The first online dating profile I ever set up was on OkCupid when I was 21. I remember taking a lot of time on it — making sure to pick the exact words to describe exactly what I was looking for. I wanted a partner who was compassionate, intelligent, had a close relationship with his family, who liked to cuddle, and who wouldn’t roll his eyes when I wanted to veg on the couch for a 5-hour-long Real Housewives of New York marathon. I had conjured up an image of the perfect partner in my brain, and I wanted to get as close to it as possible.
As many people know, high expectations tend to beget huge disappointments. So after a few months, I readjusted my “type.” When prince charming still wasn’t showing up, I tried to be a little more flexible and free with my requirements. I was lucky to learn that lesson early on in my dating life — that the perfect partner doesn’t exist, and you shouldn’t expect the people you’re dating to fit neatly into a box of “must haves.” But I took that idea a little too far, and completely abandoned my list completely, dating anyone and everyone who swiped right on me.
I had fun for a while, and because I wasn’t looking for an exact “type,” I opened myself up to a lot of unique, exciting dudes. I went out with a whiskey distiller, a few investment bankers, a bunch of comedians, a carpenter who hung all of the shelves in my apartment, a tugboat captain (seriously), and spent an entire summer dating Australian men exclusively. But I also was wasting my time with a lot of people who weren’t looking for what I was trying to find: a real connection that could grow. So about a year ago, I decided that I would only pursue dates with men who were looking for a relationship.
It was surprisingly easy to discern who wanted a relationship and who didn’t. The men who weren’t interested in something more serious would promptly stop responding after I answered their what are you looking for? inquiry honestly. So I was left with guys who were genuinely interested in finding a partner and settling down — right? Well, not exactly. Because, as I’ve written before, saying you want a relationship and actually being in a relationship are actually two completely different things. I’d meet men who probably wanted a relationship, but who didn’t want one with me. On bad days, I’d meet men who claimed they wanted a relationship, would get me in all nice and cozy, only to ghost a few days later, leaving me with a giant question mark.
Another thing I kept running into? Men who were perfectly nice — the type of men who you’d want to bring home to mom — but who I 100% did not want to have sex with. The idea of sleeping with these men made my skin crawl, even though they were super sweet. It was around this time that I created The Naked Test, a test in which I had to decide by date three whether or not I wanted to ever be naked with the guy. It was a way for me to avoid feeling guilty over not dating “nice guys.” But that still didn’t help my dating fatigue — and I couldn’t figure out why. This led me to the therapist’s chair, and then to eventually delete my dating apps.
I was dating guys who seemed like Pinterest versions of partners, without really caring about what made them tick.
Of course, I’ve made my triumphant return to the dating scene and have had many lovely experiences since — including a two-month long relationship with a guy which ended in a total clusterfuck. Since him, I’ve felt a little uneasy, since that breakup coincided with the death of my grandmother and the weddings/engagements of three of my cousins. (Life has a way of shitting on you all at once, doesn’t it?) But I’ve continued to date, lest I become the last female cousin in my family to get married — a fate all of my now-married-or-engaged cousins tell me is “no big deal,” but they’re not eager to swap places with me.
About three weeks ago, I realized that the past four dates I’d gone on had failed The Naked Test. They were nice, sure. But I didn’t want to get down and do the nasty with them. And it wasn’t as if grief had struck down my sex drive — it was humming along quite nicely. It was just the men in question that turned me off. It was then that I realized why I found these men so boring — we had nothing in common. They were men who I wouldn’t have given a second glance at two years ago. But all four of them had one thing in common: They looked like they were relationship material. They seemed like the types of guys who would easily fill the role of “boyfriend.”
In this vulnerable time of my life, I’d unconsciously reinstated my “type,” but this time, it only involved one requirement: Seems like he’d make a good boyfriend. I was dating guys who seemed like Pinterest versions of partners, without really caring about what made them tick. Instead of getting to know them as people first, I was basically interviewing them for the role of “boyfriend.” That’s what I was doing back when The Naked Test had to be instated, and that’s what I was doing again.
So where does one go from there? Well, for starters, I’ve recognized that the idea of being “relationship material” is incredibly subjective, and changes depending on the person. I’ve definitely pulled back from the apps a bit, only using them a few days a week instead of every day. But, most importantly, I’m recognizing the importance of getting to know a person as, well, a person before I start putting them in the relationship bin.
There are some lessons we learn early on in our dating journey — like the fact that a long list of requirements isn’t helpful. But there are some, like this one, that come a little late in the game. My recent dates have felt less like I’m auditioning men for a role in my life, and more like I’m just getting to know a new friend. And while no one has passed The Naked Test yet, I’m sure someone will soon — after I’ve learned how they feel about 5-hour-long Real Housewives of New York marathons.
After being raised on a steady diet of Disney movies, I expected to meet someone and fall passionately in love — but wound up collapsing under the pressures of modern dating. Luckily, I eventually realized that there's no "right" way to date, and that I need to find happiness within myself, no partner needed. It’s Not You is where I write to calm the voices in my head — and hear from all of you. Follow me on Twitter, on Instagram, or email me at maria.delrusso@refinery29.