Our series of true dating stories continues with today’s essay by Jen Doll. After going through a rough break up, she turned to a therapist for support. But what she didn’t expect was for him to become her dating coach. Here, she shares his piece of life-changing advice…
A couple months ago, I got dumped. It was unexpected, right before we were supposed to take a romantic trip together. Of course, after a breakup, once you start putting the clues together, it seems like you never should have expected anything else – the red flags were lined up in a row waving in your face, and the only reason you failed to see them was that you didn’t want to look.
Still, I took it like a champ — at least, I thought so. I cried a little, I wrote it out, I sent some hardcore telling-it-like-it-is texts before I stopped texting entirely, and I shook my fist at the sky and vowed revenge.
Then I did what many of us do in these times of need. I got back on Tinder.
Tinder, the dating app, was where I’d met my ex, and my ex before that, too. Tinder and I had a pretty decent track record. Just spend a little more time on the old app — hello again, here’s a new photo, here’s a witticism or two — and, poof, another guy to date. He might last for 3 months or he might last for 8.5, but either way we’d learn and love and laugh together until we parted ways, because, as I often told friends, not every romance is meant to last forever.
But my last relationship had made me realize that I did want the forever romance. How to get it, however, was much less clear. I talked about this to friends, my mom, and a therapist, who, luckily, I’d started going to right before my breakup. “I’m not sure I’m ready to date again, but it’s good to get back in there, right?” I asked him, announcing that I’d reinstated my Tinder account.
“Well, let me ask you something,” he replied. “What do you want? What are you really looking for?”
He’d posed this question before, and I’d sort of hmmmmed it away. What did I want? Did anyone really care, except the guy in front of me whom I paid to care? But, surprising myself, I answered in a string of rushed syllables: “I want a silver arrow who shoots across the sky knowing exactly where he’s going! Who knows himself and what he wants!”
“Wow,” he said, never ruffled. “I think you need to say that. Put it out there! Write that on your profile.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. My last Tinder profile had a picture of me in shorts with a fading bruise on my leg, and I’d written, “The bruise is gone.” Was I really going to go off about silver arrows, like some kind of self-help book come to life?
“You need to be able to say what you want — and put it on whatever dating profile you’re using — because if you don’t say it, it’s that much harder to get,” he said.
This seemed wise. “You’re like my dating coach,” I joked.
In my next session, I shared a few things from my list of wants, which included: someone who is socially aware and passionate, someone who is unafraid and wants to move forward, good-looking, tall(ish).
He smiled. “That’s great. Add that to your profile.”
Ugh, not this again. “I can’t!”
“Um, Tinder isn’t really… like that,” I explained, and my therapist looked at me, confused. I was ever more sure he had never Tindered; he probably met all his girlfriends at psychology conventions or walking through Paris in the springtime. “It’s more, like, coy. Funny. Witty. You reel them in with jokes and then…”
He continued to stare at me blankly.
“It’s just not done…”
“Why not?” he said.
The truth was, I didn’t really know. Why was it that being clever and sarcastic and keeping people on their toes was more “acceptable” than asserting what you wanted and letting the possible dates sort themselves into those who wanted the same things, and those who would walk away and wish you well? For so long, I’d accepted the guys who liked me first, who seemed like they might get me someday, and I’d tried to make myself fit around them, to make us work.
Inevitably, it hadn’t. Maybe I’d been undermining myself from the get-go. This idea of knowing what you wanted and actually saying it, it was scary — but it resonated. I did that everywhere else in life. Why not here?
“Okay, I’ll think about it,” I said.
It took a week and a few glasses of wine but I did it. Or, more accurately, first, a younger male friend commandeered my Tinder account (he agreed with my therapist wholeheartedly) and then I changed it still more, because dating, like life, is something of a group effort sometimes. I wanted someone who knows himself, a good driver (I’ve ridden with too many bad ones), a person who was aligned with me politically. I also bragged about being able to ski on one ski — sometimes you’ve got to be a little bit funny while also tooting your own horn. And if someone didn’t get that, that was OK with me. I was looking for a real connection.
“You have to tell me about all the messages that come in,” said my friend, pleased with our work. “You’re going to get a lot.”
Like clockwork, there it was. “This profile,” messaged a guy, “It’s perfect. Thank you.”
I didn’t even have to go out with him. Already, my heart felt pretty great.
Jen Doll has written for The Atlantic, Elle, New York Magazine, The New York Times Book Review and other publications. She is also the author of Save the Date, a memoir about what she learned about relationships, friendship, marriage, love and herself after attending 17 weddings.
(Illustration by Alessandra Olanow for Cup of Jo.)