Every now and again, something happens (not a concussion) to make me think it’d be fun to be single. This something generally has nothing to do with private parts. Most recently, it’s Tinder, the dating app that all my hilarious and intelligent female friends (both IRL and IBF) are raving about. In one of her spot-on pieces for The Cut, lady journalist Ann Friedman writes about How Tinder Solved Online Dating For Women. Side note: does anyone else feel like Ann lives inside a cozy reading corner of their mind (with oversized marbled throw pillows and navajo blankets), siting cross-legged with a typewriter on her lap, spinning all of their incoherent thoughts into a glistening web of words designed to make a generation of women feel less guilty about excessive hummus consumption (in entrée form) and playing Russian Roulette with contraceptives?

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I finally had the chance to try my hand at Tinder when my hair stylist friend let me play on her phone while she doused my scalp with a fresh batch of bleach. I was so high on power that I barely noticed the burning sensation intoxicating my brain. It was as if my fingers morphed into thighs wrapped tightly around a Harley Davidson hog, and with every leftward swipe I accelerated full-throttle into an open road full of possibility and bikers. A good friend apologized that she couldn’t have dinner because she was completely booked with five separate dates with five unique candidates she’d met on Tinder. Another friend texted me screenshots of several striking gentleman with whom she’d been deemed compatible, and even shared her Tinder Tales with us here. It got me thinking: how does it happen that I’ve had so much sexual experience (not SO much, just so much), and so little dating experience? Could it be that for the entire duration of my early-twenties, while I assumed I was being vetted for girlfriend potential, I was just serving as a potential-less plaything? How did I not realize this? I suspect it’s because in real life there are no algorithms or “Here For” categories to help define what we are doing, like really doing, when we writhe around in someone’s bed. This is why we all need a Dating Mission Statement; something that honestly declares our intentions and expectations without sugar coating them.

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I never got deep into online dating. In fact, I never got deep into any kind of dating. Now that I look back on my time as a single person, I’m pretty sure I was never properly courted; never picked up promptly at 7, treated to a nice plate of surf n’ turf, and never not ditched abruptly when I made it clear that I wasn’t going to have sex with this much older, half-Panamian actor/hand model who feigned interest in my personality just to get me back to the palatial chateau up Franklin Canyon he was house-sitting for a rich friend. I defaulted on my identity as a feminist, and my subsequent rejection of traditional gender roles, to justify why I didn’t require certain basic courtesies from potential suitors. I convinced myself that it made sense to sleep with guys who made no effort to hangout with me aside from predictably showing up at the bar at the same time each night. On multiple occasions, I watched the guy I had feelings for (and whom I’d been sleeping with) flirt with another one of the regulars at the bar. I overheard her telling her friend that he’d sent her a Lakers calendar and flowers for her birthday. I was mortified. They hadn’t even slept together and he was already buying her presents. We were sleeping together, and I’d gotten nothing. Naturally, I didn’t mention it for fear of looking crazy. On Valentine’s Day, I went to the bar, alone, half-expecting to see him there. The bartender, who knew me all too well by now, got me wasted for free and told me she thought it was shitty that he hadn’t asked me out on a V-date. I agreed, but instead slurred about it being a cheesy, consumer-driven holiday (which it is, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t have appreciated some of the chocolate covered fruits of its consumerism).

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In his defense, I never let on that I had feelings for him, unless I got wasted and sent passive aggressive Facebook messages articulating my regret over letting myself be degraded. I actually started to be okay with him not making direct and intentional contact with me because I knew we’d bump into one another later in the night and probably end up going home together. I started to believe that running into someone at a bar and then hooking up later constituted as dating. “Affection grosses me out,” “I can’t sleep in someone else’s bed anyways,” “I’m really emotionally unavailable right now, so it works out perfectly,” were some of my most common rationalizations.

In retrospect, I realize that I repressed my own needs in an attempt to appear impossibly low maintenance and thus more attractive. I prioritized a sub-par dude’s physical comfort before my emotional well-being, something many women are trained to do at a very young age. I thought that in order to be desirable, I had to ask for nothing – monetarily, emotionally, or otherwise – or else I’d risk being a burden. In my early twenties, I had it in my head that women who demanded flowers, shiny accessories and clearly defined relationship titles to feel secure and validated were the mortal enemies of feminism. While I still don’t value those things as mandatory prerequisites for happiness, I appreciate women, and people in general, who have the courage to ask for what they want instead of impersonating contentment while privately oozing bitterness. During that slightly promiscuous phase of my life, I acquired an alarming number of friends with benefits under the false pretense of fun-and-pleasure seeking. I denied what I secretly hoped each fling would eventually develop into. I would leave a guy’s house at 3 AM in order to avoid the awkwardness of the morning. Even on the rare occasion he’d ask me to stay, I couldn’t deal with facing rejection or feeling unwelcome. It still blows my mind that we agonize over whether or not to send a casual text message to a person we literally just slept with a few hours ago. He was just in your box, you’ve earned that spot in his inbox.

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We have no affiliation to Allie Baxter, this diagram is just perfect evidence of the self-inflicted mental torture surrounding the text.

The preemptive strikes, the leaving in the middle of the night and deleting phone numbers to avoid the temptation, solved nothing. I was to blame for the perpetuation of the myth that I belonged to an elusive tribe of females who gave away everything and demanded nothing in return. I have since learned a few valuable lessons about relationships:

1) You’ll never get what you don’t ask for.

2) People aren’t mind readers, so tell them what you need. If you think it’ll freak them out, it’s probably better that you learn now.

3)  Similarly to the exploitation of interns in the workforce, people will try to milk you for all that you’re worth, while offering little to no compensation for your hard work in return.

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I’ve been in the same relationship for a few years now. Though it’s been a while since I was last strung up like those poor pigs dangling by their feet at the meat market, I remember the feeling so vividly. Even in a secure, longterm relationship, it is still scary to admit certain desires. For some people, these secret hopes are about marriage. For others, they are about an urge to experiment with BDSM. And for others, it’s both, because these lifestyles are not mutually exclusive in 2013, you freaky newlyweds! Either way, saying what you want at the risk of being rebuffed never gets easy. When you’re casually dating, sometimes the hard to say thing can be “I don’t want to be just meaningless sex to you.”

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Sometimes telling the truth can feel like this guy hiding under a bed

I met my now partner while drinking with mutual friends in a bar, which may seem hypocritical in the context of what I said before about coincidentally timed bar hangs not counting as dating. But the booze is not to blame. In my case, and I believe I’m not alone in this, it was solely an enabler. Being drunk facilitated the suppression of the things that made me feel good and safe in relationships, in order to preserve the image that I wanted to portray, which was one of fierce independence and casual disinterest. The morning after I went home with my now partner, I woke at the crack of dawn, morbidly hungover, and tried to gather up my clothes without being detected. I almost left behind my favorite ring (it was inexpensive, but had a lot of sentimental value) because I didn’t want to get caught lingering while looking around for it. And just as I was about to scurry off like an unwelcome rodent, he awoke and requested my presence in his arms for a little while longer. We got out of bed three hours later and walked a few blocks to get a latte. Which he paid for. It wasn’t just that he asked me to stay, or that he paid for my coffee, it was that I let him—leaned into it, didn’t shoot myself in the foot because I was scared of getting shot later.

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Like I said, I don’t know really know shit about dating, or Tinder, or being single these days, but I do like the idea that women are taking control of the game instead of being gamed; exercising their right to choose left, rather than waiting around and wondering why they’re not being chosen by Mr. Right. And if I could go back in time and redo my single days and give that naive little girl with zero sense of self-worth a bit of advice, I’d say, “Don’t settle for the guy with the rugby trophy in his profile pic, you are a brilliant, desirable, valuable creature and there are plenty of non-tanktop wearing fish in the sea who’d pay for your dinner plus the seven dollars for parking. And if he can’t make the effort to break his nightly car bomb routine to see the off broadway version of Romeo And Juliet with you, he’s certainly not worth your time.”

Jane Helpern

About Jane Helpern

Writer & Over-sharer. @janeohelp jane@cultistzine.com