Why do we prioritize “finding someone” over our own wellbeing?
I work really hard at this. I write a column and produce a podcast and customize content to the needs and lives of single people. But honestly, sometimes, I don’t think you fucking get it. I don’t think it matters how much I applaud the freedom and opportunity that single life affords us, how much I reiterate that there’s nothing “wrong” with us just because we happen to be single. I think, at the end of the day, everyone just wants a fucking boyfriend.
And that’s fine. I want one, too! I think having a partner sounds lovely, and I look forward to it. But two things have been made abundantly clear to me over the course of 12 years of being single:
- After dating for 10+ years, and not having even one relationship result from it, I don’t think dating works for me.
- Dating is such a personally punishing endeavor, one that makes me feel so bad all the time, that I don’t want to participate in it anyway.
Dating isn’t happy fun times. It’s not like the movies, it’s not a fantasy. It’s a disconnect mentally because finding love sounds amazing, Hollywood glitter all over it or not. The act of two people finding each other logically computes as a good experience. It certainly never computes as swiping through a dating app on the toilet or going on four dates with someone, kissing them goodnight at your door, and never hearing a word from them again as if they died.
Dating fucking sucks. I’ve lived it, and I’ve also built a community of single people who back me the hell up. Even if they didn’t, the internet would. The meme accounts, the jokes, the stupid sayings we double tap to like because “omg that’s sooooo truuuue.” Yes, it’s true. It is also bullshit, and every time you like and comment and repost, you’re validating it.
I get that dating isn’t what we want it to be. What I’m saying is, if it’s not what we want it to be, why are we settling for it anyway? What aren’t we walking away from it and pursuing other things in life that make us feel good? Why has dating been so prioritized that it can get away with anything?
Recently, one such meme was posted in my podcast’s Facebook group.
There was a part of me that wanted to reject the post, because I have set guidelines against bitching about dating in order to protect the supportive and positive nature of the group, but I let this one in. I knew it was going to lead to discussion, and it has. That discussion is private, but my rage is not, so here we go.
No one is ever “stuck” in hookup culture. They are choosing to be there. They are choosing to put themselves in the current dating world voluntarily. And when they find things they don’t like abut dating and hookup culture, they still, for some reason stay there. I certainly did, for a damn decade. Those who chose to date but don’t vibe with hookup culture might not participate in casual sex or dating, and I certainly hope they don’t continue to engage with people who have goals different from their own, but they still stay there. They still keep going. Why do we do this? And why do we view this as us being stuck in a dating nightmare, rather than as beings with freewill who can choose to stop participating?
My community did not like hearing that this is a choice. I think they wanted to be backed up, for me to condemn modern dating and all it’s nonsense, to advocate for the hopeless romantics of the world who just want a hand to hold. And I do, every day, but just not in the way they want me to. I advocate for them learning to view their singlehood as a positive, as something other than a problem to fix as fast as possible, and at any cost. Once you start viewing your own singlehood in a reframed light, there is no dating app, no dick pic, no third date ghost who can harm you. You increase your self worth around your own singlehood, you learn what you deserve, and what you don’t. You don’t deserve to exist in a dating space that makes you feel bad. But you don’t want me to tell you that it maybe means not dating at all right now.
One of my group members asked me how to not be surrounded by our current dating culture. My suggestion that no one is ever “stuck” in hookup culture did not sit well. Of course it didn’t. Because my answer suggests that anyone who is currently miserable in the dating space should simply walk away from dating. And if you walk away from dating, how will you meet someone?
Meet someone. My god. It’s the driving force. It’s the furnace fueling the hope that keeps single people swiping. Swiping in every spare moment, every unoccupied second, on an unshakable mission to find someone. I used to be on such a mission, I know it well. I would swipe, and swipe, and swipe, and swipe, and swipe endlessly, and to very little avail. A match once every couple of weeks, a date every few months. And nothing but negativity in between.
I thought I had to do it, I thought I had to be in that space, specifically online dating, because there is literally no other public format for meeting new single people anymore and I wanted to meet another single person and then marry them. We don’t have “dances” and “socials” and shit like they did when our grandparents were courting, all we’re left with is the digital face buffet. So romantic. I thought it was my only option. I was single, single was bad, online dating was where the men were. So that’s where I was. And I was getting the shit kicked out of me.
It was a constant stream of negative incoming. Either zero matches—which are not nothing by the way, that’s negativity coming at you in the form of constant reinforcement that no one wants you—or through the lamest of messaging encounters whereby I felt like some kind of jester that had to keep men entertained, lest they be lured away from our conversation for one of 50 others they were currently engaged in. I felt like a fucking puppet, their puppet. I decided I didn’t want to be a part of something that made me feel so bad anymore.
The last time I logged onto a dating app was January 2019, and that was to delete it. I stopped participating. I took responsibility for what I was participating in and I decided not to participate anymore. I decided to remove the dating world’s access to me. I also stopped writing about the behaviors of men and the failings of dating apps. Bitching about them into infinity was just giving them more audience and validation. It also wasn’t solving anything. Men and dating apps never seemed to care how often or how loudly I called them out. The behaviors continued, in my experience they even got worse. But discussing and challenging how single people view their own singleness, while trying to improve it, that might actually have legs.
Back to the question I was asked, how to not be “surrounded” by dating culture. I won’t post my exact answer here for privacy reasons, but I’ll summarize.
I can’t tell you how to not be surrounded by dating culture other than to leave it. What I can also tell you is that you’re asking the wrong question. Instead of asking yourself why dating sucks so much, ask yourself why you’re prioritizing “finding someone” over your own feelings. If dating is “a special kind of hell” for you, please know that you don’t have to participate in it. You can stop dating. You can remove yourself from the apps and the spaces that you don’t like, the ones that are making you feel miserable and frustrated and hopeless. You don’t have to be there. Then of course you’ll ask, “but…how will I meet someone?”
No one fucking knows how to meet someone, especially not the one someone who is the someone for each of us specifically. No one can tell you that, ever. And please don’t pay anyone who tells you that they can. What concerns me more than “where do I meet someone” is the fact that singles are prioritizing the desire to find a partner over their own wellbeing. As singles, we’re so inundated with messaging that tells us we have to find someone that we’ll do anything, endure anything, in order to find a partner. That’s why dating apps get away with being consequence-free. It’s because they can. They know we’ll come back. Because anything is better than being single, right?
Until singles stop viewing their chances of finding someone as the most important thing in their world, dating is going to be this miserable hellhole. I wish it was different, but this is where time and the internet have gotten us. What if we took all the energy we spend on dating and reroute it to work on how happy we are, day to day, without needing to find someone else first?
Why do we spend more energy searching for someone we don’t have than acknowledging who we already are?
It makes me really angry. No one wants to walk away from the dating shitshow because it’ll “lower their chances,” but they completely ignore the fact that those chances haven’t netted out a win yet. Is dating working for you? Has it ever? Is a space that holds itself out to be a solution for your singleness actually delivering, actually serving you in any way, or is it lowering your self worth one swipe at a time? How far are we willing to go to find someone? I was willing to go a decade. A decade of pure dating bullshit that made my self worth shrink to the size of nonexistence and my mental health balance on the tip of a bobby pin. I am currently dating less than I ever have before, and I am currently more happy, creative, productive, and prosperous than I’ve ever been. Dating isn’t going to work for me, but living sure as shit is.
I don’t know how or when I’m going to meet my partner. But the fact that I’m comfortable with that unknowing, that I’ve freed myself from dating as a mandatory chore, is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever given myself. Which is why I fight so hard to help others to the same.
Finding someone is never going to be more important than your wellbeing, feelings, safety, and sanity. Ever. What are we as singles prioritizing? Is it our happiness and our feelings, or our chances of being “found”? I wish the dating space wasn’t what it is, but it is. And it isn’t serving us. Not those of us who are looking for real, respectful, lasting love. You deserve everything you want, and I believe you’ll have it. But if the dating space isn’t giving you anything but disappointment, frustration, and hopelessness, get out. You are as free as you have ever been, and will ever be, to put yourself first. You are more important than “finding someone,” and you always were. Sending you, and all of us, all the love we want, wherever we find it.
Shani Silver is a humor essayist and podcaster based in Brooklyn who writes on Medium, a lot.