We already live in a world so consumed by screens that turning one of the most intimate and life-changing interactions into another screen-based experience is alarming. I fought the craze for as long as I could, thinking of myself as a crusader for the "good old-fashioned days," before finally giving in.
I signed up for two different dating apps and curated the perfect version of Whitney—the witty, worldly, wonderful woman—and allowed the dates to roll in.
At one point, I had it set it up so that I was going on a date every day of the week, one right after the other. On date number one I was a nervous wreck, consumed with questions of whether or not I was truly the witty, worldly, wonderful woman I was advertising. I spent the entire first hour of my first date dabbing my face to cover up my oh-so-lovely insecurity sweats.
After a while, I started to calm down as I came to the realization that, as much as I was enjoying the evening, I did not have any real chemistry with this person ... and that was OK. At the end of the date, I ended up leaving in a fantastic mood—not because I had found my soulmate, but because I felt as though I had just discovered an untapped wellspring of knowledge about myself I did not even know existed.
Think about it: When are you able to replicate the situational beauty that comes with the world of dating apps? First of all, you are matched with a complete stranger based on some level of baseline compatibility. This random person came into this interaction prepared to spend a couple of hours listening to you. They want to like you. They want to hear all about you and your hobbies, interests, goals, aspirations, what you do for a living and why. Yes, the truth of the matter is that you are almost certainly going to have to go on multiple dates to find "The One." Worst-case scenario: You both walk away from the night exactly where you started off and move onto the next date. The endless abyss of dating app candidates is still waiting out there for the both of you to dive back in. Best-case scenario: This date ends up working and you get to enjoy spending more time with a person you genuinely enjoy.
The point is, a scenario was created which a stranger is showed up for me and I showed up for them. That is a beautiful thing. Regardless of how the date went, I walked out giving myself a massive pat on the back for simply having the courage to enter the room with the willingness to be vulnerable. In addition to this, I came in hot, ready to lay it all out on the table and pitch this person the screenplay version of my life because whether or not they wanted to be on board with my project, the practice of pitching it is essential to every aspect of my life. I started learning how to read the room, what worked, what did not work and, frankly, what I should cut in the next edit.
In talking about myself for the first time with a new person over and over again, I began to realize what was essential to my story and what was just white noise.
On the first date, when I was asked about my career, I gave a long-winded response that had no end in sight. I talked loosely about fleeting and permanent passions of mine, careers I have had in the past, things I want to be doing in the future, and anything else I could think of until my date finally stopped me. I quickly realized that, despite my best efforts, I could not succinctly describe what this whole life of mine was all about.
In all honesty, I thought I was going to be way better at these "dating questions" than I actually was. I am a big talker, after all, and my specialty is talking about myself. It is really the only thing I consider myself to be an expert at and yet, I could not nail down any of my answers to save my life. My screenplay was ten hours too long and was going to need a lot of workshopping so I kept this in mind as I went on more dates. By the third date, I was starting to see patterns forming both in the things that regularly came up in conversation, as well as the characteristics about myself that my date was noticing, and thus, the editing began. Learning to talk about myself in a way that is self-promoting, yet humble; concise, yet in-depth; and most importantly, honest, was much more difficult than I thought.
Granted, getting to talk to someone about who you are and what you like to do is not confined to app-dating. There are usually people in our lives who want to hear how we are doing and where we want to go such as friends and family, but they already bought in a long time ago. They are looking for progress updates rather than full-blown pitches. The pitches, however, are the most important part.
It was in the re-pitching of my screenplay that I began to form a story arch. The main characters, important plot points, and the moral of the story became abundantly clear. I began to be more confident not only in who I am as an individual, but where I can see my sequel taking place. By date number four, my "professional enlightenment" had begun. I learned more about the person I wanted to be and the career that would get me there while talking to four complete strangers than I had in the past two years I have been out of college.
Unsurprisingly, I was not the only person who took notice of this sudden shift. My colleagues and the students I work with seemed to notice the light that had suddenly been turned on, too. As I began to mirror my new perspectives from dating with my other daily interactions, my work life became much more enjoyable. My newfound courage to approach situations with the same confident vulnerability I was practicing on a nightly basis naturally lead to me being more honest in all aspects of my work. My colleagues are now able to work with me towards my goals, I am enjoying my work more now that I have been able to carve out my own path and my students are recognizing the newfound respect that I have for myself. After putting those words on the page, it seems odd to credit this to a couple of swipes on a dating app and yet, I could not recommend it more.
In comedy, poking fun at dating apps is a very common trope, but it works—because it's true. Google "online dating comedy" and watch the videos, sketches, and articles roll in. I can laugh at these as much as the next person (mostly because they are somewhat relatable,) but I think we are doing ourselves a disservice by focusing on the negative rather than the positive aspects of the endeavor.
If we allow ourselves to look at dating apps as "strength training" for the rest of our social interactions, then we always walk away with an enlightening experience ... and maybe even a second date.
Written by Whitney Arnold, Program Coordinator at The Leadership Program.