The bright lights keep me from finding faces in the audience, but I can see his beneath a baseball cap as he leans against the far wall of the theatre. The nerves that accompanied me in the cab are now cornered and have no choice but to recite the only open mic set I have prepared.
“Somewhere at the bottom of a prayer basket in Illinois is a handwritten note by my mom,” I start as I move the mic stand. “‘Please pray that my daughter’s set tonight isn’t skanky.’ Well, sorry Mom. That one is probably going unanswered.”
As the words come out of my mouth so does regret.
Is anyone laughing? Why didn’t I write something PG? Am I sending the wrong message?
First dates are rough enough, but I have to add performing ill-prepared standup on top of it. However, that’s what happens when your Bumble match is also the cute guy who you’ve seen perform at the local Open Mic for months. Bad luck had kept my name at the bottom of the bucket, forcing me to anonymously sit in the crowd, and I wasn’t quite sure if it was Bad Luck or Good Fortune who finally pulled it tonight during our first meeting.
My hands shake as I retreat back to my seat after the subpar set and attempt to casually sip on wine. “How do you feel?!” he texts. “Come backstage.”
Hours later I find myself on a boat in Marina del Rey keeping warm with him under my fuzzy blanket as we watch comics perform in the cool marina air. The evening feels so perfect that even tired Trump jokes make me laugh out loud.
Except when I remember my turn at the mic. My mind combs through the material I have memorized: sustainable sex, 22 year olds, vibrators…
For the first time in a long time I don’t want to be that dating blog girl. I don’t want to joke about the best way to keep your count down or the benefits of black men. In fact, the severity of my crushes can often be determined by whether I want to discuss dating with them, in the same way I either want to make out with you for hours or not at all.
When my turn at the mic nears I whisper to him, “I don’t think I can do it anymore. Can I get a rain check?”
“I’m totally going to judge you,” he whispers back, nudging my knee. “Kidding. Of course you can.”
I wonder what is worse: Being judged by my performance or by a lack of one.
Dating By Numbers
Sonya and I sit in a Santa Monica coffee shop where she dives right in, despite the fact that we only met moments earlier: “Why are you still single?”
After being introduced via a mutual friend, I am there to interview her for the blog. She is in the middle of a social experiment in which she’s going on a series of Tinder dates to test a variety of variables and record the results. With each date, she narrows down the variables that seem to work for her. Was he funny? Was he smart? Was she being completely herself or a little closed off? With enough data points, Sonya believes she can find the right match.
Though the premise of the project includes breaking through physical appearance stereotypes, something about it feels unnervingly superficial. I start to find the idea of quantifying love in Excel as repulsive as the question I now have to answer by my interviewee. Why am I single?
I rattle off the reasons that I’ve recited to friends and strangers, slightly perturbed that I again need to state the obvious: Timing. Feelings that aren’t mutual. And perhaps relying too heavily on guy friends to fill the male interaction void if we wanted to get technical.
However, as uncomfortable as I am by the conversation, a part of me wonders whether I have become the same way in the face of dating. Do I often focus too much on the logistics of dating when what I truly care about is the anatomy of love?
I Don’t Care About Dating Rules – Or Even Dating Really
Over the past several weeks I have gone in a few dozen directions with this blog post. Do I focus on the intense feelings of having a crush at first sight? Do I talk about the anxiety and mild depression I unfortunately experience while communicating with the crush? Do I write about the fine line between vulnerability and attraction? Or the fear I have that my feelings might never be reciprocated?
All of these will be discussed at some point; however, what I want to start with is that those are the things that really interest me. And that he has really interested me – whether he should or not.
In an Instagram post from a few months ago, my caption reads: “Rules of LA Dating: 1. Beware of headshots 2. Stay on your side of the 405.”
His first Bumble profile photo is a headshot. And he lives far on the other side of the 405. And he’s a comic which my Standup 2 teacher warned us to avoid if we are aspiring comedians.
But I don’t care. When it comes to interest and attraction, the rules do not apply. I don’t believe that by adding them as columns to a spreadsheet you will find love any easier or sooner.
What matters more to me is that they make me laugh and smile and that I want to keep warm with them under a blanket in the cold marina. And then stand together at the end of the Santa Monica pier and make up stories about the late night fishermen. And stop for donuts on the way home before cuddling on the couch while sharing secrets and making out like high school kids.
Similarly, while I love to write about the intersection between dating and tech, when I meet someone who I really like, the last thing I care about is the pickup line used. And while I applaud technology like Bumble for allowing me to meet people, I don’t care if I can see his Spotify playlist or mutual friends. If I like him, I just care about when I can see him again.
What Happens Next?
I only saw him one more time a week later. After that we continued to text everyday for a month, but the last text that was sent was on Friday. At this point, whatever there was between us is not dating, and I don’t know what it was or is. Many of my friends have asked though. How is it going? When will you see him again?
Unfortunately, there was no rain check.
I feel a little embarrassed from futile attempts to invite him to hang out over the month-long texting. I feel scared to go to Open Mics, a hobby that previously felt all my own. I’m nervous to see him and hear his material. What if it includes his dating life? Or “the never-ending texting”? What if there is another Bumble match there?
I don’t know if he lost interest. Or if he has multiple interests (I mean, it’s LA). Or if he’s someone who does care about the rules of dating and the logistical setbacks that they help you avoid.
However, what I do know is that, besides an immediate crush, the thing I find attractive about him is that he’s pursuing his passion. While comedy might not be my ultimate passion, like it is for him, it has taught me the importance of anxious nerves. They mean you care.
Some nights the crowd will love you. Other times they won’t without any idea why. The experience might leave you feeling depressed and rejected and needing 9 margaritas. But you can’t let that keep you from putting yourself out there again, whether it’s the same audience or a new crowd, because a subpar performance is better than none.
Comedy has taught me that there’s no exact formula for funny; however, the best thing you can do is be completely yourself and continue to try – which is the only rule that applies.