My friend was feeling rubbish about the date she’d just been on. The guy had suggested going to a pub around the corner from his, which she felt was evidence that he wanted something completely casual while she wanted the promise of more. He was a Taurus, too, and they’re always so stubborn. “Oh well, I’ll just let it die on its own,” she said, her language so conclusive, so certain, that I felt disappointed for her that it hadn’t worked out.
That is, until I was in bed that evening and reassessed the facts. Like, how he’d told her he loved the elvish point of her ears and the little freckle on her eyeball. Or how they had made out at the bus stop. He’d even asked her out the following week to see Orlando with him at the theatre because his parents got him tickets to see it for Christmas.
“I think no matter how well your date went, you’d still find something wrong with it once he’d left,” I said to her the following day. She agreed and said I knew her too well.
The problem is my friend is a doom-stalker. After an interaction, she will pick apart and twist around everything until she’s spun a convincing narrative that it’s not going to work out. But you can take the smallest bit of evidence and use it to prove anything you want, like when you see those studies that say coffee will save your life because it lowers cholesterol and then the next week there’s another one saying coffee gives you cancer.
I have the opposite outlook to my friend. I don’t focus on the negative at all, but rather I take the nice moments—our legs brushing together under the table, my date making an effort to find a nice restaurant—and I embellish them, stretch them out, make them mean so much more than they do when taken on their own. He says he likes my writing, and I imagine us both in 20 years being profiled by the New York Times because the book of mine he’s adapted for TV is up for a BAFTA. He says he loves history, and I see him and my brother sitting on either side of a picnic bench discussing the Ottoman Empire, or Roman coins, or whatever it might be, while I roll my eyes and call them nerds.
Neither perspective is very good. Doom-stalking might help you arm yourself against the many disappointments of dating in 2023, but it also sucks the joy out of it. It stops you from enjoying what were fun experiences so that it becomes harder and harder to persuade yourself to go on another date. It closes you off from the good things coming your way, the person who actually does like you, and it only serves to reinforce the negative thoughts you have about yourself.
Fantacizing all the time, like I do, isn’t much better. Actually, I think it’s a worse way to be. It sets you up for a big fall when things don’t work out, because you’re no longer losing someone you went on three dates with, but someone you deeply care about, who’s occupied your mind for weeks.
I spend a lot of time trying to convince myself to see things from a gloomier perspective—to assume the worst—only to find myself, seconds later, boomeranging back to planning our wedding. Or to him, handing over a big hoodie for me to head home in, one that’s still soft because it hasn’t been through the wash yet.
“The point is, you just don’t really know what they’re thinking,” a friend said. “Them telling you about getting bullied in high school could be because they really do feel more comfortable with you than anyone they’ve ever met, or it could be that they’re a chronic oversharer. You just have to lean into the uncertainty. Ride the wave.”
A week later, another friend and I were in a café looking at her ex’s Instagram profile. There was a photo of him scoring during a five-a-side game; another of him backflipping into a big, blue swimming pool; and then him on a cliff with his arm looped around another woman, their noses pink, the wind blowing their hair into their mouths.
“Are they going out, do you think?” asked my friend.
I could have make a prediction, but then I realized, after thinking about what my other friend said earlier, that we wouldn’t ever know unless one of us went and asked, which neither of us was going to do, and that we shouldn’t, either, because what’s the point in hearing information that would hurt you?
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Another friend, formerly a doom-stalker, made me see there’s another perspective you can have on dating entirely. She’d just been on a date with someone she was originally going to bail on because of how many plans she’d made that week. They ended up having the best time: walking down the South Bank; popping the big, wobbling bubbles that street artists make for kids; smiling as oil ran down their chins from the Cuban sandwiches they bought from a truck.
“Yeah, so far, feeling very level-headed about it!” she said on the group chat when we asked how it had all gone. “But also still got the nice squiggly tummy feels.”
“Best of both worlds.”
“In my normal era.”
She was positive, allowing herself to enjoy all the good things she experienced, but she also wasn’t forcing them to mean more than they did. When you think about dating this way, it means that your date buying the book you told them they’d like can just be them buying the book you told them they’d like, and them looking at you like they’re really listening can just be them looking at you like they’re really listening. It’s better to allow things to be what they are, even if you think those things are too small to cherish. Happiness is made up of a mosaic of all these small moments. That’s a good enough picture—enjoy looking at it.