I recently turned 35 and threw myself a birthday “party” at a local dive bar, inviting a hodgepodge group of friends. And as I looked around that dimly lit bar, something kind of funny occurred to me: More than half of the assembled were women I first met via online dating. More often than not, on Tinder.
Those “So, how do you know Jared?” conversations had to be interesting.
One former Tinder connection brought her boyfriend and we all played foosball together. When she asked how I met my new housemate, I grinned and told her to guess.
“Jeez, Jared, you really make Tinder work for you,” she said. “It’s kind of amazing.”
More than most people I know, I’m good at making friends while dating.
Part of the reason is the simplicity: Online dating was the easiest way to meet people when I moved to the Twin Cities two years ago.
And part of it is just me.
Like most people, I tend to go on dates with people only after a bit of chatting. I like to determine that we have common interests and share a sense of humor. I usually go on dates only with those I find intriguing.
When we finally meet, I genuinely want to know a person’s story — what makes them tick, why they do the things they do. Humans are interesting, especially after a few drinks.
Now, say I like a particular human, but at some point that human decides she doesn’t want to date me. Does that mean she suddenly stops being interesting? Of course not.
What’s more, I’ve come to realize something important about myself: I am no Ryan Gosling, I am not God’s gift to dating. I can be a bit much #dramaqueen. Maybe even annoying. Sometimes, I tell dad jokes. The decision not to date me, I imagine, comes from a rational place.
It’s true for anyone, of course, but I think men in particular struggle with this concept. Our male egos get in the way. But in my case, I’ve been through divorce with a kid — and managed to establish a solid co-parenting relationship with my daughter’s mother and her fiancé. That kind of thing changes you. I can handle Tinder rejection.
That’s not to say I’m friends with every human I’ve ever dated. Or that I’m immune to heartbreak. There was one woman I really wanted to be at my birthday party, but we both realized it was a bad idea. We exchanged a few bittersweet text messages, and left it there for the time being. Maybe she’ll come next year.
A few days after my birthday, I went on another date. For once, it was someone I hadn’t met directly via Tinder. Instead, I had met a woman on Tinder who told me she wasn’t interested in dating, but that I should totally meet her cute single friend.
She was a writer from North Dakota who moved to the Twin Cities from New York about a year ago. She wore a red-and-black plaid shirt, black faux leather leggings, heeled leather boots and dark-red lipstick. To me, she looked classically Midwestern — like a sexier, cooler version of an L.L. Bean catalog model. We played darts at the 19 Bar, a tiny Minneapolis gay bar, and the conversation turned to our formative childhood experiences.
For me, it was getting bullied in public school over being the spacey, messy, disorganized ADD kid. The years of teasing and exclusion helped me learn to empathize with outsiders.
For my date, it was when the “popular” girl in her elementary school turned a bunch of friends against her, rendering her a social outcast. That experience taught my date about the power of indifference and not caring what people think.
This was also my first game of darts, which she found fascinating. I missed the board a few times, scored once for her while trying to retrieve my own darts and learned a new meaning for the word “busted.”
I was feeling optimistic when she let me walk her home. When we reached her door, I made my move and leaned in to kiss her goodnight.
She squealed, hopped in a circle and waved her arms. There was an awkward moment of silence as she stood on her front porch, her hand in front of her face, one eye closed and the other looking at me.
I realized I might have misjudged the situation.
We said quick goodnights. I apologized and told her not to worry on my account. She said not to worry, either.
She texted me 10 minutes later. “When we were talking at the bar, and you saw that girl you knew, you said you would tell me something later. What was it?”
She’d hit one of my weak points: Gossip. The conversation continued.
The next day she was sending pics from the women’s march at the Minnesota State Capitol. And now we’re planning a Spanish-speaking outing with an Ecuadorean friend. The conversation is still continuing, solidly on the platonic side of things.
And now I know how to play darts. I think it’s OK that I don’t always hit the target, or even the board sometimes, but it’s still a fun game to play if you have the right company.
Jared Goyette is a freelance writer and professional snow shoveler based in St Paul. He currently has a bet with his housemate that he can stay off Tinder for three months and is so going to win. Follow his path to victory on Instagram.