caption: Buenos Aires amantes (lovers) can be passionate. Hernan hung this sign up in the street for Flor, “I love you with all my life. Never will we be far apart again.” The phone number on the right: call it if you want to make a sign!
Argentines are very expressive, and their Spanish is distinct from, for example, Mexican Spanish. There are plenty of books and websites out there that explain Buenos Aires slang, or lunfardo–slang words you will never learn in a high school Spanish class.
Over the last four years of living in Buenos Aires I have learned there is a particular modern lunfardo, or slang, when it comes to dating, sex, love and relationships. Certain words would come up again and again. Once I understood the words I understood the culture and what was happening in my own life.
So I have put together this dating glossary for you. I thought it would be a service to the many women (and men) who come to Argentina looking for love. (Or who simply find themselves here, dating). Dating can be bewildering in another culture, and language can help guide you. Knowledge is power. When you are able to name a behavior, or a way of being, you are able to say: I want this, and I don’t want that. You can say you want a chongo, or not. You’ll know what it means to put someone “in the freezer” and why so many men and women call the opposite sex “hysterical.”
Whether you come here on vacation or you live here, here are some words to help you date in Buenos Aires.
Chamuyero: Once I was at an Internations expat event at a bar talking to two Porteños (Porteño means Buenos Aires resident), and I asked them, what is the essence of Buenos Aires? They said, with impish glee, chamuyo.
Chamuyo is bullshit. Sometimes poetic bullshit, but bullshit nonetheless. A chamuyero is a bullshitter, par excellence. Chamuyero is truly the ultimate porteño word. While Rio de Janeiro has its malandros (charming tricksters who do anything to avoid work), Buenos Aires has its chamuyeros.
A chamuyero talks in circles but really they are talking about nothing. You can’t pin them down. Everything they say is airy and unreliable.
In dating, chamuyo is flattery. Chamuyo is quite related to the piropo, a flattering or romantic compliment to seduce a woman. Piropos can be a sport; there are plenty of websites listing piropos to use with a woman or a girlfriend or wife: For example, here’s an Argentine piropo submitted on a user-generated piropo website: “Con un mate y tu compania ya es resuelta la vida!” (With mate and your company, life is already resolved!) That’s a sweet one, and not too over the top. I could believe that piropo or get off on believing it.
The difference between a piropo and chamuyo is chamuyo is clearly bullshit–and totally generic. My chamuyo red flag goes up when a guy starts using the word “princesa,” for example. You can filter out the chamuyo or you can just get off the chamuyo, knowing it’s only that. See also: Lie to me, I love it when you lie to me.
A chamuyero milonguero (tango dancer and frequenter of the milongas, events where we dance tango) may flatter you by telling you what a wonderful dancer you are. In this case, I’m all for the chamuyo. Bring it on! I love it when a guy tells me I dance well–or even better, when he talks about our dance connection (if it feels true). Argentine men are much more likely to give flattery during a dance than American men. A little flattery is actually great technique–it helps me relax and dance better.
Translation: Ah, you left. I thought you kept partying and you had found yourself a chongo for a touch and go Hahahaha Rest! LOLLLLLL Could be! But today no
Chongo: I learned about “chongo” in the best way, from one of my favorite Argentine tanguera friends. A “chongo” is a “touch and go”—usually a man (they don’t talk so much about chongas, though it’s possible to be one) who wants sex and nothing else. As she explained to me, if you’re bored, alone, and you don’t have anyone else in your life, maybe you want to send a message to your “chongo.” As if on cue, just after she told me about the “chongo,” another woman walked behind us at a table on the milonga and said a guy was “re chongo” (really chongo). This word strikes me as powerful! A lot of men (and perhaps women) want to move really fast in Buenos Aires and have sex quickly. A good percentage of them equally move on. Chongos are into seduction, quick sex, y nada mas (nothing more). These people would be chongos, or chongas, and you can decide whether you want that or not. Knowledge is power, ladies and gentlemen.
Histérico: I don’t think it’s possible to date in Buenos Aires for longer than a few months without learning the word “histérico.” It’s really a must that you learn about this word.
What is “histérico”? In English, hysterical means, among other things, “feeling or showing extreme and unrestrained emotion.” In Buenos Aires, “histérico” is mostly about drama and game-playing. A histérico is insanely seductive and passionate until you start reciprocating, then he or she disappears, and then begins the endless-hot-cold behavior. Histéricos are inconsistent. Not stable or trusted. In essence,histéricos enjoy the chase—not just once, but over and over again. So don’t take it personally if they disappear. A histérico is like a serial chongo but with more drama. Love is a battlefield. Buenos Aires is like anywhere else, there are also men and women who want relationships, so you can look for the signs of histérico or chongo and make choices accordingly.
Once you have a name for the condition of histérico, it’s quite helpful. I’ve helped two women realize they were involved with histéricos, and as soon as they have a name for the condition they seemed relieved and were better able to let go and move on.
“In the Freezer”: A guy who probably wanted to be my chongo taught me the expression “in the freezer.” He was talking about a past relationship and said that he had dated a woman for a few months, but then the relationship went “in the freeezer.” “What does that mean?” I asked. “We stopped talking for a while, then we started talking again.” I found this expression to be hilarious. I tried hard to stifle my laughter. I don’t want anyone to put me in the freezer. “Please baby, don’t put me in the freezer! I am not a chicken breast or a bag of peas!”
When talking about this expression with my friend Alexandra, she suggested an additional interpretation: If you’re going out with someone but there’s someone else you want to save for later, you might put the second person “in the freezer” to possibly take out later to thaw.
Mimosa: People in Buenos Aires are affectionate and they kiss to greet (just one kiss, as opposed to the French, who do two kisses on either cheeks.) Men too kiss each other. It’s quite a contrast to the American handshake or back-slap. I see a therapist in Buenos Aires–a very Porteno thing to do, self-knowledge is valued here. When I see my (female) therapist, we kiss each other on the cheeks hello and goodbye. A hello or goodbye kiss with a therapist would never happen in the States.
Mimosa is a word that expresses affection–but in the context of being lovers. Many Argentines have talked to me about the importance of “mimos”–mimos are like love pats and cuddles. I think of a cat as being mimosa. A snuggly person is mimosa. This might be my favorite word in the Buenos AIres dating dictionary because I am mimosa.
Mujeron: A very sexy, va-va-voom Sophia Loren kind of woman, in full possession of her sexuality and sensuality. Buenos Aires is full of mujerones.
Pedazo de pelotudo: Piece of shit more or less. You might throw these words at a histérico, if you felt like it.
Pasional: Passionate. Argentines are very passionate, whether we are talking about love, or football. See the above message from Hernan to Flor.
Pendeviejo/a: Pendejo means young person. A pendeviejo is an older person who dresses like a young person. (Viejo means old.) Imagine, a woman in her 70s. From behind you see her shapely body in tight jeans or a sparkly sequined dress and you think she is 30 then she turns around and you see she is rocking 70.
The pendevieja’s lack of shame in rocking the forever 21 look after retirement is rather spectacular. There are many pendeviejas in certain milongas. Pendeviejo/as don’t pay attention to the rules. They wear tight, flashy clothing that I never felt comfortable wearing, even when I was in my 20s. Buenos Aires is the place to be a pendevieja. You can be a pendeviejo too, an older guy in a youthful t-shirt, jeans and sneakers.
Telo: Telos are hotel rooms that you rent by the hour to have sex if you don’t have a private place at home, or you are on a date.
A few more tips on dating in Buenos Aires:
Confirming dates: Whereas in the US or Europe when you make a date with someone you can generally expect they will show up. It’s not really like that in Buenos Aires. People confirm with texts that the date is happening.
Lateness: Being late is more normal, and sometimes people think that is acceptable even on a first date (we are talking 20-30 minutes late). Sometimes the histericos will use lateness as a way to show you that you’re not that important or to play power games. I would steer clear of anyone who is not respectful with your time. (That can rule out some people.)
Online dating and apps: People in Buenos Aires are using Tinder, Happn, Bumble, and OKCupid. Your results will vary. I can say based on experience that you can meet good people on these apps—over four years, I’ve met a boyfriend, a lover, and a long-term friend. I can also say most people don’t put much effort into their profiles (the profiles are shorter, fewer words, than the States and Europe) and the swiping can be extremely depressing. Overall I would say OKCupid is the best bet because people are more likely to fill out and read a profile. The mobile apps are so geared for superficiality, which means chongos. If you want a chongo though, go for it!
Have any words to add to the Buenos Aires Dating Dictionary? I am sure there are more. Please add them in the comments. I’d love to see how tong this list can go.
Listen to the 1938 tango Song “El Chamuyo” before you go . . .
a photo from the day I married myself in the Japanese Gardens of Buenos Aires
Marriage itself is evolving: First we had straight marriage as business arrangement, then we had the soulmate marriage, gay marriage, and now self-marriage. Two years ago the media got fascinated with the mini-trend of self-marriage. Since then I have emerged as one of the foremost experts on self-marriage. Certainly not anything I ever predicted I would be when people asked me what I wanted to be when I was in high school. I’ve been quoted in Cosmopolitan, Self, Vice, ATTN, New York Times, and on Nightline/ABC . I’ve given a million soundbites in the media about why women are saying I do to themselves, but I never really feel like I’m getting at the essence of why—at least for me. It’s easier to talk about the societal trends, but the societal trends are not as deeply true as the personal reasons. So I figured, I would tell my own self-marriage story in the truest way possible. The universal can be found in the particular and the particular is rarely found in a media soundbite. So here goes.
It still startles me to see in print: I married myself. It seems odd. It is odd. I never would have predicted that I would marry myself even though I was an early observer of the self-marriage trend.
Quirkyalone is a word I created to describe people who prefer to be single rather than settle. When I first heard about women marrying themselves, I thought it sounded like a way to ritualize the core principles of being quirkyalone: to love yourself and not settle in your relationship to yourself or with another person. I interviewed two Bay Area artists Remi Rubel and Aya de Leon who had married themselves. Remi and Aya drew on traditional wedding rituals: shower, wedding, reception, and honeymoon. They both went on to marry men and considered the self-marriage foundational, to help them not lose touch with their own needs within marriage.
At the time, I was 30. The self-marriage concept impressed me but I certainly never expected to do it myself. They had worn white wedding dresses and declared their love to themselves in front of an audience of friends. I could not imagine making vows to myself in such a spectacle. Really? I’m a relatively private native New Englander at the core: a writer, and a coach, not a performance artist. Couldn’t you love yourself privately without declaring your self-love publicly?
At 39, my feelings about self-marriage changed
Ten years later, why did I warm to the idea of marrying myself? There were many reasons, in retrospect, that map with the reasons more women are turning to this latest initially odd-sounding twist on marriage. As Rebecca Traister has pointed out in her book All the Single Ladies, women are not consciously rejecting marriage so much as they have more options to not settle out of economic obligation and social pressure. Today only 20 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 are married, compared to 60 percent in 1960. According to the Pew Research Center, millenials are much more likely than older adults to say society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children.
But it’s not as if I wasn’t looking for a partner. Like increasing numbers of women I hadn’t find a man to marry between 30 and 40. When I was in my twenties, I thought he was magically going to appear when I was 30. But he hadn’t. And he still hadn’t. Was that because I wasn’t ready? Was it bad luck? Who knows?
Many friends had married. We feted them with gifts, toasts, and photo slideshows celebrating them from infancy on. I didn’t begrudge them these celebrations, but when you get to 40 and haven’t had a wedding, you realize marriage is the only coming-of-age ritual our society provides. Some would call all that marital attention “couple privilege.” Where’s the coming-of-age ritual for me, or any adult, if she hasn’t found a spouse or doesn’t want to marry?
The pressure of the so-called “expiration date” had been weighing me too. All that pressure I felt at 30 or 35: that was nothing in comparison to the inner panic about being single at 40. I knew it was crazy to worry about whether men would still want to date me when I was no longer thirty-something, but I worried.
Something even deeper was tugging me to marry myself that was I wasn’t even able to fully articulate my reasons at the beginning. I just had the impulse. There is a quote from the memoirist Rayya Elias that I like: “The truth has legs; it always stands. When everything else in the room has blown up or dissolved away, the only thing left standing will always be the truth. Since that’s where you’re gonna end up anyway, you might as well just start there.”
I like the idea of starting with the truth, but sometimes you don’t know the truth when you start. You can only grope toward the truth via instinct and the actual living.
But how to do it?
I wanted to marry myself with no clue on how to proceed. Even though I had written about self-marriage, I felt lost. It’s not like there is a set of instructions to follow handed down by generations. There is no self-wedding industry. (Or if there is one, it’s tiny.)
When in doubt, I turn to Google. I did a search on “self-marriage” and that led me to Dominique Youkhehpaz, a “self-marriage minister and counselor” with a B.A. from Stanford University in Cultural and Social Anthropology with a focus in Love, Ritual, and Religion. Dominique married herself in 2008 at 22 and helped others do the same since. I emailed her and we set up a time to talk.
Dominique explained the introspective, creative nature of self-marriage: “You can’t marry yourself without thinking about it deeply.” That was reassuring; I was on the right track if I needed time to find answers. She gave me examples: a Polish woman took 30 days to celebrate herself for 30th birthday. A guy married himself in a musical in his backyard. Another woman married herself alone in her bedroom with a candlelit ceremony. Talking to Dominique brought a huge feeling of relief; I could marry myself my own way. No white wedding dress or big audience required.
Dominique underscored the power of ritual, emphasizing that I could create my own ritual, private or public. “Ritual in itself has the power of transformation,” she said, and that made sense. I also thought, ritual somehow seals the deal. I would create a ritual. I hung up the phone feeling relieved, but like I had a gigantic creative question to answer: how was I going to marry myself in a way that felt true to me?
Who to tell
I also didn’t know whom to tell. Telling even my closest friends felt vulnerable. I didn’t know anyone else who had married herself, and the act of self-marriage still seemed unusual, verging on pathetic. Let’s get real: most of my friends had married men, and I was talking about marrying myself?
Later I would talk about my self-wedding ring at parties in Buenos Aires and a woman ten years my junior would ask me, “Why did you marry yourself and not the earth?” Suffice to way that kind of conversation was not happening for me in the Bay Area in 2014.
I texted my best friend my intention: “I’m going to marry myself, will you help?” Jenny had married an alien in a performance art ceremony in the 90s in which I was a bridesmaid, so I’m not sure why I was worried about telling her. But now Jenny had a partner. Her alien wedding was art, my self-wedding was sincere. She responded supportively.
Who knows why, I told my mother. Why did I think my practical New England mother, who has been married most of her life, would understand self-marriage? When I told my mother, “I think I’m going to marry myself for my fortieth birthday,” she laughed and said, “Whatever’s good for you is good by me.” I was sure she was thinking, My nutty California daughter. I wonder if she will ever get married to a man?
I also told the guy I was dating. He was the closest I had to a boyfriend at that time. He said, “Sure if you want to jump out of a cake for your birthday I will support you.” I took a sip of my wine and said nothing, feeling inwardly self-righteous, and thinking, You don’t get it. Marrying myself is not nothing like me jumping out of a cake! Marrying myself is about taking a stand for my own self-worth and the self-worth of all women, married or not. I decided to tell fewer people.
There was one last person I told in those quaking moments, right before I turned 40: my best friend in Buenos Aires, Alexandra. (Though I lived in Oakland, California I was spending time in Buenos Aires because of my Tango Adventure business.)
“I think I’m going to marry myself,” I told her in Spanish on Skype. Ale is Colombian, but we met in Argentina through tango.
“I married myself!” she said. What a surprise. Ale had married herself already! She told me the story that day.
She had woken up from an anxiety dream. The dream said, “You’re past 30, who are you going to marry? Who are you going to marry? You better do it now.” She decided the answer to the expiration date anxiety was: I will marry myself. She went to a fair that Sunday and bought a ring, declared herself married and instantly felt calmer.
A friend told her, “This is good but don’t close yourself off from others.” She said, “Of course.” Ale felt the same way as I did: self-marriage is something you do to honor yourself, and to calm the panic about not being married in a society that still puts pressure on women to marry by a certain age, but it doesn’t shut off relationship possibilities.
When Ale told me her story I felt like I was stepping into a small sisterhood: the sisterhood of women who had married themselves. I wasn’t so alone in this anymore.
A time of reflection
I had started therapy a year before I decided to marry myself in order to look at any blocks in my own capacity for intimacy and commitment. For a person who wanted to marry herself, I’ve actually been focused on my relationships. I had struggled in a lot of my romantic relationships with abandonment fears, and I had what I would later call “single shame”—a fear that none of my long-term relationships had been long enough, and thus, no one was going to want to be with me.
There had been one therapy session when my therapist looked at me and said, “There’s a lot of shame here.” That had been a hard thing to hear because it was true. Even though I have professionally taken a role as an author and coach who helps others with their shame about being single I was still plagued by a lot of those demons myself. Later I would realize that a lot of that fear came from the fact that I held a secret for twelve years of my childhood: a secret about having been sexually abused once. The secret itself had left a deep mark on my psyche. The secret had imprinted corrosive messages: if you ever tell anyone the truth they will leave you.
My self-marriage, it seemed to me, was about working through that shame, owning all of me, and learning how to be vulnerable enough to share my feelings and my full story. As Brene Brown teaches in her TED Talk on vulnerability, the path to joy and connection runs through sharing the stuff that’s hard to share. Sharing that stuff brings us closer. Somehow I felt that marrying myself would help me get closer with others.
Two questions came out of that therapy session; “What are you marrying?” and “Why call this marriage rather than a self-love ritual?”
I didn’t have the answers to those questions at the time but I kept them with me. I started reading about what Jung calls “the shadow,” the parts that we disown in ourselves. My therapist defined “the shadow” as the stuff you don’t walk to talk about even in therapy. I started to think I would marry my light—the things about me that are fantastic (I can be cheerful, fun, brilliant, helpful, caring) and the dark that I hide from others (I can be moody, messy, angry, bitter, negative, revenge-prone, and neurotic). I wanted my ritual to say: you are lovable, all of you. Even the parts you find difficult.
For my entire life people have told me I am very hard on myself. So I thought, marrying myself would help me with self-acceptance. The essence of love is acceptance.
As far as why call it marriage, I decided that was a semantic strategy. We consider marriage to be deep and important. So is loving yourself. If you called self-marriage a self-love ritual, the ritual wouldn’t have the same weight or importance.
the charms we found at the gas station
So then how did it happen in the end? How did I actually pop the question, and make vows to myself?
I got engaged spontaneously at a gas station on the way back from my 40th birthday hot springs trip to the desert. I had been shy to ask for attention about the self-wedding during that birthday weekend because it was a joint birthday with two friends. I didn’t want to make it all about me, but then I fell silent, moody and sullen in the car, because actually I did want attention.
On the drive out of the desert I finally got up my courage and asked my friends Liz, Sonya, and Jenny for help. We had stopped at a gas station selling Elvis paraphernalia, stuffed animals and jewelry. That’s where I broke down and told them why I had gotten silent in the car. They were enthusiastic about helping me. I just had to ask for help.
We found the perfect charm necklace with two charms: love and Alexandra (my formal name) and did a photo shoot outside the gas station in front of a red and yellow sign for “Premium Gasoline.” I was engaged, and it was just my style, spontaneous. Kind of like eloping with myself—and three friends.
Getting over my cold feet
Nine months later I got married in Buenos Aires. My Colombian friend Alexandra helped me plan the event. I very much needed her as wedding planner to move the process along. I was starting to procrastinate. Ale and I chose a date, June 15, and a place, the Japanese Gardens in Buenos Aires. The guest list: short. Me, Ale and our close friend Nele. (We all met through a seminar called psicotango, which is all about finding yourself through tango.)
The night before Ale came over to help me pick out the outfit. The forecast predicted cool and drizzle. I didn’t want to be cold at my own self-wedding. We settled on my favorite red pants, a blue tank top and black sweater with a lace back. Red pants make me feel like a superhero. A necklace that belonged to the woman I was subletting from—something borrowed! The shoes and tank top: something blue.
“It’s your last night as a single woman,” Ale told me, as she put on her jacket to leave. “Take a bath, light candles, pamper yourself.” I took a bath by candlelight after she left, something I had never done in my life. It’s hard to describe the happiness of that night. It was a little like being a kid on Christmas Eve, the feeling that something very special was going to happen the next day.
When Ale showed up at my apartment the next morning we both felt giddy. We walked over together to meet Nele.
On the way to the Japanese Gardens
My plan for the ritual was simple. I would say something, ask each of my friends to offer a reflection, and then read my vows. Thus began the ceremony, up on the balcony of the sushi restaurant next to the Japanese Gardens so we would be away from the crowds.
“Today I am here with two of my best friends in the world to marry myself.” I explained at the beginning of my ceremony at noon on the balcony of a sushi restaurant so we would be away from the crowds. “By marrying myself, I marry my light and my dark. I bring together all parts of myself, including the parts I do not find easy: my insecurities, anger, and moodiness.”
Ale spoke, “The decision to marry yourself is to become conscious of who you are and accept yourself. When I married myself, I had a symbol, and I want you to have a symbol too. I bought this ring for you a long time ago. I liked it so much I thought I might keep it. I didn’t imagine that I would give it to you as a symbol from one woman who married herself to another.”
Ale handed me a black, brown and red ring she had bought in Colombia. I almost cried. We had unexpectedly created a new ritual: a self-married woman giving another woman a ring.
Putting on the ring
I read my vows. There were 18 of them. I’ve never particularly had the ability to edit myself when I get going. Here were three of them: “I vow to create intimacy in my life by making myself vulnerable, revealing how I really feel.” “I vow to fall in love with others’ imperfections as I fall in love with my own.” “I vow to see myself as beautiful.”
Post-wedding photos with Nele and Ale
Here is the video where you can see my ceremony:
As we walked home, Ale said, “Your ceremony reminded me of how I felt when I married myself, a happy place, Que lindo, How nice, I don’t have to be with a man to make myself happy.” I could tell Ale and Nele got a sympathetic high from my own ritual.
She also joked, “I’ve already forgotten my anniversary, but that’s okay. Self-marriage is like marriage, you forget your anniversary, you lose your ring. But the important thing is we know we are married.”
How is the marriage going? Are we happy together?
A lot of people will comment “how sad” when they encounter self-marriage. I suppose they are saying: “How sad these women have not found men to marry.” Or society is breaking down. Maybe they are thinking we are narcissistic, or any of the other knee-jerk responses people have to self-marriage. Do I sometimes feel sad because I’m single? Sometimes. Do I feel sad about having married myself? Never. My self-wedding was one of the best days of my life.
What difference does it make that I’ve married myself? It’s now been three years so I have plenty of time to reflect on whether this made any difference in my life. First the truth. I didn’t go on a honeymoon. I lost my wedding ring and the engagement necklace. I do not have wedding photos of myself splattered around my apartment.
Self-marriage is not legal. I don’t get any tax benefits from the state, and being married to myself doesn’t give me companionship: someone to have sex with, help me when I’m sick or talk to when I’m lonely.
Marrying myself also did not turn me into a Buddha who embodies perfect self-care and perpetual self-compassion.
Clearly, it’s not as if self-marriage is the end point.
But self-marriage has changed me. There’s no doubt in my mind about that. Marrying myself was a moment in time when I took a stand for my worthiness as a human being. When you marry yourself, you are saying, I am worthy of being married to—by myself or anyone else. The symbols from the ritual—the ring and engagement necklace—have consistently grounded me, especially in moments when I have felt shaky (like a break-up). Wearing my replacement ring gives me the same feeling of calm that the first one did. The self-marriage ring disrupts the idea that you can only be happy when you are married.
The ritual has affected me in many ways. The most profound has to do with the depth of relationship I’ve been able to have with another person. My boyfriend after the self-marriage was the first one who knew that I had a trauma of childhood sexual abuse–and that it still affected me as an adult. I was never able to even contemplate sharing that part of my life story with a partner before.
In the past when I would have reactions to conflict and criticism—some might say overreactions, and men would leave me. They would find me difficult. Ben was the first boyfriend who knew about my story, and therefore he could love and understand me. I had to be comfortable enough with sharing my story for that depth of connection to be possible. I had to work through that shame to get to self-acceptance. My self-marriage was a milestone in that process. When I told him my story I was upholding my vows to myself.
That man and I are no longer together, but it was the most loving relationship I have been in.
At the moment, I am dating. As I said, self-marriage, for me, was never about the commitment to be single. It’s about a commitment to self-love. I am infinitely aware that when I date and find someone that I like a lot of my shit comes up: my fears of abandonment, intimacy, commitment. The poet Adrienne Rich nails it here for me. Getting to love, and not infatuation, is no small thing: “An honorable human relationship … in which two people have the right to use the word ‘love’ is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.”
Love, actually, is not for the faint of heart. The act of laying ourselves bare to another human being, to be seen for all of who we are, lovely and not obviously lovely, tests us. We can have anxiety attacks, sabotage relationships, or give up. Self-marriage helps me hold my own heart. My ring is a reminder: Of course I am lovable, I love myself.
Sasha Cagen is the author of Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics. She lives in Buenos Aires, where she sometimes help women marry themselves (remotely or in person) and teaches tango in 7-day tango holidays that bring together women and use tango as a metaphor for life and relationships. She is at work on a memoir called Wet, a journey of healing through sensuality in South America that goes even further deeper into these topics of shame, self-love, relationships and healing.
Now that I’ve met you, would you object to never seeing each other again? “Deathly” Aimee Mann
I left a first date feeling entirely uncertain, excited and unsettled. Then, he didn’t call. I had to deal with my feelings for two days afterward. Two days of hell and then I moved on! I used all the tools at my disposal to deal with those feelings, and I thought I would share them with you who are dating. But first—something poetic.
I’ve always thought the above lyric from Aimee Mann perfectly expresses the complicated anxiety of meeting—and actually really liking—someone on a first date. I’m so glad we met, and would you object to never seeing each other again?
Aimee Mann suggests in the song that “I can’t afford to / Climb aboard you / No one’s got that much ego to spend.” She doesn’t want someone to “work their stuff” on her because she has “troubles enough.” Even if the other person is not working their stuff on you, how do you live through the process of dating and getting to know someone–and actually liking them–without going through a roller coaster of emotion? Does he like me? Do I like him? Will he call? Text? Should I?
In other words, how is it possible to be more chill and meditative about this if you get invested in someone you like? Is that even possible?
When I was younger I got the impression from romantic comedies that beginning a relationship with someone was fun. But what those movies left out was the awkward process of discerning how you felt and how the other person felt about you, whether you are in the same place with the same desires and emotional availability for a relationship.
Dating requires some courage: Opening up is always a risk. Why would you want to be hurt when you’re sailing along in your cool-with-being-single-life? The price of entry to go for deeper connection is walking through this valley of making yourself vulnerable. I don’t mean just in romantic relationships either, but also with friendships and family too.
Some people say, “Dating is fun!” Dating can definitely be fun. But we are also human beings with hearts that have a history. Dating can also trigger deep issues from childhood and various aspects of your history, formative first love relationships, breakups and so on.
It’s never more fearsome than when you actually like someone. My friend Jenny sent me a text recently giving me some encouragement after a date, “It’s OK to enjoy those crush feelings. Crushes can bring a feeling of lightness and joy.” That’s true. It’s great if you can let go of the anxiety enough to enjoy the crush.
Some people take dating lightly, and that’s great. But for those of us who find dating challenging, who have gone on zillions of dates and been through what Jody Day over at Gateway Women called the “endless hope/despair cycle of Internet dating” I want to share with you what I have learned about managing the anxiety of dating.
The anxiety may not go away entirely but it can be more contained so we can enjoy more of the lightness and joy that go along with crushes and exciting dates.
Accept your emotions. Dating will bring up emotions. Accept them: excitement, hope, disappointment, fear of rejection and despair. Just because you are aware of your feelings it doesn’t mean you won’t have them. If you have a phobia of birds for example it doesn’t mean your phobia will go away when you see a cluster of pigeons by your door. (That was my big fear for a while.) Maybe you can distract yourself but don’t beat yourself up for having the feelings. Why are you doing this? You’re being brave and going for a deeper connection.
Express your emotions—to yourself or a friend. I find this Milagrows list-making practice can be helpful to externalize the feelings and let them be witnessed. The milagrows practice, as I call it, is a way of writing a list where you note your feelings, especially the ones you are not grateful for, and bless them with gratitude. Writing a milagrows list helps me move through a tough patch more quickly. You could even say writing this list helps you metabolize negative emotions. Talking to a sympathetic friend who gets that dating is not always easy is helpful too. Dating can bring up just as many emotional challenges as a marriage.
Separate these emotions from the person you have just met. Dating can bring up a great longing. They tell you, don’t project when you date, but come on. If you meet someone you like the imagination may go wild with the future you envision, and if it doesn’t work out, it’s a great fall from grace. Disappointment is natural but don’t let the disappointment or other negative feelings become global. In other words, this is disappointment about one man and not all men, one women and not all women. Separate those emotions and longings from the person, because you don’t really know the person yet and whether they would be a good person for you to be in a relationship with anyway.
Which brings us to: Don’t let all your emotions go into the gutter. It’s very easy to let a feeling of rejection from one person spin into, Love never works for me or It’s never going to work out. Believe me, I’ve done that too! Most “never” statements will not hold up to scrutiny when you question them.
It’s crucial to separate disappointment about a particular person (whom you did not know all that well anyway) from disappointment about love in general. Become more specific with your thoughts and feelings. Maybe it doesn’t work out with this particular person because he or she doesn’t want a relationship right now. One dating disappointment doesn’t predict the future.
You didn’t do anything wrong. You can’t make someone like you. Tons of dating gurus out there tell you how to make yourself irresistible to men (Chistian Carter, Rori Rayes, etc. etc.) or how to pick up women, and if you read these people, you think, Oh fuck, I did x, y, z wrong. I won’t say there is nothing of value to be gained from dating gurus, but in the end, if you are manipulating someone to like you in the beginning, they don’t know you. That’s no foundation for a relationship. The reasons that someone likes you or doesn’t like you are ones that you really can’t know. They may like you for things you have never seen in yourself and are not aware of. Give yourself a break. You did nothing wrong.
Time is the ultimate test. You can’t know that much about anyone from one encounter anyway. A date full of chemistry may lead somewhere or nowhere. I am suspicious of the Hell Yes or No thing that people spread as a meme on the Internet–according to this meme, you should only do things that are a Hell Yes. In my experience, hell yesses sometimes fizzle and ambiguous connections may grow. People reveal themselves to you as you get to know them and chemistry alone does not make a relationship. People surprise us, and it takes time to know them. Character and important qualities like kindness and judgment will show up with time. Two-date rule? Five date rules? I don’t have any rules and I won’t suggest any but I am increasingly convinced that first dates are not that revealing and nothing happens that fast. People can be more fully themselves when they feel comfortable with you over time.
Just keep going. Almost every day I am more convinced that success in all aspects of life is about persistence. Take care of your heart and keep on trucking. And if you want help along the path, check out what I offer here.
This week marks a shift into more social territory. I’m about to begin a private Tango Adventure with the Irish writer Alana Kirk, who also is a memoirist! Alana wrote Daughter, Mother, Me: How to survive when the people in your life need you most, all about surviving the sandwich generation years. Alana found herself both grieving for and caring for her beloved mother, supporting her dad, and raising three young daughters, while trying to get her career back on track.
Now Alana’s at work on a new book about how to make the most of life at mid-life. She’s actively disrupting the idea that life is all downhill after 40 while also being honest about the realities of ambition, health, sex, dating/relationships, and everything else. Check out her blog: Grin + Tonic: Redefining the Happy Hour of Life! Alana also writes a column about dating at mid-life for the Daily Mail. Here she investigates, who is having better sex, a 72-year-old mom or her middle-aged daughter?
The Tango Adventure is one of the things Alana’s doing as research for her new book. I’ll be sharing with her everything I know about how you can rediscover your sensuality through tango, and how we can use our age and experience to our advantage forty-plus to be “older, wiser, and hotter.” You’ll be hearing more about “older, wiser, and hotter” from me soon.
I have to tell you about how Alana got to me and the Tango Adventure because it says so much about how things happen in life. Alana got divorced two years ago, and after the divorce, she tried online dating for about a week and thought she might slit her wrists. (Cue stories of 70-year-old-men contacting a fortysomething woman!)
She gave up on online dating and instead signed up with an intro agency, figuring that she would at least get some age-appropriate introductions and a decent conversation with an interesting person.
One of those blind dates was with a man who had been recently widowed. The date did not result in a love connection; however. during dinner, the guy told Alana, “I follow this woman Sasha Cagen and quirkyalone. You should check it out.” She checked out quirkyalone, and that led her to the Tango Adventure, and now she is here in Buenos Aires embarking on a week of sensual discovery through tango with me.
Here are some photos from Alana’s first day!
Getting artisanal tango shoes from Katrin, a Swedish dancer who makes super comfortable and beautiful shoes, at Katrin’s secret showroom.
my philosophy is: jump right in! Alana in her first class at our welcome dinner
So hey, guy who went out on the blind date with Alana in Ireland–you must be receiving my newsletter. Thanks for connecting us!
Moral of the story: if you go on a date with an open mind you never know where it will lead you. A relationship is not the only measure of success. You could meet a new friend, or wind up on a new continent a year later. Who knows? Simply meeting new people opens up new worlds. We do learn through other people.
I had a similar experience this week. Two years ago I went a few dates with a guy in Buenos Aires who disappeared on me. I was pissed but then I forgot about it. This week I got a Whatsapp text from him, saying, “Hey Sasha, I hope you’re doing well. I met a woman from Israel who wants to do tango therapy in Buenos Aires. Can I send her your contact info?”
You just never know. . .
IN OTHER NEWS
Tonight the last episode of Girls is airing. That’s cool, but I want to use this as an opportunity to plug another show about the real-life travails of a young single woman. You know there are certain shows that get lots of buzz, like Sex and the City, the Sopranos, Mad Men, and Girls. I recently discovered Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (it’s on the CW but also on Netflix) and I have to say this show is brilliant on a level that I have not seen in any other show in a long time. About the experience of being single–or human.
I won’t reveal much about the show except to say,Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is critically acclaimed (the co-creator Rachel Bloom won a Golden Globe for best actress in a musical or comedy in 2016) but it gets very low ratings. It goes into dark complicated territory most TV does not touch with a ten-foot pole while also being very funny. It gets a big fat Sasha Cagen stamp of approval. Go check it out on Netflix and let me know what you think. May we support smart TV to continue seeing representations of ourselves. . .I’ve always thought that’s important and healing.
Finally we have one more group Tango Adventure coming up May 20-26 so if you are a last-minute planner with a hankering for a spontaneous international adventure, then get in touch with us here.
Unclassified Woman is a wonderful podcast about combatting “limiting female narratives”:
“With almost 25% of women over 40 child-free by choice or childless through circumstance, it seems absurd that women still have to justify their decisions or endure pity about why they’re not mothers. Motherhood is not a mandate and yet so many women are made to feel ‘less than’ or viewed suspiciously or disparagingly, if they are creating a life of meaning beyond biological mothering.
All of these outdated stereotypes lead to one dangerous assumption: what’s your value beyond being a mother? As mainstream society still tends to over-celebrate mothers juggling ‘it all’, and under-celebrate women who, whilst not mothers, have created lives of purpose and service – Unclassified Woman is the perfect antidote to limiting female narratives.”
Michelle Marie McGrath, the creator of Unclassified Woman, and I recorded an intimate conversation last year.
I remember the conversation being so personal that I was afraid to listen to it when she sent it to me. I summoned the courage, pressed play and found the conversation very nourishing.
I hope you will find the realness nourishing too.
In our Unclassified Woman conversation, we go into:
– the messy truth about why I haven’t had children, and many women today do not
– social infertility and circumstantial infertility (our choices are not always entirely choices)
– a near-death experience I had that helped me see I can’t put myself through so much pain around comparing myself and the value of my life to friends who are mothers
– the process of grieving not having a child even though I was never sure I wanted to be a biological mother
– the delicious moment when you figure out who you are and stand for your own value
If you are a quirkyalone, and you’re looking for someone to be your life partner, you may find yourself single for an extended period: months or yearssssss. How do you keep touch, sexuality and sensuality present and alive in your life while you are single? How can we be “wet” when we are single?
To answer these questions, I’m taking a little tiptoe into the world of podcasting with this podcast with the great Carolyn Arnold, a social scientist, educational researcher, and friend. At the age of 58, Carolyn started a 50 Dates project to find her life partner. She found him by date 49! I’ve interviewed Carolyn about what she learned about loving herself while she went through the ups and downs of dating here. What’s interesting about Carolyn too is that she had a lot of lovers while she was looking for love because sex and touch are important to her. She didn’t want to be celibate and she knew she wanted healthy touch in her life.
In this podcast, I interview Carolyn about how to have lovers and have sexuality be present in your life when you are single and looking for a life partner, and don’t want to be celibate. How do you avoid the pitfalls of misunderstandings, hurt feelings, fantasy/illusion (I thought this was the start of something but he never called!), crossed boundaries, doing more than you really want to do, and more. In essence, we’re talking about how to have clear communication before you get busy and have clear access to your yes and your no at all times. We give you some scripts you can use even.
Carolyn is working on a memoir about her 50 First Dates Project, and in this podcast, we talk about what she learned about having having sex and lovers while looking for love. Carolyn has gone to many Northern California alternative relationship and sexuality seminars and she has learned a lot about how to set boundaries and communicate what you want with a partner in open, honest, loving communication. I’ve been on a parallel journey, and so Carolyn and I have often talked over her kitchen table about how to have conversations about sex when you are dating.
Here are some things we talk about in this conversation:
• How to have a conversation about sex before (or while) clothes come off to avoid misunderstandings and disappointment. We give you some scripts you can use to open a conversation about sex. In essence, the conversation starts with the question, “Do we want to be sexual?” Carolyn thinks you can have this conversation before anything happens. I think it’s a little more natural after kissing.
• The “monogamous mindset of dating” (if you start dating and quickly become exclusive, you can get awfully attached when you start having sex, but are you sure this is really the person you want to be with?)
• Being truly at choice in sex at every moment and why this is important to have access to your yes and your no at any moment, and never feel you have to finish what you started (you have to be able to say no so that you can truly say yes)
• What is sex (is it just intercourse, or can we have a more expansive definition that might or might not include intercourse and might feel like what you actually want to do?)
• How to have supportive lovers while you are dating and looking for “the one”
• Menopause and why you might want to keep your sexuality alive during your 40s (based on Carolyn’s experience)
It is surprising that anything surprises me when it comes to dating and relationships. I have twenty years of dating, relationship, and being single experience, I have written a book about being single and dating, I coach women and men about dating, communication, boundaries, sex, boundaries, self-worth, and love, and I’ve talked my friends through everything (polyamory, sexual exploration, sex while parenting young children, etc.). I find it surprising that I can still be surprised. Yet with technology making our world so incredibly new I can.
My latest discovery is the Whatsapp relationship, aka the “exclusive texting” relationship. Beware it.
Whatsapp is a “cross-platform mobile messaging app”: Think texting if you never used it. My ex and I broke up a few months ago, and since then I have been dipping back in the dating pool, mostly in Buenos Aires. In my last few months of reaching out sporadically through OkCupid or Tinder (which people do use in Argentina, Tinder more than OKCupid), I have found a pattern. We start messaging, and then, the other person asks for my Whatsapp to communicate.
This story starts with a man I met a man on Tinder. (Although Tinder has a reputation as a “hookup” application, I find it’s also possible to meet interesting people for dating and friendship. The interface is so simple, it’s a lot like real life if you quickly move to have an in-person meeting. If you are an intuitive person, you can tell a lot from a face. )
We started messaging and it was delightful. He asked beautiful questions. The kinds of questions that I dream of men asking, because really, I think all we want in a relationship is to be known. To be seen. To be cared about, yes, loved. He would send questions late into the night, and each question brought an exciting ding. So this was fun, it almost felt like we were falling in love like that famous promise that you can accelerate intimacy by asking and answering the right questions, and then, you will fall in love. But that idea presupposes eye contact. After a couple weeks, I realized I was the only one trying to make the virtual actual. Dates, we would call them. In-person meetings. Isn’t that what we are aiming for? Getting to know each other in the flesh?
Although we did meet three times and had a great time on each occasion, I was the only one initiating the dates. And it became increasingly impossible to meet in person. It was very strange. He didn’t seem to have a girlfriend or wife, which would be the obvious explanation. Gay? Just not that into me? Only into online/texting relationships at this moment of his life? I never could tell. Honestly the whole thing is a mystery to me still.
I met a new friend from Singapore for dinner and shared my bewilderment. She confessed something similar had happened to her. She met a man, an American who often traveled for work, and she saw him three times in the course of a year. For a whole year, they sent messages every day. He would text “Good morning!” every day and send photos of what he was eating. She felt they were in a relationship. A friend intervened after a year and she woke up to realize, This is not a relationship. She told him she didn’t want to carry on like this anymore and he disappeared.
My now ex-boyfriend (a real person who likes real meeetings! I need to find another man like him!) gave me a thoughtful birthday present: Modern Romance, a book by the standup comedian Aziz Ansari. Ansari, like me, likes to observe and analyze how technology is changing our dating and romance patterns. Ansari teamed with my friend Eric Klinenberg, the NYU sociologist who wrote Going Solo (and interviewed me about Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics for that book) to write a well-researched book on the agonies and ecstasies of dating in the age of technology.
My eyes were glued to the page when I read their chapter on dating in Buenos Aires. As part of their study of dating in Buenos Aires they found that men were often carrying on several text conversations with women, and women were doing the same. Everyone was hedging their bets, including people in relationships, flirting via Whatsapp to keep their options open. They also found they found that men chase, and women are trained to say no first to show that they are not “easy” to get. They call this “hysterico” behavior in Argentina, playing hot and cold. I’ve heard the word “hysterico” so many times while I have lived in Argentina.
The portrait the book paints is one of low-commitment game-playing enabled by texting. For the most part it seemed chillingly and accurately described. (I will say, in Buenos Aires’ defense, there are also sweet, sensitive Buenos Aires men who are devoted and highly therapized.)
The situation is extreme, but the situation is extreme in many places. Really, isn’t this a global problem, a symptom of our love affair with our phones?
Recently I was swiping on Tinder back in San Francisco and I noticed a man wrote in his profile, “Only if you want to meet. No text buddies please.” I suspect the texting-with-few-meetings relationship is a new kind of ephemeral relationship in the globalized world. Maybe these relationships persist over time because it’s all the attention that some individuals want to give relationships. It’s a fast-food way to flirt without risking vulnerability.
We are all spinning tops now, spinning with email, social media, phone notifications, and the world is spinning so fast, where does it all lead? When the world keeps spinning faster, what happens to our basic human needs for authentic connection, help, and love?
Will a percentage of the population just go for these false-intimacy, buzzing-dinging relationships that provide a dopamine hit of excitement but never a hug? Are these just the virtual frogs we have to kiss on the diligent search for something real, substantial, live and in the flesh, built on time and love?
It’s all far too reminiscent of the movie Her, where Joaquin Phoenix gets sucked into love with an Operating System (Scarlett Johanssen). I shared this story with a friend who is also dating, and she asked, “In the future are we all going to be trading texts with computer algorithms that know just what we need to hear? That give perfect textual satisfaction…and nothing else?”
In my recent story, I found it so bizarre that this man was texting me all the time with questions, and yet, he lived about a mile away. This was not a long-distance relationship that required texting. For about a month I found his messages thrilling, but also unhealthy to have my body get so revved up by the addictive dings, with no bodily contact to soothe, ground, connect us.
I learned something very valuable years ago: You want the people who want you. I need more from a man than Whatsapp. A lot more.
A female Argentine friend and I reached the conclusion that we need to carefully screen. We don’t waste time with people who are only interested in virtual relationships. Like the guy in his Tinder profile said, no text buddies please. While I am part of a few online communities that are important to me, and those relationships are meaningful, when it comes to my closest friendships, family relationships, and my partner, I know those relationships all take time and energy to cultivate in person, on the phone, or via Skype (somehow seeing the face does make a big difference).
We who want authentic connection should be careful to not waste the time and energy on an illusion built through addictive dings on our phones.
A reader sent me this question, “Curious…what is your take on books like He’s Just Not That into You?” I thought that was a perfect question to answer to start out 2015.
I will start by saying if someone is not into you, then you’re not into them. Case closed. You want the person who is into you. But you don’t know who’s into you until you get to know them.
There is a pernicious message underneath the seemingly logical advice of He’s Just Not That Into You.
Even before we are old enough to cross paths with books like The Rules or dating gurus like Christian Carter that tell women NOT to make the first move or ask a man out on a date, we watch fairy tales where the Prince Charming kisses us and we — sleeping beauty — awake to life beginning. Women get the idea that their attractiveness is dependent on men approaching us, and that men don’t want to be approached. That women should be pretty and passively wait. Those fairy tale messages cast a spell on women and girls. They keep us asleep.
In real life, in 2015, most adult women do not initiate contact on online dating sites or out in the real world.
Women complain about how hard it is to find a boyfriend. But often they are not willing to go outside their comfort zones to make the first move.
Someone should have explained this to all of us as little girls. For the empowered quirkyalone, quirkytogether, quirkyslut woman (or man). . .my 2015 dating mantra for you is: Your dream should not be to be chosen. Your dream should be to develop the confidence to be the one to do the choosing. And not care if you are rejected.
The big shift happens when you realize it does not matter what the reaction is. You hold the key to your own value.
What does this mean in real life? Say hello. Smile. Invite a conversation. Pick a guy in a bar or on a dating site and say that’s one I want. Try on the power of wanting. Ask yourself, Who catches my eye? Who do I want to talk to? Question your fears. Initiate. Repeat.
I shared this idea on Facebook and Michelle wrote in response, “With men, if they were not interested in you before, they are not interested if you choose them. I speak from painful experiences. At this point only Jesus Christ himself could live up to my standards and last time I read anything his return was supposed to be preceded by the four horseman and accompanied with four trumpets at the four corners of the earth with a rapture somewhere in between.”
I wrote back, “Not even Jesus Christ Michelle? It’s about resilience. And having fun along the way. And knowing it doesn’t matter what people who don’t know you think. Not immediately easy to do, but worth building as a skill. Maybe you would like Jesus Christ if you got to know him gradually. . . a no-pressure kind of thing . . .”
If you give this experiment enough time (I’m talking months if not years) and develop tolerance for being rejected (just as men are taught to do) you will be surprised by what happens when you go from waiting to be chosen to doing the choosing. You never know what’s going to happen.
Go get ’em and let us know how it goes!
P.S. Quirky men also can benefit from initiating more. Especially in this screen-obsessed age where we are all buried in our smartphones. . . stop being shy, make some eye contact!
P.P.S. There are still a few spots open in the Quirky Tango Adventure in Buenos Aires February 21-28 an March 14-21 where we teach you tango and tango as a metaphor for dating, life, and relationships. Act now because the adventures are coming up. If you come, you will learn how to be more bold personally from me. You will need to learn how to use your eyes to invite people to dance, and those lessons will serve you extremely well in 2015 when you learn how to use your eyes to create more connection wherever you go. Get all the details HERE–come dance with us in Buenos Aires!
Today, half of U.S. residents are single, and a third of all households have one occupant. Despite this fact, many people still struggle with “single shame”—the sense that there is something wrong with them because they are single. People who have spent years single especially struggle with this shame.
We all have our “thing” when we are dating and in relationship. The “thing” we think others may find unacceptable.
Yet single shame in particular tells you that something is wrong with you because you are still single or have been single for a long time. This single shame can get in the way of connection. Say you are out on a date, and someone asks you how long it has been since your last relationship. Maybe you don’t know what to say, or you lie. When you hold back your story, you may find it hard to forge true connection. In fact, single shame tricks you into thinking you are not worthy of connection at all.
Come to this two-hour NVC (Nonviolent Communication) workshop aimed at supporting single people who want to rise above single shame to forge true connections in love, dating, relationship, and friendships. Through this workshop, we will help you to release this shame and find more confidence to share the truth of your dating history and authentically connect with others.
Sasha will share healing stories and insights about how single shame gets in the way of dating and intimacy, and creative ways she and other quirkyalones have gotten over it to connect with dates and partners.
Marina will guide us in using tools from NVC to help heal and transform single shame into awareness of our underlying needs, from which we are free to choose new strategies for showing up authentically in all of our relationships, first dates included. These skills help us build authentic, strong relationships, in which we are free to be ourselves, single or not.
This is the beta edition of our workshop, so it’s priced low as you cocreate this with us, take advantage and join us now!
Where: Bay Area Nonviolent Communication
55 Santa Clara, #203, Oakland, California 94610
When: Monday, December 15, 7-9 pm
Price: $20. No one turned away.
Note: I’ll be using strategies and insights to coach you through releasing single shame and sharing your dating history with more confidence in my upcoming online course and club Quirkyalone Society. If you do not live in the Bay Area, and want to benefit from this healing, be sure to sign up for the early notification list for Quirkyalone Society!
It’s like a love story. I remember that moment when we first met in July 2013 when my friend Jon held his phone up to me and told me about Tinder. We were sitting on the grassy hill by the farmer’s market eating tamales and drinking coffee on a Saturday morning.
”I’m surprised you don’t know about it,” Jon said. “It’s basically the straight version of Grinder.” Grinder is a gay mobile dating application. And yes Jon was right. Tinder was super-popular and I didn’t even know yet. I count on Jon to inform me of the latest trends.
If you have not been in the dating pool, or you’re not into the latest app, or you live under a rock, then maybe you have not heard about Tinder. Tinder’s premise is simple. The app shows you photos of people near you and you can like or not. Snap judgments: Hot or not. If you both swipe yes, you can communicate. We looked at Tinder on Jon’s phone, we swiped through the photos dissecting trends. We asked, Why are there so many girls wearing fake moustaches? Why are there so many men standing in front of Machu Picchu? Is that the ultimate signifier of adventure?
Of course I thought Tinder was absurd. Vapid. An app for bubbleheads. Not a way to find love or anyone of substance. Certainly this would not be an application for anyone mature to use. Well, I must be a bubblehead because I was sucked in quickly. That afternoon after leaving Jon I found myself lying on my couch staring at the phone for fifteen minutes at a time. I killed a whole hour in a swiping haze.
Sometimes I would swipe right based on looks. Sometimes based on shared interests or friends (Tinder exposes shared friends from Facebook). Sometimes because of a clever comment in the “tagline.” I was generous with my swipes. Jon told me later I am too generous. Like most men, he looked only at the photos.
Simple = addictive. Simple is the hardest to do.
I could tell that Tinder was on to something because it is so addictive. I’ve worked in the social media industry, and I know that simple is addictive and simple is the hardest thing to do. Tinder is crazy simple. You say yes or no based on gut instinct. I saw married friends in the pool. They told me they were on the app for research. The Tinder UI (user interface) is so addictive anyone who works in or around social media needs to understand it.
Tinder had become an app that many women like and use, but I found out months later that the Tinder founders were being accused of sexual harassment and discrimination by a female co-founder and marketing Vice President Whitney Wolfe. Wolfe alleged that the other founders called her a “whore” and stripped her of her title, because as the app grew in popularity, having a “24-year-old girl” as a co-founder would not help the company’s profile.
That suit has not been settled, having worked in the tech industry, I know sexism is rampant in that brogrammer world. The rest of this piece is not a swipe-right on Tinder, but rather, an exploration of the design of their application, and how we approach dating in this driveby world.
Hey, Tinderella, can I be your magic humpkin?
Most people think Tinder is a hookup app for sex. That’s what I assumed it must be. And it is. It’s also an ego boost app. Clearly the app is just as much about finding out who thinks you are cute as it is about meeting anyone. It’s all of that, and more. The app surprised me.
Certainly I have received preposterous messages like: “Hey, Fancy a bit of consensual sexual acrobatics this fine evening?” or “Hey, Tinderella, can I be your magic humpkin?” Or much hotter, “I want to eat you like a mango.” That one I actually found to be a turn-on. Later the guy apologized and said the mango message was a drunken message and when I asked him how many women he sent it to, he said “about twenty.”
But I can tell you that for at least one user—me—Tinder is not just a hookup app. I have formed two thingamabobs you could call relationships through Tinder. I’ve also made friends with women and been invited to book groups.
My experience was actually quite deep. After six months of using Tinder, I had met an array of people, even if we only chatted on the app and never met in person. I met another woman who had worked in user experience and technology for drinks for deep conversation and technology and life. I fell in love with someone in Atlanta and talked to him through the nights for an entire month. (That’s another story.) I met a TV writer from LA who had written for the West Wing and many other dramas. He was in the Bay Area for the weekend. We had a sociologist friend in common. Tinder exposes your common Facebook friends, which creates an easy stepping-stone in conversation. I’ve learned about social history and tango. I’ve learned about strange male fetishes. Yes it has been an adventure, this Tinder thing. Much more of an adventure, incidentally, than OKCupid and Match.com, by the way.
I started to believe that Tinder is an adventure because in its simplicity, it mirrors life.Now, I am not your average person. I will engage in conversation when many people would not. I am intensely curious, and I live by the idea that we learn about the world and ourselves through people. So for me, Tinder has not necessarily been just a way to meet my soul mate (or a hookup), but it’s been a way to bump up against and meet the world.
With online dating, is less more?
With Tinder, I started to wonder, when online dating, is less more?
I have used OKCupid off and on for years when I discovered Tinder. I long believed it was good advice to write a detailed profile about who you are and what you are looking for. Sure that can work. Anything can work. I gave the advice that writing a detailed, long, specific profile is a good idea and even gave that advice on this Commonwealth Club panel on the state of sex and dating in San Francisco. Weed people out by saying exactly what you want. Get to know yourself. Call in “the one” with your specific words about what you want. It’s a great theory and it definitely works for some, and it could work for me. But I found that reading uber-long soliloquies could be more draining than invigorating. I got messages, but very few seemed to be from men who would be compatible with me or met my “requirements”–and if they did, I didn’t feel attracted to them.
Tinder on the other hand provides so little information. Tinder mirrors real life. More like meeting someone in a café. When we see someone in a bar, café or on the street, we don’t know the “self-summary” or the “six things they could never do without.” We don’t know his 500 favorite books, or his vision of the ideal relationship. We go on intuition.
Maybe it’s the posture, maybe it’s the eyes, maybe it’s the smell (one thing technology can’t yet give us). But we have a sense. An intuitive sense about whether we want to talk to them. With the guy in Atlanta that I fell in love with, it was definitely his eyes–they laughed in a way that very few people’s eyes do. With Tinder, I started to believe less information is more.
The two ways to date: directed vs. intuitive
When I started to use Tinder, I could see there are two kinds of ways to online date (for those who are not lucky to meet their partner immediately on the first date!).
First, directed online dating. These are the people who are very ready to meet a partner. I’ve met people who go out on 20 dates in a month, or multiple dates in a day. Heaven help these people. I’ve talked to people for whom this online dating marathon strategy has worked. They keep their spirits up, stay optimistic, know themselves and what they want more with each week. They keep at it. More serious sites like Match, Eharmony, or even OKCupid are a good match for these people. I have respect for that. I’ve tried that. But I don’t have the endurance to go on that many dates. Yes, I want a deep, awesome long-term committed relationship. But in the process of finding that person, I kinda just wanna have fun. For me, it would kill my spirit to go out on dozens of dates.
Then there is mysterious intuitive dating where you learn from each person you meet, even if the person is not “partner material.” Tinder, whether it’s a hookup, dating, or friendship app, or some combination of all of the above, falls into the second category. I could meet my partner via Tinder just as I could meet my partner at the gym or at the dentist. Tinder has been like life. A way to have fun along the way and value the whole experience. To converse with people who were not going to be my partner and learn from them too. I’ve learned in some way from each one at a deeper level than I would have thought.
The epidemic of disappearance
There are things about Tinder that I gravely dislike. I used Tinder for about six months, and then I got sick of it. Maybe I will go back in the future if I find myself single and wanting to date. What I dislike most about Tinder is that it exacerbates the trend of “disposable dating.” The disposability and disappearance.
People are not taught communication skills in this world of instant messaging and when people are done with a relationship, or the sexual part of a relationship, they don’t have the skills or courage to speak about it or transition to the possibility of friendship. Everyone could stand to take a communication class or two (these are skills I teach in my classes and coaching), in nonviolent communication or other class. I have polled men and women. Both men and women, and especially men, are guilty of disappearing without a word in dating. Disappearing is okay after a date or two but not so OK after you have shared intimacy, and I don’t mean just sexual intimacy, I mean emotional intimacy. They are not horrible people. They just don’t know how to have a difficult conversation or be honest.
Tinder makes it so easy to hop on your phone and move on to find someone new. Discard the old person, find someone else. It’s OK to move on, but it is far better to not disappear. Far better to send a text at the least! A call is even better! A conversation! Disappearances happened to me twice in this fast-to-be-intimate-fast-to-disappear-Twitter-world with the men I met through Tinder—the Southerner and the Indian man. They were both very hurtful, so I’m more cautious now. I’m slowing things down. That’s my commitment to myself. I don’t blame Tinder so much for those disappearing acts because that could happen anyway. My commitment to myself now is to slow down and pace things more slowly.
The man that I’m seeing now I met at a café. Through the eyes. The real-life Tinder is even better than Tinder itself.
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Sasha Cagen is the author of the cult favorite Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics and To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us. Her work as a writer, coach and movement-builder has been featured everywhere from NPR and the New York Times to CNN and Vogue.
In her well-loved newsletter going to thousands who identify with "quirkyalone," Sasha is the voice for people who don't want to settle--in any area of life.
In her coaching practice, Sasha helps smart, successful women (and men) get clear on their goals and achieve them while always helping her clients focus on core issues such as self-worth.
Through her Tango Adventures, she helps people go deep in the authentic tango scene of Buenos Aires while using tango as a mirror and a metaphor to help each person discover what tango has to teach them.