What I learned from a year of online dating

I believe in love. I believe in chemistry and soulmates and fate, but I also believe that all of that works a lot better if I give it ample opportunity. And so, 2015 was a year of swiping, matching, and hoping for the best.

“People aren’t always going to be magical right away. Maybe they’ll become magical, or they’ll become garbage…. How are you going to know if you don’t spend time with them?”

This year, I have dated boys who have talked endlessly about themselves, who can’t spell “you’re,” who ask me to describe my trip in such intricate detail that you’d think they were taking notes for my autobiography. One boy’s idea of small talk included asking me what internships I had while I was in college, and several found it appropriate to comment creepily about how much they would’ve looooved to have a teacher who looked like me when they were in middle school. I’ve had boys freak out when I didn’t text them within an hour, boys ask me to put my mouth on their body parts before I even met them, and boys tell me there’s nothing wrong with Donald Trump. There have been boys who lived at home and boys without cars and boys with credit scores and SAT scores low enough to give me pause. Ones who’ve showed up for first dates in band t-shirts or at 4am because that was the only time he didn’t work or who didn’t even show at all because he forgot to set his alarm before a nap.

I’ve had boys mansplain to me about longterm travel. About being a teacher and our education system. About writing. About things I’ve earned degrees in—especially when they haven’t. About foreplay. About being a woman.

A boy I was dating for five months continued online dating the whole time we were together, so I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when he borrowed my car for two months and then didn’t buy me a birthday present. Another I was seeing for a few weeks had a Mitt Romney bumper sticker on his oversized SUV. Another waited 10 days before mentioning that his wife had passed away last year, and he was a single father.

I still believe in love. I still believe in chemistry and soulmates and fate, and that the stigma of online dating doesn’t make any sense. (The one boy I’ve ever had to call the police on picked me up at a bar, the old fashioned way.)

And this year, there have been boys who showed me around unfamiliar cities and bought me $100 dinners and were nothing but courteous. Boys who showed me new bars and recommended new books and told me I was beautiful. Boys who held my hand and brought me cookies and rubbed my shoulders after I got home from work. Who drove to my side of town just to see me, who daydreamed adventures with me and then took days off work to make them happen, who talked about me to their moms and were proud to introduce me to their friends.

I’ve learned that jealousy, insecurity, and “crazy” messages are not specific to one gender. That everyone is vulnerable on an app that encourages the shallowest of interactions. That sometimes a boy will message you a week after you stop talking to him and ask you to hang out because, “You’re cool and other people on tinder kind of suck.”  That when a boy explains his loss of interest in you by describing himself as “a puppy who just gets really excited about new things,” there is nothing to do except to start feeling sorry for his next girlfriend. That “I’m just kind of curious” is not the best basis for messaging with and/or dating a new boy. That in the end, it is still just as important to be kinder than necessary.

One of my best and oldest friends, skeptical of my newest pastime, gives me the only advice that I’m going to take as I continue swiping, matching, and hoping for the best in 2016: “Stop dating average and below-average, when what you’re looking for is someone as good as you are—someone above-average.”

interesting times

My former student asks me if my life now is different from how I imagined it when I was her age and I almost laugh. At 27, I am almost twice her age, and absolutely nothing in my life is what I would’ve imagined. I tell her this, and I think a big ball of stress immediately leaves both of our bodies.

But it’s never wrong, I say. Just different.


I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about apologies and forgiveness. I am working on being more honest, pushing to stop myself at only saying what I really mean.

I had been using Sorry as a filler word— what other word can mask insecurity and laziness and anger and hurt and blame and frustration and all of the emotions I used to hide with an unnecessary apology? I haven’t found a replacement yet, so I feel the word form in my throat, roll around in my mouth, and leave a beat of awkwardness when I swallow it. The hardest part is determining when I am actually really sorry for things—which is surprisingly infrequent. And it leaves me feeling guilty and spent, like I am wrong to stop apologizing for my very existence.

Forgiveness has been harder. At first, I thought I needed to forgive more, but I don’t think that’s it. In line with my unnecessary apologies, I tend to hand out forgiveness like candy on Halloween. I believe in being kinder than necessary, but this often means allowing myself to be stomped on over and over by repeat offenders who have already shown me who they really are. I am struggling to hold back to only when I mean it—the need to forgive comes in waves, like seasickness that leaves my insides churning. I want to believe the best in all people, I want to treat them as I would like to be treated even after I already know that they don’t feel the same. But I also want to stick up for myself, hold true to ultimatums that will leave me better off in the end, and believe that there are some people who need to work harder before they deserve the grace of my forgiveness. Even more difficult are the times when I know I should forgive myself.

I think I need to stop living my life in optimistic quotes that stick on my bathroom mirror.


There is a Chinese curse that says: “May you live in interesting times.”

But it can’t be wrong, I think. Just different.

you are what you settle for

We can’t let ourselves be the people things happen to.


I plan to thru-hike a trail north of Houston over my Thanksgiving break—first by myself, then with a boy, then again by myself—but a week long walk in the woods is starting to feel much more intimidating than my 10-month jaunt around the world. The world is full of interesting, friendly people. The woods is full of time. And maybe I’m not sure if I can handle a week with no distractions from my own mind.


My return to regular life came saddled with a long distance boyfriend (who didn’t last long), and a weird new set of daily expectations. More than one year later, I’m still struggling with the monotony of routine—the thing I was most craving when I was living out of a backpack—and even more than that, I think I’m struggling with the monotonous people who don’t struggle with routine.

Boys I’ve dated since my return have found my experiences enviable and my adventurousness enchanting. I have turned myself into a shiny pebble that boys like to show off to their friends. But as they sit around just checking off the traditional boxes in their ordinary lives, I feel myself squirm. I thought I wanted this security, but I just can’t see it. This is not the life I have chosen for myself—and I don’t know how to be with someone who has.

I find myself staying with boys who are lost. Those who have not yet reached their potential, and so their routine has not yet been determined. They are exciting and carefree… and irresponsible and young. They have let themselves become the people things happen to. And, frustratingly, I have let them become the people who most often happen to me.


My favorite podcast airs an episode about depression, and I find myself agreeing with certain statements a little too frequently. But I don’t feel personally sad like I did once before—instead I just feel sad for most other people.

“When I was depressed—and I think a lot of depressed people share this—I really didn’t believe that anyone was happy. And I believed that people that were happy were faking it…”

What if I just can’t wrap my head around the idea that someone can legitimately be happy in a typical, mundane life, with a typical, mundane job? What if I want more so badly that every single day that I don’t find it feels wasted and sad?

I want to be someone that happens so badly. I don’t understand people who don’t.


Looking for more, I applied to the Peace Corps back in August, and they are considering sending me to live and teach in China until my 30th birthday. Back when we were speaking, The Bartender told me I had to go if I got it. It wasn’t that simple then; it’s still not that simple now.

Serving would mean leaving my entire life behind and letting the Peace Corps happen to me. Turning it down would mean letting my reasonably happy existence continue to happen to me, without very many more chances for change. I am constantly consulting my compass, but I still don’t know which of these feels more like the move in the right direction.


I am introduced to a boy who asks me intrusive, intimidating questions and worms his way inside of me too quickly. He is also in the midst of a life-changing decision, and it makes me feel safe to know that I’m not alone. He is fluctuating between teaching and music and I wonder if maybe I have been approaching my life all wrong. The only job I’ve ever loved doing for free is writing. It was the only thing that kept me grounded during my year away.

Why have I been letting teaching happen to me—always too scared to look at my words as a legitimate career option?


I lose my wallet in the last five minutes of our weekend trip to Austin, and as usual, I wait longer than most before thinking I should probably cancel my credit card. When I get an email the next day from a girl asking how she can return my wallet intact, I am perhaps the only person who is not really surprised. I’ll keep my naïve optimism and let the kindness of the world happen to me, even if it means dealing with the fact that sometimes I expect—and experience—strangers treating me better than my ex-boyfriends.

An open letter to a former love

Sometimes it is necessary to create your own resolution. Posted publicly because.

I was like you once: I gave up a perfectly happy relationship without a word. I tell myself I wasn’t ready, but in all honesty the best way to put it is that I was scared shitless. I cared about him immensely but the risks and compromises and potential froze my heart and my courage, and I just stopped. He was still reaching out to me, still calling me babe, while I was shamefully, meaninglessly kissing strangers on the beaches of Thailand. I regretted the way I handled it—and I wonder (half-sad and half-maliciously) if someday our ending will haunt you the same way.

I will admit that we were not perfect, but as far as I can tell, that’s not what our breakup was about. Of course, it is always possible to be wrong when one side of the story is all you have, but unfortunately silence provides no answers or clarification.

Independence, you told me.

I lost myself in you, and you in me, I think. We latched on to each other so quickly, were so quick to merge our lives and schedules and interests together, that we forgot how much we both want and need and value independence. I skipped outings with students, frequented the gym less, shortened weekend work sessions at the expense of better lessons—you left your friends at the bar earlier, stopped writing and taking pictures, spent less time with your family. We both changed our sleep schedules and eating habits. And for a while we were happy together, I think we really were. But we also never actually asked the other one to do any of those things for us—we just made the sacrifices that we thought the other one wanted from us. And that’s when we lost ourselves in secret resentment, frustration, and the struggle of living our lives by someone else’s rules.

I went back recently and read some blog posts from the height of my travels. From days that I spent analyzing couples: mocking some couples’ reliance on one another and admiring others for having a type of loyal monogamy that I’d never had before. I questioned if I could do it—be in a relationship and also have the independence that I craved. I am now realizing just how difficult that balance is to maintain, how this may be the crux of the success of any relationship I’m ever in.

Given more time, more chances, more patience, I’m still not sure if we are actually right for each other. Our relationship will always be one of compromises, because both of our professions ask so much of us. But I think this is also why our lifestyles can complement each other—why it might even be easier to find that balance of independence and monogamy in each other than if we dated someone in our own industry. There is so much time hiding in between our schedules that we can take advantage of if we each allowed the other to add just a little bit of selfishness into our relationship.

I know that forgetting, starting over is easier for you. I never saw the complete pattern before now—that not only do you fall into monogamy quickly, but you also fall out just as fast. This is the opposite of me, and I know myself well enough to know that I will hold on to this for far too long. I tell myself that this is because I know there was something there—some indescribable connection between us that pulled us together in the first place and made us long for each other so deeply during those few months we spent together. I can’t exactly pinpoint it, but I’m pretty sure—whatever it was—that is the thing I have always been looking for in a boy. And I wonder if—through the weeks we spent apart and the days we laid in bed, during the weekday date nights and errand-filled weekends—you felt it too.

I also know that we are at different points in our lives. I get that your livelihood hinges on your constant flirting with strangers, while mine hinges on getting a solid 7 hours of sleep every night. And I know that when I was a senior in college, the last thing on my mind was settling down. Even with someone who would help me clean out my garage, read ruminations about my dad, make chocolate chip pancakes on Sundays—someone who might actually be good for me in the long run.

I wonder what will come of this. If despite my best efforts to solve the puzzle, you have already thrown away the pieces. If your stubbornness will continue to rival mine. If this silence will outlast any possibility of reconciliation. If you have already forgotten.

I was at both my best and my worst when I was with you, something that I believe was also true for you. I have also been at both my best and my worst since we broke up, so maybe this has less to do with you than I think.


The Bartender buys a toothbrush to keep at my house back in May, during our second date. This is a bold, terrifying move and I’m not sure what to do with it. He tells his best friend and gets back a message that says “Oh man, you’re already in love with her.” The words feel like a punch in the gut that I’m not ready for, but I laugh nervously and allow the punch to also take down some of the walls around my heart.

I tell The Bartender that I am leaving for the summer and I see us hesitate. Across continents and time zones, what is the point? Unexpectedly, he tells me okay and we spend seven weeks sharing stories and secrets over spotty internet connections. We are missing out on each other’s everyday lives, but it doesn’t seem to matter. And I haven’t felt closer to or safer with someone in a long time.

I change my flight to come back to Houston three days early, which is not much but feels absolutely necessary after being away from him for so long. I am nervous as The Bartender picks me up in my car from the airport, but it seems to be exactly what I was expecting. Exactly what we kept telling each other it would be during those long weeks apart.

He breaks up with me three days later, and I am inconsolable in my confusion. Three days after that, we give it another shot at my urging.

School starts and work picks up. Stress levels peak and a routine is established that works more often than not. We fight, we compromise, and we usually fix things a little too late, but we also make plans, laugh a little too much, and spend days together when I feel nothing but total and complete happiness.

On Labor Day I drive us back to his place after spending most of our long weekend hosting a pool party at my house. He tells me that he wants to spend the night alone after we cook dinner together, and though I mock-complain, I admit that I’m excited for a night sprawled across my whole bed. At one point, we argue briefly about whether to sign up for an obstacle-style 5K race in March—though the argument includes absolutely no trepidation about making plans for six months in the future. Later, as I get ready to go, he asks me to stay over anyway. This means an extra 15 minutes on my commute at 5:30 in the morning, but I give in instantly because it also means one more night spooned up against him.

The Bartender breaks up with me that next Sunday—one day after we talked presents and vacations and kissy face emojis. I need to be independent right now, he says, and I know he’s serious because I see him cry for the first and only time. I try to fight him on this, but I have nothing. “Go do your independencey thing,” I tell him confidently, “and then come back to me. But don’t take too long, because I can’t wait.”

One week later he tells me he wants a clean break to avoid any residual emotions and I can feel my head start to spin. This is different, this is odd, this feels wrong and off and fake, and as I keep uncovering more and more questions, now I feel the fight coming up in me. I finally try to ask him about it in a long email, and he disappoints me in the greatest way with silence. I believe in words above all things, and he won’t even give me that, not even for the clarity and closure I so desperately crave after a complete 180. This blatant and sudden callousness is what I am most sad about—that maybe I was completely wrong about him after all. That maybe I’ll just have to live with never knowing. That maybe we’ll both have to live with this unsatisfying ending to what was such an overall positive relationship with such promise.


I am really bad at break-ups. I think I always knew this, but I am only now ready to openly admit it: I can’t be on either side of a break-up without causing a mess. I think breaking up feels too close to quitting, which is not easy for me because I don’t do it… pretty much ever. Overly optimistic, I believe in compromise and forgiveness and chances and self-improvement. I believe in honesty and trust, and that as long as you have those things, just about anything can be overcome. And I believe in loyalty—that people don’t just wake up one morning and no longer love the person they loved yesterday.

But I also believe in self-respect. I believe that promises should not be broken and communication is essential. I believe in listening and sharing and as close to equality as possible. I believe in friendship and family and independence and balance. And I believe that if something is wrong, you should talk about it.

My heart hurts from this, more than I expected. From disappointment, confusion, lost opportunities, lost love, and unanswered questions. But I also believe in time—as much as I hate seeing it pass. And I believe that things happen as they should, when they should. So I guess I’ll just have to keep waiting.