Dating Is the WORST, and Other Scientific Facts.

Tonight I had the opportunity to see the play PAY UP here in Philadelphia by the inimitable Pig Iron Theatre Company. If you’re looking for a review, you won’t find it here, other than to say — if you live in this city and if you can, try to get tickets. The piece deals with the intersection of art and commerce, of emotion and human psychology, and it is funny and moving in a way that I can’t quite articulate just yet.

Here’s what I actually want to talk about. I went home and began to leaf through the playbill, a slim stapled offering handed to me upon my exit. The quote that stopped me dead in my tracks was tucked into a tiny back corner of the program, buried under the lists of donors and sponsors and advertising. Printed at the very bottom of the page, here’s what I read:

ImageI don’t know if this blew your mind, but it exploded mine across my kitchen.

Bear with me on this, because I really need to reason this out.

Let’s say I’m in the grocery store, and I’m in the mood for jam.

sixjamsNEW

Okay. I can deal with this. Cherry. Blueberry. Lemon. Raspberry. Mint. Orange.

I can narrow this down pretty quickly. Mint jam is weird. Lemon is too tart. Blueberry and Raspberry are too seedy. Orange is always artificial-tasting. Cherry it is.

Let’s say I go to a bigger grocery store.

24jamsNEW

Crap.

….. I think I….. I mean, I used to like cherry, but …. there are so many other kinds out here. I didn’t even know they MADE pomegranate-plum. What’s a persimmon again?

Okay. With me so far? This makes sense. It shouldn’t, but it does. Too many choices make me feel anxious. What if I choose incorrectly? Maybe I just don’t want jam after all. Forget it. I’ll just go home without it, or buy something else instead. After all, the perfect jam has to be out there somewhere. Why waste my time and money on all these other ones?

Now. Let’s say I’m a single lady in a small town. Say, not in the present day. Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, I’m a single lady in a small town in some year before the invention of the automobile, or the telephone. In order to leave my small town, I would have to travel by horseback. In order to hear news from other places in the world, I would either have to receive a letter, hear someone tell me a story, or go out and find the information myself.

Let’s say I’m a single lady in a small town and the ol’ hormones kicked in and I’m really interested in having sex and, I guess, by association, getting married and making babies.

Now let’s go visit that small, hometown grocery store.

Image

Okay. Okay. I can deal with this. Not the one with the crazy eyes. Not the one who smells bad. Probably the one who has a kind smile and seems to think I’m funny. Yeah. Okay. Him it is.

(For the sake of not being viewed as a total moron, I should state that this is an incredibly simplified way of viewing world history. If you were a woman living in the days before the automobile and the telephone, and you were fortunate enough not to have been born, say, a slave, or a street urchin, or in a time where your father or male relatives could sell you like property, you still simply didn’t have a lot of options, and that sucks. Even if you did wind up lucking out with a really delicious kind of jam, like, say, Pear, you still kinda had to hope that after years and years and years of eating Pear Jam for every meal, that you still liked the flavor as much as when you first opened the jar. You kinda just had to hope that Pear Jam wasn’t the kind of saccharine-based lifeform who would beat you or deny you the right to vote or generally be an asshole.)

Okay. Let’s say it’s somewhat later in our collective history. Let’s say we’re a single gal in a somewhat larger town.

Image

Crap. There’s just a lot of choices out there. What if I choose wrong? What if this isn’t the one I’m supposed to be with? What if there’s someone else out there who is the right flavor, and I made a hasty decision too soon because I thought I was supposed to be done with the grocery shopping by a certain time and place in my life?

Ok, now.  Let’s say it’s the year 2013.

Let’s say you live in a large metropolitan area.

Let’s say that the last year’s census for the city of Philadelphia clocked in at 1,547,607 people. Some of these people are old, some are children, some are married. Approximately 43% of Americans are unmarried and over the age of eighteen. So, while we’re doing some guesstimating here, because I can’t find specific information on the number of unmarried folks in Philadelphia per se, let’s say that there are approximately 665,471 unmarried people in this city.

On average, there are slightly more women than men in this city, but let’s make it easy on ourselves and divide that number in half. So let’s just say that there are 332,735.5 unmarried men in this city. (Let’s round up to 332,736, because I hate to imagine that poor half-a-man out there alone in the city on this rainy night).

Now let’s look at those 332,736 men. Some of them are probably old. Some of them are probably gay. Some of them probably wear Ed Hardy baseball caps. I can disregard those flavors of jam pretty easily.

Still.

Image

Just looking at this picture gives me the nervous poops.

And this is why online dating made me totally miserable.

There were simply too many choices. I was so overwhelmed by the number of options, and yet so oddly disappointed that none of them appeared to say “Hey! I’m your future husband!” right there on the page. When there are that many options, it’s all the more frustrating that the obvious choice is harder to find. I would scroll through a seemingly endless supply of men who purportedly lived in my very own city but whom I had never seen before, until the only option was to just eliminate people for purely superficial reasons. Works in a bank? Boring. Has a cat? Eh. Has a beard? I guess I like beards. Went to Burning Man? Oh, dear. Probably not. All the while, I was equally aware of how many of those same men had to be flipping through a seemingly endless supply of single women, staring at my profile and thinking, “Likes to read. They all say that. Mel Brooks movies? Whatever. Nice eyes, but a little pudgy around the middle.”

I went on one real date. He was nice enough, but I didn’t feel the connection, and plus that online superficiality had utterly bled into the real-life encounter. I realized about five minutes into it that he was a totally nice and lovely and decent and well-educated person that I had written off upon first glance, because he arrived at the bar wearing a pink paisley shirt and purple skinny jeans. I spent the rest of the evening unable to focus on listening to the guy, because my own inner monologue kept repeating over and over and over, “Stop being such a superficial asshole.”

The night I deleted my account for good, I had gone out dancing with some friends at this big dance party on a boat. It turned into one of those epic evenings where tons of people I know turned up, all of whom work in my industry, all dancing together, just sweating it out on this hot summer night to Michael Jackson and Prince and Beyonce. And I was having fun, until the very end of the night, where — cue the world’s smallest violin — everybody else seemed to pair off and disappear together and I was left on South Street, hailing a cab alone.

Fuck this, I thought, the internet is full of all of these other choices! There are literally thousands and thousands of men out there, in the vast array of the universe, in this expansive and vibrant city. I am a smart, capable, attractive, single lady. There’s no shame in this. I’m so sick of always going out and seeing the same people, only ever meeting people who work in the same field. I just want to meet someone completely different, someone who is nothing like the people I work with all day and socialize with all night.

I turned on the computer and logged into OkCupid. There’s this screen when you log in that shows you, like, your “Three Top-Rated New Matches!” I shit you not, this is what popped up on the homepage:

Image

I knew all three.  I had kissed ALL three. ALL THREE worked in my field. ALL THREE were my top rated matches.

ALL THREE had been at the boat dance party that night.

I deleted the account, put on my pajamas, and ate a bag of popcorn while watching “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” until the sun came up.

*

Somewhere out there, I gotta believe there’s a jam jar waiting around for me. I really have to think so. Why else would we have so many stories and fairytales and folklore and mystique about picking the right one off the shelf?

At the same time: I’m easily overwhelmed. Thinking about the reality without using metaphor is more complicated, more lonely, more sad. I sometimes catch myself feeling a little jealous of my friends who married young, who stayed in their small-town grocery stores. They seem to have figured something out in a way that I can’t, or won’t. I read those statistics, the ones in those articles that always have headlines like COLLEGE-EDUCATED WOMEN MORE LIKELY TO DIE IN FREAK SHARKNADO FIRE THAN MARRY AFTER AGE THIRTY-FIVE, and they wear on my soul in a way that I’m not totally comfortable admitting.

The worst part of all of this is, I mostly love my life as a single lady. I really don’t have too many complaints. Unlike our theoretical single-gal example from earlier, the one with six options and a horse: I am afforded the benefits of freedom of speech and religion and the right to vote and wear pants and take birth control and get a job and serve in the military. I realize that this complaint might seem incredibly petty. Woe is me! I have too many choices! There are simply too many things to do in this vast and incredible world! I have a job that I love! I surround myself with other single friends who are creative, fun and supportive people! I have dated some extremely smart, talented men, and I’m so glad I didn’t have to marry them, because they were totally wrong for me!  I get to have the bed to myself every night and no one will care if I eat grilled cheese in it! Poor, poor, single, lonely me, unabashedly living a terrific life!

And yet, sometimes, you sit back, and the bed seems kinda empty, and you really just want some fucking jam.

And I don’t really have a good answer for that.

Except, I guess, to take a deep breath. To remember that grocery shopping is not a race.  And to remember that even though it sucks and it scares me, I have to keep walking back into that store.

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42 thoughts on “Dating Is the WORST, and Other Scientific Facts.

  1. Madame Bovary had a lot of these problems, and well before the automobile or the phone. She wanted tons of sex…although she wasn’t too keen on her baby, but still, she wanted to have a fulfilling life. She chose arsenic over jam, however, so that’s probably not someone you want to emulate.

    I spent some time on OKC, and it didn’t really work out all that well. I had one decent relationship off it, but for the most part it was people saying how wonderful they were for me, then showing up and turning out to be the exact opposite. It can be a pain trying to find someone that suits you. Maybe internet dating will work out, or maybe you’ll find someone the next time you’re off at the store looking for jam. Maybe you’ll both reach for the same jar of pear.

    Glad to hear you like beards. The bearded men of the world salute you for that. Some people just don’t give us our fair due.

    And grilled cheese in bed? If a guy’s not into that, then definitely chuck him to the curb. Grilled cheese is amazing, lying in bed even more so. Combining the two…that’s just living life to the fullest.

    Also, a girl that likes Mel Brooks is one of the best things in this world, dating wise. I know that when I looked at dating profiles, if a girl mentioned a love of Mel Brooks, I definitely sent her an email. It just shows good taste. And, funny coincidence, I just mentioned Mel Brooks in the post I did today. Had a picture of Hitler from the 2006 remake to illustrate a point I was trying to make about Nazis, intolerance, and our current President.

    Anyway, you’re a good writer, you’ve got a good sense of humor…it’s only a matter of time before someone realizes what a catch you really are.

  2. I can relate to this. I’ve been through the “where’s the perfect jam?” stage, through the “any jam will do stage”and up to the “fuck jam anyway, who needs that shit?” stage. Even stole someone else’s jam once, which i’m not proud of, but I think it was labelled wrong because it tasted of fucking lies. So right now I’m at the point where I would probably enjoy some jam if a jar fell on my head, but it seems that the sort of jam I like doesn’t get made anymore.

  3. Awesome comparison to jam. I’m in the same position where I feel like I’m seeing the same people everyday and not attracted to them in a romantic sense. If only we could manufacture our perfect jam…

  4. Last night I went out with 2 male chums and we actually had almost a full blown argument over who was the most tragic. The guy who had choices but was too scared to take one, the guy that refused to see he had a choice, or me, who just makes bad choices. We all believed ourselves to be the most tragic. At least it was refreshing to be having the argument with two straight guys for a change! They’ve just moved into a new flat, I’m ddefinitely printing this off and giving them home made jam as house warming gift! x

    • The 1st one, yup the first one.

      OKC is one of the better dating sites. The match percentage is nice. But I have seen the same issues and dealt with women who flat out lied on the profile to get a quick hookup , which was not what I wanted.

      My philosophy is there is probably only one person perfectly matched for everyone, but there are a lot of really really really good matches.

  5. I know it sounds cheesy, but the old adage about “you’ll find him when you stop looking” really is true. I literally met my now-husband while I was drunk at a bar texting a very-bad-for-me-ex. I was so busy wanting back a shitty relationship that I almost missed the best one ever! You’ll find him, when you least expect it!!

    • Phooey,

      If I hadn’t tried internet dating I would still be sitting here alone.

      I have never had a man approach me since my days back in college. When I found myself single at 40 I discovered men my age wanted a Barbie doll. At 50 I found men wanted a buddy to play with but not for getting married because they had just found themselves single and wanted to play around for the first time in 25 years. Now that I am 60 men want someone adventurous (which I am) but for many of their days of being sexual have passed them (and me) by.

      I’m glad your future was in the bar when you were drunk and heading down the wrong road, but your tale is the exception, not the rule.

  6. Thank you for making me feel like less of a leper. And I totally share you “top threr matches” experince: douchey ex, crazy stalker, and not bad but not a match guy I already dated. Sigh. I too left that site. Lol.

  7. You are awesome and I love your style! Count me among those who’ll keep reading and wishing you the best. (btw, also love that some of the comments here – especially the first paragraph from mumblesmcjenkins – are on a par with your brilliant posts!)

  8. Kath!
    Your life sounds incredible and you are a riot. I love your blog, your outlook, your honesty, and your humor. You are young, smart, amazing–even complete strangers can see this. Relax. Stop looking for him and let him find you.
    Laura

  9. This is so funny! You and I have little in common, but your posts educate me in how the young, artsy, urban, single, hard-working woman that you are is experiencing life in the 21st century.

  10. I haven’t read The Paradox of Choice yet, but part of the problem with 24 types of jam in a typical supermarket is that 21 of them are strawberry and 3 are grape; in other words, we’re given the illusion of choice with a multitude of labels, while the contents are all pretty much the same. Does this relate to big-city dating? I suspect so.

    One finds a real variety of jams — all those wonderful flavors you mention — only in specialty stores. Oh my, I’m think I’m making it all sound even worse: we’re distracted and dismayed by a false range of choices, and then stymied again by a dizzying variety. And yet, we’re conditioned to believe that choice is a sacred right — I can’t deny it, even while appreciating the problems. How does one narrow the choices? Expensive, time-consuming experimentation.

    Most of us have many old, barely tasted jars of jam in our refrigerators. It feels good to clear them all out occasionally and start over.

  11. Thank you for this; it came in the nick of time; I’ve been up since the early hours, pissed off at my particular jar of jam because of ** insert stupid reason to be mad here **, and I planned to have a toe-to-toe row with him as soon as he woke up.

    Now maybe I won’t do that; I really do like this flavor. And sister, do I ever remember the search process! I went the match.com route, and I did okay with it, but it’s a nightmare. The match suggestion comes in, he looks perfect, you get butterflies every time he emails, and then you meet and — meh.

    Hang in there, K, ’cause you’ve got so much to offer that maybe there’s someone out there who will be overjoyed to find you in his jam jar. As it were.

  12. I absolutely love your writing. I am 29, and almost everything you post (particularly this most recent one), reads as if its something that has come out of my own mouth or head at some point. It’s both refreshing and comforting to be reminded that I’m not the only one who has these thoughts, concerns, and reasonings…so seriously, thank you.

  13. Love this, and couldnt agree more. Sadly, i think we have too many choices in all aspects of our lives. We can go to any school, be anything we want. live anywhere. It all sends me running to my safe bed, the only place that feels constant; secure; correct. There is this constant fear of making the wrong choice, of not living up to your full potential.

    As for online dating-effffff it! Way to many choices. Plus there is this false sense of self-worth that comes from it. I had a big head and thought i was just IT, due to the wide array of emails (mostly from creepers, but hey! It is mail!) I also became superficial and anxious, and my head wanted to explode from all the choices. They all bled into each other. “I’m sorry, did you have a dog or a job? I cant remember.”

    *end ramble*

  14. Pingback: Apparently there is some science on Online Dating | Tae Kwon Dating

  15. Yup, jam. I had given up on jam and decided that a jam-free existence was ok. All the jam I’d been encountering was funny-smelling, or not the sort of jam that one might admit to consuming, when *poof* the perfect jam showed up.

    Great post, Katherine. I really enjoy your writing :)

  16. I think you’re me! Except I DOlive in the small town, in which I am metaphorically surrounded by paisley shirted purple pants men, and I don’t have any single friends. Though my matches were never on a boat, they usually don’t have any interest in me.
    At least when it comes to jam, you can always through the jar away (or if you’re me, let in rot in the fridge) and buy a new jar.

  17. Hi, I love this. And your blog. I’ve written several entries like this over the past few months, as a 20-something single mom trying to date! (And I’m out of Harrisburg!) online dating is terrible. I don’t recommend it to anyone! I was just so overwhelmed and felt like a piece of meat!

  18. Yep, can relate to all of this. LOVE your writing. The worst thing is now being 31 and trying the online world once again (argh) and looking through all the Jam and not liking the look of any of the jam!! What then? I’m not just being too picky, I’ve met people on there before and had relationships, just right now, it’s all bad. Or, you finally find a jam that you like your sample taste of but then that jam doesn’t want to be eaten by you. (imagine going through all of this and you are a wedding photographer, yep that’s me)

  19. After online dating for -gulp- 7 years (off and on, I’m not insane), your post made so much sense to me. That last picture of all the men.. ? this is how it feels these days. I honestly think I need my 6 jams. Because after 7 years, countless first, second even 12th date, I keep thinking that maybe my specialty pear/walnut/chocolate spread is still out there. GREAT piece.. and really quite eyeopening for 7.59 in the morning.

  20. This isn’t new. In fact, this wasn’t new five years ago.

    Most humans are spoiled for choice, including in the dating world. Unfortunately that creates the mentality that it’s worth holding out for Mr/Mrs 100% instead of working with Mr/Mrs 90% on making a go of the rest of it. Online dating creates the illusion that all you have to do is make better choices to get the perfect relationship instead of having to invest any effort into the relationship itself.

    Sadly that idea is doomed to failure because, even if you were to find the perfect relationship for today…things and people change over time. If you aren’t willing to adapt and overcome the challenges that arise, well then, there are always more ‘perfect’ relationships to be had online. :/ Perfect-for-now, disposable relationships that will get you through to the next bump in the road…when you can chuck it all again and start over with a new ‘perfect’ relationship.

  21. To some extent I’d say that’s Philly for you… The world’s largest small town.

    I had the same experience, particularly with okcupid. I haven’t quite figured out anything better yet, mind you, so I’m still single at 32, but I can assure you that it’s not atypical.

    And while I have no idea who you are IRL, if you were anything like your writing I (and many other guys and girls I know) would really enjoy having a beer (or five) with you. Some guy’s just gonna have to be lucky enough to make you feel the same way about him.

  22. Oh, also, I studied with Barry Schwartz at Swarthmore (as did a few of those pig iron folks) so I just got a little geeked out about that…!

  23. So I feel better about opting-out for having read this (props for the awareness in “… many of those same men had to be flipping through a seemingly endless supply of single women … and thinking, “… They all say that…’” — because it’s true, dating profiles can be, well, profiled, regardless of sex), and in my experience the answer for *That* feeling is “read more Nietzsche,” particularly the parts where he’s saying things like “The one goes to his neighbour because he seeks himself, and the other because he would fain lose himself. Your inadequate love for yourselves makes solitude a prison to you.” Because it does most commonly apply to the people who congregate in the places people congregate for the sole purpose of finding other people — that’s why they’re so easy to profile, and so ready to profile themselves, with the net effect being that it’s just as difficult for the particularly refined person to find an actually suitable match in a meat market as anywhere else.

  24. I can completely identify with this post. Thank you so much for writing it, really. My situation is similiar in that I am 28, single, have a great friends and a great job. Different in that I am divorced (which is good thing in my case) and moved to a city where I knew basically no one a year ago.
    Most of what you write is stuff I can identify with, so please, keep doing what you are doing. I look forward you your posts every week (or whenever you decide on them)
    If I lived in Philly, I feel like we would be friends. (Yes, I realize how creepy that sounds. Sorry about that)
    Anyway, thanks for posting, I really enjoy it!

  25. The great thing about your love life is that it’s YOURS, which means you have some control over it. You’re not stuck waiting for your dad to talk to some of the neighbors or, god forbid, your cousins, to bring someone home for you. You have power. Maybe why that’s why you’re overwhelmed. It’s pretty easy to just go to high school, learn to embroider, and wait for your parents to match you up – and so much harder to go out there and find the right person for yourself. But I’m still on the ‘finding my own bliss thanks all the same dad’ camp myself, and am sure you are too.

    I was confused by the ‘superficial asshole’ line. Were you referring to your date, or yourself? It seems unfair whichever party you meant.

    Did you mean him? Since I wasn’t stalking you myself, I have no idea if he was actually displaying asshole behavior – being demeaning, hurtful, boorish, rude. Or were you just reacting to the superficiality of the conversation? A first date/meet is just an in-person way to see if there’s any chemistry/glaring problems you should be running from. Your date is just trying to break the ice and get to know you a little better. Deeper conversations take time – and from my personal experience, the guys who want to create those deeper conversations right off that bat are frequently Players who are excellent at creating a false sense of intellectual/emotionally intimacy so they can shortcut to physical intimacy ASAP. And, if you want a deeper conversation, you don’t have to wait for him, you’re an educated and interesting woman who is certainly has the skills to take the lead and guide the conversation there yourself. Remember, you have power!

    Did you mean yourself? I hate to see anyone beating themselves up. Were you deliberately being bad company, or were you just not in a dating mood? Maybe you’re burned out on blind dates with appropriate strangers and need a dating break. Delete your online dating account and start doing something you actually want to do – something you’re actually excited about. Take the time+money+internal effort you’ve been spending on meeting strangers and connect with yourself. Go physically DO something, and do it for a few months. Yeah, all the Dating Advice people tell us we’ll meet the Love of our Lives at the swing dance/italian cooking/kayaking class, but my experience is that getting actively involved with something I’m excited about (and it does NOT have to be spending money to learn a skill) is plenty fulfilling for it’s own sake. When you’ve got your batteries charged up, try the dating thing again.

    If you want to meet someone totally different, letting go of online dating seems like a good start. Instead, go to those places where the people are totally different than you (as you mention in your post) and start perfecting the art of fun, brief, playful interactions – aka Flirting. When you seem approachable, men will approach!

    Good luck, and I hope all the positive responses here made you feel validated. It’s not easy, the dating rules are gone (they were stupid anyway) and it’s a hassle figuring all this out from scratch on our own. Hopefully all this trailblazing will help us find love ourselves as well as make it easier for the people coming up behind us too.

  26. Reminds of the saying “Never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry.” Man oh man have I made that mistake before.

  27. Thank you for this post, I feel the same overwhelming feelings about dating and choosing and hoping not to screw it all up.

  28. Thanks Katherine! I too would like to find my jam. I started online dating this summer not to far from you- in your nation’s capital. Which, as you may know, is full of interesting, well educated, athletic, blah blah blah types of men. But, I’ve recently been thinking- you know, they also have a lot of jam to sort through! So who’s to say both sides aren’t in the same predicament?
    After a lovely summer peppered with enough coffee/bourbon/theme park/ theme party/bike ride/jazz in the garden/outdoor movie or local concert dates I’m taking a little break. Both of my long term relationships happened when I was happy with my own life, wasn’t searching, or “grocery shopping while hungry”. I’m going to try that again and see what happens. Keep writing and keep your chin up :)

  29. Reblogged this on GretchEnjoy and commented:
    So I have been doing this A to Z Challenge… ( A post a day except Sunday for the month of April to cover topics beginning with each letter of the alphabet.)

    Today’s letter is D, and I was going to speak to blog about dating – but really, I feel I can’t in good conscious do this, when all the best thoughts have already been written in this blog post.

    Without further ado, ladies and gentleman, the very talented Katherine, and all her thoughts on dating, which are also my thoughts on dating.

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