Netflix’s Dating Around is a reality show with a very simple premise: Each episode, one person goes on dates with five other people and then decides with whom (if anyone) among that group of five they want to go on a second date. There are some good lessons to be learned from the show, and among them is this: you can’t predict chemistry.
By “chemistry,” of course, I don’t mean the science you studied in high school with atoms and molecules and what not. I mean that indefinable spark between two people (or more, if that’s what they’re into) that makes them want to hold hands and stare into each other’s eyes and maybe mash their body parts together. I haven’t watched every episode of Dating Around yet, but for the ones I’ve watched, I’ve failed to predict whom the episode’s protagonist would pick for a second date 100% of the time.
Dating is a numbers game, especially in the Age of Tinder. When you can swipe through people faster than you can breathe, you’re not likely to spend a great deal of time thoughtfully weighing the pros and cons of each of the dozens upon dozens of individuals whose profiles you’ll probably see in the course of a given day. It mostly comes down to whether or not their primary profile picture makes them look attractive and, if you’re me, whether or not they use the phrase “Sarcasm is my second language” in their profile. (It’s not a language; it’s a defense mechanism.)
It’s easy to match with people on Tinder. It’s less easy to start up a conversation with them after you match. If you do manage to start a conversation, the odds that it will lead to a date are even slimmer. And if you land that first date, more often than not it won’t lead to a second. It’s a daunting experience, and one that requires a surprising amount of effort despite the relative thoughtlessness of the initial swipe. I’ve dated dozens of women in the years since my divorce, and I don’t say that to brag because trust me, it has been a brutal slog through one blow to the ol’ self-esteem after another.
But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be. It just takes a little perspective. What you have to realize as you’re being ignored, rejected, ghosted, or zombied by one person after another is that it actually has very little to do with you. After all, you barely know them and they barely know you. What they’re reacting to is the complicated stew of hang-ups, fears, prejudices, neurochemical imbalances, and whatever else is sloshing around inside their flawed human brains. It might just be that they’re having a bad day, or you have cats and they’re a dog peson, or you have a kid and kids freak them out, or you ordered a steak for dinner and their grandmother was trampled to death by a herd of cows.
Let’s take the Internet-infamous second episode of Dating Around as an example. If you haven’t watched it yet, go do that and then come back here afterward. Otherwise, there be spoilers ahead. Also: it’s just a good episode. But here’s a quick recap: The episode follows Gurki, a divorcée who was once in an arranged marriage. One of the men she goes on a date with, Justin, flips out on her after a few drinks and goes into full-on incel subreddit mode, accusing her of being a liar for marrying someone she didn’t love and asking how anyone could possibly trust her. It’s unpleasant! He’s an unpleasant person. The episode ends not with Gurki going on a second date with one of the other, more reasonable men, but rather with her enjoying a day out on the town by herself as she shops, makes confident-as-hell eye contact with the guys on the street who are checking her out, and just generally looks like she should be soundtracked by a Beyoncé song full time.
Was it Gurki’s fault that Justin flipped out on her? Heck no. Someone in that man-boy’s past hurt him, and rather than deal with that pain in a healthy and self-reflective manner, he externalized it by lashing out at a woman he barely knew but who was objectively awesome. (I’m a Gurki fan, if you couldn’t tell.) That’s the way a lot of dates go, though. You never know when you’re going to make a misstep in the minefield of someone else’s issues. Sometimes it’s because you said something insensitive, but sometimes it’s because the other person is completely incapable of self-reflection. You know, like the sort of person who would say without an ounce of irony that his dream is to play the guitar on stage every day even though he has never touched a guitar in his life. That kind of Justin.
Rejection hurts. It doesn’t ever stop hurting no matter how many times you’re rejected. But it will hurt a little bit less if you take a step back and realize how often that rejection actually has little to nothing to do with you. Take your ego out of it. In a world where app-inspired FOMO can make us burn through first dates like Justin probably burns through mousse for his standard issue alt-right haircut, it’s hard to make a real connection with someone before one of you is already thinking about who else might be out there if you just keep swiping. Don’t take it personally. Just grit your teeth, keep on swiping, and be glad you didn’t date Justin.
I really don’t like Justin.