NB: Some sexual themes and strong language ahead. If you find yourself offended, I suggest being offended more often and not bothering me about it.
I’ve tended to delete the dating apps after about three weeks, on average, then reinstall them roughly a week after that. It makes for a month-long cycle of being a sad guy, a lonely guy who’s somewhat motivated to try to meet people, a disillusioned guy who is pretty sure the whole thing is rigged (this is when the apps get deleted), and then a guy whose frustration with still being single overpowers the frustration with app-based dating and so it all begins again.
The different apps have their various advantages and disadvantages. OK Cupid is time consuming but does tend to yield better results, at least in theory. The profile is more thorough and you can answer as many questions as you want to improve your results in terms of compatibility. Not a bad system, despite my results in general.
Tinder exists primarily for hookups in the USA, but here in Japan it doesn’t seem to exist for any specific discernible reason, at least not one upon which anyone can actually agree. The profiles tend to be a mix of women with NO HOOKUPS in all caps in their profiles and nothing to indicate what they’re looking for otherwise, women who are apparently only looking for friends because they already have great husbands, women with no text in their profiles and only a series of poorly-lit group pictures from which you cannot pick out the person who is the same between them, and the occasional man who hasn’t yet grasped how the whole thing works.
Bumble seems to have some promise, but isn’t widely used in Japan yet, so you swipe for two minutes on the train after work and run out of people. Being told regularly that you’ve run out of people does not tend to help the general feeling of being alone, especially not when you’re on your way back to your studio apartment, a place that is nice enough for what it is, but all the same more of a shoebox lined with your personal belongings than a place you really have any desire to bring a woman back to. The insecurity is persistent, even though you know that, if she’s a regular Tokyoite office worker like you, living alone on not exactly the best salary imaginable, her living situation is likely not dissimilar, though probably with less of a preponderance of miscellaneous bicycle parts and risqué comic books scattered about.
After a while, one begins to regard the idea of meeting someone great and starting a new relationship with something of a skeptical outlook and a gallows humor. It’s easy to lie in bed wishing there was a woman lying there next to you, especially a woman you love, and the imagination paints one rosy fantasy or another, but it’s much harder to feel like it’s something with a potential reality attached to it. It feels about as likely as a woman from one of the videos in that hidden folder on your hard drive suddenly showing up at your front door and saving you some manual exertion. And if she did show up, would you even know what to do at this point? I mean really, it’s been a while. There’s the fact, too, that as much as you’d really like to be having sex, you know that you miss other things every bit as much: things like cooking for someone you love and the pillow next to yours smelling like the woman for whom you lovingly cook.
Masturbation is a poor substitute for sex with someone you love, but daydreams of fictional relationships are an even worse substitute for the real thing.
That’s just how it is sometimes, though, and sometimes it lasts entirely too long. It seems to last impossibly long, with the occasional false start lifting the spirits momentarily before letting them fall again. And every time you see that glimmer of hope, you fight the battle of wanting to embrace that hope and give it the ol’ college try, but statistically know it isn’t apt to work, besides which there’s the fact that dating is a total shitshow and everyone knows it. This is, thankfully, where the gallows humor comes into play eventually. After enough rounds of disappointment, the complete absurdity of it all lends an air of surreality to the process and you begin to be at once less attached to any of it and more apt to throw yourself into it anyway because really, what the hell do you have to lose?
If you find yourself thinking that dating isn’t or wasn’t all that bad, you’re either lucky, naive, or delusional. When you find someone good, it is absolutely spectacular, but let’s not kid ourselves about the process that precedes that. Tim Kreider puts it very well in his essay, The Referendum:
It’s true that my romantic life has produced some humorous anecdotes, but good stories seldom come from happy experiences. Some of my married friends may envy my freedom in an abstract, daydreamy way, misremembering single life as some sort of pornographic smorgasbord, but I doubt many of them would actually choose to trade places with me. Although they may miss the thrill of sexual novelty, absolutely nobody misses dating. [source]
Let’s take a moment to reexamine what dating really is.
Dating is a process that usually begins with a sales pitch, by which one individual attempts to convince another individual that spending time together would be preferable to doing other things, like re-grouting the bathroom tiles or getting a root canal. If an agreement is reached, an event is scheduled (on a trial basis) for shared time-spending including the age-old ritual of presenting the best version of oneself one can muster while doing one’s best to keep one’s skeletons jammed firmly in the closet, as well as all of one’s desperate longing for approval swept neatly under the rug. If this preliminary meeting, or “first date” as it is known, goes well, subsequent meeting will likely take place.
In the best-case scenario, continued two-party talks will eventually lead to an agreed-upon and pleasant intermeshing of the genital apparatuses, as well as the possibility of a legally-binding agreement known as marriage, whereby the participants promise (among other things) not to engage with the genital apparatuses of anyone else so long as the agreement remains binding. Traditionally, this arrangement also involves slowly revealing all of the failings and misgivings that were so desperately concealed on that first date. In modern dating, this process of gradual disappointment also happens over the course of long-term relationships that lack the legal paperwork of marriage.
It doesn’t always work out that the first date leads to a second or that, after a number of months, things get more serious. Should the dating process prove unsuccessful at some point or another, several outcomes are generally possible. Preferably, both parties will, at the end of a date, indicate to each other that they had a good time and that they should get together soon, knowing full well that both points are outright lies but that it’s better to pretend (it is also assumed that no further communications will be passed between the two participants). Another possibility is that it will end amicably and both parties will remain friends, despite it not having worked out romantically. I have never seen this done. The third and perhaps most common outcome is one in which conflict arises. This conflict is largely dealt with via a three-pronged approach of the verbal confession of one-another’s sins, a sort of morose commiseration with one’s friends (she was never right for you, etc), and the quasi-therapeutic application of alcohol, generally in what would otherwise be totally inappropriate quantities.
Yes, I’m taking it a bit far, but for the express purpose of illustrating the genuine absurdity of it all. Dating is absurd. It is a shitshow. It is absolutely one of the most frustrating and maddening of all human experiences. And yet we throw ourselves at it again and again and again, in a cyclical Sisyphean effort from which we are convinced we will eventually escape. There is reason to hope, after all. People do escape, people do find love, people do get married and have kids and all that. And yeah, they also have terrible lives together and get divorces and all that, but let’s ignore that for today because happiness is actually out there and, as cynical and dark as my outlook on dating may appear to you at this point, it remains that I do actually have a reserve of positive outlook tucked away.
I am focusing on the bleakness of it all for now because that’s the day-to-day reality for a lot of people and nobody seems to want to acknowledge it. You can’t change it unless you do, though — the first step toward addressing anything is naming it. So now that we’ve named the grand shitshow that is dating, at least we can try to laugh at it. Yes, I will probably download and install the dating apps again, and if I do I’m sure they’ll wind up deleted again not too long after that. There will be the days when I feel like I’ve fallen so far behind in life compared to what seems like every other person I know that I’ll want to just crawl into a hole and die, but there will also be the days when the cute office lady adjacent to me in the subway car smiles back and I’ll feel all wobbly as I turn red amongst the dead-eyed commuters.
There will be the nights when something unexpected happens, like a couple weeks ago when I actually went out to a bar (this basically never happens) and met an incredible woman who actually seemed to like me. Hell, we went on a date, and it was good! And I’m struggling to balance the hope and the cynical guardedness, because I’m hoping that the good first date will lead to an even better second date and so on, but I remain acutely aware that a few months from now I may find myself crying the ugly cry on a park bench in the rain at 2:00 AM. Not that I’ve never done that. Not ever. Nope.
Dating is a disaster and we force ourselves through it repeatedly because in the end we know it’s the only way to maintain any sense of hope. Hope is not manufactured and handed out by the universe, but rather must come as a byproduct of our own efforts. We have to bootstrap the stuff. So when he or she dumps you and you feel like the absolute scum you’ve been recently told you are, you have to maintain your sense of personal agency by saying fuck it and trying again. The shitpile of failure is where the flowers will eventually grow. I swear it. If I’m wrong then maybe we are all screwed and dating is a pointless act, but I refuse to think that way. At very least, I will continue to try and try again, doing my best to keep laughing at the absurdity along the way.