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the swipe

In the Calabria region of Italy lays a small mountaintop village. One side of the mountain is the village of Mercuri and the other the village of Gallo. The story goes that my Grandfather was out in the yard when he saw a young woman pass him as she walked all the way down the mountain side into town and again he would see her on her return home. It was only a few days of seeing this young woman making her trek that he said "I'm going to marry that girl." And so he did. Peter Mercuri married Felicia Gallo and the rest was history.

I am an oncology nurse and when I can pause and connect with my patients one of my favorite questions to ask to those married over 20 years is “What is the secret to marriage?” My patients and their spouses reconnect, remember their lives and their promises before cancer, and share. I see them light up, get honest, and smile at their commitments. I’ve been doing this for almost a decade. This may sound like a selfless act but please keep in mind it started as a selfish one. I’m being serious and I hope they know it. Clearly they know something so many in my generation struggle to see. Give me the goods or I’ll put a bed alarm on ya.

Fast Forward…

I was recently doing some online shoe shopping. I narrowed the shoe I was looking for down to a black, 3’’heeled, ankle strap, sandal, priced within the $50-$150 range. Do you know how many shoes that met those criteria glared in front of me? 4 pages! It took far too much time to decide given the options. There’s an incredible TedTalk by Barry Schwarz worth watching on The Paradox of Choice. He discusses how “choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.” Could not agree more, Bar!

In my time on the online dating forums I handled my affairs as similar as my shoe shopping. I’d like to date a male between the ages of this and that, no less than 5’9’’, college-educated, brown hair, decent job, and I’m not even kidding on this one, within a 5mile radius. For brevity’s sake, I’ve left out the other filters one can set. For those grossly out of the know, let’s just say you can whittle the list down till you feel like you’re making your dream mate out of play-doh. They’ll probably be just as full of life.

The paradox of choice is paralyzing our dating game. We swipe left on cargo shorts and left again on smokers*, or left whenever your ego screams a hard “no.” Sometimes all are swiped to outer space left so none remain in the queue so you can go to bed - finally! Then we vent about the exhaustive nature of online dating.

We’ve become so hyper-focused in the dating arena that we close ourselves off from anyone who doesn’t fit the exact shape we dreamed. Not just online (but definitely online) but in real life, as well.

I went through a classic “There's no one out there” sad-sack-eyeore phase years ago. Luckily, I shifted my perspectives on the dating game and refocused my “wants” in a partner. I kid you not, I started walking around my same neighborhood and thinking “There are men everywhere! Where did they come from?!” Shockingly, they were there all along.

We act like its so much harder. If anything we’re given these additional forums to meet people but we’re too busy customizing the perfect partner that we completely swipe past the what coulda, woulda, and shoulda been. And if online dating is too much to come around to, remember we still meet people the same way they did pre swipe –at a bar, a coffee shop, at work, the gym, etc. I bet people are still meeting in front yards on the sides of small Italian villages.

“But I don’t want to meet someone at a bar”

Well then honey, you might want to stop hanging out at one so often.

Or better yet, reframe those limiting beliefs. You like social scenes and good drinks. Perhaps someone at the same place enjoys those, too? Maybe they enjoy other activities you like. What if they enjoy other activities you don’t even know about but might like, as well? The possibility for fun is high. But, if you “don’t want to meet someone in a bar” you’ll be the first in charge to make sure that never happens. (My sister and brother-in-law have one of the best relationships I know and their marriage is one I look to and praise often. Thanks to a bar.)

Unfortunately, we don’t stop there. You’ve met someone. Things are going great. You’re attracted to one another, you enjoy each other’s company, there’s laughter and fun, and fuzzy feelings in your belly. Your Mother is saying rosary beads. All is looking well. As you start getting to know each other the swiping creeps into your relationship.

A story:

I was dating this guy. I had total insomnia one night. He came to visit me at about 36 hours of no sleep. Seeing my drunken fatigue he offered to make dinner. So sweet, helpful, and I would be fed without doing any work. What a dream! He starts on the onions while we hear about each other’s day. I watch. Why is he cutting the onion like that?! I offer to help. He declines. Chopping continues. I fight back assisting. More chatting. I fight back again until I step in (not so nicely) and take over.

Those that know me well are laughing at the thought. I am a foreigner in the kitchen and have no business telling anyone, in any kitchen, how to operate - lest alone judge another’s knife skills. To further hammer this point home, if there was a person who had never been in a kitchen and you told them to cut an onion with a knife but they had never learned the words “cut," “onion,” or “knife” and they got to it, well let’s say, I have no business critiquing their work either.

Yet here I was. I begin CPR on the onion he tried to kill along with my dreams that he was perfect and I start thinking. I thought I could count on him, especially when I’m feeling so tired and look at me, doing all the work! He can’t even cook. He’s not helpful. The swiping engines firing!

As it turns out (you’ll never believe this part) I was being an obnoxious, deliriously tired, unappreciative brat.

This story still makes me wince. With some reflection and self-awareness I realized my huge folly. I thought of other times I swiped left on people. When you think about it, swiping left has an implication of superiority. This makes me wince a lot, too.

I AM NOT suggesting settling in the least. Prior to dating we should be crystal clear on the fundamental values we’re looking for in a mate. What the successful marriages before us have shown is that the struggle is apparently real. Life and marriage are going to be full of ups and downs and you’ll want a partner with whom you can weather the storm.

I AM suggesting being more open about the possibilities in the process. It’s vital. You’ll be approached more, set up more, and realize everyone else deserves as much a chance as you.

I AM suggesting eliminating some pressure. People compare dating to interviewing. Inquiries, assessing fit, data gathering - sounds racy! You know what else is similar though? Play dates. You (your parents) schedule a fun activity, you’re relaxed, ready for anything, comfortable being yourself and learning about your new buddy, what makes them laugh, how they treat others, and at the end you both leave with pizza sauce on your shirt and a smile.

More openness. Less pressure. More pizza-on-your-shirt fun.

We are fortunate to live in a time where we know open communication is paramount, transparency and vulnerability connect, equality in roles grows, and the importance of a strong self for the sake of a strong partnership is pivotal. We’re really killing it on the healthy relationship front. So let’s marry that with the decisiveness and commitment shown from those before us. Let us stop being spoiled and paralyzed by choice and instead open to the potentially real connections and real futures with wonderful people that are all around.

Could you imagine if my Grandmother said “Oh, but I don’t like men who wear jewelry” or if my Grandfather thought “She’s a little too shy, I am not going to bother”? You know what would have happened? Nothing. And I wouldn’t have been here and that is just the most terrible thought to think.

*It’s 2016, people. Have you not heard? Stop smoking right now.

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