My roommate in New York City is a dating expert. She was one professionally for years, but now she’s more like a retired military general about it. She can’t stop talking strategy. Now, instead of writing tips for an online dating website, she just tells me what to do. And then I pretty much ignore her.
I mean, I’m trying not to. It’s just that I don’t really date. I write about not dating. I’ve never had a boyfriend. It’s not that I don’t want one, at least in theory. (I’ve had lots of theoretical boyfriends.) It’s that I find the process of acquiring one mystifying, anxiety producing, and often a little terrible. So I avoid it. This, my roommate tells me, is bad “dating karma.”
"Dating karma" is the name she’s given the central operating theory behind her dating philosophy: Feeding dating intent into the universe (by flirting, and saying yes if/when you’re asked out, and putting yourself out there) is the most effective way to meet someone. “You need to actually date,” she says. In fact, she seems to think I should be dating several people at once at all times, which I find confusing. “Where am I supposed to find these guys?” I ask her, sitting in our apartment on the island of Manhattan, surrounded by millions of people. “ONLINE,” she says, again, half-patient and half-menacing.
My roommate is big on online dating, or at least on maintaining a vigorous online dating presence in order to earn good dating karma. The more diversified your dating attempts, she says, the more likely you are to find someone, even if it’s somewhere else entirely. She even went on an Ayn Rand dating site once, for a story. Dating karma is all about letting the universe know you’re flexible and available, willing to give even an Objectivist a chance. It’s both a practical theory and a fantastically New Age–y one: Statistically speaking, it should be true that more attempts to meet someone means more chances to succeed. However, support for the idea that there is a) such a thing as “dating energy” and b) the universe rewards it proportionately is obviously more nebulous. I think my roommate imagines it as sort of like a Newton’s cradle, where proactive attempts at dating pull that first silver ball back and let it go, over and over, until eventually the ball on the other end that swings out as a result of this kinetic dating energy is … your future husband, or something like that.
I must tell you that, for a long time, I thought this all sounded like a lot of very romantic, well-intentioned bullshit. And I still think it sounds a little like bullshit. But I also think astrology sounds like bullshit, and I read my Susan Miller Sagittarius horoscope every single day. And when Susan Miller tells me that, say, the twelfth day of that month is going to be a Golden Triangle Day for me, and I don’t even know what that means, I still remember it, and I try to have the best Golden Triangle Day anyone has ever had. So here we are.
The other thing about my roommate’s theory is that, no matter the lack of scientific hypothesis or the improbability of its likelihood, there is one argument in its favor I can’t reasonably ignore, even if I sometimes try anyway: My roommate is dating, and I am not.
I have lived in New York — a move I made to be intentionally dramatic and risky, two things I generally do not do — for a little over four months, and in them I have done very little to boost my dating karma. I’ve done a great job at what I was always good at, which is having various crushes on people over the Internet and finding it vaguely disappointing when nothing comes of doing literally nothing about them. Probably, if I ever want anything to be different, I have to do something different. This is why I’ve very reluctantly decided to start listening to my roommate’s advice. Or at least to do my best. Sometimes she tells me to do something a little too bold, and I’m able to negotiate a lesser sentence.
One of the things I’ve agreed to is Tinder, which I remember to go on maybe once a week. It allows me (and my roommate) to feel like I’m doing something about dating, kind of the same way moving various cookbooks and ceramic dishes into and out of my Amazon shopping cart “counts” toward learning to cook. On Tinder I spend about five minutes swiping left across the screen, stamping NOPE onto guys’ faces. I didn’t use Tinder much when I lived in Minneapolis, where I’m from. I tested it out for a story once, but deleted the app afterward. Besides, I remember it being different there. In Minneapolis every other profile picture is a guy holding up a fish he just caught. This motif is rare but not entirely absent in New York. One morning recently I heard a co-worker of mine, an East Coast native, talking about the “weird guys with fish” she noticed occasionally on Tinder. She was bewildered. I tried to explain it, feeling protective: “Those are Midwestern boys.” The good between are and Midwestern was implied in tone. The next time I saw a guy holding up a fish on Tinder in New York, I swiped right in what I proudly told myself was a selfless act of goodwill toward mankind. So, surely that earned me some amount of dating karma. It’s something, right? Maybe? It’s not nothing. It’s definitely more than throwing my phone in the garbage and signing a blood oath to never again speak to any man. By how much, I cannot say.
I think when you move to a new city it’s easy to believe (subconsciously, for the most part, because you know it would sound stupid out loud) that everything you missed, whatever the holes that compelled you to move halfway across the country without a clue of what might happen next, all of that will fill in when you get there, like you’re a balloon being blown up by newness. You won’t even have to do anything. It’s especially easy to believe something like this when the place you’re moving to is New York City. It’s New York! Everyone here is constantly tripping over subway grates and landing in each others' arms, practically. Falling into easy, instant love on the subway seemed so plausible, until the first time I took the subway.
Similarly, my plan (“plan”) to fall into some kind of Princess Bride “As You Wish”–type scenario with a Seamless deliveryman isn’t working out that well. Embracing a pseudo-scientific theory like dating karma can’t really make me any more single. I am entertaining the idea of its veracity, because there isn’t any other area in my life in which I’d accept such passive resignation from myself. Even if it doesn’t technically work exactly as outlined, all it really means to believe in dating karma is that it’s worth it to try to be brave when there’s something or someone you want. Anyway, in this case “being brave” mostly just means sending text messages and e-mails and whatever. Ahhh, it’s so scary. But you barely ever die from it.