Readers - I am not going to lie. I am on my second glass of wine and it is absolutely necessary I so may tackle the most confounding issue of Wellington, the most wondered about conundrum in our town. How the heck to date?
Ok, say ye. Dating is something I want to know about. So gather around children. While I have no magic bullet, I do have some experiences and some tales of woe to share. Luckily, now being on the other side of the dating scene and having asked permission from Matt after a few drinks (picture the scene between courses at Tokeyo on Edward Street on Valentines Day - ME: "Babe, I've got something to ask. Do you mind if I write about dating and tell people we met on Tinder? I feel its important." MATT: "Yeeah, *hic* no worries").
"While I have no magic bullet, I do have some experience and some tales of woe to share"
Why am I writing this?
When I had my previous iteration of 'The Residents', I may have been guilty of writing a not-very-good post or two about this topic. In 2012 - 2013, I was caught up in my chaotic single dating life and, thus, what came out was rather incoherent. Nevertheless, I knew a day would come where Wellingtonians far and wide would be glad to receive my wisdom. Heck, it had taken me so long to figure out, surely the least I could do was convey my hard-won knowledge, while at my parent's house listening to my brother watch Choice TV downstairs and my mother cook fillet steak on a quiet evening.
Ages and Stages - Accident or Fate?
Dating comes in many stages in Wellington - and it is important before anything else to accept where you are at. If you are eighteen and looking to settle down, I'm sorry buddy but you may find a few heartbreaks along the way. If you are older, and you play your cards right, you may well lock down within a year. But at some stage in life, we do need to have a hard look at ourselves, what we are doing, and what we actually want.
We plan our career, our fitness, our diet - and yet we think romance will just walk into our lives - *KABOOM* just like that! Once I took charge of Wellington dating, I ended up meeting my boyfriend Matt on my first ever Tinder date. Luck? Or maybe a result of some damn hard work and missteps along the way. And, I'm hoping - without making your all vomit a little bit into your mouths - that we're living happily ever after from here on in.
STEP 1: Know your motivation - honestly!
The main issue with dating in Wellington is that we all seem to have such disparate motivations. Some are seeking safety and comfort; others romantic excitement; others courtship, and a whole heap of people just want a shag and then see their friends for Sunday morning conquest brunch (which often then leads to the complex and dismal 'friends with benefits' drama but let's not go there RN).
"Dating him was like trying to make a cake with just flour and milk. It just didn't work"
So how can you find your true motivation? Immediately before I got back into the dating scene, I actually did a 3-month life coaching course. I walked in wanting to talk about my career. My coach turned the discussion to that dreaded topic - my love life. I'd been single for 2.5 years after my first dire relationship with a guy who I thought would be a good partner me because we shared similar taste in music. In actual fact, dating him was like trying to make a cake with just flour and milk. It just didn't work.
It was suddenly apparent to me that despite my denial, I was very lonely. I never really felt like I was properly considered as a serious option by people *opps, Lucy - there goes the world's smallest violin player just for you*.
After talking to her I couldn't pretend anymore. I wanted to find someone I actually liked. And I wasn't leaving Wellington anytime soon.
"I suspect the 'cool girl/guy' trope was a specific stealth invention on boy-kind to keep twenty-something folk from telling a lover where to stick it when they're a jerk"
The main thing I struggled with in my earlier twenties was I thought I was a 'cool girl' (which equally applies to guys, actually). Really, I was just an undercover dreamer who wanted to find cheesy no-one-puts-baby-in-the-corner romance as much as the rest of them. In fact, let me pause here: I suspect the 'cool girl/guy' trope was a specific stealth invention on boy-kind to keep twenty-something folk from telling their lover to stick it when they're being a jerk.
Being a cool girl/guy means you drink beer with the rest of them, make jokes to seem witty and hilarious, never make him feel stink if they lets you down and accept blithely the 'Oh but we were just friends' line. THIS IS NOT OK and is something I thought would make my life better for years. It didn't.
"You wouldn't buy a lemon if it was a car. Apply the same principle to your relationships"
I thought I just couldn't seem to meet the right person in Wellington because the city was too small. In actual fact, I just was hiding from the possibility it held because I was scared of finding a real partner.
After life coaching, I realised I needed someone reliable, funny and engaging who shared my values like family and life-long learning. You don't need to do life coaching to work out what you want. You just need to turn your mind to it for more than 5 seconds. Write down your ideal characteristics. Talk about it with a friend. Meditate and contemplate - who is that person you need?
Stop pretending you don't really want a boyfriend. Or, conversely, if you are dating some who makes you want to fall asleep, stop kidding yourself. If you want something serious - THAT'S OK! If you don't THAT'S OK TOO. But let's stop being polite Kiwi's and doing the whole 'Yeah, Nah' thing. KNOW what you want. Then say it. And if it doesn't work out, move on. You wouldn't buy a lemon if it was a car. Apply the same principle to your relationships.
Step 2: Learn to observe
I used to be always focused on how I looked to the other person first and foremost. Not once did I stop to think about how I felt when I was around them, or paying attention to my gut. Besides the basic "am I repulsed by them" distinction, I would become so seduced by the idea of being in a relationship that I'd ignore whether they were up to my own standards. Y'all know what I'm talking about. When you are focused on portraying the best side of yourself to impress them rather than actually just being your lovely natural self because you think its not quite good enough (there's that cool-girl/guy persona again!).
"Did I REALLY like this person?"
This led to several ill-fated romances where I ended up being let down by people who were frankly below me, to begin with. But once I had decided I was ready to be dating, not waiting, I knew I had to apply my personal attention to the dating scene and myself. Did I REALLY like this person? If not, cut my losses. Move on to the next day. I took it as a personal development challenge - to get to know myself and my needs better by dating other people (and I mean just and ONLY dating).
STEP 3: Ditch your pride and embrace online as an option for experimentation
Let's cut to the chase: Wellington is a small place to date. Unlike, say, dating in New York City where you could happily never see someone again, there is a strong possibility in Wellington, or actually anywhere in New Zealand that YOU WILL END UP BEHIND THIS PERSON IN A SUPERMARKET LINE WHEN YOU'RE HUNGOVER AF TWO WEEKS LATER AT PAK n SAVE. ACCEPT THIS IS INEVITABLE.
"Obviously, this is a bit tongue in cheek. You don't HAVE to shag everyone to work out if you like them"
One problem I've found time and time again is I just didn't meet guys in the city because there was no community dance or wherever our parents used to meet! I'd just end up bored in town with girlfriends or awkwardly winking at my friends boyfriend's friend. Let's break it down now: You have approximately 8 ways to meet people in Wellington:
Going out to town
Shagging friends of friends
Shagging work mates
Trying to make awkward chat to a stranger at the bookshop/gym/supermarket (while they are distracted by the fact that someone they met last weekend and shagged is behind them in the line at the checkout)
Joining another online dating website
Some hybrid of the above
Obviously, this is a bit tongue in cheek. You don't HAVE to shag everyone to work out if you like them. I've been on lots of dates and drinks and we have walked away from one another politely thinking "Never again".
But from my observations, the 2am scramble seems too often to be the case in Wellington because of our lack of dating culture. It's a try now, buy later. Unlike traditional dating, where you work out if you like each other and court for a period of time over dinner, theatre and drinks, the major downfall of dating in Wellington is that people seem to be too busy to take it seriously. For example, while you are a student no one has any money and friends come first - so romance is likely to fall to the bottom of the priorities list after buying shopping, rent and getting a 12 pack.
"There is a strong possibility YOU WILL END UP BEHIND THIS PERSON IN A SUPERMARKET LINE WHEN YOU'RE HUNGOVER AF TWO WEEKS LATER AT PAK n SAVE. ACCEPT THIS IS INEVITABLE"
Once you are working things tend to improve. But even then, more often than not it ends up being stuck in between work, chores, side-projects or a casual 'come over later'. The whole thing can quickly fall apart.
To sum up: I always struggled with dating because there seemed to be no rules. Or I didn't know the rules. Or I broke them or was confused by them. The rules didn't work well for me.
Then I discovered Tinder and online dating and everything changed (Yes, there are lots of horror stories about Tinder which you might have read about on somewhere like stuff.co.nz or The Daily Mail. But would these stories be making headlines if they had happy endings?)
I'd recently seen Amy Webb's TED talk about 'How I hacked online dating' which, despite the misleading title (spoiler: she didn't ACTUALLY hack it) had some incredibly useful tips about how to embrace this brave new world. She wrote a book which I ordered and while I found her quite irritating as a narrator, I couldn't help but accept that there were some internet nuances I really needed to know. Tinder set the perimeters and expectation and in a town the size of Wellington offered something even more appealing: options.
After a particularly horrific date where I boy I'd met at the Young Professionals ball ignored me half the night and then disappeared and re-appeared, high on acid (thanks, Jim) I decided I would not be defeated by my bad experiences. I would go where no girl I personally knew at that time (it was 2014 guys) had gone before. Tinder. I also joined OK Cupid for good measure, having heard about it from Amy Webb's book and being keen to give it a try. Dating, not waiting. It was worth a shot. I felt kind of lame. What was I doing? I was in the prime of my life - only 24?? But I suppressed those thoughts.
For me, discovering other options outside my normal circle of friends and acquaintances was game changing. With Tinder, the premise was clear: we were going on a date. I was finally relieved I lived in the 21st century.
Immediately I was overwhelmed by choice. Many men, man profiles! What was this?? But I stayed true to my intentions and deliberately put in my profile that I wasn't looking for time wasters (or something a bit better worded), along with the fact I liked TED talks and a series of flattering-ish photos and the word 'fun' several times. I started getting messages and by the time I finished my first date with a tall ginger headed chap who made me laugh so much I snorted into my Thai food, I was convinced that Tinder wasn't so bad. While I did go on some 'control' dates afterwards, I can confirm it worked out.
Being a Scientist: Test and observe
The thing about framing dating, on or offline, is just to think of yourself as a scientist. You aren't looking to prove anything. Just test and observe. If you can remember this, you'll be better set up to not get caught up in a romantic ideal but to actually assess whether this is a good fit for you. Simply notice what the other person is saying and doing and what you do or not to enjoy. Once we apply this principle of noticing, you'll find you can choose who is right for you, rather than falling for someone who you didn't actually like in the first place due to bad old habits.
So if you are wondering about whether to make the plunge, my advice would be to go for it! Wellington is a small town - that is true But once you release your expectations and get outside your comfort zone, simply noticing how someone makes you feel rather than obsessing over how you come across and whether they like you, you may just find that the bluebird of happiness might just be in your own backyard...or waiting for you at Plum Cafe on Cuba Street.