Here’s a little something most people don’t know about me: I never went on a single date before I stepped foot on campus.
My first date in college (and ever) resulted in a short-lived, semi-relationship that ended with cheating on his side, pressure to commit on my side, and, of course, trust issues on both sides. Since the moment we broke up—or more realistically, stopped talking—my dating life has pretty much seen it all: hooking up with someone once and never seeing them again, consistent hookups, “almost” dating for months on end, short-lasted relationships, friend-zoning, ghosting, and more. The one thing it hasn’t ever seen? A committed relationship.
I’m from a small town right outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Coming from the South, you’re taught from day one that there’s a specific expectation of how love “should” be. You meet your significant other in high school, start dating, stay together through college, and get married upon graduation. If you’re not so lucky, you’ll meet your partner in college, probably through friends, and then end up together after a few dates.
It was only once I came to Columbia that I started to question the norms I grew up with and came to realize that they weren’t quite what I was seeing everywhere.
The differences in the dating scenes back home reveal themselves in the details. It’s looked down upon to bring up politics on a date (something that seems to be almost encouraged here), things are slower-paced, and your date will come to your front door with flowers and a firm handshake for your parents (if you’re still lucky enough to live at home). More often than not, if you’ve never met your date before, someone you know has met them and can vouch for them, no matter how you met them. That never seemed weird to me. The small town I grew up in was filled with people I knew and it was completely normal for everyone to look out for each other.
It wasn’t until I started dating in college, specifically dating people that no one else knew, that I realized that the sort of close-knit, tiny community I was used to wasn’t necessarily doing wonders for my dating life. Dating at home meant getting outside approval and influence on every date I met with, whether or not I wanted it. Often, coming back to Columbia after every break felt like a breath of fresh air.
The mere concept of dating apps throws each of the scenarios I grew up with out the window, and instead perpetuates the norm of non-commitment, allowing it to spill out of the screen and into “real life.” I’d say that since coming to Columbia, I’ve been on probably close to 50 first dates from assorted dating apps. Perhaps 15 of them got to a second date. Maybe a close seven got to a third date. And probably three made it past that. Now, in a city of 9 million people, a 6 percent third-date rate isn’t the worst thing in the world. You could swipe left or right for hours and not empty your app of potential matches, so the chances of finding someone who might stick around longer than a couple of dates aren’t the worst they could be, but they’re still pretty low.
And let’s be real. That blows. Maybe it’s just me and where I come from, but there’s something that doesn’t feel right about that statistic. Why the hell, in a city that’s known for its kick-ass people doing things they truly care about—and specifically at Columbia, a university filled with some incredibly bright, intriguing minds—are we settling for such average dating lives? Obviously, not every single person in New York or even on campus is suffering from the “meh” effect, but for the sake of examining what dating apps are doing to our dating lives, entertain the thought that some people are allowing themselves a sad version of what could be an incredibly enriching aspect of their lives.
My friends joke with me that I tend to date guys who, often, are much worse for me than they are beneficial to me. I’m great at picking out guys who refuse to respond or who are guaranteed to only text me after the sun sets or who simply don’t care to ask about my life. As someone who tends to put others first, I’m not great at picking out a likeminded match, and in talking to my single friends, it seems that quite a lot of us are doing the same thing. Why is it that so many incredible people, both on this campus and off, are selling themselves so damn short?
There are so many parts of Columbia that probably affect this. We’re good at working on improving ourselves inside the classroom and outside the classroom in terms of working our asses off. We work ourselves to a point of burning out pretty constantly and the concept of self-care is one that is almost laughable to some students and one that feels unattainable to many. Of course we go after relationships that aren’t really relationships. Of course many of us go after people who don’t uplift us. We’re so tired at the end of the day that we’ll simply take what we can get.
It’s taken me years of friends and family reminding me that I “deserve better,” “need better,” and “should see better people in my dating life,” just to realize that the people I’ve been dating aren’t bettering me. Why does it take constant reminding and cycles of ghosting, confusion, and unclear relationships to reach a point where I’m not doing myself a disservice? Why is it that as fantastic, imaginative, creative, intelligent individuals, we see how wonderful our peers are, but we can’t give ourselves the same credit and respect? This obviously isn’t just a Columbia problem, and it’s obviously not just a New York problem—but it is a problem we need to address.
This idea of settling for less simply because we have access to enough people is something that’s become completely rampant with the spread of dating apps. Because there’s always someone waiting in the wings to replace the last “meh” person, we fall into this never-ending cycle of moving onto the next date, moving onto the next possible better match. We never give ourselves time to stop, breathe, and think.
Maybe focusing on finding people who better us instead of just finding people is the actual point. We’re all fantastic people who deserve a little more, and maybe we should finally treat ourselves as such.
The author is a junior in Barnard College studying psychology. She is also the founder and blogger at MollyEm.com.
Love, Actualized is a weekly op-ed series on love, sex, and dating at Columbia. To respond to this piece, or to submit to Love, Actualized, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.