It was 2019 and I had just moved to a new city.
You know what that means — time to explore! And dating just happened to be a way to simultaneously explore the city, and well, date — two birds with one stone.
It was the first time I’d really gotten into using the apps, having only previously engaged with them through the periphery.
I was surprised at the volume of people you could match and potentially meet, and how relatively low effort it was, everything happening at the flick of a finger.
Pretty soon, I had a lineup of first dates to go on.
But quickly, the stories of everyone I met started to blur and it was hard to keep track of each person’s details.
So, I did what any rational human being would do: I started a spreadsheet to keep track of it all (duh!).
What the spreadsheet consisted of
For those of you who are curious, the spreadsheet accumulated a total of 20 people over the course of eight months, after which the start of the pandemic caused this whole dating thing to come to a screeching halt.
I started out tracking the basic details of each person like name, age, race, occupation, app met on, and date met.
As I went along the process of self-discovery and exploration, I began to add more columns.
The columns that came later included first date activity, location, who paid (if applicable), how much paid (if applicable), contact after the first date (Y/N), second date, and perhaps the most interesting column — first impression and general notes.
I didn’t have a particular goal in mind when initially creating the spreadsheet apart from remembering the details of each person and date, but after coming back to look at the spreadsheet now, I began to noticed trends in myself and what was or wasn’t working.
The patterns I noticed
The patterns were pretty obvious and easy to spot.
I was meeting the same type of person — tall, older, educated, and mostly the same race.
Most also fell under one of two occupations — some type of engineer in tech (unsurprising for the Bay Area) or a higher education student (lots of PhDs).
In skimming through my notes, here are some themes that appeared more than once:
Awkward, shy, quiet, weird sense of humor
Too “young,” just finished school
Has never left California/the US
And out of the 20 people I met up with, there was only one person where there was long-term potential and the relationship lasted longer than a handful of dates.
I don’t know about others’ success rates, but I didn’t feel like I was terribly successful by any metrics in finding a connection, which begged me to ask — what was I doing wrong?
And was there some learning that could be gleaned from my meticulous tracking and beautiful spreadsheet?
The deeper meaning behind the patterns
After some reflection and having distance from meeting people, here’s where I’ve landed:
1. There’s merit in focusing less on physical and factual qualities.
When you’re on the apps, you don’t have the more tangible aspects of a person to go off of, such as personality, energy, and initial impression.
Without these qualities that are easier to spot in person, I, therefore, gravitated more towards physical qualities and factual information about people.
Physical qualities such as height and race, and factual information like their education level and job, therefore, became the first filter that I subconsciously applied.
But as you can see, selecting people this way led to lots of my observations like meeting “awkward, shy, and quiet” people, which I only realized after an in-person meeting.
This leads us to two findings: 1) It’s better to meet people in person rather than on apps, so you can focus on more tangible and less superficial aspects, and 2) But if you’re going to be on the apps, be cognizant of your biases and dig beyond the physical aspects for a better chance at connection.
2. Age doesn’t equal maturity.
I had an age filter on because I wanted to meet people in a similar age range. But what I realized was that a lot of people who were similar ages as I were still too “young,” lacked maturity, and were in different stages of life.
So instead of focusing so much on a certain age or number, perhaps it’s more important to hone in on the stage of life that you’re both in, and ideally, those should match up. Being the same age doesn’t always equate to the same stage of life.
3. Find out what’s important to you and have those conversations before meeting up.
I didn’t realize that international exposure and being somewhat worldly was an important factor for me.
Having grown up in a very international setting, it was striking to meet people who had never left the state or the country. I met one person who said they’d lived in San Diego, LA, and the Bay Area. While those cities are admittedly different, I needed someone who understood the world beyond California so they could understand me.
After I figured that out — that meeting people who hadn’t had this global exposure was leading to an incompatible connection — I should have made a point to ask future matches about this. But instead, I kept meeting up with more people who didn’t have the global experience and who weren’t necessarily keen to learn about the world beyond the US.
So, if you have factors that are important to you, have those conversations over text before meeting in person so you can save yourself time and weed out some folks before investing the energy in an in-person meeting (that is, if you’re looking for more long-term prospects instead of fun). Or, just have a video chat, cause that’s clearly what we’ve come to.
All in all, I think my biggest takeaway is that when you have nothing to go on, you go off what’s most obvious to the eye — physical attributes and factual information.
So it’s obviously better to meet people in person so you can focus on more important factors like personality and aspirations.
But given that you’re likely to be looped into the world of swiping for the foreseeable future, see if you can pocket your superficial judgments so you can go beneath the surface and increase the probability of a more meaningful connection.
I haven’t gone back to the world of dating since the pandemic struck, so haven’t been able to figure out how to pocket preconceptions, but if you figure out how, let me know if you have any tips!