dating

'Modern dating culture is a nightmare. We're all playing a game that's fundamentally unfair.'

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Punishment can’t fix something you never did wrong. I’ve spent way too much of my adulthood learning this lesson so I thought I’d help others cut to the chase. 

For our purposes here I’m speaking of self-punishment, as our parents no longer have jurisdiction. 

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It’s the self-punishment single people keep partaking in, on the assumption that all this swiping, messaging, dating, and aftermath will all add up to something, eventually. 

We think we can earn a relationship by suffering "enough" in dating, so we put up with the punishment of a broken dating culture, thinking it will earn us love. 

But what if we always deserved love from the beginning? What then is the point of punishment?

This theory applies in plenty of scenarios (remember your shitty internships?) but here let’s focus our efforts on singlehood and "finding love," a phrase that only belongs in 90s-era romantic dramas where someone always owns a holiday house. 

Let’s explore the trash notion that you can somehow suffer your way out of singlehood. Take my hand, but don’t because pandemic, and walk with me down this mental pathway:

  1. Being single sucks
  2. Dating is a nightmare
  3. Not dating feels like I’m not doing enough
  4. Maybe I should try more dating
  5. Oh god this really sucks
  6. Why is it always this bad?
  7. Mummy!
  8. I don’t understand why this is so hard, everyone else is finding someone, why can’t I find someone, why can I only find dating nightmares and horror stories that my married friends want to hear about at brunch?
  9. Haven’t I suffered enough? When is it my turn?
  10. Being single sucks

Familiar?

If not, you’re free to stop reading this, and I’m very happy for you and the gentle life you do lead. 

If, however, this IS familiar to you, there are a few things we need to rewrite about the dating cycle itself, namely the fact that being single doesn’t actually suck and you don’t have to date if you don’t want to. 

It isn’t talked about much, but even if you don’t date, you’re still allowed to meet someone.

It’s still possible to meet someone just... in life, because we’re all human beings that are alive and interacting and at some point I’m sure one of the people you interact with will be your spouse. 

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We are not items on a shelf at Woolworths. We are human beings. We don’t have to be shopped for. 

Still, I know it’s hard to let go of our attachment to dating, because we’ve been pretty groomed to think that’s how we’ll get married. 

I don’t know; I dated for a decade and didn’t even have one relationship result from it, so I’m thinkin' dating isn’t really the way out. Maybe realising we never had to be in singlehood misery in the first place is though.

Right now, I want you to pay close attention to one thing in particular: Your turn. I’ve heard this phrase in my work more times than I can count.

"When is it my turn?"

"Shouldn’t it be my turn by now?"

"I’ve tried everything, I’ve done everything, I can’t stop wanting it to be my turn!"

There are no turns. Your entire life is "your turn." This way of thinking reiterates to us that dating is a space where effort, or suffering, matches reward. 

But effort and suffering in dating never have to amount to a damn thing, because dating apps don’t promise anything, and dating in real life doesn’t either. 

Dating can suck as much as it wants to, and it never has to give you anything in return. We’re still going to keep coming back to dating, because we’ve been led to believe that dating is how you "find someone."

No matter how many times dating proves to us, over and over again, that it isn’t. We think if we just keep going, just keep trying, he’s got to be in there somewhere.

If, at this point, you feel like you’ve been swindled by dating culture and our dependence on it, please forgive yourself. We’ve all been there.

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The cool part is, we can choose to leave. I did this shit for a literal decade before I quit and decided instead to just live my life and see what happens. 

I didn’t "swear off dating" or decide to be single forever. I simply chose to stop putting myself through the hell of our current dating culture. 

I deleted my apps two years ago, and I never downloaded them again. The question I get most often is, "Well, then how many guys have you met?" The same number I met in a decade of dating, sweetie. Zero. The difference is, now I’m happy.

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A word on "chances," because I hear (constantly) how women who walk away from a dating space that makes them miserable feel like they’re not "doing enough" to find someone and end their singleness. 

In my opinion they don’t have to do anything, because being single is not a plague they have to cure, but I’ll humour them here.

I have the same "chances" of meeting someone without dating as I did while I was dating, as proven by the fact that dating never delivered anything resembling a relationship to me. 

We’re so reluctant to walk away from a punishing dating world because we’re somehow convinced he’s just one swipe away.

I one-swipe-awayed half my adulthood, thinking surely, all this suffering must lead to something. It didn’t, and I am done giving dating apps and dating culture more chances to stop hurting me.

I have no doubt that my future partner(s) and I are meant to meet. 

I do not believe that I was put on this earth to live the entirety of my life without romantic relationships. 

Romantic love is love I want, and I know that I deserve to have it because I’m here, I’m a person, valid and worthy. 

Knowing all this, he and I can find some other way to meet. Dating apps and dating culture no longer have my attention.

There is no amount of swiping, messaging, meeting for two glasses of wine, or post-date follow up behaviour that ever has to amount to meeting your partner.

That’s not a requirement, because dating never has to abide by any rules — certainly not yours. 

When uncomfortable, unpleasant, opposite-of-what-we-wanted things happen to us in the dating space, they don’t go into some little bank that stores them for us until we have enough to cash them in for a husband. 

It doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t have to work that way. We’re playing this game under the false assumption that the other player is playing fair. 

Not only is the other player not playing fair, we’re not even playing the same game.

Finding your partner, connecting with someone you’ll fall in love with, isn’t based on rules or logic.

It is based on chance, luck, the universe, whatever you want to call it — things that make human sense are not in charge. We’ve all been raised in a world where if we work hard, we’ll see results, and most often that’s true. 

We’ll get raises, we’ll run marathons, we’ll learn a new language. But it never has to be true in the dating space and if you’re ever going to like your life as a single person (which you 100 per cent deserve to do) you’re going to have to understand that. 

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Modern dating culture is not on your team. It doesn’t have your best interests at heart. The last thing a dating app wants you to do is stop using it. Please think about that.

We cling to "success stories." The friend you have that opened her dating app to delete it and saw a message from the man who became her husband a year later. The cousin who met her spouse on her second-ever app date. The coworker who Zoomed with someone for a month and eventually moved in with her new boyfriend during a f**king pandemic. 

We love to cling to these stories, because we see them as proof that it works. The thing is, it worked for someone else. In a world that doesn’t abide by rules, it never has to work out for you the same way. Has it yet?

I don’t say these things to crush you — dating is doing a far better job of that than I’ll ever be able to. 

I say these things to set single people free. For every story of two people who met through dating apps or even IRL dating, there are so many more stories of people who met by chance. 

People who met during the normal course of their lives. By going to work, by going to a party, by going on a goddamned hike. The thing about these stories is, they’re endlessly variable. No two are the same. 

The stories are always unique to the two people who connected, and the fact that things can happen in any way imaginable gives me so much more hope than I had when I thought the only way I’d ever meet someone was by swiping away my life.

If it’s based on chance, we’re free. 

We’re free to just live our lives as single people without the chore of dating permanently on our to-do list. 

We don’t have to focus so much of our attention on "finding someone" when there’s nothing we can do to make it happen. 

We can let go, and let it happen, or better still, let go and stop needing it to. 

When you’re happily single, you stop thinking about when you’ll "find someone." That nagging feeling just goes away, and you live freely.

You start to see that singlehood is a beautiful time, and only those who truly add something wonderful to your life are worth leaving singlehood for.

You can’t earn something you always deserved from the start. 

You were born worthy of love and companionship, if those are things you want. 

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No amount of suffering through swiping can earn you something that isn’t based on a punishment/rewards system.

There’s no set time period prior to your next relationship that you have to wait until it’s "your turn."

You can’t deserve partnership more based on the amount you’ve suffered in pursuit of it. If it feels like it makes no sense, that’s because it doesn’t, and you can choose to stay in the nonsense of our dating Wonderland, or you can climb out of that goddamned rabbit hole the way you came. 

I deleted my dating apps two years ago and they’ve been the best two years of my life ever since.

Your turn.

Shani Silver is a writer and podcaster originally from Texas but happily living without the need for a car in Brooklyn. She's the host of A Single Serving Podcast and a humour essayist focused on changing the negative narratives around being single because honestly, they've had pretty bad PR. Shani's work helps singles break out of the limited messages they take in that are almost exclusively focused on dating, as if singles aren't allowed to care about anything else. Single people are whole, valid beings capable of living infinitely amazing lives. Relationships are fantastic, and we deserve to have them, but Shani knows we don't deserve to be miserable in the meantime.

This post was originally published on Medium, and republished with full permission. 

Feature Image: Getty.

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