I am a romance author. I am also single. And I have been on a lot of first dates.
I quickly learned early that a common first-date hiccup for me, specifically, was disclosing my profession. Usually, the conversation went something like this:
“What kind of author are you?”
“I write romance novels.”
A test, The Test. A test to see if their reaction would fall into gross lechery, patronizing sneers, or the best case scenario, interest.
The Test was exhausting, and sometimes so was dating. I would download the apps, go on a flurry of dates, ignore the apps, enjoy my own company, want an escort to the latest Marvel movie, download the apps, rinse, and repeat.
My single friends seemed to be caught in similar cycles, each of them with their own particular first-date tests. The sentiment amongst us felt universal: this must be the worst time in history to be looking for love.
A year and a half later, I no longer feel that way. Or I should say, a year and a half, one book, countless interviews with Millennials and Gen-Z’ers, and “field research” that consisted of seven apps and 28 first dates later, my perspective has shifted.
Armed with my research and a determination to not let dating in the digital age get me down, I’ve made some conscious changes in an attempt to make the search for love a little less frustrating.
1. I try to be honest about who I am.
I’m sorry to do this to you, because I feel like “be yourself” is the most trite dating advice possible, but what can I say, it’s overused for a reason. Do you have a strong opinion on something? I do! Gosh, I have so many opinions.
For example, I hate camping. I hate it with every bone in my A/C-loving body. I used to say I liked the outdoors, but you know what? I think I like the idea of the outdoors. The idea of the outdoors doesn’t have bears.
So I started saying I hated camping, and now I’ve found enough people who also hate camping that I could fill a campground, and we’re so happy watching a fire crackling inside.
2. I give and take chances.
I don’t mean this in an “ignore red flags” sort of way. I also don’t mean it in a “lower your standards” sort of way, because your standards should be sky high, friend.
The best dates I’ve been on this past year were the ones where I took a chance. One guy was decidedly average in his selfies but, in person, had a smile that nearly knocked me out. A date who texted like a bore ended up keeping me in stitches until the wee hours of the morning. I hate to think I would have missed out on them because I disappeared before we met. Speaking of which…
3. I’m even more anti-ghosting.
About a year ago I got so spectacularly ghosted after two months (!) of dating a guy — he stood me up on our scheduled date and vanished totally when I texted and called to see what was up — that I almost called for an exorcism. Side note: He continued to religiously watch my Insta stories. Isn’t orbiting fun?
I think there is a real danger that the illusion of infinite choice can lead to people treating other humans like they’re disposable, and this experience confirmed that I never want to make someone else to feel like that. I was never someone who ghosted (except in a few notable red-flag situations), but I’m even more cautious now. If I go on a couple dates with someone, and it’s not clicking, I figure it costs me nothing to shoot them an “I’m sorry, I’m not feeling it,” text. I’m banking my karma.
4. I don’t stress over any single human.
A friend of mine has always approached dating with a casual, blasé attitude, and when I asked her how she managed not to overanalyze every text and missed call, she very calmly replied, “Well, if someone likes you, you’ll know, right?”
But I was bad at telling when someone was into me, I argued.
She stared at me and asked, “I love you. Can you tell?”
Of course. I thought back to the good relationships I’ve had, even with friends or family. It was obvious who cared for me, who tried to speak my love language even if they didn’t naturally slip into it. I know. We all know.
So when I find myself getting anxious now, I put the phone down, I date other people, I live my life. It’s a really great life, whether or not I have a date to the next Marvel movie.
5. I text if I feel like it.
The only time I don’t text is if I feel like I’m doing it because I think the other person won’t. In that case, I put the phone down again, and continue living my pretty great life.
Alisha Rai is an author and attorney whose latest novel “The Right Swipe,” about rival dating app creators who find themselves at odds in the boardroom but in sync in the bedroom, is out now.