I first started dating when I moved to Montréal and I was ‘a bit of a mess’ after a breakup. I joined OkCupid because I was in a new city where I didn’t find any of my new friends dateable, and I essentially wanted to check that I wasn’t completely broken and was still capable of attraction and affection. I went on a lot of dates in Montréal. And I went on a lot of dates when I moved back to England. But the funny thing, and the thing that people find hard to believe (knowing me as they do), is that between joining in November 2010 and February 2012, I didn’t so much as kiss anyone I met on there. And I’m not exaggerating when I say by that point I must have been on around 40 first dates.
Roughly speaking, in 90% of them, I didn’t find the other person attractive. In 5% of them, I liked them but they didn’t find me attractive. In 5% of them we just accidentally never saw each other again despite the fact we were both interested.
But that doesn’t change the fact that those 40-ish first dates were completely essential to me becoming the person that, in 2012, was able to choose the right partners with which to have romantic and sexual relationships. In those 13 months, while I didn’t make out with anyone I met, I totally repositioned how I felt about an awful lot of stuff. I had a brilliant date with a sex worker who loved her job (something I knew nothing about beforehand). A year before I started to explore nonmonogamy, I had a date with a polyamorous guy (something I knew nothing about beforehand). I made a couple of friends that now, I can’t imagine doing without. I learned how I acted on a date. I learned what behaviour triggered me feeling uncomfortable in the company of (almost always) a man I’d just met. I learned from the sheer volume of dates what behaviour I personally displayed when I was unhappy or bored or attracted to someone. The 40-something dates I had that led up to my luck changing were as useful to me with no romantic or sexual payoff as they would have been with it.
Even saying my ‘luck changed’ doesn’t really take into account the transformative power of repeated bad dates. Maybe my luck didn’t change; maybe I repositioned what I wanted. I started out my OkCupid life believing what I wanted was a monogamous relationship with a male my own age. Because that was what I was used to. By the time I was in a position to meet people I did find attractive, and act on it, I had realised that the idea of having a monogamous relationship of anyone of any gender was not right for me anymore, and that I especially struggled to be attracted to males in their early twenties who were seeking a monogamous relationship (incidentally, exactly the group of people I would be most likely to meet in real life).
There were periods that were extremely bleak. Bad date after bad date after bad date. I think December 2011 / January 2012 were particularly low. I would agree to dates with people who proved to be dull, unattractive, hard work, that I had to sit through with a fixed smile and a falsely cheery tone of voice. I wondered if there was anyone out there that matched me just right. Weirdly, I didn’t give up. You’d probably like to believe that 40 dates leading nowhere would make a girl desperate, but instead it just made it all the easier to know a good date when I saw one. By the time people worth dating/sleeping with turned up, I knew what it felt like to be sitting across a table for someone who provokes absolutely zero feelings in my swimsuit area, and that this time was different. Honestly, if I’d met my now-boyfriend at the beginning, I would not have known what to do with him. For me, practice made perfect and I was able to see pretty clearly what I wanted, what I felt I deserved, how I showed that I was interested and how to proceed. By the time decent folk turned up, I knew it wasn’t just a case of ‘settling’- I could have done that a long time ago.
So even when it wasn’t really ‘working’, it secretly was. I learned so much from good, bad and mediocre dates that ‘led nowhere’.