One popular online dating app informs me that over 3,000 men have “liked” me since I started using it. 3,000. Just on that one app. Enough to populate a town with its own stoplight and post office.
What would a town populated by these likers look like? Would it be a suburban strip mall wasteland or a cozy neighborhood of mom-and-pop stores? Would there be lots of charities or would the vibe be more dog-eat-dog? Would the population be stable: moving in, purchasing property, starting a business, or would there be rows of tenement houses for the endless wave of transient and just-barely-not-homeless commitment-phobes? Would there be an abundance of open mic nights, panel discussions, cult movie screenings, and art exhibits but piles of trash in the streets that no one is interested in picking up? How would laws get made?
I also wonder what it would be like for me to visit and stroll down the street. Would I get winks? Catcalls? Glares or insults from the ones who have sent me messages that I’ve ignored? What would these passive likers say to me in real life, given the chance?
I also wonder how it’s possible for an entire town’s-worth of likes to have never resulted in a match that goes beyond date number two.
Of course, I’m not naïve enough to think that clicking a button on an app indicates anything that might be considered genuine interest in me as a person. They are responding to pictures and --if they care enough, a profile -- that have been carefully curated to represent the best possible version of me. Still, the fact remains that their “liking” of me is strictly voluntary, and I’m not even sure why they do it. They click a button, I get a notification. Most of the time, that’s it. Why even bother?
My guess is that it is all part of everyone’s secret favorite pastime: judging other people. Fueled by the desire to run the least amount of risk possible for rejection. A like requires even less effort than copying-and-pasting a standardized message and pressing send, and doesn’t expect anything in return. It’s pretty normal to have no response to a like, and it doesn’t say anything about who you are or, perhaps more importantly, who you aren’t. It is the least serious of all possible flirtations, the digital equivalent of clearing your throat to call someone’s attention to the fact that you are looking at them.
This being the digital world, though, we are shielded from any adverse reaction the object of our gaze might have to being looked at, and the whole thing feels more like a game than anything that might have real-world consequences. With the reduction of people to lists and short-answer questions on a screen, there’s no reliable method for gauging in-person chemistry, and it’s even harder to just be able to tell if someone is being honest. Not to the app, but to themselves. Many of the men I have found myself on dates with make their profiles a monument to the person they wish they were, rather than the person they truly are, with a realistic summary of their actual hopes, dreams, and plans for the future.
I spent a long time being furious about this. I would set up dates with guys that seemed perfect-on-screen and end up either bored, offended, or horrified. And the guys I was most excited to spend time with would continuously build up and tear down brick walls of emotional unavailability, taking me on what felt suspiciously like dates, talking about things we could do in the future, then telling me how utterly uninterested they were. Or there were some guys I really liked that I spent a lot of time with but, for reasons that will always remain a mystery, never asked me out.
Why was God making me waste my time and bringing these dead-ends into my life? He knows how ardently I have prayed for a serious relationship and children and how deep my desire is for those things. Was He playing with me?
After a while, however, I had to ask: how honest am I with myself? What am I inadvertently misrepresenting? What am I scared of revealing?
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes you just encounter horrible people in life that want to treat you badly and/or take advantage of you, and the only lesson there is how to make a quick getaway. But if you keep running into different versions of the same person, it is possible that God is trying to teach you a lesson about yourself that you are refusing to learn, or that you don’t even acknowledge as a lesson that needs to be learned. Maybe the imaginary village of people you are attracting into your life is actually more of a representation of your own interior state and less a comment on the sorry state of the world.
Once I became comfortable with this terrifying thought, my anger at God cooled down. Instead of a tyrant whose evening entertainment seemed to be watching me descend from mild excitement, curiosity, and interest to absolute shock and bewilderment on dates, I started to see a loving Father, desperate to help me move forward in life, helping me develop by pointing out in very concrete ways the areas where I was stuck and holding myself back. The things that annoyed me the most about people turned out to be the things I hated the most about myself.
I wish I could end on an encouraging note, something like “And in the very instant that I learned that valuable lesson, my wonderfully handsome and faithful future husband asked me out, and now we are ridiculously happy and have a brood of perfect children!” But I can’t. If you are single, I am in the trenches with you, and none of us have any guarantee that our singlehood will come to an end. It’s hard. It sucks sometimes. But the very last thing we should do is let singlehood get between us and God, as tempting as it is to hold every moment of solitude against Him. We can let it corrode, harden, and embitter us, or transform us.
At its most profound, solitude lets us share with God some of the deepest moments of His human experience. He knows what it means better than we do, and all of the pain of loneliness gives us a chance to get closer to Him. Every moment, instead of a punishment or imposition, is an opportunity to become better as people and servants of God.
I’m still hoping I can learn everything I need to learn as soon as possible, however, and get this show on the road. I’m still human, after all.