or doing chores or walking down the street and you can’t think of what podcast you want to listen to, try silence for once. Listen to each thought as it swims around in your brain.
First thing in the morning, before you’ve even gotten out of bed, write three pages in a journal. Don’t be neat with it, don’t write as if someone is going to publish it with Penguin after you die, scribble away every horrible, stupid, unfounded thought that comes into your brain. Write it so fast that you don’t have time to censor yourself. Get all the nastiness out—the fears, the insecurities. You will start to understand why you behave the way you do, and just understanding that makes it much easier to stop these thought patterns, to form new and healthier ones.