I met some recurring characters, too, and can say with some authority that men with Peter Pan syndrome who are daunted by the prospect of adulthood (usually 35+ but with a lifestyle more suited to a university student), and men who offer you the boyfriend experience (without the label) should be avoided at all costs, if you’re looking for something serious.
I’m fortunate not to have had any scarring experiences. No one stood me up or put me in a dangerous situation, and, save for one guy lunging for an ill-timed kiss and another misreading signals and nudging my hand towards his crotch, I haven’t been made to feel uncomfortable.
Still, there has been plenty of disappointment. Continuous online dating can feel like being stuck in a real-life game of snakes and ladders, spiraling back to square one after each failed saga. Whether after one, two, or 10 dates, each of my 12 hopeful candidates eventually left me skulking home hurt, confused, or with the ick, and bristling at the sight of couples who had seemingly got it right.
After each goodbye, I entered their name onto the “12 first dates” page in my diary, with a couple of words on how I felt things went. From this, I’ve realized that often the pleasure in dating is not what you learn about the other person, but what you learn about yourself.
You can’t control the way things will pan out, and yes, there will likely be times you feel mortified to be sat across the table from a particularly obnoxious stranger, but it can be rewarding, too, widening your network and sharing a conversation with someone you wouldn’t have otherwise met.
It’s worth noting that dating app algorithms can “learn” you. Just because you liked one person with a cat and a degree from Cambridge doesn’t mean these are attributes you’re looking for in a partner. As my cousin once joked when I bemoaned the increasingly questionable-looking characters I was being shown, “You liked one weirdo, here’s 300 more.” So, if you feel like you’re not being shown the right people, it might be worth deleting the app and starting again.
If I take away one thing from my dating experiences this year, I hope it’s a sense of when to cut my losses. If a potential partner has me uncertain about where we stand, or wondering why they keep changing their dating profile between our dates (a.k.a., they’re still looking!), or burrowing into ’00s “self-improvement” books in a quest to understand their behavior, to quote Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo’s 2004 bestseller, I hope to be able to simply tell myself he’s just not that into you and walk away.