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My Cinematic Year, Part 7: In which the protagonist gets her groove back with a little freakonomics.

If you like, see also: Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.

In dating, you’re considering candidates and choosing the best one you can. In job interviews, the exact same thing is happening. But only in the business world are the economics of this endeavor routinely considered.

There’s an anecdote about a human-resources worker who felt overwhelmed by the stack of resumes sitting in front of him. When he complained to his boss about the grossly unprofitable amount of time it would take to consider such a large number of candidates, his boss picked up the stack, split it in half, threw half of the resumes away, and said, “We don’t want to hire unlucky people.”

In the business world, this is rational for reasons that become clear when you give the notion some thought: a cost-benefit analysis tells you that at some point, the quest to review every single applicant becomes more expensive than hiring someone out of a pool half that size.

But in the dating world, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of anyone deliberately rejecting perfectly viable candidates even while actively seeking a mate.

Meanwhile, the economics are pretty similar when you think about it … and after being smothered by the OKCupid resource-draining avalanche of messages and winks and chats, I was finally thinking about it. Hard.

Tangentially, there’s another reason to purposely set out to reject as many people as one can: the quest for a happy ending creates a dangerous bias. I’ve argued before, in an old post I can’t find anymore, that our desire for real-life narratives (“They lived happily ever after!”) can be incredibly destructive in romantic situations. The need to feel like the main character in a love story causes people to tell themselves outright lies about themselves and about their relationships—lies that form this wishful mythology that continually reinforces itself toward the conclusion that all of this is meant to be, that they’re making the right decision, and that what they have with their partner is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime, unusually compelling situation.

The obsessive future bridezilla who thumbs through bridal magazines even while single, or the slightly reluctant, mostly accidental girlfriend: whom do you trust more? I can’t imagine not having more faith in the romantic feelings of the latter.

Anyway, my point is, after my harrowing OKCupid experiences, I realized that dating budgets totally exist, and mine had gone into the red about 200 messages ago. It was time to downsize.

My old dating profile was quite long, if you remember.

This was my new dating profile in its entirety, under a completely new name.

Trapdoor Spider Mode: activated.

I winced in anticipation the next day–with my luck, invisibility would turn out to be a wildly popular fetish of some kind–but a peaceful, tranquil inbox greeted me, with nary a “LOL” to ripple its placid surface. Ahhhhh. Now I could concentrate on the task at hand.

Here’s the thing about me: I’m kind of an overachiever. When I settle on a goal, I pursue it with a dogged singlemindedness that is either deeply inspiring or achingly pitiable, depending on the context. My new dating goal was to reject and/or avoid as many men as humanly possible, and I went after that goal with my whole self.

Have you ever noticed the Hide button on OKCupid?

They should make that button bigger. And glowier. And maybe “I Believe I Can Fly” could play on rollover. I don’t know. I’m not a web designer.

My new goal was to find a reason, any reason, to push that button until every single man in a fifty-mile radius had disappeared. If I failed in my quest and stumbled onto some accidental romantic success, so be it, but I was going to do my damnedest to die an old dried-up crone.

I worked on this goal off and on for weeks. It was strangely, soothingly meditative, like popping bubble wrap, if bubble wrap came with built-in affirmations of one’s standards.

There are a million reasons to say no to someone. In dating, we frequently ignore those reasons. What if this one niggling little wrongness in their profile is just a fluke? What if we’re being too judgmental, too rigid? What if we’re harming our chances of finding happiness? So, in the spirit of the old college try, we explain it away with some theoretical excuse and utter the two most ill-fated words in dating history: “Why not?”

Fuck that. You know perfectly well why not. You knew why not the minute you saw why not. 90% of the time, you have been right and will be right in the future, and your mistake is chasing after that 10% possibility. Give up on the other 10%. A corporation would. A niggling wrongness in a job interview rarely causes an HR person to press harder or investigate further. There’s a solid economic reason for that.

I started with my search results and hid as many people as I could based simply on the few lines I got next to the preview thumbnail. This wiped out about half of the candidates.

Then I read each profile with great scrutiny. Sometimes, as I scanned the lines of text, I would panic a little, because I wasn’t immediately seeing any reason to disqualify the person. I was playing the OKCupid version of Supercollapse, and I really like to win at Supercollapse.

But then I’d discover some lurking incompatibility and my face would light up. Aha! Christian and serious about it! HIDE!

Sometimes, I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong, but something was, all the same. I would confront the profile, standing stock-still in my little hidey-hole, all eight of my black shiny spider-eyes focusing, motionless except for my little spider-hairs trembling minutely in the breeze, and some instinct would tell me no.

I listened.

By the time I’d finished that process, I was down to three. Three, out of hundreds.

I scrutinized their profiles again, grumbled under my breath at their wily ability to evade all of my defenses, and sent each of them a detailed message, complete with photographs, that essentially amounted to a customized dating profile on my behalf.

All three men responded.

Two of those messages included a downright obvious reason to remove the sender from the running.

That left only one.

Just a few weeks. Zero dates. Zero gross messages. Zero stress. It couldn’t possibly be that easy.

But it was.

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