The last time I got into a serious, "official" romantic relationship, I wasn't even old enough to go to a bar. I met my college boyfriend not long before I turned 20—two full years before Tinder was even released—and I ended things with him when I was just a few months shy of turning 24.
Our breakup was a decision I felt good about for several reasons. The relationship was long distance, but mostly, it was unhealthy. In our time together, I had erased so many parts of myself that, by the end, I didn't recognize myself anymore. I knew I needed to rebuild my missing pieces—and I knew I needed to do that without him. But still, the wave of instant relief I felt when it was over only lasted for a little while—eventually it was replaced with the realization that I had no idea how to date. Zero. None. I'd basically never done it before.
Think about it: Every time I'd ever dated someone, it went like this—I met them at school, we hung out with a group of friends (because teenagers don't go on dates until they're, you know, dating), confessed our crushes to each other and then became an item. Dating in your teens is both horrible and magical in ways that I still don't understand, even having lived through it.
The point is, I realized I was 24 and I'd never met someone outside of a classroom or a campus—I'd never locked eyes with a handsome nobody across a crowded bar, or had a meet-cute in the park with a beautiful stranger like movies and TV shows taught me dating in my 20s would be like. It's not that I was in a rush to get back into a relationship, but I still found myself having anxiety about how I would meet people when I was ready to put myself back out there. I'd spent two post-grad years listening to my friends complain about dating in the real world, and despite my own quiet unhappiness, I still remember thinking to myself, "I'm so glad I don't have to deal with this." Until, suddenly, I did. And it was weird.
I'll give you the run-down of what my dating life was like in the time that followed. I joined Tinder and OkCupid at the suggestion of friends, swiping furiously even though I had no idea what I was looking for in a partner other than "cute" and "nice." (Riveting, I know.) As a result, I wound up facing harassment and meeting—and either having bad experiences with, or being hurt by—a lot of people. I learned very quickly that dating was the worst and that people were the worst and that trying to meet people online was dumb and pointless and futile. So I deleted my accounts, only to reactivate them every other week in the middle of the night after laying awake in bed realizing I still had no idea how else I would know who was out there.
Eight months after my breakup, when I was firmly planted in the "online dating is dumb, but I guess I'm doing it anyway" camp, I read a post on BuzzFeed in which the author replied to her Tinder matches using only Taylor Swift lyrics. The reactions from her matches were hilarious, and I mused about what would happen if I conducted a similar experiment—what lyrics would I use? Would my matches figure it out? Would it provide me a reprieve from the horrors of online dating?
I thought back to the band that had always gotten me through my bad days—Dashboard Confessional—and I tweeted this to my very tiny amount of followers:
Curious what would happen if I started responding to Tinder dudes with only Dashboard Confessional lyrics— Brittney Morgan (@brittneyplz) December 22, 2014
(Note: I was not good at Twitter back then. It's fine.)
A few friends texted me to say I absolutely had to do it, and with a handful of people in on it and encouraging me, I started friendly-trolling my Tinder matches with song lyrics. I made a Tumblr for it to keep track of the responses, and then, when I had a bunch, wrote it up as a BuzzFeed Community post. Before I knew it, the band was sharing it to their social media channels, my inbox was overflowing with messages, and I was freaking out.
I kept it up for about a year and a half—I officially said goodbye to the blog a few months ago to free up time to focus on other things—and in that time I learned (and continue to learn) some important things about myself, and, you know... dating.
1. Actual conversations are hard (but you can do it).
I used to start every conversation with a "hey, what's up?" or just wait for my matches to message me first and go from there. I'm generally good at talking to people, but as soon as I was old enough to talk to my crushes on AIM, I learned that when the added pressure of "I want to date this person" arose, I would lose all my communication skills. I'd become one of those passive responders who lets the other person lead the conversation, and only interject when I was 100-percent confident in what I was about to say.
When I turned Tinder into a game and forced myself to talk in lyrics, I found myself looking for ways to direct the conversation—I had to, or else, I'd lose the game. I had to message first and be quick on my feet to keep conversations going. Sure, I was typing in someone else's words, but in doing so, I learned what types of things people responded to more, what they ignored, and that taking charge of the conversation wouldn't always result in disaster. I'm firmly in camp "message first" now—even without the help of my favorite songs.
2. You absolutely have to be yourself, no matter what.
This goes for all relationships—romantic and platonic. I couldn't know what I wanted from the people I met because I didn't know who I was. I had never "been myself" in a relationship, because I was never confident enough in who that was. Sending lyrics to songs that shaped me and comforted me when I needed it the most helped me really start to embrace the parts of me I'd let fall by the wayside—I immersed myself in music I loved more, and started to own my sense of humor in a way I never had before. I stopped seeking approval and hoping to be likable, and started to just be. I learned that I couldn't be with anyone who didn't enthusiastically accept me; that I never wanted to erase and have to rebuild myself again. As a result, I began to form stronger friendships, and will be able to form stronger romantic relationships in the future.
3. You deserve more than the baseline.
I remember when I first started my blog, people asked the same question over and over again: If you match with someone who finally recognizes the lyrics, will you actually go out with them? I used to joke that maybe if that happened, that person might be my soulmate, but the more I swiped, the more I realized that wasn't the case. Having one thing in common with someone doesn't make a relationship. Those attributes I'd been seeking—"cute" and "nice"—were really just the baseline. No one wants to be in a relationship with someone they're not attracted to who is also mean to people.
The more I talked to strangers on dating apps (goofing off and sending people song lyrics led to more conversations than ever before), the more I realized that there were so many other qualities I wanted in a partner that I'd never even thought about before. Now, I look for those things instead. I read profiles more carefully, and I match with fewer people, but I have better conversations and go on more dates. It translates IRL, too—I'm a lot more aware of the people I talk to and how their interests and values match up with mine.
While I don't necessarily recommend trolling your Tinder matches (although trust me, it's fun), I do think it's worthwhile to take a mindful step back and take dating just a little less seriously. It doesn't have to be a game, but when you spend all your time stressing out over how you're going to meet people and what you're going to say, you lose sight of what really matters. Take some time to get to know yourself, if you're not feeling confident already. Figure out what matters to you, and learn how to recognize when you're settling for less than you know you need. Challenge yourself to start conversations and to take control. You can say hi first, and you totally can ask a person out, even if you think you're supposed to wait for them to do it. I can't promise that you'll meet the love of your life right away, but if you're anything like me, you'll probably be a lot happier—single or not.