Is Dating Cruel?

It started with a statement. “Romance and love can be cruel.” and then he rephrased. “The process is innately cruel.” He was referring to the Modern Orthodox dating process. “And of course the person could make it worse.”

“It’s not always cruel!” I responded.

“That’s true. Not always.  But often! People get hurt of course.”

“That’s such a cynical way of looking at it.” I texted him back. “Getting hurt doesn’t make something cruel”

But he clearly thought it did.

Cruel seemed too harsh a word to me. Dating for me has been exhausting at times. Depressing, lonely, frustrating. But cruel? Cruel felt too strong. Too intentional. And I wondered if it was our differing temperaments that set our views apart. Or was it our different dating histories that landed us at different experiences?

When I probed him more about what he thought was cruel, he pointed to certain dating processes like apps, which make it difficult for less attractive people to find someone (although I should note that he is very good looking). And I agreed, although to me, that felt like the world in general. Better looking people have an advantage in a lot of facets in life. But maybe my views were narrow to think that way. He also pointed to men having an upper hand. And on that I saw his point as well.

But I guess what kept bothering me was this feeling that the word cruel felt so intentional to me. So malicious. Like someone is out to get you. Like you are the victim of a terrible, intentional, painful fate. And to me, the pain, the frustration, the loneliness, the exhaustion that comes with dating, doesn’t feel intentional. Which is not to say I feel like I am my own creator of these sentiments–far from it. I’m just not sure that I always believe the way I feel about dating is caused by the mal-intention of others.

I wondered why I was defining the word differently from him. Was I putting too much weight on the definition of the word, or maybe was I not being honest enough with how I actually feel sometimes?

When we first started the discussion, I looked up the definition of cruel, thinking that maybe I had been looking at it all wrong. The first definition on oxforddictionaries.com is:

“Willfully causing pain or suffering to others, or feeling no concern about it.” Willfully. Feeling no concern. It backed up everything I felt. But then the second definition listed is: “Causing pain or suffering.”

And so, the word could be interpreted however we choose. We were both right.

But when I really thought about it, I realized it isn’t about the definition. Because when I thought deeper about my frustrations with dating, more things became clear. Intentions don’t really matter. Because in the end it comes down to how you feel. And I started to wonder how everyone else was feeling.

I posted a poll on my Instagram feed asking my followers if they think the dating process is cruel. And I know my sample size is small, and narrow, and wouldn’t be considered statistically meaningful by anyone legitimate, but I still think it means something anecdotally that 78% of the people (39/50 people who took the poll) think the dating process is cruel. That’s high. Like really high. And it wasn’t only single people who answered. Married people, people in relationships, they answered as well. And when people sent me individual feedback about what they found cruel or unfun or exhausting about the dating process, they pointed to guys having an unfair advantage, feeling like there’s no place for women above the age of 24 in the dating scene, a sense that maybe when someone is setting you up they’re doing it for selfish reasons, or a sense that people don’t get that maybe you don’t want to just meet someone for coffee for an hour, because your time is actually precious and there are other things you’d rather do.

It boiled down to a mixture of frustrations. Of people in relationships not getting it, of feeling frustrated by a lack of opportunities and options to meet people, and a general sense that dating felt almost chore-like.

And I started to rethink my initial thought. Because I realized that so many of my peers think dating is cruel. And on some level, I see it. The process can clearly feel cruel. It’s painful. Whether or not people believe it’s intentional or not, the general feeling of pain is there, at an alarmingly high rate even if the sample size is small. And even under my own definition, of willfully causing suffering, dating can be cruel. Because as positive as you want to be, heartbreak hurts, and no matter what, after a breakup, it takes a ton of strength to feel like the other person wasn’t intentionally trying to cause you pain.

But In the end it really doesn’t matter what anyone’s intentions are, because in the end, you have at least 39 out of 50 people who find dating to be cruel. You have 78% of people who took this poll who find dating to be painful and that’s way too many people. And I would venture to guess, that if I posted the poll again and again, with a larger and larger sample size, the results would still skew the same way, (but don’t hold me to it–I might be the only Barnard graduate in the history of the college, to have never taken Intro to Psychology).

I asked if people thought dating was fun. 71% (39/55) said no. Dating takes up so much of our time, and we’re not even having fun while we’re doing this! Honestly, that’s pathetic. And do you know how many people are exhausted by dating? 81% (38 people find it exhausting, only 9 find it exciting). This isn’t a journalistic expose or some huge thesis. I know I don’t have good enough data.(I don’t need to take a stats class to know that). This was an Instagram poll, from my account with only like 200 followers, but I think maybe for me even the results were eye-opening. Because, for someone in the trenches, who feels the frustrations and loneliness and pressures of dating on a constant basis, even I was blind to how many people felt this way. Because even if it’s statistically meaningless, it’s still meaningful. To put it in perspective, it means that if I look around at shul, and the kiddush room is filled with 50 people, 39 of those people believe dating is cruel. In a room of 55 people, 39 don’t find dating fun. In a room of 47 people, 38 of them are exhausted by dating. Which I guess on some level is comforting. In knowing you’re not alone. But on another level it’s really, really sad.

You can tell me to say Nishmat 678 times and light 43 candles and sit in a circle with my friends and cry for each other, and you can tell me to invite my friends to shalosh seudot, and read psalms through 1,000 times. And you can tell me to grow my hair, and lose 7 pounds, and change my profile picture 42 times, and tell me my gut is wrong, and I should give that guy another chance, but all it does is remind me how little fun I’m having. How tiring this all is. How emotionally exhausting and cruel this can be. And well, that seems pretty counterproductive.

So do I think dating is cruel? Yes-on some level-I think the process can be cruel. You’re opening yourself up to getting hurt. And more than that, you have an army of people trying to help you, which although might be well intentioned, can often lead to people saying or doing the wrong things. But to me the worst part is how many people feel that dating is cruel and un-fun and exhausting. You can talk about there being so many single people. About a shidduch crisis. But honestly, if you have all these people who can’t look at dating with an ounce of excitement, who view dating as a whole to be cruel, that to me is a way bigger crisis. Because the fact that so many people will look back on this point in their lives and feel this way. That’s downright depressing.

I don’t know what the solution is. I wrote recently about taking my dating life less seriously. About taking myself less seriously. And honestly, I think we’re all a little bit at fault. We as daters; because we probably take this all way too seriously. We’re scared of rejection. We’re scared of people knowing how we feel. We’re scared of getting hurt. We ask our friends to set us up, because we’re scared to ask people out. We can’t move from the app to a physical date. We refuse to take risks, because we put so much stock in the repercussions. In how seriously everything will turn out. But maybe we need to take a step back, take a breath and just relax. But also the outsiders, the people giving advice. Because we (and I say we, because even when we’re in it, when we’re still dating, we can be outsiders, giving advice to our friends-I mean-I’m literally doing it right now), we think we know best. We give unsolicited advice. We question people’s decisions. We push and we prod. We minimize frustrations, and we place blame. And maybe we also need to take a step back and try to be a little less anxious for everyone else.

But I really don’t know. All I know, is that I don’t think dating is supposed to be generally painful or exhausting, and I think we should be having fun. And the fact that we feel it’s cruel, and we’re so tired, and unexcited by it, well, that feels like a problem.

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