I’ve never been great at deciding things on my own. I blame it on the fact that I’m a Pisces — we fish tend to be more than a little wishy washy. And while this may not be so troubling when it comes to picking a restaurant for dinner — I can go 100 rounds deciding between Italian or Mexican food — it’s a major pain in the ass when it comes to relationships. When I first started dating, I used to go to my friends to discuss punctuation choices in text messages, or to ask whether or not the fact that he asked me out for a Thursday date instead of a Friday date meant anything.
When they eventually got fed up and told me to shut the hell up, I turned to another resource to answer my questions: Google.
Along with Googling my flu symptoms and whether or not I could get pregnant on my period while on the pill and using a condom (an actual thing I asked Google once), I would type my relationship woes into that little search box and see what the internet spat out.
The resulting process went like this: I’d meet a guy — either online or in person — and we’d set a date. The morning of said date, I’d check the weather, and then Google “first date outfits” for the day’s climate and dress accordingly. After we went out, if a day or so went by and he didn’t call, I’d turn to Google.
Do men care if you accidentally snort while you laugh on a first date?
He wanted to have sex on the first date and I didn’t did I blow it?
What does it mean if a guy doesn’t kiss you on the first date?
Why are men such assholes?
Even if he did reach out, I’d spend at least an hour looking up every nuance of every text message. I’d try to figure out exactly what the guy was saying between the lines. And if we continued to date, I’d question Google on everything: When should I sleep with him? He introduced me to his friends is that a good sign? He says he doesn’t want anything serious right now what does that mean? He just gave me an engagement ring does this mean he likes me? (Okay, I just made up that last one. But, honestly, it probably isn’t too far off base.) I would throw myself into a panic attempting to decipher things via Google. It got to the point where I wouldn’t make a move or a decision without consulting the web. And judging by conversations I’ve had with other women, I know I’m not the only one who did (or does) this.
I was really only seeking out advice that validated what I was already feeling.
Behavior like this became incredibly problematic for me for reasons that now seem obvious. First of all, I was dealing with humans, and humans are complicated, and no search engine would ever allow me to peer inside a particular person’s brain. Googling also allowed me to believe that all of my partners were the same — which is completely unfair and untrue.
But the major problem was that I was really only seeking out advice that validated what I was already feeling. If I was feeling like he was just scared to call me, I’d only read the posts that told me that. Or if I was feeling morbid, I’d cling to every word that told me I was going to die alone. Google became my dating mirror.
Seeking that validation allowed me to get stuck in a loop of self-doubt, and it became obsessive. After every date, I’d turn to Google to try to self-diagnose what was wrong with me in an attempt to figure out what was causing me to stay single. This habit legitimized a train of thought for me that I know many single women can relate to: I am to blame. There is something wrong with me, and if I can figure out what it is, I can fix it and find a relationship. If I can’t figure it out, it’s my fault.
That thought was the root of all my stress when it came to relationships. It’s what led to my eventual breakdown — which then led me to delete all of my dating apps. Once the apps were out of my life and I took some space from dating, I had nothing to Google anymore, and the negative thoughts dissipated. I took that time to really look at myself in the mirror and figure out why I was putting the stress of singledom on myself. And through a few months of introspection, I realized that if I learned to be happy on my own, I wouldn’t have to Google myself into a frenzy if a guy decided not to call back. I could just shrug and move on.
It’s still really hard. There are times when I definitely type inquiries into Google in response to a relationship problem I’m having. But now, when I scroll through the responses, I don’t feel the manic panic creep up in my chest anymore. The “situationship” I was in a few weeks ago recently cooled down, and instead of crying and Googling, I was able to step back and recognize that the dissolution had very little to do with me as a person. Sometimes people don’t mesh. Sometimes the timing is off. Sometimes you really care about a person, but you just can’t make it work. That’s fine. I know that I’m getting closer and closer every day to the person I’m meant to be — whether that person is in a relationship or not. And I didn’t need a search engine to tell me that.
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.