Friday, February 14, 2014

Dating the District

October. Arlington. We're full from dinner that he cooked, I'm a few glasses of red wine into my night. He walks me back to the metro and says, "I'm not going to end up on your blog or something am I?"


I've lived out of a backpack in India, trekked through central America, knocked on doors in the shadiest of DC neighborhoods,  driven through a snowstorm in Appalachia and made plenty of almost-disastrous decisions along the way. But an intentional foray into the dating world seemed far more nerve racking.

Even so I knew it had to be one of my experiments in 2013. Grad school was over, I owned more than one pair of cute shoes, and my evenings were free as long as I made deadline. Not to mention, my past romantic history had been a mix of bad timing, impulse decisions and lack of communication. I always had some sort of boy drama going on, but it rarely proved worthwhile.

Luckily, a bunch of my friends were in the same boat. Some of us were recovering from breakups, others from summer flings. Our particular demographic is prone to being detached, and the four of us were proof.

So we channeled every terrible romantic comedy and Time magazine dating feature and did what all girlfriends do -- we made it a game. Not the sort of data-driven, critique-filled Hunger Games stuff you might imagine, but just a bit of competitive spirit and constant banter. 

Finding guys in D.C. was easier than I thought. This city is full of the kind of people I like -- idealistic, big-picture thinkers that live at happy hours. I employed all the millenial dating tools I had never used to broaden the pool: mutual friends, set-ups, and a slew of (free) dating apps and sites that are all the rage.

When you sign up for dating apps a lot of weird things happen. First, you see a bunch of your guy friends and try very quickly to click through them, or send them awkward notes to clear the air. Then, you get tons and tons of weird messages like this:

If you happen to mention said app or site in public, you suddenly find that everyone you know is on them too. It doesn't matter if they're drop-dead gorgeous, high-powered professionals, and the most put-together people you know -- OKCupid is the great equalizer, and it has become acceptable to Tinder at parties.

Sifting through the messages -- skirting offensive grammar, clean shaven faces and people who lived in Herndon, Virginia -- I worked up the courage to respond to my first date in September. He seemed great: worked at an embassy, wasn't scared to leave NW DC and wanted to move abroad. That he was cute, tan and tall didn't hurt either.

We met at a generic Dupont bar on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, and I had dinner plans with friends afterward to ensure a clean getaway. My biggest fear walking in, though, was not rejection but just plain awkwardness. 

But during that first date -- three hours of seamless conversation, few uncomfortable pauses and the strongest gin and tonics in the city -- I learned something new about myself. I love talking to people, almost all people. I love listening to their ideas, childhood stories and wild, ridiculous dreams. I always know in the first couple of minutes whether I think a guy is cute, or if we have chemistry, but that has little impact on whether I want to continue a conversation. I realized it was almost like reporting, without the notebook.

A genuine interest in the people I met helped fuel the next, wait for it, 19 first dates. Not to mention the second and third dates that allowed me taste test libations at almost all U Street and Columbia Heights establishments, usually for free despite my protests. My normally packed schedule teetered on ridiculous, but I was meeting and seeing all of D.C: the tired med students, the policy wonks, the IT nerds, the ex-bro now-hipsters, the hippies who didn't mention they were in open relationships. And the hippies who did.

I also met a guy who became incredibly depressed during the government shutdown, a sweet guy that made my middle school insecurity look like nothing, and an abrasive consultant who almost choked when I asked to split the bill. 

And while I consider myself a fairly insightful and observant person, I realized my radar is totally off when it comes to dating. I was shocked by several of the guys who asked me out on a second date -- guys I felt no connection to at all. One of them was so damn cute that my 25-year-old self gave my 16-year-old self a high five when I saw his text light up my phone the next morning. 

My friends, meanwhile, had varying results of their own. One gave up after her first date -- things were too fresh from a past relationship. Another found that her town had drastically fewer options that those of us in big cities, though she was a great sport. And the third, like me, found the experience both liberating and empowering and tested waters that previously seemed ice cold.

But the experiment quickly became tiring and I was learning even more about my preferences. I liked new people, but I loved my friends more. I was far less emotional than I thought, and got annoyed when someone expected me to text them every day or meet more than once a week.  And while I'm a sucker for romantic gestures, saccharine words from the wrong person are positively jarring.

By mid October, I was done dating, at least in a competitive way.  I didn't "win" based on our collective terms, and I didn't find a guy, but I was considerably more open and fearless when it came to the men of D.C. As for the ones outside of District borders -- I'm going to need another year.


Arnab Goswami said...

India wants to know: What was wrong with Cedric?

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