My first date was with Dan*, a sales manager with Vodafone. Patches of sweat seeped through my shirt as I climbed the steps to the winery where we’d agreed to meet for dinner. Our date was charming. Dan asked lots of questions and told me how nervous he’d felt coming out to meet me. This was his first online date, too! After a few evenings out together, it became clear that we weren’t a long-term match.
The next date was Julian*, a professional video-game player who wore a StarCraft T-shirt and sneakers that would smell if he took them off. My therapist, Ruth Osborne, had told me to “hold my judgment” and that “men arrive at a date with hope and fear just the same as women, so be compassionate”.
I suggested we switch restaurants to sushi, since I could cut time from the date by ordering pre-made food. Afterwards, I began to refine my tactics. I felt yuck telling Julian I didn’t want to go out again. And I needed to be efficient if I was going to find a husband in time to have kids.
In my Hey You business, I’d built a funnel to manage a pipeline of sales. Our aim was to fill the funnel with as many cafes as possible (prospects). Then we’d use filtering criteria so we’d direct our time to the cafes most likely to sign up and pay.
I sketched a similar funnel for dating. To give myself the best chance of finding The One, I needed to increase the quantity of leads in the top of my pipeline and put in place more structured filters. If a business wanted more leads, it would look for new channels: eHarmony was just one channel. I signed up to RSVP and later Tinder, attended courses and events where I might meet potential dates, and asked my friends for introductions.
I made notes after every date, journalling lessons, guideline lists and ideas for improving my strategy. I enlisted a therapist and friends for advice.
Every Monday and Tuesday night I fired out first contacts to men on the dating sites. I tested different messages to see which drew the best responses and copied and pasted templates into a file. I’d choose three men that I’d been chatting to online for phone calls on Sunday afternoon, then ask one for a date, always on Thursday evening at the same bar around the corner from my apartment. We’d meet for a drink at 6pm so there’d be enough time for me to suggest we stay for dinner if the conversation was going well.
It might seem clinical, but the process worked. The screening calls helped me to avoid sleazy characters and men who weren’t a match – saving their time and mine. I began to think of my Thursday night dates as an extracurricular activity, like netball or art class.
It wasn’t easy. More than half of the men I met for dates didn’t call me again. A handsome lawyer, Henry*, kissed me at the foot of my apartment steps leaving me all warm and gushy inside. I spent the next two days sitting on my couch staring at a silent phone on the coffee table and eating cinnamon scrolls for comfort.
By Wednesday I was a sack of panic. Why didn’t he call?
I visited my therapist again. “How old is he?” she asked.
“Thirty-five,” I said, “and so good-looking.”
“He’s probably not ripe,” she said. “Men will often drift through dating and relationships, but their focus is on themselves, their career and their friends. Then, usually for a short time, they’ll soften and decide to look for the right person. You need one who is ripe, ready to be picked.”
I continued my ritual and each rejection pierced my skin a little less. Until Matthew*, a politician in his 40s. We had different values (me Labor/Green, him Liberal), but I was so captivated by his suave charisma that it didn’t matter. I acted demure and hid my opinions. A “senator’s wife”, I imagined, as I matched my favourite children’s names with his surname.
A friend pointed out that “Who you are when you date, is who you’ll get matched with. If you pretend to be demure when you’re dating, you’ll get matched with someone who isn’t interested in your opinions. If the relationship does develop, then you’ll end up miserable, probably divorced.”
“Oh,” I said. “That makes sense.”
Two years later, on date 138, I met Rod, an academic from Macquarie University. By then, I’d documented a complete journal of lists and insights. I remember spotting his bright-blue eyes under the arch at the winery. The same eyes that cause me to swipe right on Tinder just a few days earlier. We fell in love in an instant and now have two magnificent young children.
My journey was one of finding the right person through clever thinking and relentless tenacity. And it was a journey of becoming the right person. I started out looking for all the wrong things to plug my own insecurities about not being enough (smart, tall, funny, high-status). With each date,
I gathered insights. I learnt to regulate my emotions (no crazy midnight texting!), I learnt relationship skills, and I let go of the ego and expectations that had blocked me from finding love.
I’m sharing this now because my partner and family are everything. If that’s something you want, then I hope my story encourages you to go after it with everything you have.
I’m tired of reading just bad news about online dating. Yes, you have to be careful. Build a process, and don’t compromise on your filters. But the vast majority of my 138 dates were genuine, decent men who were also looking for an emotional relationship.
Be willing to examine and let go of anything that might be getting in the way. And don’t give up; the end is definitely worth the effort. It is possible to find the perfect husband on Tinder!
*Names have been changed.
138 Dates (Allen & Unwin) by Rebekah Campbell is out now.
This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale July 18. To read more from Sunday Life, visit The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
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