Around February of this year, I was going to the Rexburg restaurant Original Thai about five times a week. I always went with a date. The catch? I never took the same girl twice. That’s right. I took a different girl to the same restaurant day after day. I parked in the same parking space a block away, right in front of the martial arts dojo, allowing us to consistently pass by the movie theater, donut shop, fire pits and Romance theatre before entering the tiny, hole-in-the-wall restaurant.
I visited this restaurant so many times with so many different dates that the waitresses would go out of their way to seat me in the same spot in the isolated back-left corner, a faintly lit paper lantern hanging overhead. They even started assuming (rightfully so) I’d order their green curry. Essentially, I ended up turning my insane dating life into a repeatable experiment with all variables under control — save for the woman who’d sit in front of me.
Healthy and ethical. Oh, believe me — I know.
Paired with other lunch dates, snowshoe dates, and hot cocoa nights, I went on a total of 54 first dates from January to April this year.
Yup. But let me back up.
It didn’t begin this way. I moved here in January, easing my way off a breakup from a long-term relationship eight months prior. Due to the lack of social activities and in-person classes, I created a Mutual and Tinder account. Double whammy.
I wasn’t interested in a long-term relationship or anything — I just wanted to meet a ton of women and go on dates. Not that I would have pushed away love if I’d have found it. But we’ll get to that in a bit. I hadn’t used online dating platforms before, so I had to learn the dos and don’ts by myself. I learned what picture to place first on a profile, how to initiate a conversation after getting matched, avoiding shirtless pictures, and especially how much women hate pictures of guys holding up dead fish.
Anyone who tells you Mutual and Tinder can’t help you set up actual dates is wrong. Somehow I milked those apps dry, and I was pretty selective in whom I’d actually ask out.
At first, it felt thrilling looking at my calendar and seeing almost every day booked with a new date. After a couple of weeks the social fatigue began to weigh on me. Rarely, if ever, did I want to see a girl for a second time. I foolishly thought that my frustrations were solely from the girls I dated. Surely the lack of love and chemistry didn’t have anything to do with me. Prideful, huh? But when someone’s in such a social hurricane, it’s hard to be introspective.
Out of the 54 women I took on dates, there were around four or five I actually really liked, and they appeared at a staggered rate on the whole date-aholic timeline. But, clearly, that handful of potentials inevitably swiped me away as fast as I’d virtually swiped away hundreds of others.
One ethical problem with apps like Mutual and Tinder is that they imply that there’s always another potential match just around the corner, maybe just one swipe away, as if human beings and love itself are objects able to be voluntarily unearthed in some digital mine shaft. Behind the scenes, algorithms and filters dish out shallow pictures of women one after another, continually conditioning users to callously select or cast away humans. It’s like sifting through dirt for gold.
I began to realize that this mindset carried with me when I went on dates. As if I were conducting some sort of job interview, I was categorizing and systematically weighing the merits of these women based on minute details and characteristics.
Around March I was growing sick of the apps and the tireless dating, but I’d also grown to see how much I really wanted to be in love. Throw enough first dates at a man and he’ll eventually thirst (pun intended) after what he’s missing: real companionship, someone to share real emotions and life experiences with beyond surface-level, first date anecdotes. However, I was so conditioned from my “success” with the apps that I thought that after so many tries, I was bound to get a real match to stick. I just had to keep on swiping.
In April, it was actually a non-sentimental factor that ended my online dating crusade. I had a wake-up moment when my friend crunched out some financial calculations for me. I was averaging about $18 a date, and, including second and third dates, I’d spent an average of $1,170 on dates in four months. And for what? I wasn’t bankrupt or anything, but spending over a thousand dollars on fruitless, seemingly meaningless dates slapped me hard across the face.
I slammed on the brakes and took a deep look into myself. I wasn’t particularly salty about the money loss. I’d known it was costing a good bit of change, but I thought that, eventually, I’d find love, and love is priceless, right?
What really shocked me was how much emptier I felt compared to my pre-January self. I flicked through my phone’s contact list and realized I couldn’t put faces to the majority of the 50+ new female names streaming past my eyes.
It dawned on me that I had been committing what I consider to be one of the most heinous ethical mistakes: I was using human beings as means to an end, in this case in pursuit of the esoteric state of “being in love.” The result left me feeling hollow, far more so than before I went on any dates at all.
A day of introspection and I transitioned from viewing the community as deficient to taking on an equally pernicious fallacy: I was not just a problem — I was the problem, the culmination of everything wrong with the dating culture at BYU-Idaho, a villain of the highest degree, damning myself alongside the women who had the misfortune of crossing paths with me.
I paused my online dating accounts, took a massive existential step back and turned my focus toward developing real friendships and my personal integrity. Spending significant time and effort in friendships has helped me see my personal worth is on equal footing with the value of others. Selfless investment in a friend’s well-being is a paradoxical yet unparalleled source of meaning and self-worth.
I’ve finally learned that I’m not “the problem,” just as the women here aren’t “problems” either. Humans aren’t problems, and love can’t be a quantifiable, concrete goal. Shared love cannot exist without two human beings, so why worry about love at all? I think that love is a consequence of honest friendship, no matter if that be romantic love or familial love. People first, love second.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I’ve stopped wanting to be “in love.” I’m not sure that desire can ever really leave me. I hope it doesn’t. But the active pursuit of love requires someone somewhere to act as a tool to get me there.
My perspective has changed. Now I focus on knowing human beings for their inherent value in and of themselves. If love is to blossom, it’ll be a sideline by-product that surfaces on its own as I get to honestly appreciate and value the woman who’ll inevitably sit across from me, a bowl of curry steaming between us as we smile under the faint light of a paper lantern.