“You Americans are so stupid,” a rather pretty Belgian woman said to me while standing waiting to be served at a roadside sausage stand.
I was in Belgium on a road trip, headed to Amsterdam with my brother a couple years ago, when this stranger zinged me out of nowhere with such a heartwarming insult. She was a few years younger than me, wrapped in a thick jacket, bouncing up and down to keep warm that late March evening. Our history in each other’s lives was no longer than 100 seconds at that point.
“Okaaaaay,” I said before jumping into a magnificent knee-jerk response as to how stupid we Americans definitely aren’t. I secretly summoned a giant bald eagle to swoop down and carry her away. “Why do you say that?”
She laughed and shook her head as if in disbelief that I wouldn’t know what she was going to say before she could even say it. “You’re so stupid. You all have your dating apps on your smart phones and you sit all day and swipe, swipe, swipe, and you all have like 600 people you can meet and find love, but none of you actually dates anyone anymore.”
I wanted to argue and defend me and my fellow single Americans, but her point was more than just a little valid. Inside my Bumble app, or maybe Hinge, or maybe Tinder (I don’t remember), I had a list of matches so long it gave my finger muscle spasms to scroll all the way to the bottom. “I date people,” I said. “I date all the…”
She didn’t let me get further than that. “Here in Belgium, if we go on one date and we like that person, we don’t date anyone else until we’re done seeing if that is going to work out. If we kiss someone, we are a couple until we break things off. We don’t go out with anyone else.”
I half-laughed at the idea. Jumping into a relationship so quickly and so easily. But… but… but… My thoughts spun as I thought of all the pitfalls that would accompany such a reckless dating approach. It was absurd, really, and I began thinking of all the potentially hurtful or dramatic situations one might find himself in without doing months of proper due diligence on a potential mate before deciding to commit.
Then I got over myself and I thought about all the potentially great relationships I never got into at all because… Why, exactly? Oh, yes. Because of a little thing that has crept into our dating culture called options paralysis. We have so many choices at our fingertips that we often can’t commit to any choice at all.
Dating and love didn’t used to be that way.
I remember when I was sixteen years old, the age I was allowed to start dating. I could barely look at any girl, let alone make any real sort of move beyond useless babble and a thumbs up to her as I walked away in shame. I had never been on a date at that point, but I was desperate to finally break that ice and invite a neighbor of mine named June to the school’s fall dance.
This was, of course, before cell phones were main stream. That meant I had to pick up a hunk of metal attached to the wall, punch in a phone number, and somehow find the balls to ask her out.
It was her father that answered the phone. “Hello.”
I squirmed and had to clear my throat a couple times before any sound would come out. “Uhhhh, hi, uhhhhhh, yeah, is uhhhh June there?”
“Who is this?” His voice had no emotion. It was absolutely terrifying.
“Uhhhh. Dan. This is Dan Pearce. I, uhhhh, live up the street from you. I just wanted to know if…”
“JUNE!” he yelled and I heard a clunk as he set the phone down.
How can I explain the wave of emotions that followed during those fifteen seconds before she picked up the phone? There was definitely extreme elation that I didn’t have to say another word to her father. There was also sheer terror that I was about to have to put myself out there. I think I peed a little while I simultaneously choked back vomit. My armpits visibly soaked through with sweat as if a spigot had been turned on. I started doubting my current life choices. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. She was going to say no. I knew she was going to say no. I couldn’t let myself be rej…”
“Hello?” she said it again after a few seconds.
I remained frozen. I was willing words to come out of me. Any words. They wouldn’t.
“Dad, who was it?” she yelled.
I panicked. “Hey June, sorry, it’s Dan Pearce.”
“Oh. Hi.” She said nothing else. Why would she say nothing else?! I’m sure it was only two seconds at the most. It easily felt more like an hour.
“Ummmm.” All my words ran together after that. YeahUmDoYouUhWannaGoToTheFallDanceWithMe?”
She giggled. Was that good that she giggled? Was that bad? Oh, my gosh. It was bad. It had to be bad. What was I doing. Why was I putting myself through this torture? She was going to say no. I knew she was going to say no. Just say it and put me out of my misery already, June!
“Yeah, that’d be fun.”
“Uhhhhhh. Yeah? Really?”
She giggled again. “Yeah, I’d love to.”
And that was that. I had my first date lined up.
Calling June for that date was absolutely one of the scariest and most ball breaking moments of my life. Two decades later, after I finished my conversation with the Belgium woman, I thought back to June, and I thought about the difference between dating then and dating now. I actually thought about it a lot.
Nowadays, it has become too easy. It is no longer terrifying the way it once was. People we can potentially date come to us in bulk and we have our perceived pick of the litter. We go on dates and we go on more dates and we go on even more dates. We make these great connections, and then so many of them fizzle before they really go anywhere because we always have two or three more dates lined up on the heels of the last. So, why would it matter if any one single date fails to lead anywhere great?
We pick people apart like we didn’t ever do in the past. We look for red flags and we ride those red flags right into Lonelyville, always sure that somebody just a little bit better exists somewhere on our list of matches if we can just go out with enough people to find them.
Before the days of the dating websites and apps and before the days of texting, dating was so awkward and terrifying for most of us that when we found someone we liked, we did what the Belgium woman does. We held onto that until we absolutely were sure it wouldn’t work out. We did it because getting back into the dating scene again brought most of us some form of PTSD.
It was after I came home from that trip to Europe, having had the chance to really stew on the Belgian woman’s declaration of American stupidity that I decided to experiment with dating in a whole new way (and really old way, if we’re being honest). I decided that if I go on one date and I like that person and she likes me, I wouldn’t date anyone else until we were done seeing if it was going to work out. If I kissed someone, I’d be faithful to that person until we broke things off. I wouldn’t go out with anyone else. I would remove the dating app, and give it a real chance.
And, wow. Did dating change for me after that in such amazing and incredible ways.
“But Dan, in yesterday’s blog you listed all the breakups you’ve had the last few years.” C’mon. Some of you at least just screamed that at your screen.
Yeah, I did mention several different breakups. And let’s talk about that tomorrow.
Dan Pearce | The Single Dad Laughing Blog