When you go on Tinder, there are certain questions you expect:
"What do you like to do?"
"Where do you live?"
What you don't expect to read is, "What is your ideal Tinder relationship?"
I imagine if this was asked at a dinner party, everyone would stop talking.
Cut to me chatting to a 28-year-old, yoga-practicing, gluten-free, clinical psychology PhD candidate (yes, we did meet, and all things you're supposing are true). We talked about our writings, where she taught yoga, and then she tossed out this hand grenade:
"What is your ideal Tinder relationship?"
I spent the next two hours ruminating through metaphorical dusty encyclopedias and Googling words like "esoteric," because I felt this question demanded a classy answer, and "esoteric" seemed fitting. Except it turns out I actually didn't know what "esoteric" means, so I did not incorporate it into my eventual response.
But why was this question so hard to answer? Take out the "Tinder." What is my ideal relationship?
Um . . .
Two weeks ago I ran into a woman I went on a quasi-date with months before. Nothing awkward happened except our mutual friend (drunkenly) kept whispering, "Rachel is here."
Me: "I can see that."
Afterward, I reflected that since our mutual friend made such a big deal that "Rachel is here," obviously something had happened between Rachel and me - even if it was just sushi and a waitress who spilled the soy sauce.
Me: "Maybe we had something."
My roommate: "You should be honest with her. Tell her you want to date her."
But I don't.
And I said that out loud.
Even when I was possibly (okay, I was) hung up on my college crush, my ultimate goal was not to date her. If someone asked me what I wanted from her, I would have said I just wanted to know if she still thought of me. Sure, I saw us together in fantasies, but we would be long-distance and we would do everything couples do, but we wouldn't date.
Why do we need that term?
(Okay, there was a tiny piece of me that wanted to date, but it was for the Facebook likes. All the friends who knew about us in undergrad would eat that sh*t up. That's not exactly an admirable reason for dating.)
In all my fantasies, I realize the climax is having the other person admit their mutual feelings. And then my dreams stop. The movie ends. The curtains fall. McDonald's locks up. The sequel is in development.
So back to the posed question: What is my ideal relationship? (Let’s forget the Tinder part.)
Asking me for my ideal relationship is essentially asking me for my long-term goals. Not career ones, but where do I want my theoretically perfect relationship to go. And I feel the assumed conclusion to two people confessing mutual feelings is, they date.
Me: But do they have to?
The irony is, I judge the couples who we all know are couples, but they insist, "We're not dating." Call it what it is, but if you can check off the majority of these – seeing each other almost daily, making out regularly, texting every day, getting into their home without them unlocking the door for you, feeling anxious about introducing them to your friends - then you’re dating no matter what you say.
But this sort of behavior happens when two people are attracted to each other. They hang out. A lot. They kiss. They stay over at one another’s apartment. They want their friends to like their partner. And generally they want to be monogamous. (I mean, if I’m going to invest my time…)
I finally answered the gluten-free, Freudian yogi: "So my ideal relationship would be a casual monogamous thing - I'm not looking for a serious relationship at this point, but I'm also not looking for a one-and-done hookup."
So I want to date.
(But what is dating? Really, what is it?)
If you can’t tell, without even getting me on her couch, this yogi psychologist-in-the-making had me tail-spinning as I mulled the social construct of dating. Do we date people because we like them? Do we date to find out if we like them? Do people who like each other and hang out automatically date – even if their Facebook says otherwise? What is the end goal to dating once you know the other person likes you? What if you’re not ready for marriage and weddings and presumed children – is there a detour road? Maybe a rest stop before we reach Vegas? Is that the ultimate destination? How do I feel about that?
*breathes into paper bag*
Sure, I can toss out ready-made responses (we date for fun, to figure out what we want in a partner, to make sure others know someone likes you back, for #ManCrushMondays and #WomanCrushWednesdays, etc.), but I think an honest answer is more nuanced. An ideal relationship depends on the person. Some people I want to be temporary. Others – hopefully, one – I’ll want for forever.
But there is no honest answer that's appropriate for Tinder.
Ultimately, I decided I needed to stop being so existential and put down my paper bag. I’m now dating the gluten-free psychoanalyst-wannabe. Just kidding. Actually, I haven’t seen her since our one-time dinner. Ideal, right?
I further resolved, you don’t need to have a goal before you meet up with people. Maybe the goal is to just meet people. And one day, ideally, you’ll meet someone you don’t want to leave. And that will be your goal: Being with them.
And, ideally, they won’t ask you what your ideal relationship is over Tinder.