Everything Has Changed in Dating

I started “going out” with girls when I was 11. I had my first kiss at summer camp that year. That was 36 years ago. And many days I wish I could go back. Go back to the beginning. Before it was a chore. Before it was technologically discombobulated. Before it was so f*cking hard.

I wish I could go back to that childlike wonder. That feeling of shivering limbs because you knew you were about to kiss. That feeling of the first feather of intimacy. That feeling of hope. Like it wasn’t going to be that hard. It was just going to be a wondrous exploration rife with chirping birds, music in our ears, and the perfect sunset.

But things have changed. If I was kissing at 11, I didn’t really start dating, in the modern sense of the word, until I was out of college at 22. Up until I graduated from college, I didn’t go out on many dates. Because all of my relationships before that just were. It wasn’t dating.

So I started to think about everything that has changed in dating. And I decided that 25 years later, it’s harder than ever. If you are younger than I am, you might be wondering what’s changed over the years. If you are too embarrassed to ask your parents, here’s a primer:

The First Date — Then

You won’t believe this, but I used to drive in my car to someone’s house to pick them up for a first date. I know you almost fell out of your chair if you are a Millennial, but this is how we used to do it. We didn’t meet at a bar. We didn’t say we might see you there. We made plans. And then I showed up in my car.

I knocked on the door of your first apartment or your parents’ house. It was freaking uncomfortable to meet parents on a first date. Today you might meet the parents after months and months of dating, but not back then. Right out the gate, you got the up and down.

And then we would drive to dinner. Gasp. Yes, we would always go to eat dinner on a first date. Not drinks. Not coffee. An entire food meal or what all daters might consider now, way too much of a commitment.

At dinner, we spoke to each other. We both asked questions to fight through the terribly awkward nervousness, but we both wanted to be there. We didn’t use tiny computers that we hid in our pocket and purse to pass the time.

Because we had already talked on the phone several times. We knew it wouldn’t be a total disaster, but we also didn’t have thirteen photos of each other. On vacation. Holding a fish. At the beach. Doing yoga. Nope. None of that.

We actually didn’t know much about each other. But what we did know wasn’t a carefully curated statement highlighting our best self. Instead of explaining our life’s emotions with emojis, we used our mouths, and a phone, to talk.

After dinner, we didn’t go out for drinks. I took you home, where your parents or your roommate were waiting for you at the window. We parked in the street so they couldn’t see us. And we kissed. Because we already knew it was going to be a good date. And it was. And then I walked you to the door and our date was over.

On the way home, I thought about you. With my mind. I didn’t text you a follow up before I started driving about how great of a date it was. I didn’t get home and email you. I called you the next day like I said I would. No games. No pomp. No circumstance.

And that was how first dates used to go. Things have changed.

The First Date — Now

Now we exchange first messages on a website with as many fake profiles as real ones. And when we do, we are getting several other messages. So our first interactions “in the real world” are already prone to thoughts of the grass being greener. Before we even date, we are comparing each other to the endless stream of bachelors and bachelorettes delivered to us every morning and late into the night.

We meet for a quick coffee. Or a drink after work. We have a getaway plan. We have friends standing by to text us about an “emergency.” We don’t even know where each other lives, other than maybe the city. But we probably didn’t even look because a 98% match is sweet. But of course, we have several 99% matches to look through when we get home. Because we assume this won’t go well.

We stare at our phones while we wait. We are both there, but since our thirteen photos are so diverse in age and activity, we can’t even be sure we are who we think we are there to meet. When I text you, I see the person I thought was you look at their phone. So, it is you. And that’s how we meet. Through the help of our phone. And with a planned Irish exit in our pocket.

We get one coffee or one drink. We both pay because we are so confused with modern dating that we don’t even understand general chivalry anymore. We both check our phones because our friends keep wanting to know how badly it’s going. But we don’t even know how well it’s going because we are so distracted.

Distracted with thoughts of whether your profile was all true. Are you the right height and weight? And age, are you as old as you said you were? Do you really like dressing up as much as wearing jeans and a t-shirt? Our phones keep buzzing in our pockets so every ounce of our attempt at witty banter is interrupted.

And then we just call it. And we exchange pleasantries. Not having any idea if it was a good date or a bad date. Because we’ve had so many bad dates and that caused us to expect it. And so we spent an hour in comparative purgatory just so we could do it all again in four days.

And that is how first dates go now. It’s not better. It’s harder. Much harder. But it’s because we aren’t trying. We are phoning it in.

Technology Isn’t Helping

I know, I know. 63% of all marriages these days come from online dating. I made that up. I don’t know what the real number is, but it doesn’t matter. Because that doesn’t mean it’s good. Of those marriages, how many toads did each person have to kiss first because of the Internet?

A lot.

Technology makes our first interaction an interview. We use the checklist in our mind to see if you fit. If you check all the boxes. We create “good on paper” relationships because a computer algorithm tells us they will be. We are both pro-choice. Now we are both classified as liberal. 97% match.

We think we know each other when we meet. Because we read each other’s profiles. And Googled the holy f*ck out of each other. But we don’t know sh*t. I don’t know how you react in stressful situations. You don’t know about all of my quirks. We don’t understand that there is no such thing as online chemistry.

A beautiful sentiment shared on a message screen is still just that. It’s not real life. We aren’t sexually compatible because we answered four kink questions similarly. We aren’t intellectually combustible because we both like to read a ton of books. Because one of us was lying anyway.

Technology only gives us more alleged opportunities. More options. More chances to think we will find someone better. More ways to keep logging on “just to see if anyone new is out there.” It’s not helping.

The Cost of Modern Dating

It can succeed, but at what cost to the rest of us? After 37 horrid first dates, most of us are ready to give up. We shut down our site of choice again, for the sixth time. And then we pass you on the street. And we don’t even notice you noticing us. Because we are checking the other dating app that we didn’t delete. And it’s all the same people as the one we just deleted. And while we were doing that, you passed us by.

And now you are gone.

And so are we.

There will be no us.