Make Dating Less Miserable: Treat It Like a Hobby

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The New Year is the perfect time to finally take up ceramics, learn Mandarin, start a book club, start rock-climbing, or plant a garden. In 2018, the Cut has practical advice on trying something new. Make bowls, not just resolutions.

Whenever I’ve described dating as “torture” or “major surgery without anesthesia,” someone will sunnily respond, “Oh! It’s not so bad,” and then proceed to tell me all the different, more pleasant ways I should think about it.

Dating, they explain, is not actually like eternal tap-dancing in the seventh circle of hell; it’s actually “a numbers game,” “practice,” “a job,” or “like shopping!”

I don’t like any of these analogies, personally. I already have a job; I do not need a second job, especially one that pays only in booze and banter. And what am I practicing for? A dating recital, or the dating playoffs, or something? Shopping is fun, but should we really be commodifying human beings? People aren’t H&M T-shirts, to be worn once and swapped out for something without pit stains. (I like to think I’m more a Céline knit, if I had to choose.) And a numbers game? Sounds like a gambling addict or a sociopath’s guide to dating — which I guess is how a lot of people approach Tinder, come to think of it.

Recently a friend suggested I think of dating “like a hobby.” (I was complaining that I have neither dates nor hobbies.) Her reasoning: Instead of thinking about it as a thing you have to do, and do a lot, in order to find success, why not think of dating as an enjoyable activity you choose to do? Just a fun pursuit. Like tennis. In true hobby fashion, there’s nothing really to gain except honing a particular specialized skill, meeting people you otherwise wouldn’t meet, filling idle hours, and maybe getting some physical exercise, by which I mean maybe getting laid. Apparently, having hobbies helps make you happy, and how nice to think of dating as something that could make you happy, too — here, now, and not in some future happy ending.

But can dating really be a hobby?

My unofficial group chat poll was divided. Some found dating “too annoying” to be a hobby (“Hobbies are supposed to be fun!”); others agreed that it’s a good way to stop making dating feel like such a big deal, as I’m prone to do. Others were unclear as to what counts as a hobby– “Does jogging?” asked one friend, quoting When Harry Met Sally, which coincidentally is a movie that is also often unclear about what counts as dating.

I decided to turn to an expert, so I contacted Meredith Golden, New York’s “dating app ghostwriter”  to see what she thought.

“Yes!” she said when we chatted by phone. “It’s easier to swipe and banter than it is to read a novel on the subway or knit a sweater. You just end up spending so much time doing it, you might as well enjoy it. It’s fun! And it’s humorous.”

I asked her about the hypothetical benefits of dating-as-hobby. “In terms of swiping, you engage with more people and have the response rate increase,” she suggested. And, by dating a lot, you become desensitized. “You do it enough, and you’ve got your three back-pocket stories, and you know how to have the best, most interesting conversations.”

Then there’s perhaps the No. 1 reason to regard dating as a hobby: It gives you something to do when you run out of friends to go to happy hour with. “As you get older,” Golden pointed out, “more and more of your friends are in relationships and weeknight invitations to grab a drink or dinner are harder to drum up.” Well, that’s a little bleak, but not so bleak as to be unconvincing.

In order to become a dating hobbyist, Golden recommends booking ten dates a week, though an novice might want to start slower. She recommends having great photos and swiping on multiple apps — just as all conventional online-dating wisdom inevitably dictates.

Still, I think of my friend as a case study in dating-as-hobby, and an inspiring one. She goes on about five dates a week, and even when they don’t work out, she doesn’t seem to feel the sting of rejection or an abject sense that oh my god, this is hopeless. She goes out, she has a drink or two, she gets to make sparkling conversation, she meets interesting people, sometimes she finds story ideas. No date is ever catastrophic; at worst it’s just a little boring or sparkless.

In the end, maybe it’s like taking up ceramics: Sometimes you make an ugly bowl, sometimes you make a mug worth selling for $40 at a Brooklyn bazaar in a middle-school parking lot, but the end result doesn’t really matter — it’s the doing it that counts.

Yes! Dating Can Be a Hobby