Last year, in the midst of the pandemic, I appeared as a guest on a dating show (now defunct). With the cameras on, I sat on a teal sofa next to the show’s host, who had prepared for an interview with a man neurotic about dating – a man who makes up calculation of the stages of the relation and lists of traits of potential dates.
This man is me. It’s who I am and what I do. In the host’s mind, my neurosis was severe. In mine, it was good. So good, in fact, that I had recently met a guy I loved and could see a future with.
“So, Alex,” she said. “How’s your love life?”
“I just started dating a boy,” I said. “So that’s great.”
Her face soured and she touched her earpiece. Obviously, my answer was not what she expected.
The producer stepped out wearing her “I Am Important” helmet. She was the kind of person who obviously excelled at her job – a job that I made difficult.
She explained that my love life was not meant to be good. The reason they brought me on the show is that my standards were too high; I had crazy lists of dating demands that they said stemmed from my deep fear of engagement, like I was sabotaging myself with a system that would shut out almost everyone.
They assumed wrong.
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I have a lot of fears: insufficiency, looking desperate, running into the guy on the bus in 5th grade who told me that I had “woman’s hips”. But afraid of commitment? No. Nonetheless, I wasn’t about to fight the producer and host I wanted to be on the show.
However, they were right about one thing. I am indeed an amazing list maker. I create checklists and dating processes that are measured with tools and data. Little bits of information that encourage me to keep paddling through a sea of potential boyfriends while keeping me from docking my boat in a poor “good enough” relationship. A relationship like that of so many couples I know, filled with silent meals, wandering stares, and desperate regrets for what each of them could have been.
I started my system seven years ago on Trello, the project management software I use at work. I had just endured too many bad first dates. The Hinge guy who may have used his son’s photos as his own. The lawyer whose coming-out story was somehow less interesting than his love of bespoke suits. The finance brother who found it odd that I was a blonde Jew.
I have experienced repeated collisions of misaligned values and discovered personality traits that I wanted to avoid. Dates that made me become versions of myself that I didn’t like and that cost me time I could have spent on my couch: just me, a Vicodin, and a book on sadness.
To break this cycle, I decided to follow everything. Make sense of the models and change them.
Cue the Trello board. To date, the table has six steps and eight strokes. It’s similar to a salesperson’s business development process, with each step representing a step towards a successful transaction and each trait representing a characteristic that is more likely to lead to success.
The steps are as follows: Veterinarian, Vetting, Vetted, Scheduling, Scheduled and Dating. Each person is represented by a Trello card – a kind of digital reminder.
Before dating anyone, their card progresses from left to right, going through these stages until we are dating. If we never get that far, I archive his card, in which case it will only ever be an archived card.
I assess my potential dates based on eight traits. I try to learn five of these traits before the date. The other three, I think after the date.
Before the first date, I try to determine the following: Is he making me laugh over text? Does he live in Los Angeles? Does he like his job? Is he ready to backpack? Is he going to phone?
After the first date, I wonder: does he like himself? Is he curious? Is he nice?
It’s a bit crazy, flawed and, yes, critical. My systematic approach may well eliminate someone who could make me my happiest self. But the alternative of leaving fate to fate of relying on chemistry, physical attraction and chance didn’t lead me to this person either.
I would rather have something to work on. Tasks and cards to sort, as opposed to waiting in Whole Foods for a guy and I to magically close our eyes as we reach the same carton of oat milk.
So far my Trello system has worked, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself. It has led me to more than enough moments of happily lying next to someone and forgetting my inbox, looking at someone and knowing that I am growing in a way that matters to me, and believing, however long his Trello card might be, that lying there with him was a good use of my time.
This is how I originally got into the show – as a person who believed in my system. “The only reason one of my boyfriends was a boyfriend was because he had at least six out of eight traits,” I said on a Zoom call with the casting director. .
But that’s not what they wanted me to talk about. They didn’t like my features. For television, the features must be sexy: the face, the abdominals and the girth. Traits that eventually fade and leave you with a partner you hate and a version of yourself you hate even more. Someone you get mad at for the way they roll up the toothpaste tube or don’t fill the Brita.
Back in the studio, it was time to remake the scene with me embracing my character too neurotic to ever find love, so viewers at home could see me as an uplifting tale, an exaggeration, perhaps, of their. own neuroses. .
On that teal sofa, my hands shaking, I stared at the meet host as she hit me with her questions.
“Alex, I think the reason you’re on your own is because you have too many high standards,” she said. “What do you think?”
“Wow,” I say. “I never thought of that.”
“You can’t expect someone to check so many boxes so quickly,” she says. “And if you’re so busy checking out, you’re probably not checking their boxes.”
“It makes sense,” I said. “You are probably right.”
She smiled. “Now go ahead and be more open-minded. Let people in. You have so much to offer. Then she turned to the camera and said, “You all have a lot to offer. Open your hearts and minds and be yourself. And thanks for watching. “
She exhaled and turned to me. “Great to meet you, Alex. And I’m so glad your love life is going well. Good luck with this guy. His words sounded kind and genuine. She winked as she walked out, having got what she was looking for from me, as if she had led me through her own little Trello board.
As I sat there, consensually enlightened, I thought about his made-for-television advice. About how my system created a method full of quick left swipes – a system that, if continued, can lead me to a life on my own as a single gay, perhaps finding some validation social as the second assistant coach of an intramural LGBTQ kickball team. , someone who refers to his dogs as his children and doesn’t believe in settling down because that would imply that he believes in something that he has completely failed at.
But I’m not there yet. And as of today, I hate kickball.
For now, I’m going to look at my Trello board with names like “Mark Emojitexter” and “DavidWeirdCat” and accept that I don’t know that my methods work any more than the reality shows that people knew how I did, “AlexNeuroticDater” , would get by on an episode of their show.
I think back to the guy I was happily dating back then. The one I mentioned sitting on that turquoise sofa. With his big smile and his perfect score of eight out of eight traits. The guy I don’t date anymore.
Why did it not work?
I think it’s because he doesn’t love me back.
Well. “Does he love me back?”
A ninth line to add to the table.