Words by Madeleine Dore
Art by Mrzyk & Moriceau
‘Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary.’
– Oscar Wilde
The words of author, poet, and playwright Oscar Wilde have long acted as a guide for my soul, a backdrop of comfort in lonely hours and an escort for decisions of the heart.
As a heterosexual woman, I have learned to dodge unhealthy relationships by extracting myself quickly or opening the door to rejection early enough to avoid becoming entangled by unrequited emotions. This measure has meant that in love, life and work, no one else has been granted permission to determine how I feel about myself. I’ve created a comfort zone where solitude is a pleasure, and creativity and good friends the greatest company. As poet and songwriter Tanya Davis puts it, learning How To Be Alone can be beautiful.
Yet for someone, Wilde's rule does not apply – I keep allowing myself to treat me like I’m ordinary. If someone throws an unkind word towards us, we are swift to catch it and label it untrue, but when we say the same thing about ourselves, too easily we take it as fact.
This disparity means that I’m perpetually swinging from sheer contentedness with my own singledom to fears that there must be something terribly wrong with me – maybe despite what Wilde says, I am unworthy of love; I am ordinary.
It’s incredible how the stories we tell ourselves shape our behaviour. When we repeat to ourselves that we are ordinary, we become blind to the people or evidence that tells us otherwise. We fall into habitual tendencies that confirm our beliefs about ourselves and our circumstances, cementing their existence in how we act and feel.
The book A General Theory of Love draws on scientific research to unveil the connection between human emotions and biological psychiatry, revealing how we fall into silent rhythms that shape who we love:
‘Because human beings remember with neurons, we are disposed to see more of what we have already seen, hear anew what we have heard most often, think just what we have always. Our minds are burdened by an informational inertia whose headlong course is not easy to slow. As a life lengthens, momentum gathers.’
It struck me that my past experiences and the stories I’ve created are shaping my dating habits. I’m following a rhythm that ensures my heart is set on fire by the same person over and over. Their hair colour, profession, height, and humour may be different, but the character is the same. I’m seeking the same thing I’ve already sought, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that deems me to be un-dateble, ordinary.
Dating is certainly not the pinnacle of the human experience – it needn't be what validates or completes us as human beings – but what happens when you find yourself shying away from it for fear of getting it wrong? To avoid being kept in a loop of dating the same person over and over again, you avoid it entirely, safer inside your comfort zone of solitude. When is it simply a preference, when is it self-preservation and when is it sabotage?
Perhaps I’ve resented the idea of dating being a marketplace, that you somehow have to work for it, that, as a woman, the message is so often that love is something you earn. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve found it more rewarding to plunge into creative projects instead of relationships.
Whatever it may be, I believe singledom is not a problem we must solve. Rather, for me the absence of my love life spurs curiosity. Dating is an experience like any other – be it travel, art, ideas – that I want to be open to, instead of closed. I want to be open to not only the world of dating, but a world of new people. We stick to our circles of friends – to what we know – surely it only pays to break into new territory.
We are quick to slip on trainers if we feel we should start exercising more, or set the alarm earlier in a bid to become a morning person, but when it comes to our emotional habits, we rarely consider if they too can be experimented with or put on a strict regime. After all, there is no diet for dating.
My poor dating habits have propelled me to retreat, to stop putting myself out there for fear of what I might attract or be attracted to. As explained in A General Theory of Love, ‘Left to himself he will not realise there is something else to be found.’
It seems I can’t be trusted with the matters of my own heart, so who can? Is it possible to devise a structure to extract yourself from your emotional habits and repetitive thoughts?
Work, mutual friends and the internet are commonly reported as the most popular ways to meet a mate. Having quickly become disenchanted with Tinder and working in a predominantly female field, that just leaves me with friends – that is, the almost obsolete blind date.
So therein lies my next experiment. In an attempt to get outside my comfort zone and tweak my own habitual dating tendencies, I’m going to embrace the blind date with the assistance of dating 'personal trainers'.
Over the coming months, I’m asking friends, acquaintances and even strangers to set me up on dozens and dozens of blind dates on the basis that if other people chose matches for me, the chance of seeking out the same ‘type’ diminishes. It’s an investigation on how developing a weekly routine of going on a date with someone new, a stranger, can help question my inner narrative and habits, and therefore shape my world.
The less thought put into the matches the better in order to create as much diversity as possible in the pool of people I date through the experiment. Friends are asking roommates, colleagues and friends-of-friends for date candidates – some have even started to create spreadsheets filled with single men!
While there will be no recounting of the actual dates to follow, there will be a recollection of what I have learned about dating, love, singledom and myself during the experiment.
And so it begins, an adventure for the heart and mind, a pushing of boundaries and an experiment in the willingness of strangers to do something out of the ordinary. This exercise in dating will probe my assumptions and ultimately determine if dating dozens of strangers can shake the habits of the heart.