I originally posted this blog on Medium.
When you are in your 20s, social pressure and emotional conflicts not only challenge what you thought you knew about the world but also open a spectrum of possibilities to rediscover yourself. A number of existential questions overwhelmed me, such as what do I want to do with my life? Where do I want to live? What is it that I would really like to work on? What is it that really fascinates me? On top of all these questions, I felt the urge to find a partner, perhaps merely out of fear of being alone. I’m going to tell you why, after downloading three dating apps and studying a seduction guide, I realized that I was doing everything wrong. If some of these issues sound familiar, then what I’m going to tell you might be useful.
My experience with dating apps
I’ve heard countless success stories about dating apps and websites. From couples who have found their soulmates and gotten married, to users who are experts in finding one-night stands. A colleague convinced me that I had nothing to lose, after all, my ideal partner could be a few swipes away. It sounded too good to be true, so I downloaded three of the most popular apps in my city (Tinder, Bumble, and Happn). Everything seemed as simple as selecting a few flattering photos and coming up with a creative and concise description that showcases the best of your personality, whatever that means, and you are good to go.
At first, using the applications seemed fun to me, I treated it like a game, you know, swiping while having a coffee or at night before going to bed. However, as days went by it became more addictive. I realized that I spent too much time trying to create an idea of people based on their profiles. I must admit that at times I felt depressed to see that I had run out of options for swiping near my area. I attempted to improve my chances by watching videos like ‘The Beautiful Truth About Online Dating’ and ‘5 Secrets Women Don’t Want Men To Know.’ I even downloaded a seduction guide that helped me understand how flirting works, including its verbal and nonverbal components.
It took me a month to get the first match. The woman I matched with was from a city nearby. We wrote to each other daily. The simple act of meeting someone in person whom you only know from a few photos in an app is exciting. The interesting part, for me, was realizing that we had so many things in common based on our bios and photos. By the time we found a free space in our agendas, we already knew enough about each other to have a substantial conversation. We saw each other on a Thursday evening; the day was beautiful, so we decided to go for a walk by lake Geneva — a date worthy of a Hollywood movie. When I arrived at the meeting point, I immediately realized that the photos on her profile were outdated, she looked like a completely different person. I tried not to let this affect me, but the situation became even stranger when the type of conversations we had was not even close to the online interactions. The questions became monotonous and clumsy. That was when I realized that all the expectations I had created were utterly different from the interaction we had that day face to face. Needless to say, we never spoke again after that date.
Even in the face of this less-than-successful experience, I was not going to give up. I kept using the apps, this time more often. Over the next six months, I had three other dates. I am still in contact with one of the women as we became quite good friends. Despite this, I realized little by little that I was focusing too much on trying to find a partner for the sake of not wanting to be alone. I have since realized that being alone means also getting to know yourself, which can be a long and tedious process without instant gratifications or quick hacks, something that we millennials are not considered (to be) adept to. So, the dating apps themselves were not the core problem. I believe they were the tip of the iceberg that pushed me to dig deeper into my emotional situation.
Fall in love with the problem, not with the solution
After realizing that dating apps were not the underlying problem, my first step was to think about how my life had changed in the last year. Moving overseas, starting a new job, and ending a long-term relationship were three paramount changes for a 24 years-old guy who had lived in the same city with his parents for his whole life. Those changes were my first hint toward the root problem.
I started to inquire further with colleagues and friends who were going through a similar emotional situation. It was in this search that a senior co-worker introduced me, over coffee, to the concept of “the quarter-age crisis”, a common pressure for people in their 20s. I felt like I was going through a tide of uncertainty, growing responsibilities, and mixed feelings that questioned everything I thought I knew about life. According to Forbes magazine, this “crisis” is more common than you would think. The same co-worker explained it to me with this example: imagine that happiness has a “U” shape. Where the crests are the highest points of happiness, the valley or the “tummy” of the “U” are the hardest years and with the highest likelihood of depression.
As you can see in the graph, the beginning of the U represents the first years of life where you are happy and satisfied. Responsibilities are limited to eating, playing, and sleeping. As the years pass more liabilities are acquired and free time becomes increasingly scarce. It is exactly at this stage that more significant challenges appear. In turn, as you learn to deal with pressure, gain more life experiences and achieve greater stability, the crest of happiness rises again.
Several articles talk about the constant struggles of my generation. In the last five years, a lot of things have been said and criticized about millennials. One of my favorite analyses is by Simon Sinek who breaks down the different problems of my generation in fifteen minutes.
What began as a search for why I could not find a suitable partner on a dating app ended up revealing different problems that disturb an entire generation. While I am aware that there is no single answer to solving these issues, I found an approach that worked for me. This approach is not one single change in your life, but a set of small factors that are applied for a constant period of time to bring positive changes to your life unleashing “the best version of yourself.”
What does it really mean to be the best version of yourself?
Spoiler alert, there’s no “one size fits all”! While there is no shortcut to getting the best version of yourself, consistency is vital and sooner or later you will begin to see results. Before you start you should know that there is no instant gratification, the results take time, and there will be so many exciting and frustrating moments. Here are the four points that have worked best for me.
1) Develop an emotional anchor in your life. There is a Ted Talk about the importance of emotional anchors. These anchors are the moments you share with people that you consider consistently close regardless of your mood. Mine is to meet every week with my same group of friends to play tabletop games. Irrespective of the level of stress or emotion that I have had during the day, I know that there will be a day in the week at seven in the afternoon. A game session awaits me to disconnect from everything else.
2) Expand your views of the world. Many paths can contribute to this point. For me it has meant expanding the network of people with whom I interact, learning new things, and visiting places I have never been. What worked quite well for me was signing up for a foreign language class, so I gained new knowledge while meeting new people. Another big step was visiting a new city at least once a month. These two practices have significantly changed my views of the world.
3) Nourish your close emotional relationships. While meeting new people is necessary, it is vital to identify and take care of the people that are really close to you. Among them are your family and close friends. This has to do with responding to their text messages, listening carefully when they speak, and giving honest advice when asked.
4) Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. This point has to do with establishing and committing to a routine. For me, this point involves having defined hours to go to bed, wake up, eat, exercise, relax, and dedicate time for yourself. The collective result of these actions not only gives you more energy but also boosts your self-confidence.
What I have learned this year is that to find the love of my life I must first start a journey with myself. In this search for being the best version of myself I have also understood that dating apps are not the problem itself; the problem is realizing that being alone is an opportunity to know where I want to go and take action to get there. My journey has also helped me get away from toxic and harmful relationships. It has also helped me heal past wounds and rethink behaviors and attitudes that I consciously want to change.
Finally, I firmly believe that no certification establishes that I am finally the best version of myself. However, developing strong emotional anchors, constructing a nuanced vision of the world, and nurturing close social relationships whilst continuously taking care of the body and mind. These are the avenues that I feel good going through in this journey.