You don’t have to lower your standards to meet dating culture in the gutter.
Dating is hard. The worst. A dumpster fire full of broken glass and angry bees. I feel like, by now…we get it. I don’t need to hear any more “horror stories” or see any more screen shots on social media. Dating culture has become a nightmare—I’m not on the fence about this. My question is, what impact is this nightmare actually having on single women? I am deeply concerned that it’s training single women to lower their expectations until they expect nothing close to what they actually want. I’m worried we’re dating from rock bottom.
When I was still participating in dating culture, each year of my swiped-away singlehood was another “deal breaker” gone. Year after year, I’d lower my standards and expectations, because I thought I had to. I wasn’t finding what I actually wanted, I wasn’t attracting what I actually wanted, so that must mean I need to lower my standards to meet reality. What I didn’t know is that dating culture, particularly online dating culture, is not reality. It’s a world build on ones and zeros where consequences go to die and bad behavior goes to breed. Those screen shots you keep taking, horrified by what people (sorry, men) will say and do? Those don’t shock me anymore. Can I believe he said that? Fuck yes I can. What’s harder to believe is that you’re still participating in a dating culture you already know is the worst.
If we’re not careful, we can start to date from a place where dating culture itself is driving our wants and standards, rather than us. If we start to believe that a lack of “success” in a fucked up dating space means we have to lower our expectations, over and over again, we end up dating from rock bottom, because we think that’s all we have a chance in hell at achieving. Quick question for you: How long do you think you’d stay married to your rock bottom?
When all my “deal breakers” were gone except one (I will not date a man who has or wants children, you’ll have to pry that one from my cold, dead hands), I was going out with anyone who was willing to respond to my messages. I was telling myself “you never knowwwwww” no matter how blood red the flags were that waved in my face. I knew I wasn’t attracted to these men, I knew we weren’t well suited to each other, I knew they were going to be disappointing to me, but I went out with them anyway, because they were there, and what I actually wanted never was. I was dating from my rock bottom, where I didn’t give a shit about anything more than a pulse, because that’s all the dating space was serving me. I thought rock bottom was better than starving.
I work really hard to help single women not just “accept” singlehood, but to see its value. By reframing the way we see it, and by refusing to accept the bullshit societal stereotypes about single women, we can finally take in all the amazing things about this time in our lives, so that we’re not willing to give it up for anyone less than the right people for us. Which are the only people we should ever have relationships with in the first place. When you can only see singlehood the way society and the people profiting off dating culture want you to see it, you will do anything, and put up with anything, if you believe there’s a chance it’ll save you from being single a day longer. But when you date from a place of rock bottom, the place our modern dating culture can drag you to, you’re in a terrible mindset for dating, and probably not connecting with people you’ll have any luck with at all. Rock bottom is, incidentally, a really great place for you to remain, from the perspective of the dating apps that have your credit card information.
What I could have done instead of dating from my rock bottom was face the reality that maybe what I want, and what is meant for me, doesn’t exist in a dating app, or even in dating culture. Maybe dating and online dating simply aren’t the right spaces for me. Maybe I could have picked up on that sometime during the ten years I dating like my life depended on it, without even one relationship resulting from my effort. But I didn’t know that in dating, effort doesn’t match reward, and it never has to, so I might as well just live a real life full of things I actually enjoy and stop wasting my goddamned time.
For ten years, I refused to believe I didn’t have to date from my rock bottom, because instead I believed the messages the dating apps were sending me. No matches despite weeks of swiping. No responses despite dozens of first messages a year (thanks Bumble, for making men do even less work). Maybe one or two dates per fiscal quarter, if I was lucky. Message after message that this wasn’t working, but instead of having the courage to leave the dating space, I just kept taking away desire after desire, thinking that wanting as little as possible was the way to find the love of my life. Dating culture is fucking insane, and it should be ashamed of itself. But it’s not, it will never be. It’s making too much money.
The fact that you’re not finding what you want in the dating space is not an invitation to want less. Wanting what you actually want and deserve is not the same thing as signing yourself up for a longer and longer singlehood. Think about it: if you partnered with someone you don’t actually want, if you settle, you’ll have to settle forever. Does that actually sound better than being single to you? If so then darling, we need to talk.
Your singlehood isn’t something broken or shameful about you. Your lack of “success” in the dating space doesn’t mean there’s something inherently wrong or undesirable about you. Remember where you’re dating: You’re dating in that place with all the horror stories and ridiculous screenshots. Honestly, do you think you’re the problem here?
You don’t have to date from rock bottom. You don’t even have to date. You’re still allowed to be worthy of the relationship you want, and you’re still allowed to find it. Did every couple you know now meet because they were both clawing their way through dating hell like some kind of extreme human hunting trip? Or did they meet through friends, through work, at the gym, or any other way that didn’t involve endless days and years of emotional and mental trauma? Enduring hell isn’t a prerequisite to love, and I think our current dating culture teaches us to forget that.
You are allowed to live a full life while you’re single. You’re allowed to have wants and desires while you’re single. And you’re allowed to be okay even if it’s taking longer than you thought it would to find them. There’s no length of time your singlehood can last that will ever mean you only deserve your rock bottom. Just because dating is a dumpster fire, that doesn’t mean your singlehood has to be. Keep your standards, expectations, and desire for a wonderful partnership as high as you like. The right people for you will meet you where you are, not where dating culture convinces you single women belong.
Shani Silver is a humor essayist and podcaster. If you enjoyed this essay, you might also like this episode of her podcast. You can read all her Medium essays here. You might start with: You Never Have To Settle When Single Isn’t Bad or How Many Maybes Do Single People Pay For?