Dear Pluto’s Emma Daniels: Gentleness in Dating
July 23rd 2015
Emma Daniels runs one of Sydney’s most interesting speed dating nights, under the name Dear Pluto. To prepare herself to talk about dating on FBi podcast Not What You Think, she wrote this essay to herself.
I’ve run speed dating parties for around five years now. I’ve seen hundreds of people date, fall in love, drunkenly hook up never to meet again. I also used to work in a club and have a good reputation of single-dom myself (I’m quite sure I am, to quote Frances Ha, “undate-able”, but that doesn’t stop me trying).
I’ve had countless conversations on the subject of dating and all its messy counter-parts; of all the things I do, matchmaking is the one I receive the most questions about. People stare at me wide eyed, “So, tell me, what’s it like??” as though I am a modern day cupid (I’m certainly not… I am much less naked most of the time and never use an arrow — too messy). So anyway, here I am.
Dating is a tough game, now more than ever. Our way of thinking and method alike have changed, and yet we expect the same results. We’re going on more dates than ever, a tangible effect of the popularity of dating apps, but no one appears to be having any more success.
In fact, it appears we’re going in the opposite direction. I believe two things need to happen pushing forward. Firstly, we need to allow space to be surprised, open our minds to all possibilities. And secondly, we need to practice connection and focus. This is how you give love a chance.
Our dating parties have a fairly traditional set-up; four minutes a date, and at the end of the four minutes you give the person a yes or a no. What sets us apart is the crowd that attends, the venues we choose, and the DJs that play. Basically, the whole thing is decidedly less naff than you might think. People come with the expectation that they might meet someone, but not generally expecting to meet their future hubby/wife. We do straight ones and, in conjunction with Heaps Gay, gay and lesbian ones too.
Occasionally I see someone tick yes to everyone. Sometimes because they genuinely like everyone, more often because they are just curious to see what comes back. This is a method you see across other dating platforms also. You would think it a clever tactic, a case of “more is more”, but it’s generally understood that even though these people find themselves with an increased amount of choice, it is, in fact, unlikely they will have any greater success than the person who gets two or three matches. The truth is, the more options someone is given, the more likely they are to feel overwhelmed and not choose anything at all.
I see people overwhelmed by twenty choices. And yet, I’d hazard a guess to say you have more than twenty matches sitting in your Tinder/Happn/Grindr inbox. There used to be a time when you had to choose from the ten eligible bachelors in your town, or rely on your social circle or family to meet someone (still the case in many places in the world).
In our sprawling city, it is not unthinkable that you could be on your phone one minute, and hooking up with a perfect stranger the next. Or hopping on the next flight to Spain, having eligible bachelor #342 meet you at the airport. A friend of mine recently went to South America with a girl he’d known for a week. Crazy or romantic? We’re so set in this ‘live fast/die young’ mentality, that nothing is crazy anymore. Let’s do it all, with everyone.
In an effort to process this constant stream of new faces, we learn to pigeonhole. It’s a coping mechanism, and it has scientific merit, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck. When we meet someone new we immediately judge them, often harshly. The internet provides a detachment that doesn’t just allow for this, it encourages it. We look at a person’s social media, and are lead to assume we know the whole person. People become no more than faces and fantasies, disposable and interchangeable.
Likewise, we are extremely conscious of the way our online presence effects the way we are seen in the world. We don’t waste good light. We post selfies and you-wish-you-were-heres on Facebook/Tinder/Snapchat/Instagram. We go places solely for the content. The ease with which we can manipulate this mask, breeds not just superficiality, but social isolation, feeding back into the cycle.
However, this kind of self-commodification is unfortunately integral to our society. There has been a huge shift in the last 10 years towards freelancing, entrepreneurship and sole trading – we are the ‘slashie’ generation, after all – with creatives often having to run ten jobs just to make ends meet. It’s a skill we utilise in every aspect of our lives; we are a brand and you want to be associated with us, have us on your team. Choose to be humble, and you suffer for it. Can you blame us for applying the same logic to our search for a lover? Our society gives you a grandstand, and if you get tongue tied, you get left behind.
Image: the Aesthetic Life
When and if we do settle down with someone (note I said settle down, not settle), even just for a while, we’re left with a niggling dissatisfaction, taunted by the question of what could have been. Having so many fish in the sea has left us less inclined to commit and, once in a relationship, more likely to call it quits at the first sign of trouble. We have learned to jump from one lover to the next with a fickle-ness unique to our generation. After all, why would you spend your valuable time and effort on trying to make it work with your current relationship/lover when you can just pick up your phone and get ten new ones, just the same?
Of course, this isn’t how it really works. Everyone is an individual, and the man next to you is not going to treat his lovers in the same way as the man across from you. We’re all complex products of our genes and experiences – good, bad and ugly – and the sooner we accept our respective bumps and bruises, the sooner we can allow ourselves relationships that are mutually forgiving, that blossom rather than wither.
The more you have built on conjecture and the less you bother to get to know your lover, the more tumultuous your relationship is likely to be. I know how easy it is to fall for a silent man; those beautiful Ryan Goslings and Don Drapers. It’s only when they start to reveal that they are a real person, with flaws and quirks and opinions – perhaps, god forbid, contrary to yours – that things start to get shaky. Social media has nurtured our egos in a way a real person will never so consistently do. But what use is having someone agree with you if they’ve never disagreed with you? Conflicting opinions don’t always mean a conflict in values. And a little bit of friction can make for damn good sex.
When I was growing up, my parents used to repeat two things to me all the time: “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and “be yourself.”
I heeded them on the former. I was a strong kid. Not physically, but emotionally. The thing I held my ground about the most though, was that I did not want to be myself. I wanted to be that blonde girl, the healthy one, the popular one. Not the mousey haired girl in a back brace, doing laps of the quad for having no one to talk to, and spending her weekends fundraising for Greenpeace.
These days, if you met me, you’d likely be quicker to associate me with that blonde girl, and not just ‘cause I dye my hair now. I’ve been told I come across as confident (obviously only by those who have never heard me on radio) and I have a good network of friends. I typically give very little of my self away to strangers, or anyone I haven’t gotten drunk with at least 6 times, having been hardened by years of being back-brace-girl. I consistently see people like me, sitting there with their arms crossed and toe tapping, not really listening to the other person for being so close-minded. However, it’s hard to know whether you really do have a connection or not, unless you open up a little.
We all have these lists of things our partner-to-be will be or say or own. And the odds of finding this person, statistically, are crazy. Like nil. And then of that person being in the same town, in the same bar, at the same university; and then the chance that you actually talk to each other, and are both having a good day and feeling social and are both single too; and then, if, somehow, all of this happens, that you have chemistry? Yeah, right.
In the Western world we’ve come to expect our partner not just be our ideal lover and provider, but also our best friend. No longer are we just looking for a husband or wife, we are looking for the ultimate commodity — an all-in-one item that doesn’t exist.
We want someone who’s stable but adventurous, reliable but impulsive, decisive but malleable, humorous in life but serious in work, generous but sensible.
For myself, love has always come in the most unexpected of places. From a woman, at a time when I identified as straight, or a guy 5 years younger than I, when I’d just come out of a de-facto relationship with a man 11 years my senior. It’s only when I’m not looking, when I’m comfortable enough around myself and other people not to notice I’m falling in love until it’s too late.
At our dating parties, it’s very rarely the most conventionally attractive man that gets the most yeses. Often a guy will come out with a crazy amount of matches and I’ll sit there struggling to put a face to the name. It’s the guy in the corner, the kinda guy you wouldn’t look twice at, with a stain on his shirt and sweat on his brow. But damn he’s funny. Or charming. Or maybe he’s just genuinely interested and asking the right questions. I don’t know what it is, but I know if I met him in a bar I’d probably dismiss him before he’d even opened his mouth, thinking he’s “not really my type,” and you might have too, because what you think you want and what you actually want are not always the same.
Dismissing someone for a lack of ability to self-commoditise, or a badly lit selfie, isn’t beneficial to either of you – some people are just not that aesthetically minded. Or, maybe they just need someone to tell them “Hey, wearing a feather headdress is not cool, you’re white, and it’s disrespectful” and suddenly they’re like “I never thought about it, I am so horrifically embarrassed, I actually majored in Native American studies.”
I’ve never had great chemistry with someone with whom I’ve felt an immediate attraction. Not to say my favourite lovers haven’t been handsome or beautiful — just not in a way I thought, initially, to be my type. I won’t go as far as to say any of them were ever seen in anything resembling a feather headdress, but I’m only 26, there’s still time.
In the end, if you really, truly fall for someone, there will always be things about them that get you going. It could be their freckles or the way they flick their hair, their smell or the way they say your name. A true connection is built on so much more than just a checklist, the placement of a person’s facial features, or how high they wear their top bun.
One particular instance in which I think we need to allow for more slack, is first dates. They are rarely the best indicator of a person. Between efforts to impress and inwardly analysing everything the other person is doing and saying, you’re probably not at your best.
I am a notoriously bad first date. On one occasion, having said something completely incomprehensible to my date, I literally dunked my own head underwater out of embarrassment. I once convinced a date to change drinking venues five times because each was making me more nervous than the last (it took me a while to conclude it wasn’t the venue). I’ve poured drinks on myself, fallen up stairs and used innocent bystanders as human shields.
Meanwhile, if they’d taken the time to get to know me, they’d have realised I’m actually really cool. Ha ha. No, but seriously, maybe it’s worth keeping in mind next time your date is boasting, or being generally inarticulate. Maybe they’re just nervous because they like you a lot. And isn’t that a good thing? Someone who likes you so much it makes them fall over themselves? Just think about how long it takes to make friends — good friends — why should we be expected to have this immediate connection and all-knowing and calmness and intimacy with lovers? Where the stakes are often even higher, and the emotions not nearly as cool.
One of the most consistent positive feedback I receive on our dating parties, apart from them being damn fun, is that they offer an environment where you haven’t any option but to focus on the person opposite you. Sure, it’s only four minutes, but for those four minutes it’s just you and that person — no distractions, no phones, no real pressure; just talking.
I’m not saying the solution is that everyone come to my dating parties (but you should), I only suggest that you stop for a second and give people a chance. Stop scanning the room for the next person or checking your phone.
We text in meetings, at weddings, even at funerals. We text and talk. Text and drive. Being able to text whilst retaining eye contact is considered a valuable skill.
I’m not here to speak out against the evils of technology. Technology is a part of all of our lives and it doesn’t give reason or merit to our actions. However, I do think we should be conscious of the way it’s changing our attitudes. The effect that it’s having on the way we communicate, interact, meet people and also sustain relationships.
Go out, leave your phone at home, and talk to fucking everyone. Except that girl who used to fundraise for Greenpeace, I hear she’s a bit weird.
Listen to Emma’s episode here or check out her awesome Dear Pluto dating parties on Facebook. There’s one coming up.