I’m a single adult living in a major metropolitan area on the East Coast. I didn’t always have this status.
From ages 20 to 26, I was with one partner. We met at college in the middle of the cornfields of the Midwest. He was two years older than I was. Throughout our relationship, we saw each other through many milestones: our first apartments (and countless other apartments), my college graduation, his mother’s death, his master’s program graduation, our first jobs (and many more), layoffs, unemployment, moves across the country, living in the same city, economic downturn, living in different states … You name it. We lived it.
After numerous life transitions kept us stuck in a long-distance relationship, I realized that we had grown apart. That’s why I broke up with him. It was heartbreaking, but it was the right decision. I gave myself time to heal and redefine who I was.
When I was ready, I followed many friends’ advice to start online dating. OKCupid and later Tinder became my apps of choice. I was on and off of these apps for three years before I met my next long-term partner on OKCupid. We dated for over a year and a half. For a variety of serious and dramatic reasons (which are worth their own blog posts), I broke up with him. At that point, friends started recommending I skip OKCupid this time and go back to Tinder.
Tinder quickly became my main source of dates. Because of dates I’ve had through this app, I am familiar with a wide array of restaurants, bars, cafes, museums, movie theaters, parks, and other venues around the city.
Because of Tinder, I’ve met a diversity of people too. My dating prospects have hailed from across the country and around the globe. Some of my past dates have been with engineers, financial analysts, a trucker, a businessman by day and a DJ by night, a techie who taught meditation on the side, unemployed men, underemployed men, graduate and professional students from a variety of fields, educators, pastors, and an accountant (who I later found out had past gigs as a semi-pro football player, a drug dealer, and a stripper).
Fast forward to the present day, and I realize I’ve been on and off of Tinder for the past five years. How has this cycle lasted so long?
The explanation is simple: Tinder is like TJ Maxx.
How is it like TJ Maxx? Tinder offers of hodgepodge of men, and I have to comb through the messy inventory to find the right fit, style, and quality. One might think that this would be simple with a large quantity of choices. If you believe this, I recommend you read The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz. If you’re too lazy to read the book or even a brief summary of it, basically more choices do not lead to easier decisions; in fact, more options can make it more difficult to make a decision.
Much like when I am at TJ Maxx, I’ve been on Tinder and thought, “Wow! I can’t believe I found a good match!” Eventually I begin to ask, “Why is this person on Tinder? Are they really a good deal, or is there a deeper reason they’re available?” If they appear to be the right fit and style, I consider conducting further inspection for quality control.
Also how much of Tinder is timing and luck? My friend said her husband was the first person she swiped right on when she joined Tinder. Meanwhile, my other friends could outline all of their strategies with the swiping game, and they remain single. Isn’t that how TJ Maxx works too? Sometimes you walk into the store, and the right outfit (or right picture frame or right frying pan) is at the front of the display. Then there are other times you walk into the store, search for hours, and can’t even find socks you like.
If you continue to shop around on Tinder or at TJ Maxx, there’s a point where you have to ask yourself where you’re willing to be flexible with your requirements. You might have to switch some items from requirements to preferences, or vice versa … or you can stay firm with your requirements and ask for nothing less. Any choice is fine as long as you’re fine with it.
That’s the tricky part. After evaluating so many alternatives, it can be hard to know what you’re fine with having or not having in your life.
As I’ve met more people with different backgrounds, values, lifestyles, and opportunities, my menu of acceptable options has been narrowed down in some ways and has expanded in others. That’s why I can’t tell if I’ve gotten more or less picky over the years.
What do I do next? I don’t know yet, but I’ll remind myself to take a break if searching gets too exhausting. Like in any serious shopping spree, I need to rest so I can pace myself. I only want to explore my options as long as the process stays healthy, enriching, and fun.
While I don’t know all of my requirements, I definitely know two of them. My Tinder profile says this: “What am I looking for? Kindness and authenticity. Regardless of the relationship type, those matter most.”
Time will tell who is able to add kindness and authenticity to my dating life.
In the meantime, I’m going to be kind and authentic with myself so that I can offer those qualities to someone else.