Last week, I met with my best friend at a local park to take a walk, catch up, and mainly discuss topics that did not pass the Bechdel Test. After intensely attempting to decode a text littered with mixed messages from a guy who I had been out with the week prior, my friend posed a valid question.
“Why don’t you just go back on Tinder? Or Bumble. Either. Or both.”
I stared at her realizing that in my mind, I had completely eradicated these apps as viable options to meet people. I thought about her and her boyfriend, my brother and his girlfriend, my friend and his boyfriend, and all of the Match.com commercials with upbeat music in the background and women twirling in really nice skirts.
“I just don’t like them,” I explained. “The conversations feel robotic until the guy slips up and says something inappropriate because he’s growing impatient to get in your pants.”
“You’re matching with bad people.”
Then I realized that I matched with bad people in real life too. That wasn’t Tinder’s fault. It was mine.
“I guess I could download them,” I said.
“I mean, they’re free.”
Consequently, I downloaded Tinder and Bumble. I’ve been widely absent from the online dating world for a while. When I did have dating apps, I would match with people and attempt to hold conversation with a complete stranger, and I’d quickly realize that the matches were never real matches at all, but just weird, forced digital interactions with the unspoken goal of an ultimately meaningless short-term fling.
In my life, I’ve only been on two online dates, one from Tinder and one from my Instagram direct messages (which honestly, I’m not even sure if it was a date), so I’m not very well-acquainted to the online dating scene. I’ve had brief moments in which I thought that dating apps were the answer: Wow! There are so many people around! It’s so easy to meet people! So many fish in the sea! which quickly turns into, Oh. This is actually dreadfully unnatural. Most of the fish are weird. And then I delete them.
Then, I keep counterintuitively coming back to them—downloading, deleting, and re-downloading, enjoying the immediate satisfaction of an instant match when I swipe right.
But then I think to myself, are dating apps the fast fashion of love and dating? Are these matches the quick and easy ($7.99) blouse that looked really good on me while I was in the dressing room at H&M, then I bought it, wore it once, it didn’t look quite the same in natural lighting, then I was disappointed, then I washed it, then the fabric got all weird, and I emotionlessly sent it away to Goodwill?
I picked up a book that I manically bought and then never touched since its purchase in 2015: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Ironically, I purchased it at a bookstore in Berkeley that looked like a hoarder’s home, which included a resident cat. However, the book itself looked spick-and-span—small, hardcover, tranquil color scheme, a font agreeable to the eye. Since its resurgence in popularity due to Netflix, I took it off of my bookshelf. I placed it on my dresser, directly next to my phone that contained those horribly untidy dating apps.
I opened Tinder and found several unread messages that I had no desire to reply to. The clutter in my inbox overwhelmed me but also bored me. I threw my phone aside, picked up Marie Kondo’s book (the poor thing untouched for years!), wrapped myself in my comforter, and sat in bed.
My closet, my junk drawer, and my pajama drawer need some attention, I thought to myself as I started the book. Okay, Maybe my shoes too.
I got to page forty-one where a sentence stared at me in bold.
“Take each item in one’s hand and ask: ‘Does this spark joy?’ If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.”
Goddamnit, Marie Kondo! I thought. I got up out of the warmth of the comforter and walked to my closet. I stared at my shoes, some with a box, some without, some casual, some dressy. They were a mess. I kneeled down and examined every pair.
It was easy to say which of my shoes sparked joy. All of them. Literally every pair. They all had a specific purpose, a time and place to wear them, and I had broken all of them in to fit like a glove, and with multiple pairs of Doc Martens, that breaking-in process is painful. Those shoes are invaluable. They spark undoubted joy.
My phone buzzed. The notification did not spark joy. A week into this online dating madness and I was already exhausted with conversations that I really didn’t want to have.
Does he spark joy?
No, Marie Kondo, he doesn’t, but I don’t necessarily want to delete the match either.
I looked at all of my matches and insignificant conversations. Why don’t I want to delete them? Am I hoarding validation? Would Marie Kondo want me to delete my Tinder? Should I KonMari my love life?
I went back to my closet, looking at seasons old Forever 21 sweaters that I never will wear again, vintage coats that never fit me right to begin with, maxi-skirts that made me look like an elderly English literature professor—those were all easy to part with. I tossed them in a bag that I’d donate or bring to a fabric recycling center.
But with dating, it wasn’t so simple. Sometimes, you have to have things that don’t spark joy to know what does spark joy. Sometimes you have to experience bad things to recognize how good things are. The bad things never spark joy, but you gain something from it regardless. Then I remember my best friend and her boyfriend, my brother and his girlfriend, my friend and his boyfriend—they had all gone through many people who did not spark joy before finding a person who did, in fact, spark joy.
Whether or not I should Marie Kondo my love life is up for debate. I’m also the person who hasn’t tackled my junk drawer. However, maybe relationships (of all kinds, not just romantic, but platonic too) are a little too complex to hit with a singular basic question of, “Does it spark joy?” and act in response to that singular question. Relationships are dynamic and complicated. Even a text with mixed messages (like the one that sparked an entire walk around a park with my best friend) require more than just one followup question. If that’s the case, then why can’t we sit with the uncertainty and lack of joy that occasionally happens in the search for a romantic partner?