The March of the Non-Daters
In which I admit, despite my obvious extroversion and sheer fabulousness, to some degree of social awkwardness.
Dates can sometimes be as fake and awkward as Tara Reid’s boobs. Rachel Hills explains why she - and most of Gen Y - are turning their backs on the dating game.
Published in Cleo, February 2009.
In 2008, I made it my New Year’s resolution to go on at least one date with every person who asked. I went on two; the others I studiously avoided with kind-of-true-but-kind-of-not excuses such as “Sorry, I’m busy” and “I’d really love to, but I’m so busy!”
Needless to say, I’ve never been big on dating. Once, when meeting for coffee with a guy I had an Titanic-sized crush on, my mouth spontaneously entered drought season, rendering me unable to speak without my tongue sticking to some part of it or another. Another time, clubbing with a guy I wasn’t yet sure if I liked or not, I dashed away at the end of the night to catch a taxi without saying goodbye (in my defence, it was 2am in Sydney’s Kings Cross - you’d be an idiot not to grab the first empty cab you saw).
At this point, I feel the urge to bombard you with evidence that I’m, in fact, not a social retard. Instead, I’m just going to let you take my word for it. First date nerves aside, the truth is, the real reason I’ve never liked dating is because it’s always seemed so forced to me.
Put me in a restaurant with a man I find witty, attractive and all-around fabulous, and I may jitter but, underneath it, I’ll be pretty damn thrilled to be there. Put me in the same situation with someone I‘m not sure of, and I’ll find myself wishing I‘d never agreed to go in the first place. What’s more, it seems I’m not the only one.
Dating columns may be raking in a high volume of readers, but there are a lot of people out there who, much as they might love falling in love, don’t feel quite as enthusiastic about dating. Recently, when one of my friends tried to set up a singles dinner, no-one would agree to attend until she promised not to set any of them up. My housemate’s boyfriend can’t stand even the sound of the word “date”, let alone blind date.
Like me, many of my fellow anti-daters hate the process because they think it’s artificial. “How many times do you have dinner before you decide if you love someone?” asks Jean, 27. For us, adhering to the “rules” - guy asks girl out, they go to dinner, have a snog, sleep together on date three, fall into a relationship - just makes everything awkward. Better to let things evolve naturally, in their own time.
Then there’s the associated pressure: both to impress the other person, and to figure out quickly whether you like them, even before you have enough information to make that decision. “If I like them, there’s that tension around the unanswered question of whether they like me in return,” says Shalailah, 26. “If they like me and I’m not interested, I’m constantly thinking ahead to the point in the evening when I’ll have to make it known that this isn’t going to work. But, by far, the worst scenario is one in which neither party is interested, and you have to sit through drinks/dinner/a movie wishing you were somewhere else entirely.” One guy I know told me he had to be “really, really sure” before he asked a girl out - despite the fact that, theoretically, the whole purpose of going on a date is to give yourself time together to figure out if you are sure.
Keeping your options open
But then, dating has never really been an Australian thing, says Relationships Australia CEO Anne Hollonds. “It’s something we picked up from the US. So I think that awkwardness a lot of people feel around it is to be expected - we’ve never really had the social framework to teach us how to do it properly.”
But there might be something more to it. While our teens are a time of experimentation and testing boundaries, the early to mid-twenties make for a more confusing landscape: one in which most of us aren’t looking for anything serious, but we don’t feel the need to prove ourselves (read: pick up) as much as we did a few years earlier.
Maybe, suggests Hollonds, we’re just scared of looking too keen. “It’s almost become really important to demonstrate that you’re not interested in a relationship; that you’re okay just on your own, or hanging out with a group. In a way it’s self-protection. You don‘t want to give off any signal that might suggest you want to close your options down before the rest of the peer group does,” she says.
That’s all well and good: after all, most people would agree that it’s better to be single than in a relationship you fell into, simply because you just forgot to pull the plug after the third dinner. But while dating isn’t the only - or the best - way of finding someone you want to share a month or a year of your life with, there are times when it comes in handy. For example, you know that hot guy you see at parties every once in a while and really hit it off with, but never seem to run into elsewhere? A date would give you an opportunity to get to know the man behind the face.
Sweetening up the deal
So how do we make dating more palatable for those of us who don’t tend to fall head over heels after two weeks’ worth of meals? Is there a way to make it cooler, more authentic? Just in case, you know, you do happen to find someone you really like.
New Zealand born blogger and proud non-dater Gala Darling, 25, who recently moved to New York, suggests making the process a bit more unpredictable. “You can turn the date into some kind of adventure, which makes things much more fun and less intimidating. After all, if the two of you are experiencing something novel and different, that makes you feel less inhibited and self-conscious - you can just concentrate on having a good time.”
Darling says a picnic, meeting at 2am on a fire escape or going chocolate taste-testing are great ideas. “You can do whatever appeals to you, just be sure to make an effort. It’ll help you form a more sincere bond, and if all else fails, at least you’ll have a good story to tell.” And in that spirit, we’ll see how I go in 2009.