OPINION: The Great Date Experiment

Jenna Bal, Campus Editor

Left. Left. Left. Right. Left. Right.

I’m not tracking my paces on the treadmill or doing a funky new dance. I’m not practicing my strut in a new pair of heels or evening out my lopsided torso with a strange alternation of bicep curls.

I’m swiping on Tinder.

A man in Pit Viper sunglasses and a Bass Pro hat holding a fish. The fish is too small. Left.

A bio that reads, “6ft since that matters.” I don’t like liars. Left.

A man surrounded by friends…in every picture. Who are you? Left.

A man with dark hair and round glasses. He looks like Harry Potter. Right.

It’s a match.

I’ve spent my fair share of time swiping on dating apps, often alongside friends as we giggle over ridiculous profiles. Most of the time, matches don’t lead to much more than a quick exchange of a few texts before either party gets bored and moves on.

“Wanna play a game? Prizes: If I win, I get your number. If you win, you get my number. Seems fair right?” reads Harry Potter’s first message.

I’ve got to give him points for creativity.

“Challenge accepted,” I respond.

My go to dating app is Tinder. Although it has a reputation for being a “hookup” app, I’ve always used it to go on dates. In fact, almost every date I’ve been on up to this point has been with someone I’ve met online.

Harry Potter presents a trivia game. I’m not good at trivia.

“Guess I win your number,” says Harry Potter.

I hand it over.

Overall, I like online dating because I think I’m good at it.

How can you be “good” at it? Great question, probably one for my friends. They all flock to me to set up their profiles, craft clever messages and figure out the best first date activities, claiming that I always seem to have “good” dates. That must count for something.

It’s a cool summer evening when I meet Harry Potter for the first time. We go on a hike.

The next date is a trip to the art museum.

Then he takes me to dinner and movie.

We go thrifting the next week.

After three months, Harry Potter leaves for school. Goodbye summer fling.

Even though I enjoy my dating life, I sometimes wonder if I’m missing out. There must be a reason people look down on dating apps. Maybe other avenues of meeting people are better, and once I go on a date with someone that’s not from an app, I’ll agree.

This thought prompted “The Great Date Experiment.”

I went on three first dates with people I met in three different ways: someone from a dating app I typically don’t use, someone I met in person and someone a friend set me up with. I wanted to find out if other ways of meeting people are truly more successful than matching on an app.

What qualifies as a successful first date?

For this experiment, I considered four categories.

1. The set up
Chatting over text before a date can help you learn a lot about a person. Do they ask you questions about yourself?

2. During the date
Even if someone is not “my type,” they can still be a good person and a fun date. During each date I paid attention to how much I enjoyed my time, even if the special connection was lacking.

3. Matchmaking
Compatibility is a big factor of dating, which is why each dating app has its own niche way of matchmaking that it claims is best. In this category, I evaluated which method of meeting people resulted in the best “match.”

4. A second date
I’m optimistic about dating. Even if a date isn’t stellar, I consider it a life lesson and a good story. However, for this experiment, whether I wanted to see the person again played a role in if I considered the date “successful.”

With each of these categories in mind, I started “The Great Date Experiment.”

Student Athlete

Tinder is my dating app of choice, but for this experiment I decided to try something relatively unknown to me: Bumble.

I used Bumble briefly in the past, but the dates that resulted were less than overwhelming. However, I decided to give it another chance in the hopes of discovering if my advocacy of online dating extends to all dating apps, or if it’s Tinder exclusive.

The appeal of Bumble for many users is that the woman messages first. As someone who isn’t afraid to send the first message on Tinder, this feature wasn’t necessarily a draw.

I matched with Student Athlete (the origin of his name will be revealed later) whose profile read, “Looking for someone to help me find the best cereal.”

This led me to my smooth entrance.

“I honestly have great taste in cereal if you need any help,” I messaged.

We exchanged messages and texts making plans. There was talk of a cereal picnic date in which we would each bring our favorite to share. This would have been the perfect first date: casual, yet thoughtful. However, cold weather and time restraints lead to an early morning coffee date. By early, I mean 8 AM.

Never in my life have I woken up that early for a first date and never will I do it again.

We had a lot to talk about in terms of hobbies, funny stories and college life, but one unwanted topic kept worming its way into the conversation. Student Athlete liked to talk about how he’s a student athlete.

Usually, I like to listen to people talk about their passions, even if they are different from my own. However, almost every fact Student Athlete shared about himself involved his sport in one way or another.

When I commented on how I never wake up as early as I did for our date, he launched into an in-depth explanation of his sleep and practice schedules.

Then I asked him about his hobbies. Almost every answer surrounded the requirements for his sport.

Finally, when he shared an anecdote about a crazy night he had his freshman year of college, I was invested. Halfway through, he threw in the plot twist that he was with his team and they had a competition the next morning. I totally didn’t see that coming.

Two days later, Student Athlete texted me. His schedule had suddenly freed up. At his last competition, he got a minor concussion.

Unfortunately, I had reached my limit on sports discussion, so I politely declined.

Coffee Shop Man

When I started this experiment, I was most nervous about meeting someone in person. I knew I would have to put myself out there with no digital screen of protection or block button safety net.

I spent weeks scoping out potential dates everywhere I went. Every time I discovered a candidate, I talked myself out of approaching them. What if they already had a partner? Or worse, what if they just didn’t want to go on a date with me?

Fear of rejection fueled my procrastination, but fear of failure to complete my experiment eventually gave me the courage to ask someone out.

I was catching up on work at a local coffee shop one night when I realized the man working behind the counter kept sneaking glances at me. Coffee Shop Man wasn’t my usual type (he seemed too cool and hipster for me) but I knew if I walked out without asking for his number, I could be missing an opportunity to meet someone in person. I made my plan

Right before leaving, I would stop by the counter and make a comment about the music he was playing. If things didn’t go as planned, I could make a straight shot for the door and avoid the shop for the rest of my college career.

Gathering my things, I walked up to the counter and asked what artist he was playing. We chatted for a bit before I finally made my move.

“I also came over here because I think you seem really cool and want to know if you’d want to go out some time,” I said with shaking hands and a red face.

“Sure. I was actually thinking about coming over to you,” he replied.

On the way home, I called all my friends to declare my victory. I was proud of myself for being so bold. It was something I’d never done before.

Coffee Shop Man and I exchanged only a few texts before making plans for an evening later in the week. When the day arrived, he picked me up and drove us to a Starbucks. Don’t ask me why we were getting coffee in the evening. He picked the spot.

The best way to describe the date was lackluster. We talked, but nothing was said. I couldn’t help but look at my phone every 15 minutes in anticipation of an appropriate time to head home.

When he finally dropped me off, I decided walking up to the door I would not be seeing Coffee Shop Man again. We were not a match.

Despite this, I’m glad for the experience. Without the pressure of the experiment, I would never have asked someone out in person, let alone a stranger. Maybe now I’ll have the courage to do it again.

Friend of a Friend

While I originally thought meeting someone in person would be the most difficult step of this experiment, being set up actually provided the biggest hurdles. I gave the assignment to my best friend, assuming she knew me better than anyone and would be able to provide the perfect match. This was not without a few hiccups.

Potential suitor one, her classmate: We found out he had a girlfriend from a mutual friend. Darn.

Potential suitor two, her boyfriend’s roommate: Let’s just say he revealed some not so pure intentions to a mutual friend. I quickly requested another match.

Potential suitor three, Friend of a Friend: My friend told me she had met him once, but her other friend vouched for him. Plus, he was down to be set up, making him the perfect candidate. I texted him a week later.

Before meeting, I texted Friend of a Friend more than any of my other dates. I really felt like I knew him going into it, so there wasn’t much awkwardness when he picked me up. Running in the same circles gave us plenty to talk about.

We grabbed a quick bite and drink at a local restaurant downtown, and the conversation flowed easily. We chatted about our families, painful past summer jobs, favorite hobbies and post-grad plans.

“What do you want to do when you graduate?” he asked.

“I want to work for a women’s magazine as a sex and relationships writer,” I said.

When I mention my future goals, I typically get one of two reactions. Either I’m dismissed as a silly girl who doesn’t have real goals, or the person’s ears prick up in interest. With Friend of a Friend, it was the latter. He asked me questions and soon we were talking about the topic itself.

“Have you ever had a really bad first date?” I asked.

He told me about a girl who only talked about partying and made no effort to get to know him. I told him about a guy who was a bit too interested in WWII and a date that seemed like it would never end. Somehow, addressing the weirdness of first dates seemed to help dissipate a lot of the weirdness surrounding the night.

We ended the night with a quick walk downtown before he dropped me off and the last date was complete.

While nothing about the night was terrible, nothing about it was memorable. However, after the difficulty my friend had in finding someone to set me up with, I was surprised the date was as pleasant as it was.

With all the dates a few weeks in the past, I’ve had time to reflect and compare. Out of the three, being set up by a friend resulted in the most successful date. Friend of a Friend built up good rapport before the date, was engaging during our time together and shared the most interests and values with me. In other words, he was the best match.

However, there’s still that pesky last category to consider. Will I be going on a second date?

Who knows? For now, I think I’ll stick to Tinder and Harry Potter.

Jenna Bal is a campus editor. Contact her at [email protected]