Alternative Title: I Kissed Dating Goodbye. (Shaurraut to all my babes raised in purity culture. We will overcome!)
I write this as I prepare to bury myself in a binge-read of an eight-book romance series. I have not even begun but it’s taking me a lot of effort not to squeal every time I think about it, because that’s just the kind of person I am. I see romance, I invest. Issa simpu sturves. As a general rule, like many readers, I like to read the books before I watch the movie, just for the joy of noticing the differences and unapologetically annoying other people by saying, “That’s not what happens in the books.” (Yes, I know it sounds snobbish. Yes, I know nobody cares. Yes, I’m still doing it anyway.) This is why I have not watched Game of Thrones. I have watched video essays analysing the characterisation, plot, themes, symbolism and that ghastly ending, and I have watched clips of every important scene, and I know every character and the whole storyline. But I draw the line at watching the whole show like a normal person, partly because the gratuitous violence in it means I would not be able to watch it on my own, and partly because I want to read the books first. I am currently on the second book of the series, which I have been reading on and off for months now because who writes 1000-page novels about war???
I do this with almost every movie or show that is based on the kind of book I would read. However, I didn’t do it with Bridgerton, though I had every intention to. People online wouldn’t shut up about the show and I’m a sucker for a good period Austen-type romance, so I decided at 10:00 pm on a random night in January to check out the trailer and see if it was worth getting invested in. The trailer (by which I mean Regé Jean Page’s face…*drifts into fantasy*) looked interesting enough so I said, alright, let’s see the first few minutes of it, then if it’s good this will be my weekend plan. Ghafla bin vuu it was 10:00 am the next morning and I had watched the whole thing as if I didn’t have things to do and places to be that day.
This is how I find myself about to read the entire book series on which Shonda’s show is based. I am preparing myself for the second season by reading all the books, since I know that when it does come out, I will immediately drop whatever I will be doing to binge the whole thing in one sitting. I. Cannot. Wait.
All this to say, I love love. Seeing people falling in love and being in love just… *suppresses sob* It’s beautiful, okay? And joyous. And heart-filling.
It turns out, though, that being a romantic hits a little different when you’re single. And not just single but single in the middle of a panasonic, WHILST being socially inept, emotionally intense, and phenomenally intolerant of men as a group because men are…well…yeah.
In my last newsletter, I wrote about the grief so many of us are experiencing; how we’re grieving people, but also, so much more. One of the things that this panoramic took away from me, in addition to my job and my sense of security about my future *shrugs*, is the opportunity to learn how to date like a normal 25-year-old. Covid arrived just as I was preparing to ‘put myself out there’ after a five-year-long relationship. For context, I had been in a relationship since I was 19, right out of high school, and I had never attempted a romantic relationship of any sort before that. I was supremely ill-equipped to enter the Nairobi dating scene. I knew nothing. ‘Fish out of water’ would be a gross understatement. Even now, no matter how many times I see people on the Twirraz channelling their relationship trauma into humour for the TL, evidence of the current gamified structure of dating, I am surprised. The things people are out here enduring for the sake of having a cuddle buddy? Preposterous. (Oh, I want so much better for you all. At some point, honestly, you have to ask yourself, kwani ni must?)
And so began my foray into the world of dating, wildly unprepared, a little terrified. After roughly a year, and a few actual dates, I am happy to say that I have seen enough and I want no parts.
After downloading and deleting Tinder four or five times over the past year – as I understand is the norm – I have concluded that much like math, alcohol served straight, and movies that spend three-quarters of the run time on explosions, gun fights and high speed car chases, dating apps are not designed for the likes of me.
I’m convinced online dating is a flawed concept. The system does not work. Apart from the tiny matter of online chemistry not translating into in-person chemistry as well as one might hope, the idea that you can decide whether or not you like a person based on their face, their selfie game, and their ability to summarise themselves into a bio, is just ridiculous to me. Every time I matched with someone and the conversation was going okay, I was constantly afraid that I was spending all this time talking to a man only to discover when we went on a date that he keeps long nails. Or smells weird. Or dresses everyday like he’s on stage with Sauti Sol. God, I cannot abide. A man could seem like the perfect match, only for you to meet him and find out he is a disciple of Amerix, or says things like, ‘I don’t have a problem with a woman earning more than me but she must remember that I am still the man.’ Imagine dressing up for a date just to realise you are spending your time with a man who does not know that you suddenly lose the ability to listen to them once they say the words ‘females’ and ‘submit’ in the same sentence. TRAGIC.
I don’t know that I am willing to wade through garbage to find one good thing. ‘You have to kiss many frogs before you find your prince charming.’ I’m sorry, that sounds disgusting. I think I’ll pass.
Apart from my inability to look past the fact that using dating apps is essentially shopping for humans, I can’t help feeling that while it seems at first glance like the perfect solution for someone like me – a sensitive, awkward romantic with basic expectations that look like unreasonable demands when viewed through the lens of misogyny – it’s actually the opposite. The way it works seems intended for people who enjoy being out in the world, who have no qualms going out with people they don’t know, just to ‘see where things go’. What others see as the excitement of getting to know someone new, I experience as pressure to develop a romantic attachment to someone I haven’t spent enough time with to get to know.
Sure, you’re gonna say, ‘But Michelle, why must you complicate everything? You’re supposed to meet the stranger, spend time with them, get to know them, and then see where it goes.’
Okay, I get it. But see my problem is that I want to get to know a person first (e.g. as a friend or acquaintance) so that I can decide whether I like them, so that I can then decide to spend time with them within the context of a date. Do you see how the process flows differently in my world? I want to observe you first, watch how you interact with the world, before finally arriving at, ‘Oh, I think I’m attracted to this person.’ Only then will I be interested enough to willingly leave my home to go on a date with you. Basically, I need to know you for me to like you, and I need to like you for me to want to spend time with you so I can get to know you a bit better. A vicious cycle maybe, but also, a system that works.
And what even does ‘see where it goes’ mean anyway? Sounds like wasting both my time and yours to me. It sounds like ambivalence, like a lack of enthusiasm that I do not want in a potential partner.
I read something on Mark Manson’s website, the guy who wrote that book that’s everywhere, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: It’s either a fuck yes, or it’s a no. I appreciate that for many people, seeing where things go, and carrying the awareness that it might not go anywhere, is a comfortable, preferable way of finding a partner. For me though, there is simply no space in my life for ambivalence and ambiguity in my relationships. It’s either a fuck yes, or it’s a no. You need to come with enthusiasm, or not come at all because the moment I sense you’re unsure, I will make the decision for you and step back so neither one of us has to deal with a connection that’s just barely one. And I am aware that for this to happen, you’d need to have spent enough time with me to really see me – a feature that’s not built into the dating app experience.
In summary, it has been emotionally hectic. Wildly confusing. But at least no one can say I’m bashing it without trying it.
I haven’t actually gone on a horrific date. Eh, some people have gone through things. All my dates have ranged from just okay to pretty great. The one that was ‘just okay’, I should have known it was never going anywhere when he showed up almost an hour late, wearing a neon green sweatshirt. But he was nice. He spent the whole date talking about himself, but I suspect he was doing it because I had forewarned him that I struggle to speak to people I don’t know because the world of social anxiety claimed me as its own, and he was trying to take that pressure off me. Regardless, the online chemistry did not translate and, afterwards, I didn’t know how to tell him that. I even googled how to do it, but all that did was make me feel super anxious and overwhelmed, so I ended up just letting the texting slowly taper off. When he asked me, ‘Are you ghosting me?’ I laughed and said ‘No, I’ve just been busy,’ because again, I did not know how to tell him I was no longer interested. I have never felt more like a nigga than I did then. I am not proud of it. He took the hint anyway and, thankfully, didn’t text me again after that.
I think the fact that the dates that were ‘pretty great’ were with someone I already knew from before, confirms my theory. How do you set about developing a crush on someone you don’t know? How do you not get stressed out by the process of meeting up with and having a meal with a virtual stranger? Is it witchcraft? Drugs? Ama you people just lead anxiety-free lives like God’s favourite children?
Anyway. Overall, dating has been terrible so far. 2/10, would not recommend. I am not used to the instability of wondering whether or not someone likes me; whether or not my particular brand of awkward and intense appeals to them. I am not used to retaining in my space people who aren’t sure about me. And I have learnt that this is okay. It’s okay that the system does not work for me. It’s okay that I would rather wait for a connection that will find me without me having to manoeuvre around confusing dating rituals. It’s okay that I am not interested in someone seeing only my face and a 50-word bio and deciding based on that alone that I’m alluring enough for him to want to waste my time. It is okay.
For now, it is enough that I read these sappy romance books and watch these sappy romance shows and movies and revel in the joy they bring me. Eventually, someone’s son will want to watch Game of Thrones with me (at the pace that I am reading these books, and the pace that GRRM is writing the series, this could realistically happen in ten years, so clearly there is no rush), make me laugh, and buy me food. But until then, this is enough. At the end of the day, the world is garbage and wababa stay wilding, but love…Love is still pretty great.
PS: Having said all that, if you have been harbouring an all-consuming crush on me, kindly proceed to my DMs; your time has come. All-consuming crushes only. Thx.