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My Cinematic Year, Part 6: The romantic epiphany.

Let’s recap: online dating made me miserable. If I logged on to slog through my messages, that only made things worse—the “Now Online!” flag on my profile would send another deluge of messages from every godforsaken corner of humanity, including some along the rather creepy lines of I KNOW YOU’RE THERE.

I didn’t feel excited about dating; I felt burdened by it. I didn’t skip to my inbox in anticipation; I dreaded opening it. I was unhappy. Things needed to change.

But when I suspended my account, I hadn’t given up. Not at all.

My personal philosophy is that, barring really unusual circumstances like a recent death in the family, my unhappiness can be blamed not on my circumstances, but on my orientation to those circumstances. When I’ve written about this before, I’ve used the metaphor of snorkeling in the ocean: if you try to stand up or dog-paddle in your fins and snorkel, the ocean beats the crap out of you while you flail around looking ridiculous. Once you’ve oriented yourself properly to the water by floating on its surface instead, suddenly you’re a part of the waves, which lift you up and down without you noticing, and everything is beautifully peaceful.

Same circumstances. Different approach. Less work. Far better experience.

A more recent, even simpler example: I recently spent an hour cursing the violent side-to-side swaying of the BART train, which caused my upper body (and thus my line of sight) to jostle about wildly from left to right and back again while my laptop screen stayed put. I was … unflatteringly nonplussed, we’ll say, as a polite euphemism for the actual level of surliness involved. On the way home, it hit me: I needed only to sit in a seat that faced the side of the car, rather than the back or front, and my laptop and line of sight would stay perfectly aligned. I hopped up to test my theory, experienced the triumph of a proven hypothesis, and then typed merrily the rest of the way home as the sway rolled right through me.

Over time, I’ve developed a confidence that one can do this sort of thing with almost one’s entire life. The best part? The happier alternative is not usually any more work, and is often much easier.

It was time to design an OKCupid approach for myself that worked.

First, I reviewed whether OKC was really the way to go. Sure, OKC is largely populated by men who, to put it very politely, could not be trusted to realistically predict their compatibility with me, but so is the world; if you’re moderately attractive and have a vagina, walk into a bar anywhere and you will find this to be true. Sure, OKC allowed these men an uncomfortable level of access to me, but you can’t squeeze my ass through my inbox, so that’s a flat-out win for OKC. OKC also allowed me to form a crude prediction of intelligence and humor even after zero interaction with the person in question, which could potentially save me a lot of time even considering the margin of error involved.

When you consider its strengths versus the dog-eat-dog, guy-hump-girl jungle of the real world, OKC might just be the best filtration system there is. It is, by design, a brilliant tool, and yet I hated it.

So what was I doing wrong?

A huge myth in dating, and one that showed up both in my e-mail inbox and in the comments section in my previous post, is that, as someone who would like to have a relationship with someone, you owe it to yourself to explore every possible avenue. Dating is not for the weak or the lazy! Forget whether you’re becoming increasingly depressed, forget whether you’re becoming increasingly exhausted: you had better give everyone a chance, or don’t you dare complain about how hard it is to find someone.

Happiness is work, okay? So you get your skinny jeans on and you get your ass in that restaurant chair and you make sparkling conversation with every last potential suitor until your tongue wears through at the base and plops out onto the tablecloth.

After all, how can I expect to find a man if I walk around ruling people out?

The prevailing wisdom is that you’re doing yourself a disservice by reducing your chances of a relationship in any way, regardless of the quality of that relationship and regardless of whether anyone on earth with half a life really has the time to date with this level of gusto.

None of those comments or e-mails considered how much time I can afford to spend on dating. None of them consider whether it’s really healthy for me to devote my brainpower to giving 1,692 men the benefit of the doubt (and most of these men honestly could not be differentiated from one another in terms of quality, so unless my commenters have a rubric for choosing “hey LOL” over “hi whats up,” 1,692 is what I would be stuck with). All of them assume that being single is something I want to avoid at any cost.

If I have to earn love by spending all of my free time by offering chances to anyone who wants one, well, that’s just the price of finding a man.

The sad thing about this demoralizing, all-consuming effort is that it doesn’t even work any better. How on earth are you going to find the right person if you’re busy and tired and preoccupied? How are you going to find Mr. Awesome if you’re continually already dating Mr. Meh?

I also think that some of those comments echo this sulky bullshit sentiment that has soaked into society to the point that even WOMEN will criticize me for refusing to talk to total creeps: Heyyy, honey, you looking fine today. What’s up, baby? Oh, what, you’re too good to talk to me? You think you’re too good for me?

Thanks for the brainwashing, patriarchy.

Thinking you’re too good for someone. That’s this damning accusation somehow, even if I don’t really understand how; I’m choosing who gets to sleep with me, not cutting in front of people at the DMV. Of course we think we’re too good for some people—hell, most people. We are our entire point of reference regarding humanity; studies have shown that almost all of us will describe ourselves as above average. We have never been anyone else, and from where we’re standing, we are better than all kinds of people. That’s human nature, for God’s sake.

The good news is that the best of us grasp that we are making this judgment, this “who is better” judgment, according to our own extreme bias, not any sort of objective truth. The best of us realize that, no matter how superior we might feel from our perspective, it isn’t really about human worth, but about compatibility and the lack thereof.

Come on. I’m a raging intellectual do-gooder who loves poetry and literature and quantum physics. I am never going to love some guy who would hoot at me on the street, and so what?

I can want whatever I want. I can demand that my date pick me up in a yacht, wearing a banana costume, singing “Peanut Butter Jelly Time.” I can insist on a vegan, pro-life Republican Unitarian Universalist. I can demand whatever I want, with just one catch: I have to be willing to die alone if I don’t get it. I have to have performed a cost-benefit analysis that tells me that being alone is not the worst thing that could happen to me—not by far. I have to figure out where that threshold is, and as long as I do that with a decent degree of accuracy, being alone is guaranteed to make me happier than entering into a relationship that does not meet these terms.

Contrary to those commenters, I don’t think it’s in my best interest to sacrifice those standards, and I don’t want you to sacrifice your standards, either. Just be honest with yourself about what you can’t live with, and if the resulting list of demands makes you look like a prissy snob, so be it. Maybe most would say you are. Who cares?

It horrifies me that my dating rule about my own body, and who has access to it, could possibly be considered unreasonable or selfish, as if it’s my duty as a single person to remain as convenient and cooperative of a human being as possible even when it comes to sexual boundaries. Can dating, this incredibly personal process where you choose someone who will wield enormous emotional clout over you and your well-being, please be the one arena where you aren’t expected to sacrifice such things in the name of political correctness?

After thinking all of this over, I came to the exact opposite conclusion of those commenters, and I realized my error.

I, in my sweet innocence, had been looking for someone to date. The counterintuitive truth? I should have been looking for people to reject.

As inspiration dawned, I sat back down at my computer and opened a fresh OKC profile. Just like that, Operation Trapdoor Spider was born.

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